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posted: 4/13/2013 4:40 AM

Retro doors, rain glass is 'in' in millwork

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  • A John Tobin Millwork installer finishes up the hardware on a newly installed door at a home in Park Ridge.

    A John Tobin Millwork installer finishes up the hardware on a newly installed door at a home in Park Ridge.
    Courtesy of Jean Murphy

  • Rain glass, which provides privacy but lets in natural light, has become a popular alternative to leaded glass in transoms and sidelights.

    Rain glass, which provides privacy but lets in natural light, has become a popular alternative to leaded glass in transoms and sidelights.
    Courtesy of Jean Murphy

By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent

John Tobin Millwork has been a fixture in Villa Park since 1960, originally supplying millwork, windows and doors to contractors and builders, and later expanding to sell and install those same products in existing homes in the West and Northwest suburbs.

In recent years, with new home construction reeling from the housing crisis, the family firm's business has swung heavily toward retail sales with 80 percent of their business coming from homeowners who are interested in improving, updating and sprucing up their homes.

"In the old days, everyone understood that the term 'millwork' referred to windows, doors and trim. Today, they tend to think that it just means trim like crown molding and baseboards. But, in truth, most of what we sell are windows and doors," said John Tobin, who runs the business with several of his eight siblings, including brothers Gerard and Joe.

"We are trying to carry on our dad's tradition, installing quality windows and doors and making people happy," he said.

Today's homeowners' tastes are changing, but most are still trying to work within the confines of their home's architectural style, Tobin said. For instance, if their home is a colonial, they are choosing double-hung windows in order to maintain its integrity.

But he has noticed that many customers are moving away from the leaded glass sidelights and transoms that have been so popular for the last decade. Younger buyers, in particular, Tobin said, are tired of that look and are opting instead for rain glass, which offers privacy in a different way.

And those who live in midcentury ranches and split-levels are choosing more retro doors with small panes of privacy glass in interesting shapes like diamonds and both horizontal and vertical rectangles.

Inside, millwork is being painted white again instead of being stained. While traditional brass door hardware has been "out" for many years (replaced by satin nickel and oil-rubbed bronze), brass is starting to make a comeback in some quarters.

"We offer an almost unlimited selection of hardware styles and materials to satisfy all tastes," Tobin said.

John Tobin Millwork has been selling Andersen Windows for 40 years. Today the business also sells some more affordable vinyl windows, as well as Therma Tru fiberglass doors, Rogue Valley wood exterior doors, exterior millwork and trim, and a wide variety of interior doors, moldings and hardware.

"We sell the materials to remodelers and those building additions, as well as to builders," Tobin said. "But they do their own installation. For homeowners we offer a turnkey operation where we handle the installation, staining and everything.

"Our big focus is on home exteriors like front door systems with sidelights and transoms and windows. But once we go out to a home and see it, we can also offer ancillary services like installing base molding, crown molding, interior doors, etc.," he said.

John Tobin Millwork is so familiar with Chicago area homes and neighborhoods, and has been around so long, that it can generally give an estimate on windows without even going out to the site. Sales staff just needs to find out the name of the subdivision, who built it and when, while referring online to Google Earth images, Tobin said.

The energy tax credits offered to homeowners who installed more energy efficient windows and doors kept business hopping during the downturn. A less generous version of the credit is still available to those who have not yet taken advantage of it.

"But we are absolutely getting more calls from both contractors and homeowners in recent weeks. We gave lots of estimates last fall and now people are finally getting off the fence and moving forward. They are finally feeling confident enough to start their projects," Tobin said.

John Tobin Millwork's 2,300-square-foot showroom is at 231 W. North Ave. in Villa Park. For more details, call (630) 832-3780. A new website is under development.

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