Where NYC's upcoming TWA Hotel got its millwork

The 512 guestrooms at the TWA Hotel will have custom-built millwork made by Amish woodworkers in Ohio. Photo credit: Morse Development.

When it opens in the spring, the TWA Hotel at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport will not only have a decidedly 1960's vibe and a contemporary restaurant from celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, but also some elements that one might not expect in a hotel celebrating urban chic.

The 512 guestrooms at the TWA Hotel will have custom-built millwork made by Amish woodworkers in Ohio.

Family-owned Highland Wood Products of Millersburg, Ohio, and Hilltop Woodworking of Fredericksburg, Ohio, manufactured the walnut martini bars and tambour walls from locally grown walnut trees. 

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The massive project used about 20 18-wheelers’ worth of logs, involved more than 200 Amish craftspeople and took five months to complete. In total, the hotel will have 40,000 square feet of tambour, which project owner and operator MCR/Morse Development claims amounts to 13 miles of wood.

Tambour by the numbers
Image credit: Morse Development

In a statement, MCR/Morse said that while it received lower bids from vendors in China, Malaysia and Vietnam, the company turned to Ohio for the millwork instead. 

Tyler Morse, CEO of MCR/Morse Development, visited the Ohio factories last fall with TWA Hotel team members to witness the production firsthand. Joe Yoder, owner of Hilltop Woodworking, and his father, Eli, who started the company 25 years ago, hosted a behind-the-scenes tour of the Amish- and Mennonite-owned facilities. The visitors also planted walnut trees as part of the local community’s regrowth program.

After a media visit to the construction site last year, Morse told Hotel Management that he did not want the hotel to be trendy or cool, but something that would last. “By definition, ‘cool’ is ephemeral, and it's fleeting,” he said after unveiling the hotel’s first model rooms to the press. “What's cool today is not cool tomorrow.” Hotels adhering to a fad can find themselves abandoned—just like the former TWA Flight Center was for nearly 20 years.

The Yoders detailed how they build tambour walls that last. After the walnut is cut, the wood is steamed to bring out its color and spends weeks drying. Millworkers then sand and shape the boards before putting them through a moulder to achieve the distinctive tambour style. From there, artisans stain, seal, sand (again) and—finally—varnish each panel.

TWA Millwork Process
The TWA millwork process took five months to complete. Image credit: Morse Development

(Throughout the production, the team noted, nothing goes to waste. Lumber scraps are tossed into factory furnaces for heat, and sawdust turns into bedding for horses and cows.)

Last year, Morse estimated ongoing construction costs to be about $20 million per month.

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