July 15, 2010

SemiHandmade Cabinetry

Someday I might kick myself for posting about this, because I'm in the cabinet business, and a majority of my income comes from selling cabinets.  But I'm really intrigued by this concept.  

Many of us are familiar with the term "refacing", and many of us in the industry cringe when we hear it.  In the world of kitchen and bath design, refacing means keeping existing cabinets and replacing the doors, to give the illusion of a new kitchen.  It sounds easy enough, right?  The problem with this process is that to do it right can be very labor intensive (both in the planning and the installation), and you don't have flexibility to change the layout.  In the end, you still end up spending a lot of money, and beneath the pretty new finishes you have the same old kitchen. 

The SemiHandmade line by John McDonald is interesting because it falls somewhere in between refacing and replacing cabinetry.  It starts with mass-produced cabinet boxes, mainly from Ikea.  But rather than using Ikea door and drawer fronts, he makes custom fronts in beautiful materials such as teak, walnut, douglas fir, etc... beautiful options you'd never find at Ikea.   

This appeals to me because (gasp!) I don't think Ikea boxes are really that bad.  I know.  I said it.  Don't get me wrong.  They're not great.  They won't hold up as well as the more expensive options, but.... they're not THAT bad.  And the drawer systems are actually pretty decent.  The idea of putting custom non-Ikea fronts on these bases makes me wonder...  It's less bothersome than refacing, because you can tweak the design and take advantage of modern door/drawer technology, as well as new appliance options that may not fit in older kitchen cabinetry.

To be clear, I'm not considering buying all my boxes from Ikea from now on.  But it's just nice to know there's another alternative that just might be worth considering for my budget-conscious clients who might need a new direction and still want a personal custom touch.

I'm guessing there's not much of a warranty though.  I'm pretty sure the custom shops I work with would void all warranties if they knew their products were going to touch something from Ikea.  


  1. Sounds like a great idea for the budget-minded. Of course higher-end will always be better quality, but this seems like a great way to go if you are debating between doing all new Ikea or refacing.

  2. Thanks again, Nicole.

    Honestly, I though, I think you guys undervalue the quality of the IKEA product.

    My company, Handmade, does high-end custom jobs here in LA. Kitchens, bathrooms, built-ins. We use pre-finished maple for the boxes, or Apple-ply at twice the cost of even that.

    IKEA uses melamine. Melamine, like it or not, is the standard in the kitchen cabinet industry. Some of the largest, most high-end manufactures in the world use it. And frankly, a box is a box once it is properly installed. Get it level and square and plum and it's not going anywhere. Glue the IKEA box for additional strength, if you like. We do. Then there is hardware - all of IKEA's is made by Blum, which is top-of-the-line: hinges, Tandembox slides, even the flip-up hardware I pay $100 a pair for. IKEA sells it, including the 30" wide cabinet, for $41.

    From there, we make all the custom doors, drawer faces and panels - everything that defines the space. We use furniture-quality veneers-on-MDF, relaimed lumber, laminates-on-multiply. As good as it comes, really.

    So yes, at the end of the day, a full-on, top-to-bottom custom job would be better.... the same way a Porsche is better than a Toyota.

    The question to us at SEMIHandmade - and that which we are posing to the majority of homemowers and renters out there, though - is, "Is that massive gap is cost actually worth it?"

  3. John, You've motivated me to research this more!

    I've always been told that Ikea cabinets are poor quality, and I believed it based on the quality of all the bookcase and other furniture pieces I've purchased there. But I can't find anywhere that actually tells me specifically what type of melamine or substrate Ikea's boxes are made of, so I'm going to just go buy one and figure it out for myself. If anything, when I look online, I only find people that rave about the product.

    There are different types of melamine applications that do affect the quality of the materials, and there are different thicknesses and densities of melamine substrates that are available. These things do make a difference in the structural stability of the boxes. However, I don't yet know what category Ikea's boxes fall into.

    So, I'm on a mission. And I'll report back once I have more info. Regardless, you've opened my eyes. I love what you're doing and I'm excited to learn more!

  4. Great post, thanks for sharing. I've been looking for some inspiration to change my own kitchen.