Closet Design Group makes custom closets for clients who know the value of organized space.

By Steve Baxter

 

Rumor has it that when a certain pop diva recently remodeled her Florida condominium, she spent over $350,000 on cabinetry . . . for the closets.

Clients like this don’t grow on trees, of course.

Companies specializing in casework for closets are more often in a market where homeowners want to spend less rather then more. Kitchens and other living areas get the attention, and the dollars.

Michael DiMedio, who with his wife Victoria owns the Closet Design Group, did not build the aforementioned singer’s closet furniture. But he has managed to position his company in the higher end of a business where economy is the focus of much of the competition.

 

     
     
   
  This finished closet by Closet Design Group provides a variety of drawer sizes, shelves, cabinets and racks.  

Granted, it never hurts to be in the right place at the right time.

Based in Boca Raton, the company operates in the thriving Florida communities stretching from Vero Beach to Miami. The economy has generated enough affluence there to allow consumers to open their minds (and pocketbooks) to the notion that closets are rooms, too.

A Variety of Woods and Finishes

The Closet Design Group has evolved its product lines — and the technology with which it builds them — accordingly.

“When we first started ths business in June of 1992, basically the closet market was white and almond melamine,” DiMedio says. Now the trend is toward the look of wood.

“People are going with themaples, the cherries and the mahoganies,” he says.

DiMedio accommodates his clients by employing a high level of panel-processing technology in his 22,000-square-foot shop, and by mixing and matching materials to fit their budgets.

For example, his designers, working with Cabnetware software program, might draw up wood-grain melamine cases that call for matching raised-panel foil doors and drawer fronts. Or they might go a step further and edge those cases in real wood, trimmed with a chamfer and stained to match, and add real frame-and-panel doors and drawer fronts.

“Remember, if you walk into a closet and look at a unit, there are clothes hanging there so you really don’t see much of the side panels or the backs or the shelves,” DiMedio says. “What you see all the time are the edges, the doors and the drawer fronts.”

The company uses melamine panels maunfactured by Panolam Industries and Panval; foil drawer fronts and doors by Doormark; and wood fronts and doors by Decore-ative Specialties.

But suppose a client wants to upgrade even the basic cases as well. No problem, DiMedio says.

“The next step would be to go to the prefinished plywoods, which are clear-coated at the mill, on either one or two sides,” DiMedio says, citing Columbia Forest Products as the Closet Design Group’s main plywood source.

“All we have to do is edgeband the case,” he says, “and we have matching wood edgebanding that’s already prefinished.”

Beyond that? “Finally, we would go to the custom finish — paint or stain,” he says.

The designs can also be embellished with crown mouldings and other kinds of trim and accessorized with special hardware and all kinds of accessories: custom-made belt, tie and shoe racks; valets (pull-out rods on which to hang clothes while you dress); hampers and baskets; jewelry trays; special hangers; halogen lights –– you name it, DiMedio says.

 

     
     
   
    A Homag edgebander reads instructions from a barcoded label.

The idea is to be able to offer customers a broad range of upgrades to the company’s basic product line without changing or otherwise interrupting the computer-controlled, cut-band-and-bore production process employed in the shop, DiMedio says.

CAD Drawings Offer Accuracy

Of the company’s total 43 employees, three sit in front of computers working on design or engineering, using Holzma’s Cut Rite software to turn the design drawings and cutting lists generated by Cabnetware into instructions for the various shop machines.

The designers work closely with the customers or their interior decorators, even generating color perspective drawings of their closets, “free of charge.” However, DiMedio says that the drawings are not released until a contract is signed or a deposit made — just in case the temptation to shop them around would prove too great.

After a deal is consummated, a Closet Design Group employee visits the site and takes precise final measurements — in millimeters. Back in the office, these figures are entered into Cabnetware and the software automatically tweaks the dimensions of the unit and the parts list to accommodate any changes.

The CAD drawings are passed on to the engineers. They use Cut Rite software to optimize panel sizing operations. The software then generates barcode labels that are automatically printed at the Holzma HPL 11 panel saw.

“Every part gets a label,” DiMedio says. “And that label has a barcode on it, but also the client’s name, the number of the unit, the room that it is going into and other information such as instructions for edgebanding.”

The edgebanding is done on a Homag machine, and then it is on to one of the two Weeke machining centers.

Based on the information contained in the barcode, “the machining centers do all of the boring and routing,” DiMedio says. The machines have horizontal as well as vertical capability.

Making On-Site Assembly Easier

The machining accommodates the various kinds of hardware incorporated into the units, including Titus and Hafele knock-down fittings.

“After that, the material is taken out and stacked and ready to go to the job,” he says. “Eighty percent of the time, the units are transported flat.

“Because you’re working inside a smaller room within a house — not like working in a kitchen, where you’ve typically got plenty of space — being able to get a unit into a closet and manuever it once there is the most important thing.

“Most of the time we have to assemble casework on the job,” DiMedio says.

It takes six two-man crews working full-time in the field to install what the nine shop employees produce. Scheduling is coordinated using Microsoft Project software.

One recent hardware change has made life easier for both the shop workers and the installers.

“We switched over to Mepla Integra drawer boxes about six months ago,” DiMedio says. “We use the metal sides with half-inch bottoms. The drawer front clips right onto the box.”

The added benefit: “If you don’t have all the fronts available when you go to install the job, you just have to go back with the fronts and clip them on and put your handle on and you’re done. They’re very simple to install.”

Teaming Up with Home Depot

About half of the Closet Design Group’s business is from retail customers who walk through the doors of one of the company’s two showrooms in Boca Raton and up the coast in Jupiter, with or without their decorators in tow. The very biggest jobs generally involve a professional interior decorator, DiMedio says.

Another quarter of Closet Design Group’s business is from production builders and other sources.

The remaining 25 percent is generated by the company’s displays in Home Depot’s three new South Florida Expo Design Centers in Boynton Beach, Davie, and Miami, DiMedio says.

“The display is an interior design setup where you can buy everything for the interior of the house: rugs, plumbing, lighting, appliances and kitchen cabinets. We are the closet company in those three stores,” DiMedio says.

“They have designers on staff, and sell higher-end merchandise.” Those designers show clients the closet displays, then refer them to the Closet Design Group sales and design staff, who takes it from there.

“We’ll be going into the Naples Expo when it’s built in June,” he says, “and wherever else they open them in Florida. We’ve got the first rights to go in there.”

A total of eight Florida stores are planned within the next few years, he says.

The Expo Design Center in Miami has enabled DiMedio to enter the export business. “Since they’re close to the Miami Airport, a lot of their South American clients come in and they’ll order the product. We’ll crate it up and ship it, and then they have their own people install it.

“We do a fair number of jobs that way. Most of that is higher-end work, done in the plywoods, either the clear-coat finish or the custom finish,” he adds.

The Expo Design Centers are not the only path the company is taking for expansion. Since the basic design and production techniques it employs are highly adaptable to other kinds of cabinetry, the company has been building garage storage units, office furniture, entertainment centers and wall units.

In fact, when the company sets up shop in the newest Design Center of the Americas building in Ft. Lauderdale, “we’re not going in as a closet company, we’re going in as a wall-unit company,” DiMedio says.

Toward this end he has established a new business entity called Environments for Organized Living, which he said focuses on “everything to do with utilizing space within your house. We’re going to be showing entertainment units, office desks and Murphy beds. We’re not showing closets, though, because the Ft. Lauderdale design center has another closet company in there.”

The company has also been looking beyond Florida’s state line. For example, one job currently underway consists of custom-finished cabinetry for his-and-her master closets in a home in Tennessee. “We’re going to build and finish it here,” DiMedio says, “and deliver it to the job and install it.”

The contract totals only about $100,000 — not much by pop-singer standards — but enough to make the trip north worth the trouble.

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