By Mike Wilson
Chicago-based Trimline Custom Designs distinguishes itself through its "white glove" installation technique and its approach to design.
|Trimline recently constructed a 15-foot-long, 12-foot-high built-in, combining bookmatched sapele veneer cabinetry, backlighting and a wired workstation.|
Even if a customer has trouble describing what he wants, Trimline Custom Designs figures out a way to build a piece to reflect his tastes. This ability, which comes from owner Dale Meinersâ unique approach to design, is one of the reasons the Chicago custom shop is seeing growth, he says.
âIâve got to say, I think my design theory is super-unique. I do design, but I really try to pull it from the client,â Meiners says. âUsually, I go to their place so I can see their furniture. I get a feel for everything, I get a feel for their tastes, I get a feel for how open they are to a design thatâs outside the box for them, or if they really want it to match (their current dÃ©cor).â
The company, which employs four people at its 3,200 square-foot facility, specializes in building one-of-a-kinds of everything, from cabinet built-ins to furniture. Trimline also gets extra business through woodworkers looking to outsource their finishing. Almost all of the projects are built using substrates, laminates, veneers and elements of modern design, Meiners says.
âHardwoods are what most woodworkers are probably into, but we basically arenât. We love veneers,â Meiners says. âThey donât move, and if youâre making stuff in the modern style it has to be straight, and it has to be dead-on.â
Trimline moved from Meinersâ garage to its current location on the cityâs west side about two years ago and does about $250,000 a year in business. Since the move, the company has gained customers through its emphasis on top-quality custom design and its focus on finishes.
A recent 15-foot-long, 12-foot-high built-in, combining bookmatched sapele veneer cabinetry, backlighting and a wired workstation, recently challenged the company to use all its strengths.
|The project was designed in Google SketchUp, which allowed the client to look at an in-depth 3-D model of the piece before Trimline began construction.|
Meiners designed the project with Google SketchUp, a 3-D modeling software that he uses to draw projects to scale. He says he likes using SketchUp because he can send his design files to the client, they can download the software for free, and he can then teach them to use the zoom tool to get in-depth looks at the design. For this job, for example, the model he sent allowed the customer to see details like the available space in the pieceâs drawers to accommodate a large CD and DVD collection, Meiners says.
Employees then created a cutlist from the scale drawings. The company fabricates its pieces without CNC equipment, though Meiners says he is thinking about purchasing a machine as the business expands.
Tools currently in the shop include a jointer, a left-tilt table saw, a band saw and an oscillating sander, all from Grizzly, a Powermatic surface planer, a Performax drum sander, and a belt/disc sander and table saw, both from Delta.
|The company has a unique approach to design, which often includes visiting clients' homes to get a feel for their personal style.|
âWeâre not automated, so we make all of our jigs. Weâre basically Geppetto,â Meiners says. âWe donât have a CNC machine, so weâve got to come up with jigs and throw a router on the end of it so we can replicate a curve. We do a lot of that kind of stuff.â
He adds that customers appreciate the handcrafted look of a project built with the details in mind.
âUsually people notice all the edges, like our veneer edges, and theyâll say âThis is great,â because we take the time to go through and hand file every edge,â Meiners says.
Trimline fabricated the project in pieces and then began the install with a self-imposed two-day deadline, Meiners says.
âWe had to build steps to put it up in sections, inch-by-inch,â Meiners says. âGetting the whole thing to fit was quite a trick. The whole desk is cantilevered, but since it was built so meticulously, it fit perfectly.â
Quick, painless installs are another way the company has built a good reputation for itself in the Chicago land area, Meiners says. Trimline practices what Meiners calls âwhite-gloveâ installations.
âIf you need to be leaning over antique furniture during an install, weâre the guys to have,â Meiners says. âWeâll put blankets across the entire place before we do anything, and weâll dust the floors after weâre done.â
As for future plans to expand, Meiners says he may look into buying machinery to automate the operation and enable the shop to produce European frameless cabinetry more efficiently. He adds that the company will continue to work on the capabilities of the custom-end of the business and try to get more work from designers.
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