The Second-Generation William Ohs

A new team of close-knit family has taken over Colorado’s longtime cabinet design business, and they’re ready to rock its next 50 years.
William Ohs' new owners, from left, Amber Kaup, Lesley Dudden and Bret Kaup. Photo by James Florio.

By Kris Scott

In 1972, William “Bill” Ohs started his eponymous handcrafted cabinetry company in a garage.

Over the decades, he continued to establish himself as an industry pioneer, putting his stamp on the world of cabinetry by cultivating innovative construction techniques that brought a new, more seamless aesthetic to modern kitchens.

As the company continued to grow during its 45-plus years, Ohs added new lines of transitional and, more recently, modern and contemporary designs that aligned with changing customer preferences. He also built a talented team that seamlessly blends traditional craftsmanship with modern technology and expert engineering, ultimately distributing custom-built cabinetry across North America.

Last year, Ohs passed the reins of his company to the folks at Unique Woodworking (UW), a Colorado commercial architectural millwork company that’s been in business for 25 years and worked on high-profile projects all over the city, including a a litany of projects in the tenant improvement, education and health care arenas. The new ownership now includes Bret Kaup, his sister Amber Kaup and their cousins Lesley and Katherine Dudden.

Bret Kaup has helmed Unique Woodworking since 2013 — he transitioned to the industry from corporate America, bringing with him industrial manufacturing, strategic project and business development experience. In 2017, as an Architectural Woodworking Institute board of directors member, he learned that Ohs was looking to retire and find someone to take over his company. 

Kaup says the decision to be that person was an easy one. “Having owned Unique Woodworking for five years, we were ready to continue growing and diversifying our company by expanding into the residential market,” he notes. “To have the opportunity to acquire a company with the legacy, tradition and heritage of William Ohs? That’s a game changer and a no-brainer.”

Kaup took over William Ohs in 2018 with sister Amber, who was already onboard at UW, and Dudden, who was living in Washington, DC, working in foreign policy and relations. While none of the family members had a ton of experience in cabinet production before taking over UW in 2013, together they had a set of skills that would translate well to that industry, including an enthusiasm for design and a natural independent spirit, having come from a three-generational family of farmers. “We have a long lineage of entrepreneurial family business in our heritage,” Kaup says.

They also looked to Ohs himself for guidance. “The first thing I started doing was meeting with Bill Ohs on a weekly basis,” says Dudden. “Learning his history, the history of the company and how he was inspired to design kitchens. Really just trying to understand his incredible career in the cabinet industry. One of our main goals is to give another generation a new life with a company that’s had such a phenomenal legacy.”

A year after taking over, William Ohs is doing just that, going strong with its new team, along with veteran team members such as Robert Cilli, who leads the showroom and sales efforts and manages other facets of the company. They’ve relocated the factory to combine William Ohs’ and Unique Woodworking’s manufacturing processes, which has helped, Kaup says, to assimilate the company culture and the development of a dynamic management team. Dudden has also been working on an overhaul of the company showroom.

“To have the opportunity to acquire a company with the legacy, tradition and heritage of William Ohs? That’s a game changer and a no-brainer.”

And, while Kaup refers to William Ohs as “simply the best, highest-end residential cabinet manufacturer in Colorado,” he and his team are not resting on the laurels of that heritage. Their short-term goals include growing a dynamic leadership group that’s engaged in the community and re-establishing engaged relationships with customers and suppliers.

They have some long-term goals, too. “Pumping new life and energy into the business to recapitalize on all the brand equity that’s been established over the last almost 50 years. There’s no one else that brings that depth of history and quality, “ says Kaup. “We’re mostly trying to do what we’ve been doing but do it better by increasing brand awareness, modernizing marketing efforts, utilize tools such as Instagram and other social media — all these different mediums that we now can use to grow more awareness of the company.”

Once those practices are established, Kaup says, they’ll look to creating additional dealership and design partners for the long-term — “people we can go to market with for the next 20 to 30 years.”

Ultimately, Kaup stresses, they’re a team that wants to “continue the legacy and heritage” of William Ohs himself. “We’re a family business with a vision of doing things the right way, including providing local manufacturing jobs and being active in the local community. All of us, for the most part, were born and raised in Colorado, and we want to maintain that heritage to do right by our city, our employees, our clients and our families.”