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In an open gravel lot a short drive outside of Vail, Colorado, there’s a hundred-and-fifty year old Austrian chalet standing out against the surrounding metal warehouse buildings, framed by the backdrop of blue sky and arid mountain peaks.
It’s the middle of summer, high noon, and the bright yellow sun seems to have baked any bit of moisture from the thin air. Beside the chalet is an expansive wood-clad building with a big bay door open to the outside – it’s the workshop and warehouse of Arrigoni Woods, a family-owned company founded in 1998 by Balz Arrigoni, a native of Switzerland that moved to Vail in his twenties. What originally drew Balz to the world-renowned mountain town in the Rocky Mountains was snow: he spent his first years in the village working as a ski instructor, having skied competitively in Europe as a young adult, he quickly found work helping visiting skiers navigating the powdery terrain of Vail Mountain. It was the similarities in sporting culture and the alpine lifestyle – skiing during the long winters, downhill biking and road cycling in the summers – that led Balz to put down roots. The mountains also inspired the birth of Arrigoni Woods; after having started an apprenticeship at a school for carpentry at the age of 16, Balz had spent his adult life working with wood in Europe, building homes with reclaimed materials sourced from ancient wooden farmhouses and sourced locally from carefully-managed alpine forests. That early experience instilled in him a deep and holistic respect for wood and craftsmanship, an ethos that seems to intertwine itself into every aspect of the company. Trees grow slowly, gently spreading their root systems down into the earth until their foundations are solid. So too did Arrigoni Woods. An early relationship with the highly respected Austrian wood product manufacturer Admonter led to the importing of engineered wood flooring from sustainably managed forests near the picturesque village of Admont – their twenty-year relationship continues to this day, and Admonter is the largest supplier of Arrigoni Woods.
Arrigoni Woods began as a family business, and though the business has grown considerably in the past two decades, upgrading to larger warehouses and more spacious showrooms in cities outside of Vail, Balz and his wife Christina still share an office whose walls are decorated with gold medals for ski racing won by their two teenage sons. Their home is also filled with medals and trophies and all types of extreme sports gear: a trampoline and slackline to practice balance, gymnast rings hung from rough-hewn wooden beams in the exercise room, and a garage full of bicycles and ski poles. The office, with its wooden floors and ceiling and sleek Swiss modular cabinetry, and their constantly evolving showroom, exemplify Arrigoni Woods’ balancing of rustic tradition and modernism. Beside the computer on Balz’s desk is a stack of three-foot reclaimed wooden beams. When he points out the knots in the wood, and then on the beams holding up the wall behind him, he says, “If you pay attention, you can always tell if the wood is upside down. See the direction of the grain in these knots? They show the direction in which the tree grew. I hate to go into a house and see beams that are upside down.”
As Balz describes the project of relocating the wooden chalet from its original home in the mountains of Austria to the yard beside his workshop, his hands are always moving, touching the smooth lines of the giant logs carved by hand with axes that make up the exterior walls, and feeling the connections where the wood was joined by precise cuts. “This was all shipped here in containers, across the ocean. All this wood, almost two hundred years old, and it fit back together perfectly.” The reverence for the craftsmanship before advanced machinery is apparent in the way that Balz describes a newly-delivered pallet of reclaimed wide wooden planks. Soft buttery tan and worn smooth from hundreds of years of wear, the planks had been flooring in the barn of an old European farm. “See these grooves? That’s from the hooves of cows walking on the floor in the same patterns over many years”, Hubert, Balz’s longtime friend and fellow craftsman says as he runs his hands over the notches in the surface of the wood. Balz leans down and takes a deep breath, “You can smell the age of this wood”. It’s a balance of tradition, history, and respect that clearly inspires Balz in life and business. “This is not just a commodity”, he says, “it’s a process that takes time, experience, and care. To ethically manage the forests that supply the wood that we use is supporting the future. We want our children to breathe fresh air.”
For Balz, this wood will find a creative use and a home somewhere – they had already begun work on a huge table that would live in one of Vail’s highest-end ski shops – but the majority of the massive but neatly ordered warehouse was stacked high with pallet upon pallet of new wood planks for flooring, hundreds of thousands of square feet of oak, ash, larch, and walnut. The large workrooms beneath the lofted office and table tennis area are the key to Arrigoni Woods’ ability to customize any of their products; this is where the stains are tested and applied. Originally a tiny room in the showroom in Vail, where the Arrigoni Woods team tested custom formulas of environmentally-safe stains and dyes to create their own line of products with names like “Meadowlark”, “Ponderosa”, and “Gold Finch”, the operation has grown dramatically, with multiple employees devoted to the application and formulation of Arrigoni’s custom finishes. Many of Arrigoni Woods’ employees and craftsmen have been working alongside Balz for a decade or longer, a fact that Balz takes a great pride in, similarly to his relationships with his suppliers at Admonter and Praschberger, and at Geyer, the family-run Bavarian wood product manufacturer. In Balz’s view, his work is all about a personal connection. “Selling wood is the same today as it was when I started the company twenty years ago – it’s based on conversations with people.”
Today, Arrigoni Woods has grown to provide fully customized flooring and wood products that find their home anywhere from grand cabins in the American West to penthouse apartments in Manhattan and luxury retail stores in Europe. The ethos of Arrigoni Woods remains the same: a circle of respect for people, the materials, and the planet. It’s an all-encompassing vision of life in relationship with wood, from the forest to the floor beneath your feet, a solid foundation for family and friendships to grow, and a pride in the trust, care, and attention that it requires to craft that reality.
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