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|Posted on October 3, 2015 at 2:18 PM||comments (0)|
|Posted on July 31, 2015 at 9:50 AM||comments (4)|
I recently had a potential customer balk at the price for a custom TV enclosure that was 8' long, 2' deep and 4' high in a special Formica laminate finish. My estimate was $4,500. He told me that he had 3 shops bid it and we were all in the same price range. He then compared it to a kitchen remodel he did last year for $6,000. Based on that comparison he said we must be making a killing! Ahhh, I wish that were so. I wish we cabinetmakers were rolling in profits. But this is the old comparing "apples to oranges" scenario.
The cabinets he used in his kitchen were made by a factory that produces over 2,000 cabinets a day. A custom shop like ours generally averages 5 cabinets a day. The factory cabinets are less expensive because of the economies of scale. There is a rule of thumb in any custom manufacturing company regardless of the type of product: If you build 100 units of the same type, sell them for $100. If you build 10, charge $500. If you only build 1, charge $1,000. In other words the cost to build one custom piece is 10 times as much as 100. Imagine what it would cost for Ford to build just 1 automobile versus 100,000!
When a product is built it has a lot of individual costs: design time, material cost, ordering, receiving, parts cutting, assembly, finishing, warranty, mistakes, packaging, inspection, shipping, installation, legal, taxes, insurance, utilities, rent and so on (ad infinitum!). All of these costs have to be accounted for and included in the selling price plus the profit margin so you can stay in business and have some reward for your labor. For example, if my labor cost to design a piece is $100 and I build one unit I have to charge $100 for that cost (plus profit). However, if I build 100 of the same units then the cost per piece is only $1 each.
I heard recently that many people think that most companies net profit is 50% and more. If that were true then a company would make a 50 cent profit on every $1 you spent with them. I wish that were true because we would then all be rich and we could pay our janitors $100,000 a year to clean toilets! The reality is a little different. The national average profit for the best performing companies is about 5%. That means that after paying for all the costs in providing that product to you, the consumer, the company makes about 5 cents. And many companies make less than that and are often loosing money.
I recently reviewed our cost of operating for a year. This is the cost that it takes to "open the doors" everyday before you sell anything. What I found was both pleasing and scary at the same time. We run a lean operation and our operating cost is about 30% below comparable businesses. That is a good thing! However, when it was boiled down it costs us about $120 per hour to operate ($2 a minute or $960 for an 8 hour day). This includes rent, utilities, employee wages, taxes, insurance, automobiles, office expenses, insurance and so on (ad infinitum!). This cost must be covered before we begin to make a profit. That money is being spent whether we are producing anything or not.
When we price a job for a client we have to factor the job-specific production cost plus the material into the bid and then add a profit margin to cover the overhead and, hopefully, have 5% or so left over when it is all said and done.
(I would add that as a business owner I get paid out of the profit after everyone else is paid. If there is no profit then my paycheck is zero.)
Running a business, small or large, is challenging and risky. While it may seem that we are all making enormous amounts of money the truth is that some are making a little money and some are losing money. In a few rare cases, some are making a killing but that seldom lasts long thanks to the competition engendered by free enterprise. I am not sharing this to complain or gain your sympathy - I chose to be a business owner and knew what I was in for before I started this business - rather, I share it so that you can tell the difference between the apple of mass production versus the orange of custom work. They are two different types of fruit and comparing them is fruitless (pardon the pun!).
|Posted on May 23, 2015 at 1:09 PM||comments (1)|
Perfection. Just what is that?
According to the dictionary it means, "lacking nothing essential to the whole; complete of its nature or kind; being without defect or blemish.” In my experience very few things in this world live up this high ideal and those that do are purely subjective judgments. Thankfully I learned about the illusive nature of perfection when I was young.
I was 21 when I started my apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker and of course I knew everything. I was assigned to the semi-retired owner (his son-in-law now ran the shop). On my second day he asked me to pull an oak board out of the lumber rack. I brought it to him and laid it on the bench. It was a rough sawn piece, was uneven in width and thickness, had a twist to it and a crack at the end.
With youthful confidence I said, “Boy, they sure don’t make lumber like they used to!”
Sam, turned his head to me and in gruff voice but with a chuckle replied, “Son, I’ve been doing this for over 40 years and they never made lumber like ‘they used to’”.
He then continued on and said, “All of the materials we use come to us in imperfect shape - always have and always will. And remember that people are imperfect and the whole world is imperfect. Perfection is a false concept. Your job is to take imperfect materials and make them appear perfect – note I said appear – not make them perfect. If you do that then you have taken the first step in being a good cabinet maker because your expectations will be realistic. Keep high standards but always be realistic.”
He then went on and said, “While I’m at it, there is no such thing as level, plumb, straight or square and ‘a joint is a joint is a joint’. Things just appear level, plumb, straight and square and joints are always visible. Now you have one day to whine about these things and then for the rest of your career you just need to deal with these imperfections and attempt to make things appear perfect.”
Of all the things I learned in my apprenticeship that was the most valuable one.
Every piece of wood I have worked with had some imperfection (although perfection is, in this case, subjective – beauty is in the eye of the beholder). Every house I have worked in, no matter how new or old, was out of square and level and the walls were out of plumb. (Your house is not unique in that regard! When you put 200,000 pounds on top of a foundation it is guaranteed to move no matter how level and plumb it was built.) I’ve also never seen a truly straight wall and seams seldom disappear no matter how much I try.
Appearing perfect is what I aim for. The best example is on several jobs through the years I have installed crown moldings out of level in order to make them appear perfect. In these cases the ceilings were not level and making the crown molding level would have accentuated the issue. It took some creative solutions (usually following a night’s sleep) but when it was done the crown and the ceiling appeared level.
Imperfect materials – imperfect people – imperfect world. That’s the reality. When we keep that in mind our expectations are then realistic and in the end we all will proclaim “Wow that appears perfect! I love it!”
|Posted on May 23, 2015 at 12:37 PM||comments (1)|
If you’ve ever lived through a remodel in your home chances are you would agree with the above NOT!!! But whether or not you have remodeled before when you hear your contractor, friend or significant other use the following phrases while discussing your project please realize they are speaking Utopian and the translation in English is basically the opposite as shown below:
Utopian versus English
“Piece of cake” means “pain-in-the-butt”
“No problem” means “no problems except the ten we didn’t mention”
“Done in no time” means it will take twice as long (or more) than expected
“Will easily cost less than $_____” means “double the estimate”
“We’ve anticipated all contingencies” means all contingencies except for the contingencies we forgot
“No sweat” means no sweat but lots of blood and tears
Now it might seem like I’m saying that all of these people are liars but the truth is that people who use these terms tend to be very optimistic and people-pleasers (those people who tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear). Somehow or other it seems that most contractors and tradesmen always sincerely anticipate that the next job will run almost perfectly. I have been guilty of this myself.
When you hear these optimistic phrases I recommend politely saying to them something like, “Would you like to think about what you just said and possibly amend or modify it? I’d rather have realistic expectations rather than expect you to live up to unrealistic promises.” Generally when you do this you’ll see their face relax a bit, a smile start to form and they will take you up on your offer and hedge their bet.
I have collaborated with a contractor for many years and often we meet with the client together and when the question of time comes up he always underestimates it. I then lean over and with a smile say to the client, “When he said four weeks he meant six.” Both the client and he always thank me.
The easiest way to get through a remodel is to lower your expectations (not your standards though) and have some reserve funds (15%) and it will be much easier. I apply this when I fly on airplanes. I expect that the plane will run late, be uncomfortable, I will have an unanticipated expense and that my luggage will be lost. Most of the time I am pleasantly surprised that everything goes fairly well. If I expect perfection I am guaranteed to be disappointed.
Keep your expectations realistic and you’ll make your remodel much easier to get through. Hopefully when asked how the remodel went you'll reply, "No sweat!"
|Posted on May 3, 2015 at 10:33 AM||comments (3)|
I often ask myself questions about strange things. You know things like "why is the sky blue?" and so forth (drives my wife and kids crazy). One question I had years ago is why are kitchen wall cabinets typically 12" deep? After all is this the most practical size for wall storage? Those of you who have large dinner plates are replying "Heck, no!"
The answer lies in how the whole idea of built in kitchen cabinets evolved and the short answer is that back in the day when carpenters and trim carpenters built cabinets on site rather than in a shop or factory they used 1 x 12 pine boards for the ends and shelves. And if you have ever bought dimensional lumber at the lumber yard you know that the "nominal" (technical term for "actual") size is 11-1/4" (3/4" lost in planing the lumber smooth and straight). These were attached to the wall with cleats and then a 1 x 2 (3/4" X 1-1/2" nominal) frame was nailed to the faces and voila! you got 12". Now 12" works fine but it wasn't because the carpenter actually engineered it that way, it was just easier to use the board in the size it was already cut to than to add to it or have to rip it down with a hand saw. Chalk it up to efficiency and practicality for the carpenter (that's the PC way of saying "lazy").
Base cabinets ended up about 24" deep for the same reason. They would use two 1 x 12 boards cleated together and add the 3/4" face frame and ended up with 23-1/4" deep. When plywood became readily available they then started cutting them to 23-1/4", added the 3/4" face frame and got 24".
Factory cabinets today are a standard 12" deep and the interior useable depth varies from 10-1/2" to 11-1/4" depending on the construction. I have done many jobs where, at the owner's request, we built the wall cabinets 13" deep to accommodate large plates and I recently did a kitchen where we made them all at 15" deep at the owner's request. Many factory cabinets offer the option of increasing the depth for an additional charge.
As an aside, if you have old job built cabinets like this, they may be made of clear old growth sugar pine or 'D' select pine or Douglas fir and are valuable pieces of wood. I have salvaged many beautiful boards through the years from old kitchens. Usually the boards were painted and had to be planed to get to the raw wood but it was worth it. Many of our early furniture in our home when I was a poor cabinetmaking apprentice were built from these boards.
This leads to other dimensional questions. Here's a few for those of you who just have to know:
Why are wall cabinets typically 18" above the counter? Because that's the way it has always been done, dingo! In truth I have no good answer other than "because it works." The only people I have seen complain about it are short people. But there is no hard-and-fast rule here. If you want them lower that can be accommodated either by lowering them or ordering longer wall cabinets. In some cases I have done jobs where we made the space taller in order to accommodate larger appliances like the old Kitchenaid mixers which wouldn't fit in the 18" space.
Why are base cabinets typically 36" high including the countertop? See the answer above. It's always been done that way and overall, except for short people, it works fine.
I can see the carpenters standing in the kitchen and the carpenter's helper says, "So, boss, how high should we make these cabinets?"
Pointing to his belt the lead carpenter Joe replies, "I don't know, Bill. About this high I suppose."
"How about we ask Mrs. Smith, the owner?"
"Don't complicate things, Bill. Asking the home owner questions like that just makes our lives difficult. About 3 foot works fine, my wife is perfectly happy with that and I'm sure Mrs. Smith will be happy, too." And so here we are today... :)
Note that the appliance industry makes ranges and dishwashers based on 36" thanks to Joe's expertise. If you want your cabinets shorter consider doing one main work section rather than the whole kitchen to avoid problems with the appliances. If you want them taller again I recommend making one work area taller, not the whole kitchen because, while it will work for taller people, it can be a problem if you want to sell your home.
Is there an advantage to base cabinets deeper than 24"? This can be very nice when you want a bigger work area but in most cases 24" works fine for most people. As to storage I have found 24" deep is plenty deep and making the interior deeper is impractical for storage access.
Why are bathroom vanities 30" high? The only reason I can come up with is this goes back to the day when homes had only one bathroom and it had to accommodate the children (either that or plumbers were all short and installed the sinks lower to suit themselves!). Of course, there is only about a two year period when 30" high is the right height for kids, the rest of the time they either use a stool or bend over like the rest of us. For years we have made our vanities to the same height as the kitchen at no additional charge and most factory lines offer 34-1/2" high vanities as a standard option.
Why are bathroom vanities 21" deep instead of 24" like the kitchen cabinets? Again, because that's the way it has always been done! There is also the issue of many bathroom doors are 2'0" and you can't get the cabinet in the room. However, if you can use a 24" deep cabinet it will give you a decent amount of space behind the faucet so you don't need a toothbrush to clean back there. So, consider using kitchen cabinets in your bathroom if they will fit. Your back and your housekeeper will love you for it!
Why are factory cabinets built in 3" wide increments? This is a matter of efficiency and best use of materials and inventory. By maintaining this standard, which works in most cases (except for those dang big fillers that waste space!), they can produce the cabinets quickly and keep their costs down. Many "semi-custom" cabinet lines today, though, offer "odd" dimensions less than the 3" for additional cost (although some are now not charging extra -Showplace Cabinets for one - you just order the next largest size and specify the desired width). With our own custom cabinets we build them to any size needed since we are not working from stock parts.
I probably have missed a dimensional question here so please feel free to comment or email me and I will add it to the blog.
|Posted on February 12, 2015 at 8:40 AM||comments (0)|
Back in January I attended the KBIS (Kitchen & Bath Industry Show) in Las Vegas to keep up with the trends in the cabinet industry. The one trend that stood out most was the shift to grey as a dominant design color for cabinetry. I saw inklings of this at last years show but this year it was an avalanche. Virtually every manufacturer had a version or versions of grey in every style - traditional, old world, Shaker, contemporary and modern. Unlike past "me-too" trends where everyone had the same color of espresso or white this one implied a lack of consensus as to just what shade of grey homeowners wanted. No one company seemed confident and so they they were trying a lot of different versions. Some were beautiful, some were downright ugly and others were just so-so. Ultimately the homeowners will vote with their pocketbooks and perhaps we will see more standardized greys next year...
...or perhaps we won't see any greys at all.
Why do I say that? In my 39 years of being in this industry I've seen a lot of trends and fads come and go (trends are long lasting, fads fizzle fast). In the 70's everything was practical earth tones, then in the 80's the shift was to easy-on-the-eyes lighter tones (as a revolt against the dark colors). The 90's saw a shift to mid-tones and artistic coloration (glazes, etc.). The early 2000's was a confused period due in part to the explosion of choices (manufacturing advances made larger color pallets more readily available) and the aftermath of the shock of 911. Then starting in 2006 we saw the shift to espresso (thanks to Ikea) and white (in 2013 50% of all cabinets sold in the US were white). And now... maybe... we are gravitating to grey.
We've been here before. On the color radar grey briefly popped up on the screen in the mid-80's and 90's. I saw it come and then, poof! two years later it was gone. And while it has always had a following in the coastal states of New England, nowhere else that I have seen did it endure long. Why? I think because, while grey is easy to live with and calming, it is also the color of a cloudy day and, like it or not, color affects our emotions. Perhaps people walk into their two year old kitchen or bath and say, "Hey this is depressing!"
The colors individuals, communities and nations choose reflect their mood. And while the Color Marketing Group (http://www.colormarketing.org/) dictates the colors that most manufacturers of stock goods offer you (clothing, cars, etc.) when we have choices outside their standard offering we choose the color that best reflects our outlook on life or we choose colors that we hope will cause us to change our outlook.
Make no mistake grey will affect your mood. Initially it will calm you and in light of the constant demands on our time and attention that is a good thing. But ask yourself, "How will I see this color in two years?" before you plunk down thousands of dollars on grey cabinetry.
There is no wrong or right answer. It is up to you. But if you are feeling somewhat overwhelmed and depressed by the world and life I strongly recommend that you don't choose grey because odds are you won't feel this way forever and you may regret your choice.
The best way I know to make this decision is to be able to get in touch with how grey makes you feel. And a simple way to do that is to go Houzz here - http://www.houzz.com/grey-kitchen - and imagine yourself standing in a grey kitchen or bath. Enlarge the picture and imagine walking around in there two years from now. If you like how that feels go for it. If not, look at other tones.
|Posted on February 26, 2014 at 9:08 AM||comments (8)|
I just spent three days at the National Kitchen & Bath Show in Las Vegas. I go to these every five years or so to see what's up in the industry.
The show this year was pretty good but I didn't see anything that knocked my socks off. The primary things I saw worth noting are:
> Grey seems to be the big new color in cabinetry, both grey stains and solid colors. This is the third time I've seen grey being offered in the last 38 years. The last two times it came around it lasted about two years. While I like it and think it has potential I think it will die out quickly again. The reason is that grey is the color of a cloudy (read depressing) day and people just aren't comfortable with making a long term commitment to a color like that.
> White is still reportedly the most purchased cabinetry eclipsing 50% of sales last year (!). I haven't seen this in Colorado (we did two white jobs last year) but Colorado is always two to three years behind the trend curve. The east and west coasts always start the trends and Colorado comes around eventually, albeit usually with their own version of the trend (Colorado and the mountain region is always very independent).
> Espresso continues to be the number two requested stain.
> Shaker style cabinet doors are still the most used style. Clean, simple and elegant.
> Contemporary styling - flat slab doors - in solid colors, deep, dark stains and laminates are becoming very popular and I expect will become the dominant choice in the next 3 to 5 years as the Millenials buy homes.
> Many Asian companies are attempting to establish a sales presence in the US. These companies produce their cabinet parts throughout Asia (not just China, but also Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and others), ship them by boat to the US and then assemble the cabinets here. The pricing is excellent and their strategy is to low-ball the pricing (do I hear Chinese government subsidies) to gain market share. If you are in the market for a low cost cabinet now is a good time to buy these before they have to start raising their prices (which I predict will start in 2 to 3 years).
My concern with their products is four-fold. 1) What does sitting on a boat for 2-3 months crossing the Pacific do to the wood and the finish in the long run? 2) The environmental impact in the manufacturing countries where they have no oversight (if American manufacturers didn't have to abide by the EPA and OSHA rules they'd be able to reduce prices by 15-30%). 3) Replacement parts. I've heard stories of waiting 3 months for replacement doors and other parts. 4) Quality of the hardware. I have salespeople hounding me to buy Chinese hinges and drawer glides at 50% to 70% less but in every case I have found these products to be very cheaply made and "guaranteed to break in a year or so or your money back." Their products may look identical (to heck with the patent!) to good quality Salice, Blum, Grass and other hardware company products but the metals are definitely inferior.
> Finally, the composite stone manufacturers like Silestone and Quartzstone have come out with fabulous new colors and patterns and real granites are dropping in popularity.
So, my three days there was profitable but not that profitable and I won't be back for a few years.
|Posted on January 13, 2014 at 7:38 AM||comments (15)|
I recently had someone contact me with questions about painted cabinets. I have copied over my response to them below and I hope it is useful to others. A little background first, though.
Painted solid color cabinetry is very popular now. To get a solid color you can either use paint or tinted varnish. What's the difference? In simple terms, any solid color finish is a combination of pigment (color) and solids content (which is the "armor" that protects the color and gives it a sheen). Industrial grade paint is composed of pigment and a high solids content and generally 2 coats are sprayed on with no need for a primer (it is "self-priming). Tinted varnish is mostly all pigment with a low solids content. It requires a solid color primer to seal the surface, then the tinted varnish is sprayed over that and finally 2 to 3 coats of clear varnish are sprayed over that. So, it is less labor intensive to use paint and therefore less expensive. However, the tinted varnish process is much more durable and 2-3 times as thick as a painted finish. You can compare it to the "clear-coat" finish that car companies use nowadays. At The Cabinet Guy LLC we use tinted varnishes which we can make in any color that you can get with paint.
Paint or tinted varnish can be applied over any cabinet surface. Most manufacturers use hard maple but some use poplar or other "paint-grade" woods. Then there are others who use MDF - medium density fiberboard (in most cases that is what we use for our clients for solid color finishes).
The question that was posed to me was "Is MDF a good product for cabinet doors compared to wood for a solid color finish?" Here is my response:
"To me using MDF instead of wood for a paint surface can be compared to using metal or wood for your car fenders. Wood would be more expensive than metal in that case but it wouldn't be a better product for the application. When people say that MDF is "cheap" it would be like saying that metal is cheap when compared to wood for fenders just because it is less expensive. But less expensive in cost does not necessarily mean cheap in quality. You would be disappointed in how the wood reacts in a car accident compared to the metal and, likewise, people are often disappointed by how painted wood cabinets perform over time.
MDF is 50 pound density compared to about 20 pounds for hard maple and 15 pounds for poplar. That means the impact resistance of MDF to the rigors of daily use is much better than wood. Also, in my experience, a door made with MDF will last as long as a wood one and perform just as well. MDF does not shrink and swell with changes in humidity so the likelihood of cracks appearing at the joints is much less (which is very, very likely for wood). MDF is admittedly less expensive, about $1 per square foot for the raw material versus about $3 for hard maple. However, because it is a superior product for this specific application I would never call it cheap.
It is true that once a varnish is applied over paint it would be more difficult to repaint but the varnish adds years to the durability because it acts like a coat of armor (just like it does over a stain) and you shouldn't need to repaint for a long time. However, if you buy unvarnished painted cabinets you will find that the results of painting over them aren't any better and you would need to repaint them much sooner. The aim is to get a product that holds up so you don't have to repaint. That being said, you will find it difficult to get a varnished solid color finish from most manufacturers since it is too expensive a process for most of them. If you want a varnished paint look you will probably need to find a cabinetmaker who knows how to spray tinted varnish (not paint) and overcoats them with varnish like we do in our shop.
As to your question about the sheen level and how it relates to quality. Low sheen does not mean less paint or that it is a cheaper product. All finishes come in a variety of sheen levels. Sheen is measured as a percent of light reflectivity compared to a mirror. Low sheens have more pores so they capture more light rather than reflecting it. Dull or flat = 10-15% sheen, satin = 40-50%, semi-gloss = 60-70% and high-gloss = 80-90%. All sheen levels perform pretty much equally. It is simply a matter of aesthetics although high gloss paints tend to clean up easier because they are smoother since they have less pores for dirt to catch in.
I hope all of this proves helpful. In closing, let me say that six months from now when you are enjoying your new kitchen all of the headaches will be a dim memory so keep your eye on the goal, not the task. :)
|Posted on January 5, 2014 at 12:34 PM||comments (24)|
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|Posted on December 17, 2013 at 6:12 AM||comments (49)|
Good Kitchen Design
Having designed thousands of kitchens in my 37 years in this business I have seen a lot of good and bad designs. Many times when I go to a client's home and I see their existing kitchen I often wonder what the designer was smoking when they designed the kitchen. Too often I see designs that are totally impractical functionally. And very often the designer seemed more concerned with putting a lot of fancy frills that may have worked fine in a living room but made no sense in a kitchen.
Elements of a good kitchen design
> First and foremost it should be practical and functional - "Form Follows Function" meaning that the designer should make sure the layout is very practical and only after they have done that should they make it "pretty." Many designs may be stunning but turn out to be difficult to work in and maintain. Two that come immediately to mind are massive, overly ornate range hoods that do a great job of collecting grease on the wood work and poorly designed and positioned islands that just get in the way.
> Plenty of storage space strategically placed where items can be easily reached from the point of first usage
> Adequate counter space at each of the primary work areas
> The kitchen should be designed around the individual work areas which are: 1) clean up area, 2) food preparation area, 3) cooking area, 4) storage area, 5) serving area
> Lots of drawers - 80% of what you store in your kitchen will fit better in a drawer than behind a door
> Plenty of clearance for appliance access (dishwasher, refrigerator, stove)
> Consider the traffic flow in, out and through the kitchen and assure that there will be no "traffic jambs"
> The kitchen should reflect the household makeup. A kitchen designed for a young family with 3 children will be different from one for "empty-nesters" or a single parent with 2 children
The kitchen is a constantly used central point for daily activities and should be a very comfortable environment to work and play in. The designer should listen carefully to what you want and design the kitchen for you leaving their own personal preferences and prejudices aside. (After all you have to live in this kitchen for many years not them).
If I can help you in anyway with a design question please feel free to contact me, Geoff Dunn, at [email protected] (even if you live somewhere else in the world outside of our trade area and wouldn't be purchasing our products).