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 Meiners’ unique approach to design, is one of the reasons the Chicago custom shop is seeing growth, he says.

“I’ve got to say, I think my design theory is super-unique. I do design, but I really try to pull it from the client,” Meiners says. “Usually, 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 that’s outside the box for them, or if they really want it to match (their current décor).”

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.

“Hardwoods are what most woodworkers are probably into, but we basically aren’t. We love veneers,” Meiners says. “They don’t move, and if you’re making stuff in the modern style it has to be straight, and it has to be dead-on.”

Trimline moved from Meiners’ garage to its current location on the city’s 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 piece’s 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.

“We’re not automated, so we make all of our jigs. We’re basically Geppetto,” Meiners says. “We don’t have a CNC machine, so we’ve 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.”

He adds that customers appreciate the handcrafted look of a project built with the details in mind.

“Usually people notice all the edges, like our veneer edges, and they’ll say ‘This is great,’ because we take the time to go through and hand file every edge,” Meiners says.

Trimline fabricated the project in pieces and then began the install with a self-imposed two-day deadline, Meiners says.

“We had to build steps to put it up in sections, inch-by-inch,” Meiners says. “Getting the whole thing to fit was quite a trick. The whole desk is cantilevered, but since it was built so meticulously, it fit perfectly.”

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 “white-glove” installations.

“If you need to be leaning over antique furniture during an install, we’re the guys to have,” Meiners says. “We’ll put blankets across the entire place before we do anything, and we’ll dust the floors after we’re done.”

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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