Saturday, July 25, 2015

People Want Pictures

Chapter 1 - People WANT pictures. 

I've received that some feedback recently on the UX [that's 'fancy Internet' for User Experience] - from a professional.  And apparently my blog lacks two [2] things: 

A] Pictures and more pictures - kitchens in particular. 
B] Homestars reviews;

As for A] - here, I am adding pictures; 


People want to see more pictures of kitchens. 
Not enough pictures of kitchens! 
Where are the pictures of the kitchens?! 

I explain that all the projects that I do are nice - and not all my projects are kitchens - I do a great variety of things and my focus is not on volume, but rather variety. The posts that are put out are meant to educate, raise awareness, inspire - they are not a propaganda tool for IKEA kitchens. If one wants to see examples of nice IKEA kitchens it is enough to use the Google search engine and select images. Not everyone has access to my services - I believe that I offer a unique service - but everyone has access to the information that I offer - that's another reason that I try to put out quality, informative posts. It's about the possibilities of IKEA. 

B] Homestars annoys me. People are not understanding that it is 'strong-arming', and that they are paying for it. Essentially HomeStars is like YellowPages, the printed edition. Remember those big, yellow, heavy bricks? Remember the alphabetical listings - the quad 'AAAA' just to get that coveted first listing? Like that but with an added component of Social Media mixed in. YellowPages went out of business, because times have changed. They have been replaced by HomeStars - and I, as a contractor am continuously bombarded with offers to sign up for various 'rating signs' - rateMyCarpenter, rateMyThis...rateMyThat....All this is designed to do is to generate traffic, sell adds and sell advertising space. 


Want to know something curious? -  HomeStars has an escalating price point depending on how much you want to eliminate the ads put out by 'your competition' - they offer that service - you can pay your way through crappy work. And crappy work annoys me. And I refuse to pay them. But there are companies, or individuals paying thousands of dollars to be prominently featured. 

In our digital economy, it is easy to find out about others, especially about the people that you intend to pay good chunk of cash in exchange for some excellent labour. And as long as HomeStars runs their 'ranking' site - for which they charge a good chunk of cash themselves - the picture will remain skewed and I don't intend to pay into it.

See, the Internet allows for great things - like sharing of information and experience. The concept of 'General Contracting' has changed dramatically - individual with strong management skills can educate themselves and often choose to act as their own 'general' - planning, organizing, choosing their finishes and hiring trades. The 'IKEA kitchen system' makes perfect financial sense and the 'no-lead time' requirement is a great advantage. 


PICTURES PICTURES PICTURES 

as promised

So this dog snuck up on me during the install - the owners went to a baseball game with their kids, and in the rush forgot to crate the dog.  It's big and pretty scary looking, American bulldog - it looks like a half-albino?  - but it is a 2 year old rescue - and very very cheerful. It's only dangerous because of its size when it is happy - I can see this dog trashing the kitchen in a fit of happiness - that's risky. 



Always quality. Things are screwed and glued where they need to be. Glue adds great strength and rigidity to any project. And it's cheap. 




If you are installing an IKEA kitchen, you need a laser level - it's a must. The model that I have - a DeWalt self-leveling - you can now price match to $148 at Home Depot. Setting heights and keeping things level over long distances is a breeze. I can say with confidence that you can be less than an 1/8th of an inch over the entire project.


Here is an IKEA Hacker Pro Tip - a great way to strengthen your PAX wardrobe unit is to add a 2" solid lip under the edge of each adjustable shelf - like this - someone asked about this. 







[end]

ps. THIS IS SERIOUS - IKEA reminds people to fix their MALM dressers to the wall at the back. 



pps. The job before the one I'm doing now was this - good little story there. 
This was institutional cabinetry - done really old school way - no screws - just nails and glue. It was surprising how well it stood up to the test of time. 
\

Relocated, re purposed, increased functionality - top of the line hardware - went over the budget on hardware - it can be expensive - it turned out that there was a better hinge/plate combo with integral soft-close - even smaller footprint -  than I quoted. And so I upgraded - you only live once. 




Check out the solid edging on those doors - that's 1/4" hard maple. Nobody builds like that anymore - some exceptions. See how that top right door seems to be 'in' a little bit - the advantage of good hardware is that it offers great range of flexibility and adjustment. To adjust this was a breeze. 




Monday, June 29, 2015

Why should you let me design and install your next kitchen.





Cause you know why? I care. Imagine that every job that I do is my little pet project and I want for it to come out looking best. Best.  There are no arbitrary decisions. Everything is thought out. Yea, everything. I think about every detail and how it will play into the larger picture. I will not list all the things that I think about when designing a kitchen - I assure you that the list is long. And more! - I learn something new on every job - a ha! must remember that for next time. All that experience carries with me to the next job, and the next job. 

I am not a 'fleet installer' - I don't have anybody standing over my head telling me to hurry up. I am efficient. Cabinetry is a great trade because you can't really 'hurry up'- all you can do is work at an efficient pace and pay attention to details - it's the detailing that makes for a nice looking kitchen. Anyone can assemble the box - but that box has to be positioned right; it has to be lined up in the right way; it has to be detailed the right way - PEG doesn't do that - in fact a large portion of this project would not be able to be assembled by PEG installers - too many IKEA planner exceptions. Planning is an essential part of any project - there is no point executing anything if it is not planned well - no profits are realized in fixing mistakes. 

Boy! Today they installed the countertops - that island slab was massive - easily 400 pounds - 4 strong men carried it. When they leaned that beast against that island cabinetry - in my mind, if I did not build that island well - if that island was mounted on those plastic legs, I was just waiting for them to snap. They 'heaved-and-hoed' that thing into position - I could tell that there was a lot of stress on the cabinets during the positioning of the stone - very nice Ceaserstone.

On a humorous note - well, I found it humorous, because I've been told the same thing by virtually every single client - the client told me today while we were checking the fit of the stove - it had to be quite the precise fit - only 1/8" was allowed as tolerance - that I looked serious - almost stressed - and I was like, 'Yea, we're landing the Titanic here'. I guess, I would say the thing that causes me the most stress is the fact that I cannot do all the jobs myself - that I have to rely on others for a successful and accurate completion of the project. Whether it is the carpenter, the drywaller, the taper, electrician, plumber, tile guy, hardwood floor installer. You know who never causes me any headaches?

The Painter.

Hats off to you, Picasso!

The project looks good - finishing stretch now. 


[Edit - CONTINUED] 
This fridge is massive - deep and wide. But, taking advantage of the already awkward geometry and some careful planning I was able to completely integrate it into the 'pantry' side of the cabinetry. It looks really good. 

Planning! Good, thoughtful planning is the key to a nice execution! When you see me standing there, looking at the wall or the boxes - that's not me being idle - I'm planning my next move. 





I am particularly happy about this corner - it took a lot of planning for it to look like that. We are waiting in the glass doors for the uppers. You can see a bit of under-structure under the cabinets. The corner unit was hacked, because there was a depth limitations - you still have 10" interior - will still function well and looks like a million bucks. 






If you are going to pay someone to install your kitchen, they might as well do it really nice. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

SEKTION Ultimate Review* - AND - how to make it look like a million bucks.

[WARNING] this post is very long, very technical, and could be very boring. It expresses a lot of personal opinions - but the intent is for it to be useful. Enjoy it.



Cleo from Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, writes - 

'Hi. I just finished reading your review on Ikea's new kitchen cabinetry and wonder why you think it's value for the money. I'm in the process of designing my "retirement" home and having lived in our current home for over 20+ years, well I got sticker shock when the builder told me how much it was going to cost for custom cabinetry for my kitchen, never mind the ensuite. From what I've read on Ikea's website the Sektion cabinetry is just particleboard, fiberboard and melamine foil. Doesn't sound like quality to me. What am I missing in that you think it's such good value? Please enlighten me.'


What an excellent question!  This post was long time coming. Virtually everyone I talked to, who is considering renovating their kitchens, has at some point considered an IKEA kitchen. Most people hesitate as they cannot believe that IKEA kitchens are so cheap - read 'affordable' - but I use the word on purpose. Yea, they are really affordable. And then I hear about people buying their kitchens from Home Depot - and I am like why would they do that? IKEA makes best kitchens. They are quality kitchens. They offer an incredibly friendly self-install system. If you read around - like my blog - you can find out so much to improve on that system and open great design flexibility.

This is going to be a long post, because such is required to answer Cleo’s question. Some of it is going to get perhaps a bit philosophical - but you know what, I think a lot about the work that I do. I think a lot about the field of design and how I would like to contribute to it - it is high on my priority list. My entire business model hinges around a very successful, very ethical corporation - a corporate goodnik - those are rare - I have no qualms supporting them. Just like IKEA is smart with all that they do - they are light years ahead of everyone - they force me to keep up with them - that constant chase, or a voyage of discovery, is quite enjoyable. Every time I pick up a product that I thought I knew well, I discover that IKEA made small changes to it - improved it. So you can imagine that how shaken up the woodworking/design/renovation sectors were when the SEKTION was announced. The good old AKURUMs were already a best-seller - 7.7 million kitchens that will need refacing one day? Who is going to make those doors? - and first choice for the do-it yourselfer renovator. I am certain that IKEA invested tons of money into designing this line - SEKTION is a well designed, well made kitchen system that offers incredible design flexibility and very cost effective productivity features.

This is also the post that you should read if you want to solidly make up your mind that IKEA kitchen is not the right match for you. Yep, you will learn everything that you need to know to learn how much there is to kitchen design, and maybe make a decision that you want a lot more. 





QUALITY - The greatest Snake Oil that is sold by cabinet shops is that IKEA kitchens are poor quality.











This is a picture that I took in my shop. It illustrates virtually all major [and one obscure] types of sheet good materials that are used in cabinet construction - all those sheets exhibit specific properties that make them more attractive for specific applications. As far as I know every cabinet shop, regardless of how low-end [‘Fly-By-Night' Cabinetry] or high-end [Herman Miller, Nienkamper] use those sheets. All sheet good materials have 2 parts - the core and the decorative part. When woodworkers, designers, snake oil salesman talk about ‘melamine’, ‘maple or walnut sheets’, ‘zebrano or wenge sheets’, ‘thermofoil finish’, etc., they talk about the decorative part of the sheet good - what’s on the surface. 

Particlecore is essentially finely milled wood chips, tiny wood flakes - I am certain that there are some hard manufacturing numbers/specs on the sizing of those wood flakes, but to me more important is how it cuts, for example - mixed in with resin glue, spread into flat sheets, cured/dried and cut to size. Depending on the glue used you can have the same sheets made into exterior grade - cost effective vs. solid wood - on decorative painted elements.  Virtually every aspect of its production can be controlled - uniformity, density, thickness, size - the sheets are made to order for industries. This is an example of 3/4" sheet thick, 4x10 particle core sheets - this is our sheet-good rack - I confess to having strong architectural feelings for it - it's practical size, the right strength and cost effectiveness that make the particle core work in this project This is an old photo, it looks even better now that we put on some trim on it. 




It is dimensionally very stable and it is my first choice when building large surfaces - it will take adhesives, nails and screws very well - always pre-drill for screws. All these characteristics make it ideal as the 'anchor of the industry' - it is everywhere - everyone is using it - from the cheapest Chinese imports, to the Swedish Wonder - IKEA; to the industry captains - Nienkamper. You cannot get away from particle core, and I believe that anyone who is trying to convince you away from it is trying to profit from your lack of knowledge.

Melamine is what happens when particlecore is covered in a thin, plastic, hard finish. When I look closely at a melamine finish I can see 'banding' - it's a spray pattern that is produced  by the mechanical spray arm - but that is only because I've been a 'chief gunner' [aka. 'chief finisher'] in my past life. Melamine can be designer too. It is manufactured in variety of colours - whites, off-whites, at least 50 shades of grey, and funky colours. It comes in variety of patterns as well - mostly mimicking wood grain, in any colour - hundreds of choices. Here is the harsh reality though - the interiors of the boxes are not often seen, or exposed for that matter - especially in kitchens - so I would argue that unless you are designer aficionado who likes his/hers kitchen box in cool grey or smokin' hot red [interior red goes well with flat-sawn teak doors... I've done that combination....just sayin'...] it's perfectly reasonable to settle for a white box - it looks clean. 

Look - this is a cross section of a SEKTION gable - 








It's nice density throughout, 3/4" thick. The melamine is very smooth and it's got nice edging - the edging is better than I would say your typical PVC edging, nicely beveled and buffed - definitely a clean operation.  IKEA must have their own facility where they produce the white melamine sheets - I have not seen melamine sheets that smooth [and by smooth, I mean 'smooth to me' - I've handled countless melamine sheets - melamine is a sprayed on plastic finish that is then cured - the IKEA melamine has a 'smaller flake', that's how I would describe it]. IKEA SEKTION boxes come in two [2] colours - white and dark - the dark mimics wood grain. 

The choice of only 2 SEKTION box colours is the first thing that I hear people grumbling about - and one of the 'snake oil reasons' cited by professionals who claim the quality of the product - more colour choice - especially the 'light maple look'. And I agree - there are only two interior colour choices to pick from. 

So the first question you should ask your Snake Oil salesman - are the boxes particlecore melamine - feel free to show them my picture to jog their memory.

However: I was scouting 'the enemy' once, and the designer told me that they use 'marine grade plywood' for their cabinetry boxes, and he showed me a sample - which it was not - it was regular poplar ply with mahogany veneer. Now, dear reader, I was once a foolish young rebelious man and wanted to build a wooden sailboat that I was going to sail around the world - I bought tons-of-expensive marine grade plywood - because that is what you use for building wooden sailboats [I know, there are many ways to build a wooden sailboat]. Marine grade plywood is a regulated wooden product that is manufactured to very stringent specs - I believe is is an organization called LLoyds of London [Great Britain, London -  not London, Ontario, Canada] that puts their stamps on true 'marine grade plywood' - and unless you are building a wooden sailboat -  no one uses it - it is just too expensive. 

The closest you can come to marine grade plywood is called Baltic Birch plywood. Look - that is a 5/8" sheet - This is 'B' from my first post. 


Out of nostalgia I use it for building drawers on closets. It is very nice hardwood plywood - birch. It is very strong. The number of laminations - layers - ensure that it remains fairly stable - warps very little - but it does warp. And this is the number one reason why not use plywood in box constructions - don't use it for large surfaces. Yes, lacquered birch looks very nice and clean and high-end - but it warps and you don't want that 'warpage' to start affecting your doors and drawers - that's why things 'rub' or are 'sticky'. The only acceptable place to use plywood in cabinet construction is for stretchers [I will get into the box construction later in this entry] - small, structural elements.

Now occasionally I do use plywood in constructing boxes - however it is never a decision I take lightly, I think about which way it is likely to warp and what other elements the warping may affect and I compensate for the anticipated warpage. Always.  

Most often I use Baltic Birch plywood in construction of drawers - I use 1/2" or 5/8" for sides and 1/4" for bottoms. This is an example of how I always build my drawers - my professor showed it me - all the parts of the drawer - sides and slide-in bottom contribute to the rigidity of the box - it is also super easy to finish. I consider Baltic Birch drawers as sort of 'classics'. If you want a nice drawer than there is nothing wrong with having it made out of Baltic Birch





IKEA drawers are made by BLUM, in Austria. Here - 





BLUM sets the standard when it comes to hardware, they make their stuff in Austria - enough said. IKEA being BLUM's largest customer is able to negotiate awesome deals on their hardware. Remember people, hardware - inner fittings - 'the guts' - is what makes your kitchen functional. Large, deep pantries are useless when dry goods expire without being used, buried deep behind piles and piles of other things, because you can't quite get to the back end of your pantry...

Drawers are another favourite of Snake Oil salesman - it's my favourite when they open the drawers to flash that iconic dovetail joint, clearly visible on the side of the drawer box. People melt thinking that there was a craftsperson who spent hours cutting those lovingly, by hand, while standing at a massive workbench. I've done dovetails joints - several times in my career - they are very difficult - you first have to lay them out so they look nice and you have to be super accurate - all sorts of things about dovetail joints, they write books about them - I would say that's the best way to educate yourself about that type of joinery. I can't make a living cutting dovetail joints - very few people can. So you can imagine the conflict that I experience when I see kitchens filled with dovetailed drawers - and heralded as 'the pinnacle of craftsmanship'. I agree, the dovetail joint is an excellent joint, it is visually beautiful and requires skill and expertise to execute. But kitchens? Well, I would say that there is a bit of a 'mislead' there....Look - 





We live in the age of mass production - being efficient is necessary to stay competitive and thrive - that's what IKEA is doing, they are being efficient. That skid is filled with a custom order for dovetailed drawers. 




Essentially, kitchen cabinet places figured out that people really link dovetail drawers with quality. There was a demand for large number of dovetail drawers - which are very labour intensive - and a solution was created. There are woodworking companies - and we are talking about fully automated CNC production - that only make thousands of dovetailed drawers to order. They buy solid maple by the truckloads. They will not make you one or two, but they will make you 40 or a 100 - and send you skid like that. Nothing wrong with that - those are well made, Canadian, white hard maple solid drawers - they retail for anywhere between $40 to a $100, depending on the size - fully finished! That, in my opinion, is an awesome deal! Add to that a set of quality Blum slides with soft close and you got yourself an amazing drawer - not the cheapest - but now you can charge an arm-and-a-leg for that bank of drawers, while telling your client that IKEA drawer boxes are 'cheap' at $60 or $80 dollars [and that price includes quality slides /w softlcose!]. Be honest people!



NEXT Update - 'The tale of two kitchens'.....Boffi and IKEA! This is a true story. 

It was a dark and stormy night, the sea was angry my friends... I was young and beautiful and we were installing a beautiful piece of millwork - zebrawood media unit - slip matched veneers on particlecore - very large. I was fresh out of design school, a bit naive, a bit ignorant. It was a large, freshly gutted house owned by two lawyers - they spared on nothing. The floors, I remember were rift-sawn wenge - to showcase that black beautiful pinstripe. There was another TV on the main floor that had a sliding slip matched ebony veneer door covering it.  This one** - this was custom lay-up, slip matched ebony on a torsion box. We were very concerned that it laminate properly so it does not warp. 





The main floor - showcase - had a Boffi kitchen installed. Downstairs, in the basement - very nice basement - there was going to be a another kitchen installed - the real kitchen where the meals would be cooked by the housekeeper [or whomever] - an IKEA kitchen. Both kitchens were white and high-gloss. Both kitchens were all slab doors and the boxes were full of great organizers and hardware. And, I, in my ignorant ways, did not realize that they were two different kitchens! To my inexperienced, fresh out of school eye - it was all the same - white, high gloss slabs, yea, they had drawers....

But that is precisely the point! - to an untrained eye, that was not particularly into kitchens at that singularity in time - I did not spot the difference! 

I can spot the difference now - I know exactly what the manufacturing differences are, as well as I can appreciate the design features of different manufacturers. 


To be continued...


*What a click-bait title. Shameful.

**hey! if you are curious as to my previous life - visit this awkward blog - it's a proof that nothing on the internet dies - it's my 'the old man  & de stijl ' blog....

I worked then with Derek McLeod - it was so much fun, great work dynamic at Builtwork Design. People this is humour - I am chuckling just thinking about it - we were such silly hipsters - dressing accordingly. I remember on that job, there was another crew installing also some really fancy stuff and we were both 'competing for the hipster awards'. Listen, we were so hip that we would travel to job sites with our own espresso machine! No drinking out of paper, portable, enviro-cups for us - scoff!! - we only did these silly small stainless steel espresso cups...I can't stop chuckling, we were so silly! Silly young man! Cut your hair, be more serious!


Remember - at the end of this post I will show you how to design a kitchen that looks like a 'million dollars' and is still based on the IKEA's SEKTION box. Thanks Cleo! 

Friday, June 19, 2015

When IKEA planner throws an exception.....Can't do that....OR can you?

Chapter 1

Oh these are interesting times for me...And I am not talking about just IKEA. I am working on putting together an IKEA Hackers conference here in Toronto! Someone's got to do it! And why not, people do IKEA hacking all over the world. 

Anyhow,  I often get calls from people who are facing a challenging install situation - uneven walls, bulkheads, boxes, the cabinets need modifications. Situations like these can be very limiting to the traditional IKEA designer - and I am not talking just about kitchens - that SEKTION box is incredibly flexible, I  use if for everything. 

Like this project - I've been working overtime on this one. 


That wall is a mess. There were so many obstacles, protrusions, bulkheads...there really was no way design it using the IKEA planner. I will upload the picture of what the 'IKEA planner' looked like for this project later.

[Edit: Upload! I use the planner to assemble all the pieces that I need. It's not really used for the layout. It is a helpful tool that lets me visualize the components of my design.]



Here is the base for the island - it's already built - I will record a video of Ross attempting to wrestle with it [wink!]






The house is being renovated top to bottom - they purchased top of the line Samsung appliances - beauties! The fridge is huge - wide and deep - but I designed it in such a way that it sits flush with the cabinets - thoughtful design all around! I can't wait to finish! 

The great thing is that the Ross and Franka are having their first baby - a girl! congratulations! you guys are gonna love it! - due on the 28th of this month. I get a warm and fuzzy feeling...I got four of me own babies ....that's my own, very fashionable brood at our favourite store - Costco Canada - my favourite pair of work pants are Kenneth Cole Reaction - brown with a black pinstripe - $28 at Costco!




Wanna hear the downside? Look - 





Their last scheduled pick-up of parts that I arranged for their kitchen is on the the 29th - the day after the baby due date... We just have to make the best of the situation.


Wise Words - 'Life's like that' - Avril Lavigne