Working Process

Working Process:

Initial Meeting

There is a recipe for good design.  It begins with concept and discovery:  listening to the client’s stated needs and helping them to pull their ideas together. The next step is looking at limiting factors – site conditions, space, regulations, surrounding features.  Once all of these factors are understood, design development can proceed.

The early concept phase is very informal.  I will listen to your ideas, measure the space, and contribute my own ideas.  The discussion may last 15-90 minutes, until we understand what it is that you need. After the first meeting, I will have a list of requirements, a rough sketch, and a floor plan of the space.  The next step is drawing up a contract, which may or may not be broken down into two contracts – design and construction.

Contracts for Small Projects

How do you know if your project is small or large?  If we are very clear on exactly what you need at this time, and it is a relatively small project – 6 feet of standard bookshelves for example, I will send you a proposal within 24 hours.  Think about it.  Shop around.  When you are ready to proceed with the contract, I will draft the product to be built and write up some specs, along with a standard contract.  50% deposit is required at contract signing and the remainder is due at project completion for furniture.  Built-in contracts are divided into three payments; 1/3 deposit at contract signing,  1/3 when cabinets are delivered, and 1/3 is due at completion.

Contracts for Large Projects

A large project is anything which, after the initial meeting, still requires a significant portion of design development, or anything which requires a considerable amount of specification (a built-in office, a unique table, or a small kitchen for example).  I will give you a ballpark cost on the whole project (design and build) within 24 hours of the initial meeting.  Initial estimates are accurate to within +/- 30%, due to the fact that the design hasn’t been fully hashed out and drafted down to the drawer slides and finishes.  Think about it for a while – let the design percolate.  If you choose to go forward, we will negotiate a price for the design side of your project.  50% is due upon contract signing and 50% due upon delivery of a full-sized set of plans, elevations, and construction details which could be given to another building professional for pricing.  If you want to use your own contractor, I will be happy to coordinate with them to get it built as designed.  I often split large jobs with contractors.  I will also produce a construction proposal including plans and specs.  Pricing for built-in contracts is divided into three payments; 1/3 deposit at contract signing,  1/3 when cabinets are delivered, and 1/3 is due at completion.  Contracts which include work outside of custom cabinets may be divided by completion of each trade.


At this point we have met once more since the initial meeting.  We have both signed the contract and you have paid a deposit.  I begin the process in the shop, with hand sketches and CAD drawings .  The best of these ideas are emailed to you in pdf form, with a narrative laying out my rationale and the merits or compromises of each design.  I will call to be sure you received them, and to set up a time to discuss the drawings.  After our discussion, I may want to continue refining the design, explore new ideas generated from our meeting, or make direct changes that you have requested.  Before the final design plan is generated, we will meet one more time on site to double check measurements and play out use scenarios – perhaps by taping lines on the floor with painter’s tape.  This gives us a chance to move about the space, to bring paper plans closer to reality and “try it out” before building anything.

If we find the ideas we pass around are unfamiliar, potentially too avant-garde, or otherwise untested and therefore impossible to judge on paper, I can build mass models to explore the idea at full scale.  Models are built to engage the body into the design process, by walking around, viewing, and discussing; by moving, sketching on, subtracting from, and adding to.  This is often the quickest way to an ingenious solution.  These models are so helpful, and best of all they are built from re-used cardboard and foam insulation sheets at little or no impact to the environment.  Sometimes the design process takes place with a combination of sketching, mass models, and a laptop on-site – in one day.

We have accomplished a great deal in a limited amount of time.  At this point I often do a walk-through, double checking dimensions, making sure you can fit your stuff inside.  I take note of any changes and produce the final plan set.  We’re ready for the next step!


Simple, right?  We both know exactly what you are getting. Before signing the “building” contract, if you request, I can provide standard material samples with finishes.  After the contract has been signed and deposit paid, I will get started making cabinet boxes, doors, drawers, and other such components to be installed.  Turn-around time is 4 weeks, but can be negotiated depending on current work load.  Change orders are considered on a case by case basis, for an additional fee to be determined and addressed in the contract.

Set-Up, Demolition

This phase may take place with framing, weeks before cabinets are ready, due to the time involvement of drywall finishing.  I arrive with an apprentice and a van.  We first protect (or move) adjacent furniture with plastic, seal off adjacent door openings, and cover floors with canvas or taped down cardboard.  I will need an area adjacent to the installation to set up my work station – about 10’x10’.  If there is demolition to do, we mark the area, cut clean lines, and remove pieces with a pry bar, not a sledge hammer.  Pieces to be re-installed are marked, recorded, and placed on canvas, along a wall and away from demo.  Debris is carried outside to the van as it is removed.  The area is thoroughly vacuumed after demo is complete.


If there is a large amount of framing or drywall to be done, I will sub it out to a skilled contractor.  If a small amount of framing work will affect my installation, we usually do it ourselves.  We apply the same techniques that go into building cabinets when constructing freestanding knee walls, with plywood frames ripped straight and joined with glue and screws, rather than warped lumber joined with nails.  The result is dead accurate framing, rock solid structures, and more freedom with wall thickness – useful in tight spaces.   Electrical and plumbing is almost exclusively done by my licensed-trade partners.  If a built-in requires wiring, I may do it myself but that is the limit.  Installing drywall, spackling, painting, trimming, and tiling takes place next.  Any extensive work in these areas will typically be contracted out.

Casework Installation

Installation of the built-in is of course completed by me and my apprentice.  We use a custom tool cabinet/work bench/table saw that I developed especially to manage tools and tasks at the jobsite.  A typical small built-in, 6 feet long, will take 2-3 days to install and paint.  We offer a zero-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) latex paint as standard and environmentally friendly waterborne stains and lacquers (sprayed in shop).

Final Walk-Through

When I have completed the project, cleared out plastic and cardboard surrounding the built-in, and vacuumed, we look at it together and complete a punch list.  I will take note of outstanding items or repair items and address them.  I will then remove my tools, pull up the remainder of the floor and furniture protection, vacuum again, and meet you one last time for a final inspection.  This is when the final payment is due.  Thank you for your business.