As cabinetmakers and designers, we are problem solvers; it comes with the territory, and it’s in our DNA. But how many times have you been moving along on a project, only to encounter an obstacle that requires some serious ingenuity and innovative thinking to overcome or improve? How many of those innovations/inventions have you created to solve those problems, only to leave them on the shelf to gather dust once the project is complete? Any one of those could be an opportunity.
I’ve been designing and building custom furniture and cabinetry since 1972 and like most of us, I’ve had my share of forgotten “ah-ha” moments and solutions. But one spring day in 1990, out of nowhere a door opened for me.
Not wanting to deal with the involved installation process of "unforgiving" butt hinges which the designers had specified, I discussed with them the advantages of the European concealed hinge; it would be less expensive and offer high-tech adjustment advantages at installation. They agreed with my suggestion, however, as I sat there looking at the project, I realized something was missing: I had steered my clients away from the design element that the traditionally styled cabinets needed - the butt hinge.
Necessity leads to invention
I asked myself, "Why can’t I just attach the butt hinge to the door and let the concealed hinge do all the work?" I then grabbed a butt hinge and set it into the gap between the door and the case stile. That was it. After some "not so gentle" persuasion, I figured out how to modify the butt hinge so that it fit perfectly in the gap without affecting the functionality of the concealed hinge, and looked good. A solution to the problem was born.
Until my EuroButt faux butt hinge, the market choice was either a traditional hinge or a concealed hinge with many advantages too good to give up. It’s not that we don’t like to see the butt hinge design element, it’s that we don’t want to use it.
I speak from experience. Trained in a traditional cabinet shop. I started my business in 1972, and for the next eight years most of my projects were traditional, including mortising and installing butt hinges on inset doors. But between 1980 to 1990 our work changed to contemporary and I learned about frameless cabinetry and European hardware, specifically the concealed “boss” hinge. Once you get hooked on that hinge there is almost no going back.
It would be five years after my initial "ah ha" moment of "combining" the butt and concealed hinge before I'd need it again for a customer's project. This time, however, I was determined to see my invention through. I pulled the modified butt hinge off the shelf and refined it into a traditional decorative trim piece, the first complete prototype of the EuroButt hinge.
The EuroButt concept allows cabinetmakers and designers to give our customers what they are asking for, ‘detailed quality traditional design of the butt hinge’, while retaining the advantages of the concealed hinge. It installs quickly and easily, leaving the installation and adjustments of the concealed hinge unaffected. It can be applied to the cabinet door or face frame stile in a matter of seconds with PSA tape and a small flat-head nail.
The patent process
The invention itself was only the first step. Once my design was finalized, I contacted the U.S. patent office and began the process of verifying the originality of my idea (known as a patent search). I also looked through 15 years of trade magazines to see if anyone had ever brought this idea to the market. Six months later, everything was secured, and the EuroButt Faux Hinge was officially patented and announced to the public. (Today, the process may take about two years.)
With the help of a motivated salesmen it wasn’t long before EuroButt was carried by 25 distributors in the United States, one in Australia and one in Canada. After showing at the 1996 IWF show, EuroButt was spotlighted on the cover of a national trade magazine as one of the "Hottest" pieces of hardware at the show. In 2000, I introduced the EuroButt II with additional finishes.
At trade shows, cabinetmakers tell me that they’ve had a similar idea to mine, and are glad someone followed through and brought it to the market. Or, they tell me about their inventions they want to patent. It takes the right inspiration, motivation, and timing to follow your idea through. If you have an idea that you believe in, you should not to take it for granted. Instead, own it. Work on seeing it through. Do the research and understand its potential in the market and the opportunities it affords you and others. You won’t regret it.
What makes me proud of EuroButt II is that it continues to solve problems for many designers, cabinetmakers, and customers. The next time you have that “ah-ha” moment, ask yourself, “Could this be my moment?” You just never know where the answer will take you.
1.The idea. Create a mockup, refine and develop a prototype. Then look to see if there is a place in the market for your idea.
1. Once you have made the commitment, you need technical (scaled drawings) and specifications.
Marketing and sales
1. Get your idea out in the marketplace through trade shows (local, regional and national), magazine ads, web and social media (blogs, etc.), and word of mouth.
You need motivation, persistence, determination, and patience. Also, plan to spend some money to get it all rolling from concept to the marketplace, but work within your budget.
Kyle Austin assisted with this article.