Nothing pairs better with a crisp autumn day than paying a visit to a cabinetry workshop for sweet smells of wood, sawdust, and a touch of man sweat. It happened to be just such a day when we headed downtown to visit the workspace of Chamberlain Cabinetry. Picture this: a spread of leaves underfoot, a classically cool, beat-up, green pickup truck parked outside, and a handsome blue collar type waiting in the doorway with his German Shepherd, Kevin. Friends, John Cougar Mellencamp himself could learn a thing or two about Americana from this fantastic fall day. No better way to be introduced to one of our city’s finest wood workers--Dave Chamberlain.
We’ve been fans of Dave’s stuff for a while--his handiwork is the result of someone who has a unique understanding of how to work with wood [only literally]. A BFA in Furniture Design and a stint under the goodly eye of Tom Sellars in San Francisco are the cool pair of aces in his back pocket--but his work speaks for its damn self, and he'll likely never have to whip them out. This is cabinetry that would make any lumber nerd swoon [my dad was one of them, so I should know]. Walking around his workshop, and later his finished kitchens, it's apparent that his attention to detail is spectacularly loud and proud, and he clearly crushes on the minutia of what he does. Explaining how to align wood grains just so, how to make hardware completely disappear, how to create symmetry and seamlessness in the kitchens he designs and builds--dude's a wood worshipper. Basically, Dave’s a master at letting the behind-the-scenes of his craft frame pieces that are nothing short of works of art. Seriously. His cabinetry is one more reason that we should all feel ridiculously proud of our city. Peep the magic and deconstructed glory of their workspace, then keep scrolling to see for yourself the sort of work these fellas do in some of those finished-product shots, wood ya?
Chamberlain Cabinetry | 801.891.2925
So, you pretty much have a dream setup here. What do you do all day? I feel like I'm finally realizing the dream I was chasing for years, after a lot of really early mornings and late nights. Working with my head, heart, and hands--on a daily basis--with excellent people and close friends [while also] making a livelihood has been an incredibly rewarding experience. I spend most of my time estimating, drafting, planning, and communicating with interior designers, architects, contractors and homeowners.
Tell us a little bit about your design history. How'd you get into the cabinetry game in the first place? After graduating college, I was lucky enough to get a job, through a designer friend, at a really high-end custom furniture and cabinet shop in San Francisco. I could go on about moving to Brooklyn, but it's a bit complicated and long-winded...I really started to get into cabinetry seven years ago when I bought my first house, remodeled the kitchen, and realized how much I loved having the ability to completely transform my surroundings. I also liked knowing I was improving on my investment with good, old-fashioned sweat equity and design sensibility.
Clue us in to some of your mentors/design influences. Douglas Durkin Design, The Wiseman Group, Charles and Ray Eames, Mies van der Rohe, Jonathan Adler, Kelly Wearstler, My fantastic wife Rachel, Elizabeth Kimberly Design, and Carrie Snyder.
On that same note, how would you classify your aesthetic? Modern, with enough nods to the past for character, and with enough luxury for warmth and distinction.
We are all well aware that there's an influx of premade cabinets. Apart from the obvious blood, sweat, 'n' tears aspect, what do you think sets you apart from them? The quality of the materials we use. The vast majority of premade cabinets are constructed out of particle board, which is the cheapest material available. We use the highest grade of pre-finished plywood for all of our case construction.
What are some signature features of a Dave Chamberlain piece [your Zorro "Z", if you will]? I avoid excessive adjustable shelf pin holes like the plague. To me it's the most obvious indication of impersonal production cabinetry. We like to let homeowners and clients specify the shelf locations and [then] drill one set of shelf support holes specifically for their storage needs. It's a much cleaner look and shows how much we care about customizing our work. I'm always interested in the relationship between craft and design.
How does that interest in merging craft and design manifest itself in your work? I believe amazing work is accomplished by marrying and balancing the best of both worlds. I'm not at all attracted to work that is overly crafted, or designed without any structural integrity. Over half of the projects we engage in are already designed so we can focus on executing the craft of the design. When I do engage in blank slate design work, I get to exercise a completely different part of my brain, and hopefully come up with a great idea.
What are you working on now? Any drool-worthy projects we should know about? There's an amazing Spanish-style house just above 11th Ave. we have been working on for months now. I've designed two kitchens, a fitness bar, and six bathroom vanities for this place.
We're pretty jealous that you get to have your hands dirty from start to finish. It must be sweeter than pumpkin pie to see the client's expression when you unveil their finished installation. I don't spend as much time fabricating as I used to, but I always feel the best at the end of the day if I've been on my feet using my hands--even if I'm exhausted. It's extremely important and satisfying to me to know our clients are thrilled with our work when we are finished, especially after a demanding install. I think having a connection to the end user is integral to feeling appreciated in whatever line of work it is.