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The Secret’s in the Details

Beauty and efficiency are the bywords for this builder and woodworker

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Tom Moore, the president of Tom Moore Builder Inc. in Underhill Center, stands at the door of his home, which he uses as his showroom. Over the years, he has given each room a different style to showcase the work of his cabinetry shop.

Tom Moore says, with no hesitation, that if he won the lottery, he’d still do what he’s been doing since he was a teenager — building and remodeling homes and creating beautiful cabinetry. “I’m stuck,” he says. “It’s too exciting.”

He confesses that the extra money would let him expand his idea for creating entire green developments incorporating “the most efficiently built structures in Vermont.” He’s planning it on a smaller scale already, in a development called Locust Knoll he’s doing in Richmond in concert with Londonderry architect Keith Dewey.

“It’s called net-zero energy consumption,” he says, warming to his topic. “We’re hoping with all these solar panels and the way we build these buildings, the type of walls and roof and insulation, there will be next to zero cost for heating and hot water ... ever.” The project is the culmination of Moore’s 10-year interest in building energy-efficient homes and working with Efficiency Vermont.

Energy efficiency is just one of the 20 strategies planned for the eight-home design/build project, whose focus is “sophisticated architecture in harmony with nature and at a reasonable price.”

Moore is president of Tom Moore Builder Inc., an award-winning building and remodeling company in Underhill Center with a thriving furniture and cabinet division. Moore’s sons, Justin, 28, and Lincoln, 25, work with him — Justin, an engineer, is comptroller, and Lincoln works in the cabinet division. Moore’s home, offices and woodshop are on the property that was his family’s summer residence until 1967, when, at age 15, he moved here with his parents and his brother, John.

photoKika McArthur, the office manager, and Justin Moore, Tom Moore’s older son and the company’s comptroller, share an office on the property.

Back in 1967, his father, a mechanical engineer who had been marketing manager for a couple of big companies, left the stresses of the corporate world behind to follow his dream of working with his hands. “We moved to Vermont,” says Moore, “we built a structure on our property, somebody asked him to build a house, then another, and another, and the osmosis process took hold.” So was launched the family business, E.T. Moore Builder.

Moore and his brother worked for their father from the beginning, “every summer and weekends and holidays,” Moore says. “I’ve had a hammer in my hand since I was 15.”

After graduating from Mount Mansfield High School, Moore left to travel and study abroad for a year on a program called Expedition for Cultural Studies. “I studied art history and architecture all around the world,” he says. “Then I had two years of college at Johnson State, then decided to go into business as a partner with my father. In 1972, the company became E.T. Moore & Son.

By ’73, John, too, had joined the company, and the name changed again — to E.T. Moore & Sons.

Custom cabinetry has always been a part of the company’s focus, says Moore, “but it was just sort of on-site when we were building. Dad was an engineer and did all the designs, the architectural for the homes and project managing, running the jobs; my brother, when he was there, was more mechanical, did the plumbing and wiring, and I did the framing, trim and cabinetry.”

John eventually left to work for his father-in-law, Jerry Brown of Vermont Heating and Ventilating, then went on to build his own business, Fabtec, a stainless steel piping company for the computer industry, and eventually sold that and now is a music producer. “He built up a big company, sold it and at a very young age swapped it over to a new venue,” says Moore.

By 1980, his father had retired, and the company’s name changed again, to Tom Moore Builder. He incorporated in 1987.

photoThis wood-paneled room in cherry and figured maple with coffered ceiling was crafted in Moore’s woodshop.

By that time, Moore had met and married Deborah Ploof and was the father of two sons. They met when he was working with his father on a house in Underhill for a doctor. “She was a nursing student and living with him and his wife while going to nursing school.”

Moore formalized the cabinet division in the ’80s. It is a centerpiece of the company’s business, with a state-of-the-art workshop that can produce custom archways, entries, staircases, coffered ceilings, fireplace surrounds, furniture, and kitchens that perfectly fit a home’s design and measurements and a homeowner’s desires.

“My own home and workshop are sort of our showrooms,” says Moore. “The home is one I built with my dad when I was 15. I’ve done room by room in different styles, some very elaborate, some quite simple, but when customers come here, they get to see a lot of varieties and options.”

Varieties and options are what Phil and Evergreen Erb of Jericho like about working with Moore. They are on a fixed income, and he is building a retirement home for them on the land near their large family home, which they are renting to their son and his family.

“We have known Tom for years,” says Evergreen. “He’s done a lot of work for us — not anything this major, but he redid our kitchen once, redid our roof, and once bugs ate a hole in our wall, and he rebuilt that.

“We have limited funds,” she continues. “It’s not like his big fancy houses. He helped us get it to a place where we could afford to do it.”

The Erbs’ new home has one bedroom, a great room featuring kitchen and living space, and one and a half baths. Although it’s small, the home features Moore’s attention to detail. “It’s all ADA-compliable, so the doors are all 3 feet wide,” she says, referring to the Americans With Disabilities Act. There was the option to lower a counter in the kitchen. “The countertop heights are pretty standard,” says Evergreen, “except on the island. I had it lowered, because I’m short, and some chores are easier to do if you have a lower surface.”

Moore says he is as proud of his work on the Erbs’ project as he is of a very expensive, detailed home he’s building on the lake in South Hero for a retired schoolteacher from Palo Alto, Calif. “That one’s going to be a show-stopper,” he says. “Very interesting. He’s owned the land on the lake for 18 years, and he has decided to live here for his retirement.”

Each of these projects exemplifies the niche Moore has crafted. “That’s our specialty — details. Especially interior details. We’re the guys who build the nicest house for the budget, not the biggest.”

photoTom Moore’s son Lincoln works in the state-of-theart shop that serves the company’s cabinet division.

Moore’s work has earned him acclaim from many quarters, including 13 Better Home Awards from the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont. His work appeared on the cover of Remodeling magazine, and has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, Woman’s Day magazine, the Journal of Light Construction, Builder/Architect magazine, The Burlington Free Press and Homes Overseas magazine.

Helping Moore is a team of 13 employees, which includes his sons and Kika McArthur, a longtime friend he hired a couple of years ago to manage the office.

Having McArthur on board, says Moore, has freed him up to tend to growing the business. “We are very busy right now,” he says. “We hired three new employees in the last year. We’ve gotten two engineers on staff, we have four project managers, one who’s an engineer, and a guy who engineers and is also our estimator, and an on-staff design person.”

I guess my biggest challenge, since my sons are back, is growing the company,” says Moore — “everything that goes along with that: scheduling projects and projecting — you know, knowing the amount of work you can take on. Advertising has also been a new realm for us.”

For years, the company used software written by Moore’s father, who became a computer programmer when he retired from the building business. This year, says Moore, the company “made a huge investment in software called Master Builder to run a bigger company.

“That’s been a challenge,” he continues, “getting everybody on board, but when you grow, the challenges are knowing your capabilities, getting everyone onboard, and just getting the work done out there.”

When he’s not working, Moore spends time doing other things he loves. He used to be a ski instructor and compete in mountain-bike racing; these days he rides and skis for fun.

He and Deborah, who is district administrator of prison health services for the state of Vermont, have two grandchildren. Moore quips that one of his favorite pastimes is “taking naps with them.”

Asked about the future, he responds with a typically well-thought-out answer. “I guess some of my goal in life is to build a company and turn it over to my sons. I’ll always be involved in it, and I’m going to still be in the industry, but I’m going to encourage younger folks to get into the trade.

“We have a tremendous need. Maybe I’ll do presentations with schools, work with the Home Builders and Remodelers and state organizations, get the word out that there are very nice jobs in building and remodeling. Also, I hope to encourage and be an example for other builders to get on the energy-efficient wagon. Let’s just start cutting the cost of energy consumption in our homes. There’s no reason we can’t do it.” •