Conceptual Design and Practical Production with Studio Wise

If you’ve ever squeezed into a booth at Brewery Vivant or thrummed your fingers on the bar while waiting for an espresso at MadCap Coffee, you’ve touched the work of Studio Wise, a local design production company putting their mark on West Michigan one project at a time.

Housed in a large, airy, old building near the river on Oakland Avenue, Studio Wise has been creating custom projects ranging from gorgeous restaurant tables to hand-oiled walnut butcher blocks since Troy Bosworth and Tom Roeters met and joined forces in 2008. Roeters, a Calvin College graduate with a business and communications degree, was running his own concrete countertop business when he met Bosworth during the MadCap construction project. “We were both doing the same type of thing -- designing projects with different mediums -- so we saw it as a good opportunity to take the two small businesses and combine them,” says Bosworth, whose incredible woodworking abilities are completely self-taught.

While Bosworth is more comfortable running a planer and Roeters more confident talking sales, the company they’ve built together in the last four years is equal parts design, carpentry, manufacturing and entrepreneurial, a combination that allows them to fill unique roles in the projects they’ve been a part of. “We’ve had success in the market because there are designers who don’t know how to build things, and there are builders who aren’t creative, but we’re able to mesh the two together,” says Bosworth. “We have intentionally set out to be the middle man, to be a bridge between the architect and the practical realization of the idea. We can be part of the initial conversation and understand code, help guide the vision and participate in the development.”

Roeters explains what happens when Studio Wise participates in a creative project from the start. “After the architect draws up plans and puts the footprint down, we get brought in to actualize the personality of the project in the space. So if a customer says, ‘We’re a Belgian brewery serving French cuisine, and we want to achieve LEED status in an historic building,’ we step in to make that all happen, literally creating the prototypes and executing the design.”

That “customer,” obviously, was Jason Spaulding, who opened Brewery Vivant in late 2010 with the help of Locus Development and Studio Wise. Spaulding, whose popular Cherry Street brewery just became the first LEED Silver certified commercial brewery in the country, raves that Studio Wise was his favorite company to work with during the construction process. “Studio Wise did pretty much all the aesthetic interior work in the pub: bar, woodwork, accent pieces. They sourced almost all the wood locally from a single walnut tree, and they played off the natural aesthetics, looked at the existing framework and made it all fit together beautifully,” says Spaulding.

Spaulding says the value of Studio Wise lies beyond their technical mastery of wood and concrete, adding that they also bring continuity and calm to a project. “In a $3 million construction project like this, there are so many subcontractors coordinated through the general contractor, and Studio Wise knew how to work within that whole system, acting as a reliable source to make sure we got the end result that we wanted.”

Chuck Hoyt, VP of Development at Locus Development, concurs. “Studio Wise adds value by offering creative ideas using quality materials with a budget focus. Studio Wise is there throughout the project from concept and design to fabrication and installation. They are sensitive to their client’s needs while pushing the envelope of creativity.” In addition to working together on Brewery Vivant, Locus has enlisted the help of Studio Wise in other office, retail and restaurant settings, including 38 Commerce, Peppino’s and the soon-to-open Maru Sushi.

It’s a place at the table on projects like these that Tom Roeters says makes Studio Wise feel grateful to exist in Grand Rapids. A lifelong Grand Rapidian, Roeters says, “It’s our home, and we bring that knowledge of community and demographics to the table. More importantly, this is a community that affords people like us -- artists with a craft and the gall to pick up the phone -- the ability to reach much higher than we could in another community.”

Bosworth, who has lived in Grand Rapids since 1996, agrees. “While Grand Rapids is competitive and full of very successful businesses, it still values its openness, and we’ve found a lot of people to be very open to what we have to offer. We want to contribute to the culture that way, too.”

To that end, Studio Wise has renovated the second floor of their building with a goal of making studio space available to other local artists and craftspeople. Reflecting on West Michigan’s historical reputation for quality within the furniture industry, Bosworth and Roeters see an opportunity for today’s talent to reclaim those values by working together. “Our success is our tenant’s success, so we have gallery space, studio space, shared resources and hopefully shared customers,” says Roeters. “These are practical things. It helps us with our expenses, it allows us to give local entrepreneurs a low rent in a quality space, and it allows artisans to network and grow their brand.”

The company is also in the beginning stages of establishing relationships with sales representatives for its unique butcher blocks. Popular locally through several custom kitchen and bath design centers, the butcher blocks were born when Bosworth discovered dumpsters full of post-production premium scrap lumber in back of a vendor building years ago. After receiving permission to pick up loads with his truck, he got to work milling the walnut, cherry, white oak and maple into LEED-certified custom cabinets and countertops.

Bosworth is proud to say that 100 percent of the wood for the butcher blocks is now locally-sourced from a small lumber supplier with an in-home sawmill who lives “out in the sticks” and has a handshake relationship with Studio Wise. It’s this honest, humble approachability that Bosworth says allows the company to build trust with small vendors as well as offer big clients the best value for their money. And as the company looks ahead, it’s this unique combination of conceptual design and practical production that makes everything Studio Wise creates, from the keg tap handles at Vivant to a mid-century modern coffee table, something worth touching.

Stephanie Doublestein writes and blogs about food, business, and parenting, among other things. She lives in East Grand Rapids with her husband and their two young daughters.