The Morse Code
A high-end veneer panel maker marks 30 years in Capon Bridge.
Steve Morse graduated from college with a dream to be a furniture maker. He laughs about it now. “Life moves on, and you realize you have to make a living,” he says.
It might have taken him a while, but he’s now found a way to both make a living and make things. His SJ Morse Company in Capon Bridge has made a name for itself fashioning architectural veneer panels for some of the largest hotel, hospital, and office buildings in the Southeast. If you’ve ever seen a dramatic curving wall of wood in an auditorium or noticed the high-gloss panels in a fancy elevator, you might be looking at something SJ Morse had a hand in creating.
“We do the paneling in whatever wood has been specified by the architect or the owner,” Morse says. “The degree of specification for that material is really intense—it’s down to the log. Our job is to take the architect’s intent for how he wants the wall to look and make that panel group.”
Morse started his company in Colorado in 1979 but wound up moving east when he found the bulk of his clients were close to the Washington D.C. market. After a time in Purgitsville, he settled on the space in Capon Bridge, where he’s been operating since 1987.
He has about 20 employees now, many who’ve been with him for decades. “We have been really lucky,” Morse says. “We have great people who have been with us through the ups or downs. The new ones—I call them the young kids, but they have grown up, too. Even they have been here for 10 or 15 years.”
Morse’s client base is steady these days, too. The company has a dozen or so repeat customers, including architectural millworks and woodworking companies, that provide about 80 percent of their work. These clients handle major architectural projects and come to SJ Morse when they need veneer panels. They just finished up a major project for the Houston Marriott Hotel, and their work was recently installed at the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital and Emily Couric Cancer Center in Charlottesville. Their finished products also are on display at several major law firms and headquarters for companies including Ernst and Young and Oracle.
This year, the company is celebrating its 30th year since moving to Capon Bridge, along with another milestone: By mid-winter, the business was on track to become 100 percent employee-owned, Morse says. The crew also is expecting an expansion of some sort this year.
“We are looking to grow,” Morse says. “Our last addition to this building was in 2007, 2008. We are looking around for what our next option is.” 2736 Northwestern Pike, Capon Bridge, 304.856.3423, sjmorse.com