Here’s How You Furnish a College

Maine-based Thos. Moser Contract offers a look into designing for universities.

thos moser contract

Moser Contract furniture at Bates College in Lewison, Maine / Photo courtesy of Thos. Moser

All eight Ivy League schools share one main characteristic: academic excellence. But six of the schools share something a little less obvious—they all contain furniture designed by the same New England company.

Maine-based Thos. Moser Contract designs and makes pieces for colleges and universities across the country. A division of Thos. Moser, Moser Contract is headed up by Aaron Moser, the son of the company’s founder, Thomas Moser. As the contract arm of the residential furniture business, Moser Contract still churns out completely handmade furniture. A group of 70 master craftspeople select sustainably harvested hardwoods to make furniture that outfits libraries, study rooms, dining halls, admission offices, and other “legacy” spaces.

What are legacy spaces? “Publicly facing spaces where the design is in support of the legacy of the school and the school’s own identity and brand,” explains Aaron Moser.

In other words, Moser Contract makes that scholarly, wooden furniture found on college campuses. From tables and chairs to more complex custom installations, Moser Contract has been making durable furniture for academic environments since the 1980s. Clearly the furniture is built to last—it’s still in use by Moser’s first clients, meaning it hasn’t worn out and it hasn’t gone out of style.

“Our furniture is still in place,” says Moser. “There’s structural integrity, but then there’s that design side where you’re looking for designs that will be comfortable generation after generation of students.”

The classic Moser furniture line is full of Shaker-inspired pieces—they can easily be recognized by their simple, natural look. Moser Contract furniture is a bit different because the vision for a space within a college doesn’t come from Moser alone. The process of creating furniture for a college actually starts with a school’s architect or designer. Moser partners with a college’s chosen architectural firm to outfit a space, as well as with groups like donors, alumni and development offices, and others who have a stake in the project.

“So they’re looking at us from a design sensitivity standpoint, but also to weigh in on the structure and the scale of the furniture and the durability of it,” says Moser.

This means the signature Moser look is sometimes absent from Moser Contract furniture. Materials like glass, stone, and steel might be used in a library table, but would never be used in classic Moser chair.

“We tend to be much more of a sandbox of creativity and design,” says Moser. “We seem to be a little freer to work with these materials and other vendors we wouldn’t necessarily work with.”

thos moser contract

Moser Contract furniture at MIT / Photo courtesy of Peter Vanderwarker

While they’re separate, traditional Moser furniture and Moser Contract furniture are made in the same workshop in Auburn, Maine. Moser explains that whether a customer is buying one rocking chair or a hundred library tables, the experience for, say, a new homeowner and a school’s architect, is the same.

Moser Contract’s prestigious list of local clients include Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Yale University, MIT, New England Institute of Technology, Bates College, and others. Most recently, the company installed custom furniture in MIT’s mathematics department and Harvard’s Chao Center. No matter where they’re placed, all of Moser’s pieces stay true to Thomas Moser’s unofficial motto: unadorned design with natural materials always outlast trends.

“These pieces of furniture are very comfortable in very modern architecture and are very comfortable in very traditional architecture,” says Moser. “And good design means you can transport that through time and space.”

Moser sums it up pretty well when he says that style, inspiration, and comfort have no graduation date.

thos moser contract

Moser Contract furniture at New England Institute of Technology / Photo courtesy of Thos. Moser