Marvin Windows: Inside Looking Out

The local company has a vision for the future of windows, and it may not be what you’re expecting.

Photos courtesy Marvin Windows

At their most basic form, windows are nothing more than big holes in our homes that are covered over with glass. In reality, they are far more. They are style. They are light. They are sculpture. And they are a channel for personal expression.

Need proof? Look no further than Minnesota’s own Marvin Windows—a northern success story like no other.

In 1904, George G. Marvin arrived in tiny Warroad, Minnesota, to begin working as the manager of the town’s grain elevator. Seeing that the lumber industry was the true driver of Warroad’s economy and recognizing an opportunity to capitalize on it, he established in 1912 the precursor of what would become the famed window company—the Marvin Lumber & Cedar Company.

Business was good for George, and when the Great Depression hit, he took care of the town that had provided him with so much. He provided Christmas trees for every family in Warroad. He delivered 100-pound bags of flour to needy families. And when crops were poor and farm families were near starvation, George arranged for each family to sell a truckload of pulpwood to a local paper company.

And if that weren’t enough, George Marvin quite literally saved the town of Warroad. It seems that, like so many other financial institutions during the Great Depression, a local bank had failed and all the farm mortgages it had paper on would come due immediately, thus forcing dozens of local famers off their land. George secretly bought the bank, held the mortgages, and the farmers paid him back over time.

Still, it was George’s oldest son, William S. “Bill” Marvin, who can be credited for making Marvin what it would become. After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1939, Bill returned home to help his father with the family business. A lumberyard employee suggested to Bill that, to keep workers busy during the winter months, perhaps the company could make door frames and barn sashes. Bill invested in a saw and from those meager beginnings Marvin’s first window-making venture began.

When World War II ended, Bill Marvin realized that returning veterans needed jobs, so over his father’s objections, Bill invested in top-line woodworking machinery and launched what is now known as Marvin Windows and Doors.

Marvin Windows and Doors now employs more than 4,000 people—more than twice the actual population of Warroad itself—and continues to be a leader in creating windows that make a true architectural statement.

I got the chance to see for myself when Marvin invited me up to Warroad to tour its facilities—and by “tour” I mean walk more than four miles through the factory’s 2.1 million square feet of manufacturing space. And while the company’s roots may be in barn doors, its vision is 21st century.

Marvin Windows is taking a hard look at what is known as biophilic design. As a concept, biophilic design seeks to reconnect us with the outside world by including natural elements into your home’s environment. Windows are the ideal venue for making that connection, as they allow us to both bring the outer environment into the house and then use it to tell a personal story.

To that end, Marvin is offering more and more large-pane windows that provide an unprecedented view of the outside. It is designing window frames that virtually vanish, thus leaving the glass as unobstructed as possible. It’s incorporating built-in security sensors to let you know if your windows are locked. And it’s designing windows that are as much art as they are functional. In short, if you can imagine it, Marvin Windows can create it—any shape, any color, any size.

During my tour, I witnessed every single part of the manufacturing process. From the milling of wood components to the bending and shaping of forms to complex CNC machining, Marvin is doing it all under one massive roof. And to say that it was impressive would be a massive understatement. But then again, maybe leaving it as an understatement is what Bill Marvin would have wanted all along.

Want a behind-the-scenes look at our recent Marvin Windows tour? Watch this exclusive video!

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