Andrea Brunsell Parks is following the path her great-grandfather started in 1938. Four generations of her family have concentrated their skills on providing the Greater Madison area with premium-quality building materials, and although this is not the career path she originally envisioned, she is now fully engaged.
William Brunsell Sr. began with a mill shop and a few bunks of lumber. He was a builder himself, with several area houses under his tool belt, and understood the needs of building professionals. For 50 years, the business was contained in a building on the rear portion of the current Madison lot, which is near the intersection of the Beltline and Verona Road. With no retail presence, they catered mostly to builders and a few homeowners needing specialty items, like big curved stairway banisters, custom fireplace mantels, and reproductions of historic moldings.
A mill shop is an amazing establishment. Imagine arched and angled knives sharp enough to cut across a board and create decorative wood trim. You might be surprised to learn that many homes have a signature cut to their moldings—a distinctive pattern reflecting the care a builder put into the home’s creation. Even now some builders have their own knives created and stored at the Brunsell mill shop. In the shop, dividers spaced across long shelves carefully separate moldings with names scribbled across their ends.
You won’t need to go far to see examples of Brunsell millwork. During the 2008 refurbishment of Olin House, the chancellor’s residence in Madison, the millwork team machined knives to recreate the moldings and mantels. Many other older homes in the area benefit from the replacement skills Brunsell workers provide.
After the original two brothers started the business, William Brunsell Jr. followed, then Craig Brunsell took over and now serves as the CEO. Craig was the visionary who moved beyond serving only building professionals by expanding into hardware and paint and establishing a retail presence that welcomed homeowners. Andrea took this one step further when she became store manager by moving the Madison showroom to the front of the store and making sure every customer who entered walked by displays of their major offerings. They also opened a large showroom in Hartland.
While their primary customers continue to be builders and contractors, homeowners visit the store constantly. Contractors, or big box stores unable to fill higher-end requests, send customers, and the extensive selection of products for kitchens, closets, decks, doors, and windows available at this well-rounded establishment draws in many new customers. Andrea laughingly says, “I’ve seen homeowners look around and say, ‘There’s almost too much to choose from.’”
When someone visits the showroom to consider kitchen cabinetry, for example, they can choose from framed lines, such as StarMark, or more contemporary frameless (or European) cabinetry, such as UltraCraft. The millwork shop on the premises can also create specialty cabinets or sections to complement other selections. What continues to draw people to Brunsell are both the extensive product lines and the knowledgeable sales staff, many of whom started by working in the field.
The inside sales team helps match needs and wants with the latest products and designs. Recognizing their responsibility to builders and contractors, showroom personnel ask who a homeowner is working with. When a homeowner has not yet made a connection, they provide referrals and suggestions to ensure successful completion of the project.
Brunsell Lumber and Millwork serves as the area’s leading source of quality lumber, offering specialty wood species and plywoods. Walnut, cherry, alder, various maples, hickory, mahogany, and the hard-to-find white oaks are all here, and the millwork shop can craft them into cabinets, mantels, flooring, and more.
One popular use for specialty woods is custom wood tops for counters. While we may think all butcher-block counters look the same, the Brunsell team knows better. On display in the showroom are bespoke butcher-block counters, rich with inlays; thick and thin cuts; custom depths; and lush, varied colors and finishes. These works of art serve as the centerpiece of a kitchen and complement granite countertops beautifully.
Brunsell has a plant in Mt. Horeb that creates roof and floor trusses and wall panels for larger construction projects. Manufactured in a controlled environment, the preconstructed products optimize materials and provide durable, high-quality components. Among the projects completed with these materials are hotels, apartment buildings, homes, and even the carousel building at the Henry Vilas Zoo. When faced with a structure fire at the Mt. Horeb location in August 2016, Brunsell employees pulled together to make sure that products and service were uncompromised. Despite the small setback, it was business as usual within a few weeks.
Andrea Parks started working in the family business in high school then studied police work and worked as an officer in Mt. Horeb before her return to Brunsell. As the company’s vice president and manager of the kitchen division, and working closely with her father, she has learned to thrive in what remains a male-oriented business. She eagerly gives back to the community that has supported her family’s enterprise for generations. She is a volunteer cuddler at the Meriter Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and serves on the board of the Henry Vilas Zoo. Speaking with her, you hear her pride in Brunsell’s products and services and recognize her commitment to the work her great-grandfather began almost 80 years ago.
Yvette Jones is the owner of designCraft Advertising, a Madison agency focused on local businesses and nonprofit organizations.