Architect / Designer



    This site is designed to be a practical reference for a designer, builder or client.  It draws on thirty years’ experience in high end cabinetmaking in Marin, San Francisco, and the greater Bay Area.  

      I’’ll use my work and experiences as a reference and explain My Approach in one of the sections, other than that it is meant to be instructional to the architect, the General contractor and the client.  I hope it will help clue everybody in on the information the cabinetmaker needs to build a set of cabinets as close to the wishes of the owner and the intent of the designer as possible.

    Over the years it has become apparent to me that certain things need to be emphasized to have a job run smoothly. There are certain bits of information that are necessary to lay out a set of custom cabinets, without them a clean layout is a game of chance.   There is also a deficit in understanding of quality in cabinetry that leads to disappointment.  Tearing out a set of economy cabinets three years after the job is completed is not economy. If you have a client that is looking for an authentic custom feel to their cabinetry it might be worth having them take a look.

    I’m sure a lot of this is understood already but if it refreshes one or two issues it might be worth reading. I have a great respect for good design and the effort it takes to produce it.  I hope this page and the accompanying PDF files will aid in that quest.  I don’t intend it to be preachy or condescending.

   There are three PDF files that distill these details for reference in the field, they are: ARCHITECT’S PDF/ CONTRACTOR’S PDF / CLIENT PDF / STANDARD DIMENSIONS PDF / SOLUTIONS PDF / DETAILS PDF (illustration of details that require decisions before the job can proceed.)


     The more elegant your drawing the more likely it will be understood and executed.  Important details should be consolidated on one or two sheets with clear cut throughs and bold notes about any exceptions. The distillation of the information on the drawing eliminates ambiguous or contradictory notes, the process of condensing only the necessary information is a good way to bring things into sharp focus.  It's a good practice to have one hierarchy of instructions.  The specification in a note on a drawing should also show up in the written specification if there is one. The problem is that if there are two sets of specifications the cabinetmaker might assume that a detail not addressed in the written spec is not addressed at all even though there is a note on page “C27” In the set of drawings.

    As a cabinetmaker, it’s a panicky feeling to find a contradictory note tucked away on page 20A of a large set that contradicts the typical detail on the elevation sheet.  This also happens when there is one detail that is typical but an exception is noted without enough emphasis or in an obscure place in the set of drawings. For instance, if the adjoining dining room has a different detail than the kitchen, you want to show that exception with at least as much emphasis as the typical detail in the kitchen, often called out in a side elevation.             

A detail that involves the elevation view should be made on the elevation or, if it needs to be noted on the plan. it should also be noted on the elevation.

    I’ve noticed a tendency toward obscuring of important details with the advent of CAD drawings.  Hand drawing leant itself to the physical orientation of a drawing in a set, with CAD, a drawing can be sent off to obscure pages of the set and, if it isn’t referenced clearly, missed by the cabinetmaker.  A mouse click can place a cabinet detail with a framing detail because it is in the “detail” data base. 

    Perhaps counterintuitively, this does not mean you need to do elaborate drawings detailing the particular construction of the carcasses unless there are structural issues concerning heavy counters or the like.  Other than specifications of the materials for the building of the case it is generally not necessary to show anything but the cabinet front and the facade. It is important to have the overall intent of the cabinetry i.e., the dimensions of the height and width, depth, light valances, drawer layout etc. The door style can be represented by a larger scale drawing or door company code and the individual doors in the elevation can be blank.  In my opinion, it is better to invest the time in one representative, expanded view with the cabinet elevations represented in simple rectangles. Detail of every door is not necessary for the cabinetmaker unless it is an exception.

    I don’t know why, but about sixty percent of the time it’s a struggle to fit the elements as drawn into the available space.  This is especially true when space is at a premium.  Wishful thinking? I don’t know, but there always seems to be less actual space than the drawing allows.  Don’t forget: fill or scribe strips and margins have to come out of overall wall dimensions. When you start really wanting an extra inch or two on a wall and crowding every element chances are it’s not going to work in the field. This often happens with entertainment centers where retracting doors, track, pulls and clearances really add up.


    It’s a good idea to talk to the cabinetmaker before the cabinets are started to make sure everyone is on the same page.  There is always room for interpretation even on the best drawings. Also, generic details for countertops or toe kicks can be find their way into drawings and be misleading.  It’s a good time to evaluate the level of understanding and skill of the cabinetmaker if it’s a tricky project. Some of these things could be communicated by the General Contractor but a one on one conversation is the best insurance that your design is carried through.  A good cabinetmaker is a valuable emissary to organize the various trades and keep everyone informed of the miniscule details of plumbing,electrical, tile, floors, counters, etc. that have to interface in order to pull it off.


Counter detail.  This is something that is simple but often problematic.  If you want a 36” finished kitchen counter height (and you usually do), I would need to know how thick the edge of the counter is going to be and how that relates to the cabinet carcass.  For instance, is it 1 1/2” with 3/4” hanging down below the sub top or is it simply 3/4” thick resting on the rough cabinet top?  Often a 3/4” rough plywood top is laid down on the cabinet and that spaces it up so that the 3/4” hang down is on this piece of plywood.  Whichever it is you want to be clear how all this relates if you want to end up with a standard 36” counter top and the correct clearance under the upper cabinets.  When the decision is made it is important to follow through and not change the detail. (See DETAILS PDF Illustration #1)

Composition of counter.  (SEE ILLUST #1 DETAILS PDF) This can be important for reasons of strength.  A flip out bin in front of the sink is not a good idea if you’re using tile because there needs to be a solid apron to prevent the narrow tile strip in front of the sink from breaking.  A cantilevered bar may require reinforcement to support the stone. Plastic or Corian countertops require an air space under them.  These requirements are worth getting clear.

The floor thickness.  If the cabinets go in before the floor  the bases of the cabinet can be built to compensate for the floor thickness.  If a 1 1/4” tile and mortar bed are going to be laid down then the bases would be 5 1/4” to account for the difference and end up with a standard, 4” toe kick.

Appliances. The model numbers and notes on  any exceptions.  For instance some American dishwashers require an extra inch front to back to accommodate wood panels.  This can have a global effect requiring a deeper than standard cabinet and by impinging on the perpendicular cabinet run.  Some under counter appliances (refrigerators, dishwashers. wine coolers), wont fit under thick countertops at a standard counter height. It’s not a bad idea to highlight any exceptions you run across in the appliance specs.  Some obscure exceptions, often noted by the manufacturer with a double ought font asterisk referring to a note on page seventeen, etc., are easy to miss and can cause real problems if not caught.

Special plumbing. Wide sinks can require the cabinet to be spaced out from the wall, roll-outs under the sink can
require the plumbing to be in a precise location. Space behind the sink in islands to accommodate loop vent systems and receptacle locations are worth a note on the drawings.

Electrical. Under counter lighting, electrical boxes, outlets (particularly on islands)  How it is to be concealed if not shown on the drawings, where it is to be positioned, is there provision for routing wires? ---all important things to talk about early in the project.

The materials used in the construction of the cases. Species of wood for exposed surfaces, drawer sides, backs, etc.

Scribe detail.  How is the cabinet wed to the ceiling and walls?  Are the scribes in plane with the door front or held back? How wide should they be, should they all be consistent?  All topics to discuss and often not called out on drawings.(SEE DETAILS PDF ilust. #2,#3)

Non-standard details.  It’s a good time to deal with extra thick counter tops on islands, tall bases, appliances, thick mortar beds and the possible implications for cabinets.  For instance an American dishwasher wont fit under a two and a half inch counter top at standard (36”) counter height.  Cabinetmakers often have experience with a variety of appliances and installation issues so it would be a good idea to take advantage of their experience.



I’ve seen these things changed after they have been specified with the resultant diminished quality of the finished product.  Once these details or specifications are called out everyone needs to follow through.

    Careful work by the cabinetmaker can enhance the architecture.  Too often the case work is given short shrift or the design is compromised with clunky boxes and factory doors (see Wood / Shmwood). Fewer details in modern casework has been interpreted as permission to modularize everything.  In fact, the fewer the details the more important they are in a modern home.  These are the objects most interacted with in a house and often a key determinant of its quality. Modern or traditional, there is no substitute for a good eye and a commitment to the best interpretation of the drawings. To work at this level everyone needs to be on board, aware of the possibilities, not only for their own trade but for all the related trades. 

    If you can think of other issues that could be included in this site I’d be happy to hear from you.  I’d appreciate your feedback.

Bruce Kranzler

PO Box 66

Tomales, Ca. 94971

LIC # 661317