A Merger of Furniture and Cabinetry

California-based McKenzie Cabinetry merges furniture and cabinetry styles to create a new look.

By Karen M. Koenig

McKenzie Cabinetry

Novato, CA

Year Founded: 1997

Employees: 2

Shop Size: approximately 2,000 square feet

FYI: • Cabinetry and entertainment centers account for 75% of the business

• Both Sean McKenzie and Rob Gibson mastered the art of woodworking through their local apprenticeship programs


They term it “project management.” What it refers to is the hands-on approach taken by Sean McKenzie and Rob Gibson to the design, manufacture and installation of McKenzie Cabinetry’s custom cabinetry, furniture and commercial/office pieces. Although cabinets and entertainment centers account for 75 percent of this San Francisco Bay area shop’s business, of the remaining 25 percent, 15 percent is devoted to commercial projects and the rest to freestanding furniture pieces.

“We love doing furniture, but cabinetry pays the bills. So we try to bring the idea of furniture across in all our cabinetry,” says owner McKenzie.

McKenzie is in charge of all the design work, and is often called upon to provide hand- rendered shop drawings. He will also weigh in with suggestions for species, finishes and accessories.

“It’s the details that make the difference,” McKenzie says regarding his company’s products. “For example, we use dovetail drawer boxes in all our designs. We’ll go the extra effort to match the panels; and instead of 1/4-inch panels, we’ll use 1/2-inch panels, which means our doors are heavier, but more durable. We also back cut the doors for detail.”

In addition, the company uses strictly biscuit joinery, and it glues, not nails or staples, components together. “Our cabinet doors are solid. All our door fronts are edged with solid wood and splined. This means the edges will never ‘peel’ off,” McKenzie adds.

Other Manufacturing Techniques

McKenzie Cabinetry sources both the drawer boxes and the laid-up veneered panels used in its cabinetry and furniture. While the majority of clients prefer the popular species, such as cherry, maple and walnut, McKenzie Cabinetry also works with some of the more exotic species, such as bamboo.

Added dimension is given to this cherry entertainment center through the “stepping back” of the sides. Shaker doors are used to complement the unit. Photo by Jay Graham  

“Bamboo is definitely one of the more unusual species we’ve worked with,” McKenzie says. “A customer saw the wood used for flooring in a commercial office and liked its rustic look. He decided he wanted his office furniture made out of the same material.

“Bamboo can be difficult to work with, though. It’s an extremely hard wood and takes a longer time to sand. We used it laid up in 3/4-inch by 1/4-inch strips, and edged with 1-1/2-inch strips of banding.” The company outsources all its spray finishing, including the clear conversion varnish which was used on the bamboo finish. “We will, however, do all the hand-rubbed, oil finishes in-house. Those take a lot longer because we will only do one coat a day,” McKenzie says. “We won’t compromise on the product’s quality by rushing a job.”

“People have told us we could cut corners because a kitchen may not be the type of job that warrants the extra touches,” McKenzie adds. “But we’ve said no. Because of that, we don’t get callbacks on products because they don’t fail. We care, because this is our livelihood.”

Attention to detail and quality control are apparent in all of McKenzie Cabinetry’s work. Typically, the two-man shop will have anywhere from one large to two to three smaller projects in process simultaneously. The turnaround time varies, depending on the complexity of the job. Typically, a “standard” kitchen will take two weeks to complete, McKenzie says. And although the company uses automated equipment, each piece receives a personal touch.

To achieve the modern look desired by the client. McKenzie Cabinetry added a glass reveal to the cherry cabinets. Another design element was to increased the size of the stiles, making them symmetrical with the glass panels. Photo by Jay Graham  

Pieces are hand fitted and hand crafted to ensure a perfect fit. “Each project is designed individually; most customers will look at a previous piece that we’ve done and will want to makes some changes to customize it.”

One such project is the stand for a sink basin, measuring 34 inches tall by 8-1/2 inches across the top. Gibson crafted the stand using 33 pieces of cherry which he shaped, angled, fluted and matched. “Before it’s done, it will be smoothed, scored and finished,” Gibson says. That single project involved more than 80 hours of work.

These cherry cabinets are a modern version of the Shaker style. The look was achieved by beefing up the rails to 4 inches and stiles to 2 inches. Photo by Ross Pelton  

Some of the non-traditional materials take extra machining. One example is old wine casks, which McKenzie purchased and has used to make furniture pieces. “The wood is very stable, but you need to mill it more in order to get the wood straightened into boards,” he says.

The company uses a variety of tools to manufacture its cabinetry and furniture. Contained in the estimated 2,000-square-foot shop are: a Delta 10-inch Unisaw tilting arbor saw and a Delta 16-inch drill press, a Laguna Tools LT 20 bandsaw with 12-inch resaw capacity, Porter-Cable routers, a Jet joiner and a Hitachi chop saw. Bosch belt sanders are used to smooth out any rough surfaces.

New Marketing Efforts Underway

Until recently, McKenzie Cabinetry has relied primarily on word-of-mouth advertising to promote its work to customers. Its ability to tackle unusual jobs, such as manufacturing wood forms used for cement countertops and fireplace mantles, has also helped. To increase business, the company has begun advertising its capabilities via promotional pieces aimed at architects, as well as in local home centers.

“We have samples of our work out on the floor, along with fliers about the company,” McKenzie explains. The company’s relationship with a bamboo source has also led to a joint marketing effort: included in the bamboo shipments is a flier about McKenzie Cabinetry and a picture of the work it has done using the wood species.

“No matter what the job is, we won’t compromise on the product. The quality of the product is what’s most important. This is our livelihood,” he adds.

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