Custom Wood Products offers quality cabinetry

When a remodeling project is featured on the pages of At Home, the cabinets are often made by Custom Wood Products.

For nearly 40 years, the company has been producing handcrafted furniture-like cabinets. Dealers across the country who represent the company sell their work for a markup. Homeowners and builders in this area have the advantage of buying direct from the St. Marys factory.

“In the outside world, we’re considered a much more upscale firm than we are here,” said Caroline Gray, who owns the business with her husband, Kevin.

Custom Wood Products has been around since 1981. Founder Don Lake was a home builder who decided to set up a woodworking shop in an old meat locker in St. Marys. In the late 1980s he built the current location, which has been added several times. He retired about 20 years ago when the Grays and John Mitchell bought the business.

Today, the production floor occupies more than 100,000 square feet.

All elements of cabinet construction – construction, assembly and finishing – are done by hand in the production facility. As you walk through the factory, you’ll see employees assembling cabinets and drawers, sanding wood, and applying finishes, all by hand. There are computer-programmed machines to cut the pieces of wood to exact dimensions, which minimizes waste. Otherwise, everything else is done with hand tools, much like you would find in a home workshop.

Each cabinet is custom made to fit a home’s specific space, measured in 1/8 inch increments to achieve the perfect size. The company uses what is called gang building. Instead of joining boxes of smaller cabinets together to form a long row, these cabinets are made in one large box to eliminate seams. Plus, the edges of each are flush, giving them the look of furniture.

“We take an entire job and we build that job alone. We don’t make boxes that you store on a shelf, and then you’re limited by that door size or that color, or size limitations,” Caroline Gray said.

If all that sounds expensive, it doesn’t have to be. In the Topeka showroom, there are two kitchens done with identical cabinet styles. One is $7,000 including granite countertops, while the other is $40,000. The differences are the added accessories and the types of finish.

“You can see, with a totally custom cabinet, it’s what you choose to do to that cabinet that impacts the cost,” Gray said. “The one (at $7,000) has a rubbish deployment, and that’s the only extra. Yet it still looks good and it’s exactly the same quality as the one on the other side of the wall (at $40,000).

The company builds for more than kitchens. He also creates pieces for bathrooms, bedrooms, offices, dining rooms and closets. In addition, more unusual rooms are possible, such as bar rooms, coffee centers, wine cellars and laundry rooms.

When starting a new project, Gray said, “the idea is to look at the person’s space and find out how they work there.”

The major design trend now is to keep clutter to a minimum.

“People are obsessed with organization now, so when they see what accessories can do to keep things organized, they usually go with them,” she said. “They like clutter-free designs, which means you can’t have clutter on top of your counters and your cabinets have to go all the way to the ceiling.

White cabinets are always popular for kitchens. In some cases, the island will be painted with a color or a simple wood stain. Most homeowners also like lighter stained wood, which is the current trend in Mid-Century Modern and Scandinavian-influenced designs.

Popular kitchen accessories include knife racks, utensil dividers, and pull-out spice racks. Trash deployments are requested most often, but there are also storage deployments for pantry items and cleaning supplies. Many customers also request wood panels for their appliances to blend in with the cabinetry.

Cameron Wrightsman, design consultant at the Topeka showroom, showed off some of the accessories available.

“We like to dive into an owner’s project and what their expectations are,” he said. “A lot of people have a number on what they want to put into this project. We show them, based on finished options, (an estimate) within 8% of the final amount.”

Gray said she often created a design plan for a homeowner or builder and then gave them the necessary paperwork so they could go to the big box stores and see what those places would charge to provide the same design. Most of the time the price was in the same range as custom wood products.

“I’ve even had people say we were cheaper, but most of the time it was around the same price. So we can be affordable,” she said.

Linda A. Ditch is a freelance writer from Topeka. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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