Improper to ask him to build my design?

wi-sailorgirlOctober 27, 2010

We're in the middle of a half-house renovation that includes adding a bathroom. I designed a vanity and linen cupboard for this bathroom several months ago, well in advance of the start of the project. I wanted to pass the design to the cabinet maker right away but my GC encouraged me to wait until we saw the space framed in first.

We waited, and now we're rushing trying to get this vanity made. I'm going with the cabinet maker recommended by the GC as he is somewhat reasonable in price (or rather, not totally outrageous), works quickly, and has done good work for my GC before. When I took him my design, it was obvious he didn't like it. He called it "Euro-trash" (it is fairly modern), said it wouldn't go with the style of my house (he's right by the way, but I'm fully aware of that and fully aware of what I want for the bathroom) and then proceeded to talk me into a much more traditional look with recessed panel drawers. About an hour later I realized I didn't want that. I wanted my design. And I called him to apologize but to tell him I liked my design and was open to suggestions on how to improve it.

Two weeks later, he has finally sent me a sketch of my vanity and linen area (I had provided a Google Sketch-up drawing but he didn't want to work from it, and that's fine because I'm pretty much at hack at Sketch-up). The vanity was close to what I wanted, although longer, but the linen area had no relationship whatsoever to what I designed.

I bought everything in the bathroom to coordinate with the vanity and linen area I designed. Since it took so long for him to come up with sketches I was working off my own plan, assuming the dimensions would stay the same. The electrical has now been installed to fit those dimensions. Tile is going in next week, and the project was supposed to be finished Nov. 6. The fact that the vanity hasn't even been started yet is clearly an issue.

Have I misunderstood the relationship between cabinet maker and client? This is a small, one-man shop. It's just him and a part-time designer. I assumed that he would just build whatever I wanted him too, but now I'm wondering if I overstepped some kind of boundary since his design came back as such a drastic departure from what we talked about.

Where do I go from here? I'll be hard pressed to find a cabinet maker who can pick up the project now and put out a nice product in any short amount of time. The other cabinet maker I talked to about it would do it as a side project so he'd be working on it on weekends. Plus, I already sort of blew him off to go with this other guy because I didn't want to take on another project (it seems that if we don't go with who our contractor recommends, managing them becomes our responsibility and I can't take on anymore related to this renovation).

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A cabinetmaker is a specialist at the dimensional aspects of your project. The style of the architecture is also in his realm of expertise, but comes secondary. Do not let him put style ahead of function. Any changes he makes to your design should better serve your needs for use of space to work out dimensionally with adequate clearances.

You get more storage for the space with euro style cabinets than with face frame cabinets. Drawers are considerably wider.

The euro style cabinets have to be made and installed more precisely than face frame cabinets. Less pieces mean there are fewer places for adjustments to hide mistakes. Your cabinetmaker may not be up to the job. I know one cabinetmaker who does great work with traditional face frame cabinets, but every thing he makes without a face frame comes out like hack unless someone else works with him, helping keep close attention to detail.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 2:27AM
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I agree with Aidan. While my expertise is in finishing, and not cabinet making, I certainly deal with this type of situation often enough to have an understanding of it. One thing you said really jumps out, and that is you mentioned He called your design "Euro-trash". That might suggest he's putting style(and his personal preference) ahead of function (and your personal preference). That comment would trouble me, as I find it to be highly disrespectful to the client.

I don't have time at the moment to finish my thought, but perhaps I will continue later this morning :-)

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 5:56AM
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OK, to pick up where I left off. You are not over stepping your boundry. I would have him be more clear and concise on the reasoning behind his changes, and then come up with an agreeable compromise and a final design that you (the client)will be pleased with given the parameters of the siuation. If it's not a design style he likes to work within, than he should have passed on the job.

I find all too often that cabinet makers and finishers try to impart their personal style and preferance into everything they do, often times at the expense of the clients wishes. That shows arrogance and self absorption, Imho. At the same time, he's the builder and knows what he does best...thus the reason I use the word compromise.

As a professional refinisher, I make suggestions to my client, and explain what our limitations and options are on their particular project. From there, we make a detirmination based on "their" style and preference, not mine.

Best of luck!
Rod Keyser

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 7:03AM
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Thank you very much for the replies. I really do think this is a situation where he just doesn't like this style at all,and perhaps that is a reflection of his taste or of his abilities, but I'm glad to hear you don't think I overstepped my bounds.

Just for reference, here is my design. To me the linen part didn't seem too difficult, but then again I'm not building it! Is there something I'm missing here?

Originally I had the shelves on the right side mimicking the curve on the left but since that butts against the wall, the cabinetmaker suggested we square them. I'm still not sure if I like that or not but it seems like a minor point at this juncture.

Here's a rough estimation of how it looks in the room:

And here's what he sent me for a design yesterday:

Rod, your way of doing business is sort of what I was expecting. Just tell me why something won't work or why you might suggest something else, help me fix those things, then build it.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 7:44AM
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Yes, he should build what the customer wants. If it's the massiveness of it in a small space that concerns him, would you consider having the hutch made to your dimensions from acrylic or glass?

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 11:42AM
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He's clearly never stacked laundry. His open-ended shelves don't lend themselves to piling stuff quite as securely as your design does. Plus he's lost you a shelf (the top surface) and he's also taken a square foot or two of capacity out of your lower cabinet.

Plus, he's maybe never cleaned under a cabinet? You'll be cleaning under your vanity anyway, but your linen cab design is dust-proof underneath.

What isn't clear to me is whether your linen-top needs to have a back and be attached to the base/wall, or could be designed as a free-standing hutch that sits on top. It might actually look nicer without a back so the wall colour comes through, and that would be easier to build, to transport, and to alter if you ever change your mind. It would also make it more logical to have the shelves rounded on both sides in case you ever want to use it elsewhere (even as a free-standing shelf). Obviously you want to attach it to the wall for safety, but it would be easily movable.

I don't like battles of wills, and being time-crunched shouldn't force you into one. Here's what I would do: "Thank you for your input. Here is my final design. If it isn't something you want to build, don't worry about it; I'll find someone else to do it. I don't want to be pushing you into doing something you're not happy with."

That makes it his choice to build or not build, and if he decides to do it, that should make him happy about it. I hate having people work for me who aren't happy to be doing it.

I also hate to compromise - we had a china-cab -type thing custom-built a few years back and it didn't turn out the way I wanted (I forgot to check the details) and now it doesn't work in the space the way I wanted it to. I'm eventually going to have to have the top rebuilt or modified.

Or get him to build the vanity at least - looks like the linen cab can go in later.


    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 2:13PM
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Thanks for the input, everyone. Karin, I think you have it right on ... just tell him this is how I want it, if he can't or doesn't want to do it, no problem.

By the way, in my reply to him, the first thing I said was "no legs on the linen unit!" There's no way I'm cleaning under that thing. At least on the vanity the bottom shelf will be up high enough that I'll be able to vacuum under there. The dust bunnies under that linen cabinet make me shiver!

I think that what irritates me the most is that if I wanted glass shelves on metal brackets I could go to Home Depot and do it myself.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 2:24PM
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Any reputable cabinet maker will look at your designs, make any relevant suggestions, and then build it as you request. He should submitt a scale drawing which you will sign-off on. Then he will build it according to specifications. If you specify Euro cabinets (35mm) then that's what you should get.
He may not make cabinets at all. That would be my guess. He probably orders the parts and assembles them.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 3:42PM
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That's not totally accurate someone2010. It's not always about being reputable. I know a couple cabinetmakers personally that are very reputable, but for the most part they will only work within the style they prefer and have become known for. It's actually very common, at least in my part of the world.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 7:42PM
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Hope it works out! I just recounted and realized he hasn't lost you a shelf, but the look is still totally different, and the top of the cabinet would just end up being used as an extension of the vanity, so you would lose storage space.


    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 8:41PM
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Just reread my post and I meant 32mm system. This system has been around for a long time in the U.S. They were teaching it in my Furniture and Cabinet Making class at Cerritos College in 1973. Two or three components of the system are used universally by cabinet shops. They are parallel row of 5mm holes spaced 32mm apart, pocket hole screws and Euro hinges.
These cabinets could be built using either the 32mm system or the conventional system. I would say there is a reason this guy can't do your cabinets. Get someone else.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 12:37AM
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Hi sailorgirl, just wanted to say - FWIW - I think your design is wonderful, obviously carefully thought out to make the best of every square inch. Love the angled pieces custom fit and dont think its too massive at all in fact I think having a nice big quantity of wood in that space will impart a nice warmth to it, like only wood can.

And, I think its his design that looks like, well, I'm sure I could think of something with the word "trash" in it but will refrain.

Not sure what the rest of your house looks like, or what style but sometimes what is more "modern" can actually work better in an old house than someone's cheesy 2010 version of what they THINK traditional or old fashioned should look like. That vanity style sink of his is case in point - there never was such a thing in houses 50-100 years ago - that is purely a more recent invention.

Same as what others have said - get someone else.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2010 at 3:49PM
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I see absolutely nothing wrong with your design. "Wrong" being in that it can't be easily built as designed, in that it's an aethetic disaster, or inapropriate.

Your design is fine, I prefer it to his version.

This is a situation where you have to step up and make your feelings known. Face-to-face would be best. You just have to tell the guy that it really is a case of you having planned for both a definite physical design to fit not just the space, but the electrical and plumbing rough-ins as well. In addition you have the design aesthetic, where you've already purchased the finishes for the room to match the design of the cabinetry.

This is your design. He has the option of working with you, or you going elsewhere. You're not asking for anything outlandish.

Now, with me being a cabinetmaker, I'll toss out a couple of small observations, one of which is likely just a sketch-up thing:

1) The sink isn't centered in the vanity. A sketch-up thing most likely.

2) the glass shelves on the left side of the linen cabinet? You have a clipped corner (clipped 45 degree return) on the vanity as its depth transitions back to the shallower linen cabinet. You also have a clipped corner entry on the shower. Consider having the two quarter-circle glass shelves on the linen cabinet as well as the quarter circle top of the linen cabinet be clipped corners instead of corner rounds.

The clipped corner shelving might not fit into your design world, and that's fine. I just thought I'd offer it as an alternative.


    Bookmark   November 1, 2010 at 10:53AM
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Thank you Mongo and everyone else who has commented here.

Thought I'd revisit this to let you know where things stand now.

I had our GC follow up with him and he said "oh it was just a miscommunication. He's going to call you tonight." I waited three days and never heard from him. So I left him a voice mail and just said, if you aren't happy with this plan or with working with me, or are uncomfortable about it, no problem. No hard feelings whatsoever, I'll find someone else to do it.

I got a voice mail back saying, "I'll do it but I don't know how I'm going to do it for the price I quoted you (that comment is so weird to me). I'll just take a hit on it I guess. Anyway, I guess you just want to go with your design so it was kind of a waste of time to have my designer work on it."

It was so odd. So I took a deep breath, waited a day. And then waited until we could actually talk instead of leaving messages. I decided I would just be very nice and give this one last shot at working. Apparently his design really was similar to mine, but he couldn't get his design program to show it properly (OK, one more editorial comment here: For crying out loud, I download Google sketchup for free, spent and hour figuring it out and then designed this and it looks a million times better than his drawing. OK, done with that rant).

Long story short, he's still building it for us, we had a nice chat on site when we was doing a final measurement and even though he doesn't care for the design he says he'll do a nice job on it. Fingers crossed.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 11:19AM
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Those deep breaths can be real relationship savers :-)
Nice work. Fingers crossed for you.


    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 6:24PM
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Just revisiting this thread to update it in case anyone was curious as to how it all worked out.

Today was install day and the good news is that vanity and linen unit are beautiful. Very nice looking indeed.

The bad news is that:
1. One leg is too short (!)
2. The plumbing, which was installed when he measured, will have to be moved to accommodate the vanity because the dummy drawers in the center don't line up with the plumbing pipes.
3. The vanity top will cut into the window trim because he forgot to leave an allowance for an overhang on the counter.
4. The shelves on the right side line up PERFECTLY with a light switch (I don't know how that happened because he even commented that he would have to change the height of the linen unit because of the light switches).
5. He appears to have left no way to recess the puck lights in the top of the linen unit

I've not seen it for myself yet (I left the husband home to deal with it today because I figured this guy would get stressed with me just being around). My husband and I are meeting with the general contractor this afternoon to discuss these issues and how to deal with them.

Sigh ....

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 2:41PM
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All of this reminds me of the cabinets for a commercial kitchen in a church that I was hired to build several years ago. The cabinets had been designed by the project architect right down to the types of hardware to use. There were detailed drawings.

Thought to myself at the time, wonder if this guy ever built a cabinet. HOWEVER, I built those cabinets exactly to the drawings. Took them to the church and the fit like a glove. NEVER considered arguing about the design!

    Bookmark   December 19, 2010 at 2:09PM
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