Allen Peterson has always loved woodworking. When he was 10, he would sneak into his father’s shop and use the tools he wasn’t supposed to handle. While in high school, he spent much of his time in wood shop, which eventually led to a job as a Bay Area union trim contractor.
His craftsmanship attracted attention and he went on to work for Simmons Stairways Inc., considered one of the largest and most reputable stair companies in Northern California. It was there — while working for nearly a decade with some of the finest stair-makers in the business — that Peterson was able to perfect his craft.
Eager to leave the congested freeways of the Bay Area behind, Peterson moved his young family into his late grandparents’ Alta Sierra home. He had spent his childhood summers playing on the water at Lake Wildwood, while his grandfather sold houses and lots in the “new” development.
In 1993, Peterson took a leap of faith, obtained a contractor’s license for his own business and launched the Grass Valley Stair Company. Now celebrating his 20th year in business, Peterson says he has never regretted moving away and going out on his own, despite the ups and downs of the construction market.
“I’ve done well over 800 stair jobs locally, and I work for about 60 contractors,” he said. “My customers are my best advertising — my work speaks for itself. Some of my customers have become lifelong friends. I’ve never been stiffed on a contract. If anything, my customers say, ‘It’s more than I expected.’”
When it comes to Peterson’s work, he’s not limited to what is found at the store.
“I have a full shop — I can fabricate every piece from any kind of wood,” he said. “My lumber comes to me in raw form — some even still has bark on it. I’m not limited when it comes to what I can do — I can do anything.”
In his state-of-the-art shop in his garage, Peterson gets the wood down to a “workable” size, then does the final cutting and fitting in the field, working roughly 75 percent of the time out of his van, or mobile wood shop.
“There are quite a few mansions up here that are tucked away — you’d never know they were there,” he said. “Many customers have elevators — but they have stairs and long railings built because they enhance the beauty of the house.”
Despite his ample experience working in high-end homes and large businesses — such as the office building at DeMartini RV Sales — Peterson says the secret to a successful business is versatility.
“I don’t turn work down — I appreciate all my customers,” he said. “One day, I’ll install a safety grab bar in a bathroom and the next work on a spiral stairway made of exotic wood and iron handrails.”
Peterson also builds long railings, ranging from the intricate and ornate to rustic log. Much of his work involves retrofitting older stairs to bring them up to current safety codes and modernizing them in the process, he said. He also does interior trim, door installation, windowsills and other finished carpentry work.
“It’s stressful when you’re building a house, so it was refreshing when Allen came along,” said Annemarie Trager, who has built two custom homes in Grass Valley with her husband. “Allen has integrity and does beautiful work. He built a sweeping, curved, spiral staircase for us as the focal point in our house. All our guests comment on it. ”
Many of the more intricate aspects of woodworking are becoming a lost art, said Peterson, who says the challenge of new projects is what makes his job so rewarding, day after day. After working solo for the past two decades, Peterson’s son, William, will begin learning the trade this fall.
“The creativity keeps it alive for me,” Peterson said. “Many retirees move up here to build their last dream house. It’s my job to give them what they deserve.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4203.