From the moment Ashot Gegamian opened his small shop, World of Cabinets, located in Van Nuys, Calif., in 1994, he was determined to have a showroom. Reaching that dream took 13 years of hard work and persistence.

"For some cabinet shops, maybe it's enough to just build cabinets and make money," says Gegamian. "This step was less about building sales or money and more about building for my own satisfaction, my soul."

Gegamian had been looking for the right space for the standalone 4,000-square-foot showroom, located in Northridge, Calif., for four to five years before finally finding a location that would work. It took another three years of thinking, planning and work to get the building that stood on the site demolished and the new building created. On March 24, 2007, the Kitchen Design Center celebrated its Grand Opening.

The showroom Gegamian built had to be more than just four walls. He wanted a traditional look with balconies, a cathedral roof and a large open space inside. He mapped out the placement of displays, partitions and walls to make the area appear more spacious. There are 24 kitchen displays and room to expand.

Selling more than boxes

It's not hard to make cabinets, says Gegamian. "What you have to do is to give this wood new life. Making a kitchen that is just boxes is not the point."

For Gegamian it's about creating a dream kitchen that will reflect the customer's personality and personal style. His goal is to design the kitchen the customer envisions and to help them figure out exactly what it is that they want.

The showroom provides a place to show consumers what is possible in kitchens, the variety of cabinetry that is available as well as door styles and hardware. To increase the scope of cabinetry, he added an Italian line of cabinetry, Aran, to his showroom that has a more contemporary, modern feel.

Gegamian used his experience to help him select what kitchens to feature in the showroom. "I know what kind of kitchen is most popular, depending on the customer. I want to show customers different styles of kitchens with columns, posts, corbels, dentil moulding and islands," he says. "I want to show islands with big corbels, with traditional style of doors and I want to show laminate doors and cabinetry."

It's not just about the outside embellishments of the kitchen, Gegamian says. You have to fill the cabinetry with good working accessories. "The hardware is the heart of a kitchen," he says. A kitchen isn't really beautiful if it doesn't function properly or if the accessories don't work, he adds.

The Italian kitchen line displayed in the showroom has a lot of functional hardware choices, accessories and pullouts that some consumers have never seen. Using Hafele hardware, Gegamian says any accessory choices the customer wants, wherever they see it, is available in any kitchen style.

Beginnings

Many small-shop owners dream of a showroom to highlight the beauty, quality and distinctive look of their cabinets, but it can be an expensive and formidable enterprise. Gegamian's accomplishment is even more impressive when his background is taken into account. He is an immigrant from Armenia who came to the United States in 1993.

"When you come here, it's very hard. You don't know anything, even the language. The first thing you're thinking is that you want to do something that you know and that you can do," says Gegamian. "I wanted to do something that I loved even if the money was not enough."

In Armenia, Gegamian was a teacher with an engineering background, but cabinetmaking was something he knew. So when he came to California he started working at Closet World.

Later Gegamian decided he'd open his own business and in 1994 he started alone with just a few pieces of equipment. He needed the year to organize and get together enough money to buy machinery. Over time he added employees and more equipment. Now he has a total of six employees, four fabricators and two installers, and two shops totaling 4,500 square feet. The shops build approximately 50 to 60 kitchens per year of varying sizes.

In the first year of his business, Gegamian advertised in the Los Angeles Times and in Russian newspapers. As a result, he got a number of jobs and after that his business grew by word-of-mouth. "I don't need any advertising now," he says. "I don't even have time for anything more." In fact, he is expecting more growth with the new showroom, especially once people are aware of it.

Building kitchens

When Gegamian started out, he did all the design and shop drawings by hand. Now they're done by computer using Cabinet Vision software. Kevin Avenesyan, Gegamian's son-in-law, works with the software.

The addition of the Aran cabinet line is handled slightly different and requires 20/20, which the shop recently added. While the prices of the cabinets his shop builds are calculated by lineal feet, that doesn't work with the new line.

Gegamian builds frameless cabinets using Panolam melamine, which he prefers over any other material, because of its thickness and consistency of quality. He also uses Blum and Ferrari hardware because of its easy adjustability. Most of the doors are purchased from Decore-ative Specialties, while drawers are usually done in the shops. Some drawers, such as pullouts with wood fronts, are purchased from DBS.

The shops use traditional equipment like an SCM Si400e sliding table saw, an SCM edgebander, three Delta line-boring machines and Blum hinge-boring machines.

Although Gegamian believes that a CNC machine would be a good addition to the shop, it's expensive and both shops are too small to accommodate it. At some point he would like to build a bigger shop that would bring the two shops together.

"Even if you are a small shop, if you are disciplined enough and organized, you can do everything well and on time," says Gegamian. "If you do something, finish some process, clean up and continue. If you don't clean up, that dirt goes to your job."

Gegamian does the entire kitchen from demolition to completion. The finishing is sub-contracted out to a crew he has worked with and trusted for years. Many of his employees are Armenian or Russian, because he wants to capture the fine hand craftsmanship of his employees' nationalities. "I want to keep some traditional character in our product," he says.

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