CWB April 2004

 

Renditions so Beautiful They're Art

Infinite Designs of Van Nuys, CA, is known for providing its clients with artistic, intricate hand-drawn plans.

By Lisa Whitcomb

 

"At Infinite Designs, our goal is the accomplishment of perfection," says owner Serge Abdalian of his custom woodworking company in Van Nuys, CA.

 

Infinite Designs>

Van Nuys, CA

www.einfintedesigns.com
>

Year Founded: 1994

Employees: 9 full-time

Shop Size: 7,500 square feet with office

 

FYI: Owner Serge Abdalian worked for many years as an architect and in interior design before opening his cabinet shop.

 

"We specialize in making a room beautiful even if there are construction defects," he adds. "We will take a room with defects and design paneling or cabinetry to hide the negative aspects." To help his clients envision perfection, Abdalian provides a unique service - hand-drawn, artful renditions of their kitchens and libraries that are abundant with even the tiniest details.

Infinite Designs focuses on designing and fabricating high-end projects, including kitchens, closets, home theaters and libraries. However, Abdalian says it will take on other projects as well. The shop opened its doors in the Los Angeles suburb in 1994. Abdalian first worked as an architect designing homes and then began working with interior designers, focusing his designs on home interiors. "I enjoyed working in that field and began designing cabinetry," he says, adding that he was also inspired by other family members who were involved in the woodworking industry.

Initially when Infinite Designs opened, the shop did not focus solely on high-end custom interiors. "That was the phase where we built our reputation little by little," Abdalian notes. "Then we began to get jobs in Beverly Hills. This is a community where people have money to spend and, because they do, designs can be more creative." He says his business has grown exponentially in the last four years as a result of this market.

 

Abdalian says this project is his most challenging to date. In addition to renditions, he also built a full-scale model of this Honduras mahogany paneled library with working halogen lights. No wood filler was used. Instead, Abdalian used a laser level and corrected any construction defects in the room by adjusting the paneling to make the walls appear perfect. The library features a cognac finish and a herringbone-style floor with cherry, mahogany and walnut woods. The library is 50 feet long by 25 feet wide with a ceiling height of 10 feet. The dome is 18 feet high.>

Presently the shop concentrates on projects in a 40-mile radius around Los Angeles with 95 percent of the jobs residential and five percent commercial. However, Abdalian has also designed and fabricated projects for homes in Hawaii and Wyoming. "I work primarily with interior designers, architects and contractors. Occasionally, though, I will work directly with a homeowner," he says. Much of his business comes from referrals and repeat clients.

Custom Project Plans 'Draw' Clients

As a residual effect of his extensive background in architecture, Abdalian's drawings are all hand drawn to a 1-inch scale. "I have Cabinet Vision, Planit Solutions and 20-20 programs, but the pictures they produce appear cold. When I draw the plans by hand, a client sees the rendition as a lot more warm and inviting," he says.

"The drawings look more custom as well, and they are pretty much what sells a job to a homeowner,"Abdalian adds. Drawings provided to clients include plans, elevations, perspectives, reflective ceiling plans, and electrical, mechanical and lighting plans. "We input a lot of fine details into the drawings, like mouldings and cross sections that cannot be created on a computer," he says. In addition, he incorporates details such as plants, books, drapery, dishes and the like into each picture to insert the homeowner into the scene, so he can imagine himself living there.

He asks clients to look through magazines and cut out pictures of elements that they would like to see incorporated into their project. "I ask them what they want to do with the room and also ask what is the negative part of the space that they would like to change," he says. Once Abdalian understands how a client wants to utilize a space, then he will draw three different preliminary plans from which a client can choose. Clients can either accept one of the plans as is or ask him to combine elements from each into a fourth design. Once a design has been finalized and approved by a client, then Abdalian says he will measure the space for accuracy and begin drawing the final intricate plans.

Because the drawings he renders are so detailed, Abdalian charges an extra fee for his designs. "This is because customers can take them anywhere to have them fabricated. The drawings are very, very accurate. Clients typically receive six 34- by 24-inch vellum sheets from me that include room elevations, project specifications and designs," he says. For a kitchen design, Abdalian charges $1,500 and up, depending on the size of the kitchen and the scope of the design. For a paneled library design, he charges $3,500 and up.

 

Infinite Designs owner Serge Abdalian uses his background in architecture to create detailed, 1-inch scale renditions for his clients. >

After a design is complete, Abdalian returns to the home for one more field study. He says that when a job is for a new home, he prefers to measure the house in its framing stage and make the necessary calculations in his plans for the construction. "I like to start a drawing far enough in advance [for a new home] that the plumbing and wiring are put in where they will be needed per the design" rather than accommodating the design to work with the utilities, he notes. "If customers plan ahead and have working drawings done at the framing stage, then they can save themselves a lot of time and money." He adds that Infinite Designs does do kitchen remodels as well and works with the existing utility locations or has the contractor move them when possible.

"The key to a good start in any project is measuring," Abdalian says. "You have to be so accurate and take into account that you are not just measuring for the cabinets you are building, but also for the clearances for stone tops, ceilings and flooring that will surround the cabinetry."

Bringing a Project to Life - from Rendition to Reality

Once a design is approved by the client, the project moves into the shop. Production begins after the shop foreman reviews the plans and clarifies any questions he may have with Abdalian. Cutlists are then created for the project, and duties are divided up among workers. A kitchen project takes an average of five weeks to build and finish, entertainment centers four to six weeks and libraries depend on the complexity and size of the project, Abdalian says.

The average cost of entertainment centers ranges between $10,000 and $30,000, kitchens between $25,000 and $85,000, and libraries from $35,000 to $200,000. Entertainment centers and libraries are usually made from stain-grade walnut, cherry or maple and finished with a stain and topcoat or multi-step glaze finish. Kitchens are fabricated primarily from paint-grade alder or maple and finished with a multi-step glaze finish. All stains are applied using a hand-rubbed technique. Glazes and topcoats are applied in the shop's spray booth using Binks equipment. "We hardly do any kitchens that are just one stain," notes Abdalian.

Most kitchens, though, are finished with a light bone or beige color with darker glaze accents to enhance details found on crown moulding and raised panel doors. Abdalian hand-selects veneers that bookmatch well from GL Veneers. Infinite Designs lays up its own veneers using an in-house method.

"Once I have the best sheets, I will lay them down and take a drawing of an elevation and reflect it onto the veneer sheets to find the best locations for the nicest grain details. Then, I tape off those areas using blue tape and number them according to the cabinet door that they will be made into," he adds.

Cabinet boxes are made in-house using a frameless European construction. Blum glides are used on dovetail drawers and Blum hinges are used on cabinet doors. Infinite Designs outsources its drawers and doors from other >shops in the area. The company uses H+ñfele hardware for any custom interior or heavy-duty applications.

 

This contemporary maple and cherry kitchen was designed by Didier Michot Design Group. It features a stained concrete countertop with a hammered brass edge plate and hammered stainless steel drawer fronts. The freestanding island's butcher-block top is 3 inches thick and made of made of maple, walnut and a white carrera marble.>

All mouldings are made in-house. Most appliques are purchased from Raymond Enkeboll or Pearl Works, but some are designed full-scale and hand-carved in the shop. Abdalian notes that there is a trend in kitchens for customers to request nicer accessories like cutlery dividers, towel bars and pull-out trash receptacles because they want to customize their space. "They want to make the kitchen more efficient so it suits their specific needs," he says. Infinite Designs does all of its own installations as well.

Shop equipment includes Grizzly's tiltable oscillating edge sander and tiltable spindle sander; an AEM 36-inch widebelt sander; Powermatic table saw, sliding table saw, shaper and planer; Holz-Her edgebander; Ritter boring machine and Jet dust collection units.

Sage Woodworking

Abdalian says he finds good employees by word-of-mouth or by recommendations from current staff members. He also hires family members occasionally to work in the shop. "We hire helpers and train them on-site for sanding and prepping tasks, but other employees who are hired to run machinery must have previous experience," he adds.

Having good employees in the shop is key to building a business' reputation. Most notably, though, Abdalian says, "The key to being successful is to first enjoy this business. You have to be really involved in the measuring and specifications. A woodworker should know how to take measurements and include the other trades on a job site into his project."

Another key is to give customers more than they expect. "If a customer has spent quite a bit of money and then asks me for something extra, I just throw it in," he says. "Customers feel well taken care of and appreciate the extra effort. For them, it is a good feeling to get something nice and not have to pay for it. For me, it is almost like a thank you to them."

                                                                                                                                                                                           

>

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.