KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Archive for August, 2011

Aug 31 2011

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Why aren’t my cabinets solid wood?

Ahh at last—after months of work, this kitchen project is almost completed! The design and decision hurdles are over, electrical and plumbing roughs are approved, floor is in, and the walls are painted. My favorite installer is setting the cabinet bases.

The final payment is earmarked for a well-deserved long weekend away and I can already feel the cool ocean breeze… My client (a successful Wall Street broker) has been calm and focused through out the process. Smiling, he has just walked into the kitchen with a Friend. Within seconds Friend looks at the uninstalled base cabinets and asks, “Hey, why aren’t these cabinets made of ‘solid wood’”?

The happiness on my client’s face is replaced by stark terror. He has flashed back to his college apartment on a Saturday night with four roommates and 56 close friends. There’s been a spectacular collision between a tub of melted ice and beer and his assemble-it-yourself bookcase, which is now lying prone on the floor, drowning in a sea of liquid and foam. Books, binders and beer are floating out into the hall… He watches in horror as its water-logged construction explodes out of its “veneer.”

My initial response of “Are you kidding? WAKE UP—it’s not 1980” will neither calm him nor get me to the beach. So when this happened last week, I gave my client a lesson in “Cabinet Construction Materials in 2011.”

“Hi Tom (names have been changed to protect the slightly hysterical), let’s sit down.”

And I gently began:

Life has changed since 1980 and so has cabinet construction. Today the best cabinets are made from high-grade composite woods of which many can be specified as moisture resistant. Good cabinet makers don’t use sold wood construction for many reasons.

Plywood, which is one type of composite wood product is often used to make cabinet boxes—although for humid areas, industrial-grade particleboard can be a more stable choice. Combination-core and high-grade MDF are also good composite wood choices for some applications.

comparison MDF + Particle Board
Veneer Core Plywood

Let’s compare composite wood to solid wood construction.

1. Raw Materials Cost: Slicing a tree to produce lumber for solid wood construction generates a lot of waste. More trees are needed for the same result and the overall material cost is higher—if the species is even available in solid wood. Species such as wenge (your cabinets) and anigre are not.

2. The Environment: Every sliver of wood from a harvested tree can be used to produce composite wood products. This has a positive impact on the local, national and global ecology. And less waste means cost savings for the consumer.

3. Warping: Solid wood boards warp easily. Look at an antique armoire. The doors usually don’t close properly. Its solid wood construction has warped so the “box” is no longer square. Solid doors warp as well.

The best substraight for slab doors is  MDF  for smoothness and stability

The best substrate for slab doors is MDF for smoothness and stability

4. Replacement Costs: The soft-close mechanisms on today’s hinges and drawer slides need square cabinet boxes (un-warped and level) to work properly or they will stick, pull out or break.

5. Beauty & Choice: Veneer such as your wenge looks most beautiful when laid up on the smooth surface that certain types of composite wood products, such as combination core, can offer.

6. Your Healthy Home: Today’s composite wood products can all be specified as NAUF (Non-Added Urea Formaldehyde) to cut down on harmful VOC emissions in your home.

So by using composite wood products, your cabinets can cost less, last longer and are more environmentally friendly to your home and the earth.

Are you feeling better now?  Tom smiled.

Roberta Kravette, LEED AP

Aug 24 2011

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Inspired. Inspiring.

When I was in College my design class was fortunate to go on a tour of Milliken in Georgia as part of a Design Bus Tour the school put together. It was really eye-opening for me as a young designer.

Milliken is once again impressing me with their new website www.inspiredinspiring.com, which aims to share amazing images and spark the inspiration we Designers need.

Whether you are looking for images for a Mood Board or seeking Inspiring colors and textures, their site will have it all for you to discover.

Inspired_Ann Porter
Add it to your bookmarks and share what you like about their site.

Ann Porter

Aug 23 2011

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Stick to good design (but cover yourself when it’s not)

A potential client walks in the door with a bunch of magazines in her arms. As her budget is more modest, one of her requests is to have “the refrigerator look like it’s a built-in refrigerator” because she doesn’t want to actually pay for the built-in refrigerator. She wants you to tightly frame in the refrigerator with cabinets. You agree and the work commences.

Except for one problem: Standard refrigerators shouldn’t be built-in. They need air circulation. In the fine print, there’s always something that reads roughly along the lines of “there must be ‘X’ inches of clearance on sides and top.”

If you’re not experienced and you miss this detail, the refrigerator may have a new shortened life. Eventually it’ll come around to: “You’re the designer/contractor and should have known better. Fix it.” If you’re an experienced designer, you catch it, let the client know and re-design with the added clearance—if she lets you.

Trying to achieve design ideas that clients are bringing through our doors can be challenging. In some cases, the less the client’s budget and/or materials match the images, the harder some push to achieve the same look.

So, even though you might know that framing in the refrigerator violates the recommended specifications or the room is too small to fit an island or a myriad of other frustrating details, but the client insists on it, what do you do? How do you educate them while still staying true to design principles?

Here’s what most long-term designers do: Write a disclaimer. Write or stamp it on all designs and paperwork and have the pen ready for the client to sign off: “The designer has recommended against designing the refrigerator as shown. By signing this disclaimer, Client A understands and accepts that she is overriding the recommended specifications and is solely responsible for any future operational problems that may arise.” Or something similar.

Words can be brushed off, but a printed disclaimer will accomplish one of two actions—it’ll absolve you from future problems, or make the client reconsider. Of the two, I prefer the latter; there’s less chance of unhappiness for everyone down the road.

Until next time,


Aug 10 2011

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Fighting product saturation?

It’s not only homeowners feeling overwhelmed at all the choices—as a design professional, I’m feeling it, too. I’ve been joking lately that it’s not only the multiple colors, shapes and sizes; it’s also the increasing eyestrain from reading all the small print.

In a non-scientific observation, I’d say I’m spending 20% more of my time helping clients through the selection process, and another 15% reading and working through the installation quirks. None of that covers any research for products I haven’t used yet, and it all feels like an addition to the 100% capacity I’m already working at.

Here are a few things I’ve learned the hard way that I hope will help you, especially if you’re new to the design field:

1. Know your clientele. I recently helped a client select a cubix-style large-scale tile for behind the range in her conservative, suburban home—a tile that an urban client in a neighborhood of contemporary homes would have loved. My mistake was listening to the wish when I knew better, and it ended up being a waste of both of our time. While you may secretly wish that you had the clientele to design the Italian sleek you always wanted, if your area isn’t there, here’s my suggestion: move…or wait until the next generation of younger homeowners replaces the old.

2. Avoid the technically challenging, unless your trades are up to the task. The plethora of high-end designs appearing online and in magazines has led the average clientele to think that every trade is capable of installing the product. No, no and no. If your plumber or contractor (or yourself) knows nothing about the quirks of a tankless toilet, someone is going to make a mistake during that first time AND you’ll be working overtime. I recently mentioned a tale in my blog of a European lavatory console where the plumber assembled it as best he could and dropped a handful of nuts and bolts in my hand. “I couldn’t figure out where these go,” he confessed. It’s up to you to figure out what everyone is capable of…or, if you’re going to push the envelope, to know the installation inside-and-out to be able to explain it logically.

3. Study new design, but don’t show your client everything. This is really a culmination of the first two. Study at least one new product a week. Spend time in forums to learn about other trades and their challenges—but don’t show off the knowledge to your client if it isn’t pertinent. While an acrylic tub is interesting, I doubt my Baby Boomer clients in their 1980 tract homes will be interested.

What are you doing to stay above this rising flood of design and product?

Until next time,