Long ago, in a world that now seems very far away, I got on a plane and flew to Chicago to meet up with my fellow Cabinet Makers Association members for our second national conference.
“2020 Vision” was held in early March at the Q Center, a former college campus outside Chicago that has been transformed into a conference center.
The board kicked off day 1 of the conference.
My fellow board members and I arrived in time to lend a hand to the one person who made the conference possible: Our executive director Amanda Conger created this complicated event almost singlehandedly (which involves a crazy amount of work, of course). We were glad to be able to help welcome and register CMA members as they rolled in from across the country and visit with them at the opening reception.
Helping out with registration and welcome duties was the best kind of “work” – it was great to talk with CMA members and start catching up with board members (James Fox, on the left) and ex-Presidents (Joe Knobbe, second from left).
The speaker lineup over the next two days was impressive and diverse, and like many of the other attendees I talked to, I came away with a lot of food for thought about how to improve the way I run Dark Horse Woodworks.
Inova CEO Bucey (center) inspired everyone with his opening keynote.
But I have to admit that no matter how exciting the speakers are, my favorite part of any CMA event is the chance to spend time with the close friends I’ve made and meet new people. So for me, our time registering new arrivals, hauling boxes, chatting at breakfast and lunch, riding the bus to the shop tours and mingling at our cocktail reception and dinner were the highlights.
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A lot of us have small shops, and we can go through our workdays only interacting with a few people (or none at all, depending on the day). It’s so great to get these opportunities to spend time with kindred spirits in the industry a few times a year, and I’m really glad that our 2020 Vision gathering squeaked through before the country began shutting down to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Other events, such as the International Woodworking Fair in August, have already been canceled; it’s a pretty big challenge to bring in thousands of people from across the world to a huge venue and feel good about keeping everyone safe and healthy.
It’s disappointing to miss a chance to gather again, but in the meantime, I’m keeping up with Amanda, the other board members and other CMA friends in all of the ways we’re used to connecting between events – Zoom meetings, “Hey, how do I fix [XYZ problem]?” texts and phone calls, and posts on the CMA forums.
Post-conference gathering with friends at the Q Center
The great thing about a strong community is that it hangs together even when times get tough, and time and distance stretch on. In a year that has brought quite a few challenges, I’m grateful to be part of such a supportive “village.”
Dark Horse Woodworks owner Chris Dehmer was scheduled to speak at two sessions during this week’s AWFS (Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers) show in Las Vegas.
On Wednesday, July 17, Chris participated in a panel discussion titled “Taking the Leap to a Bigger Machine: What You Need to Know Before You Invest.” Chris and
fellow CMA member Matt Wehner joined CMA Executive Director Amanda Conger to tell their stories of taking leaps of faith and investing in machines ranging from $50,000 to $250,000.
Chris and Matt talked with Amanda about “what they’ve learned, what they wish they had known, and what they’d do differently if they had to do it again,” as the AWFS preview described it. “This session will cover it all – selection, negotiation, financing, moving, set-up, processes, compressed air, power, dust collection, tooling, the learning curve and all of the surprises that come with integrating a big machine into your shop.”
Today, Friday, July 19, Chris and fellow CMA member and former president Matt Krig will talk with Amanda Conger about “Boundary-Pushing with Your Nested-Based Router” – sharing tips for getting more out of your CNC router.
Chris and Matt will share “how they are using their machines, ways to simplify routine processes, and tactics to make additional revenue … how to push your machine to be more effective, and ultimately more profitable.”
Being able to share Dark Horse Woodworks’ experience with others in the indu
stry is one of the great things that has come out of our involvement in the CMA. AWFS will be the first major industry event since Chris was elected president of the CMA Board of Directors.
Here’s the full run-down of CMA activities at this year’s AWFS – if you’re thinking about joining the CMA, this will give you a taste of the organization’s contributions to major industry events and thought leadership. (It could be you participating in a panel and sharing your experience at a national or international show one day!)
Dark Horse Woodworks’ Chris Dehmer has been elected president of the Board of Directors of the Cabinet Makers Association (CMA), the industry group for professional cabinet makers and woodworkers in the United States and Canada.
Chris previously served as an at-large board member for two years and as vice-president for one year.
He joins newly elected vice-president James Fox, treasurer Matt Wehner and secretary Brian Clancy. Board members are Ken Kumph, outgoing president Leland Thomasset and former secretary Monika Soos.
“When I first became involved with the CMA in 2012, Dark Horse Woodworks was still fairly new,” Chris says. “In the beginning, I appreciated the impact of winning peer-judged awards for our work via the CMA’s annual Wood Diamond Awards. We were proud to be recognized for our work, but the awards were also a great marketing tool for us. It’s powerful for potential clients to see that you’re doing work that is honored by others in the industry.”
Chris soon took his involvement to a deeper level, attending events, participating in discussions on the online forumand eventually joining the board in 2016.
Owning a small business is challenging and time-consuming, and taking on outside commitments is no small thing.
But Chris sees the CMA time commitment and his growing leadership role as wise investments. In his inaugural “President’s Message” for the CMA’s quarterly magazine, PROfiles, he explains the value of being part of the community.
“My involvement with the CMA is the single best professional development opportunity I’ve ever encountered, and being on this board has changed me and my business forever,” he wrote. “When you start a business, it’s tempting to want to go it alone and to look at the others in your line of work as competition – even if they aren’t literally vying for the same customers, you may see them as competing against you for awards or respect or reputation. That’s not the way it works with the CMA. The best part of being in this group is the ability to draw on the knowledge of other members.”
The CMA also provided Chris with an opportunity to develop another set of skills: Public speaking and what many in the business world call “thought leadership.” He has spoken at national industry conferences and CMA events about his experiences as a business owner, craftsman and entrepreneur.
“It’s definitely rewarding to have started out as a novice and to have reached a point where I have knowledge to share with others who are just starting out or who may be changing gears,” he says. “I credit my CMA friends for helping me get to that point by sharing their hard-won expertise with me over the years, and I intend to keep paying it forward whenever I can.”
As promised, Dark Horse is happy to (at last) bring you the final installment of our “Professional cabinetmaker wrestles his own kitchen reno to the ground” story, complete with photos.
As mentioned in earlier posts, there are distinct pros and cons to doing your own kitchen overhaul.
The good news is that you’re likely to end up with exactly what you wanted, down to the smallest details.
The bad news? That might take a lotlonger than you’d imagine.
When you’re spending most of your time working on projects for paying clients, it can really slow your progress to the finish line of your own kitchen. Just to be clear – for me, the finish line doesn’t mean you can put things in your cabinets or cook a meal in the kitchen. For me, it means every last detail is complete, and every aspect of the kitchen reno is so pristine that you’d feel at ease about bringing in a professional photographer to photograph the “After.”
After the bulk of the work was complete on my project, a handful of items lingered on the check list for months and kept me from declaring it finished.
Getting by with a little help from your friends
A major woodworking trade show was held in Atlanta last August, and my friends and fellow board members from the Cabinet Makers Association came to town.
I had the CMA crew over for dinner one night before the show got under way. Given that everyone knew about my reno, it was a great opportunity for them to see the mostly finished version. I planned to tell them about one of the lingering issues on my to-do list and get their advice: The wine fridge door wouldn’t open correctly.
It was hitting the divider to the right of it, and I hadn’t been able to figure out how to fix it.
Former CMA president Matt Krig came over first, and we looked at the problem door and talked through it; then board member James Fox arrived and joined the conversation. Eventually, Monika Soos and her husband Radu arrived, and I pointed out the problem to them.
“Why don’t you just reverse the door?” Radu asked.
The very simplest and most obvious solution had never even crossed my mind – or occurred to the others as we stood around staring at the problem.
Sometimes you can’t get out of your own way.
(Thank God they came over.)
Aside from those final tasks dragging on for longer than I’d have liked, I couldn’t be happier with the way the kitchen turned out.
It has the look and feel we were going for – a mix of modern and retro elements (you can read more about the thinking behind the design in this earlier installment).
The color scheme was an off-white that had a green tint with red and gray accents. Designers Christy Dillard and Heidi Pearce helped with the overall color schemes (including working around the red oven).
Here’s a rundown of the main features and details in the new kitchen:
The cabinets are transitional, somewhere between modern and Art Deco style, painted with a color called Tapestry Beige. The material is routed MDF.
The countertops are quartz.
The idea of having some glass-front cabinet doors was appealing, but that limits what you can store in those cabinets if you want to keep the overall look of your kitchen aesthetically pleasing. To steer clear of that limitation, we went with ribbed glass and put a panel painted the same color as the cabinets behind the glass on the upper cabinets.
The decision to use unusual/retro-style appliances was an important part of the design scheme. Viking offered a double oven in factory red– one of the two ovens has a traditional pull-down door and the other is a French-door style. The placement of the ovens in the corner of the kitchen is a bit unusual, but it’s very effective.
Unfortunately, we could not find a red retro refrigerator to match. Thanks to a brilliant suggestion from the staff at appliance dealer Howard Payne and Co., we found a stainless steel model and took it to an auto body shop where it was painted to match the ovens.
All appliances were made by Viking, with the exception of the wine fridge, which was made by Jenn-Air.
The Blum Servo Drive touch-to-open system (a last-minute addition to the budget that was well worth it) is a favorite feature. Only two things in the kitchen require opening: the dishwasher and the wine fridge. In addition to the convenience of the touch-to-open system, the lack of hardware also makes for clean lines.
The backsplash was created from made-to-order tiles in shades of brown, cream and pale green.
The pendant lights came from Etsy.
The flooring is porcelain tile.
There are some other cool features scattered through the kitchen, including a roll-out pantry and a deep drawer with inserts to corral long-handled kitchen utensils.
Where a desk used to sit in the old kitchen, you’ll now find the wine fridge (the one with the “problem” door), a cabinet to hide the microwave, toaster and coffee maker, and big, deep drawers (liquor bottles are tall, after all).
A 27-inch iMac is mounted in the corner cabinet, which makes it easy to look up/display recipes or stream movies/TV while cooking.
The reno didn’t increase the square footage of the kitchen, but taking the cabinets all the way up to the ceiling added a lot more storage. The adjacent laundry room also got an update with a new stacking washer-dryer set and new flooring to match the kitchen.
I also added a small, matching cabinet in the adjacent sitting room (which was converted from a sleeping porch during an earlier reno). This cabinet serves as a bar area and has extra storage.
The bottom line
So was it worth it to bring my work home, so to speak, and slog through all of the disruptions and delays?
I spend my days giving my clients their dream kitchens, and it’s really satisfying to finally have a dream kitchen waiting at home.
~ Chris Dehmer
Postscript: Here’s a photo of the previous kitchen as a reminder of where we started. To see more “before” photos, read the first post in the series.
Before the first month of 2019 is gone, I wanted to post a quick thank-you to everyone who helped make 2018 a great year for Dark Horse and for me.
We continued to stay busy creating a variety of cabinetry for modern renovations and new builds. We’re fortunate to have so many talented builders and design firms in the Atlanta area, and I’m grateful that we get to collaborate on so many innovative projects.
At home, the full kitchen reno my wife and I launched in 2017 was finally wrapped up (we just had a few minor things to check off the list). We love the new kitchen, but it was not a walk in the park to get there. I shared a couple of blog posts about what it’s like to renovate your own kitchen when you do this kind of work for a living, and I’ll be sharing the final installment and full “reveal” (to use some TV renovation show lingo) soon. Meanwhile, here’s Part 1 and Part 2 of the story.
In the throes of our kitchen reno
Continuing a great relationship
My involvement with the Cabinet Makers Association continued in 2018 and brought more great opportunities:
I had several opportunities to share my experience and work on my public speaking skills, thanks to being invited to participate in panel discussions and presentations at the CMA’s 20th Anniversary conference in Denver in March and at the International Woodworkers Fair (IWF) in Atlanta last summer.
Dark Horse was one of three stops on CMA’s Atlanta shop tours ahead of IWF. After being on the visitor side of some great CMA shop tours, it was an honor to welcome 50 fellow members from all over the country to our place and get their feedback. Hopefully, some of our visitors took away some ideas that might be helpful in their shops, too. We also threw a surprise barbecue at the end of the day that was a lot of fun.
CMA Shop Tour Day at Dark Horse
I enjoyed being on the judging end of the CMA Wood Diamond Awards for the first time; it’s always inspiring to see the quality craftsmanship and beauty of the work produced by CMA member shops in the United States and Canada. (You can take a look at the winners on the CMA Wood Diamond Awards page.)
A screenshot showing some of the 2018 Wood Diamond Award winners on the CMA site
I was elected vice president after serving as a board member for several years, and I’m looking forward to collaborating more with my friends and fellow CMA leaders this year.
Wrapping up and looking ahead
As I closed out the year, I checked a really unpleasant item off of my big-picture “to do” list: having much-needed knee-replacement surgery in early December.
Recovery hasn’t been fast and seamless, but the business has been able to continue chugging along. I’m grateful to my team, and as I wrote about on the blog earlier, I was also grateful when a CMA friend offered to get on a plane, fly across the country and come run things at the shop for a few days, post-surgery. That’s friendship! (I didn’t end up taking him up on the offer, but it meant a lot to know I have that kind of back-up through my CMA friendships.)
On a more festive note, my wife and I hosted the annual Dark Horse holiday party at our house, a tradition that was even more fun with our kitchen complete at last. For years, we had used the holiday party as both a scheduling nudge and an excuse when we talked about scheduling our reno project, and it was nice to have the few lingering to-do items in the new kitchen checked off before the party. (I’m including a few pre-party photos below; I’ll save the new kitchen photos for our final reno post.)
Finally, Dark Horse marked our 11th year in business on December 28: Here’s hoping 2019 continues to bring us many great opportunities, both in our work for clients and in our connections to others in the cabinetry/woodworking community.
In December, I’m going forward with long overdue knee replacement surgery.
No one looks forward to surgery, recovery and physical therapy, but when you run a small business like Dark Horse, it’s especially challenging to figure out how to keep things on track when you’re out of commission, even for a short time.
It’s not like owning a store, where you already have people in place who are trained as managers and well-versed in running things –– not to mention the fact that you’re selling things that have already been made.
When the stress is worse than the surgery …
I have great people on the Dark Horse team, but unless you’ve run a manufacturing business and shop, it’s hard to step in and take charge of everything. In baseball, if your manager had to leave the game, you wouldn’t plug in the pitcher, shortstop, etc. to take over; they know their expertise, but without a manager’s big-picture view and experience, it would be pretty hard for them to run the game.
We have projects to keep on track, and on top of that, I found out that the installation date for one project had to be delayed, a pretty big deal when you’ve been trying to plan your absence right down to the last detail.
All that is to say: I’ve been stressed about this surgery.
… until a guardian angel shows up.
A couple of weeks ago, I confided in a friend I’ve gotten to know through my involvement with the Cabinet Makers Association, aka the CMA, over the past few years. He has many more years of experience in the industry, and I often call on him for advice or ideas on challenges I might have on a project.
I told him I was really concerned about how things were going to hang together while I was out, especially the first few weeks – and especially with the installation schedule change.
After offering up other suggestions to help ease my mind, he said, “If it comes down to it, Atlanta is a short flight, and I’ll come down and oversee things while you’re out.”
I was stunned – and sure I must have misunderstood.
But when I said as much, he said he meant it.
You know, I don’t often admit to it when something strikes an emotional nerve, but my friend’s offer bowled me over. I’m sure there was a long silence on my end of the line before I could get my wits about me and thank him.
Gifts of all kinds
There are many different kinds of gifts and there are many kinds of gifted people, and my friend has the quality of both generosity and a sincerity that makes it crystal clear that when he offers you a gift, he means it.
I believe most of us find it hard to admit that we sometimes need help, and it’s even harder to actually follow through and accept that help. I’m pretty sure this kind of stoic attitude is something we all need to try to let go of, because it’s a rare human being who never needs help.
I’m going to implement his other suggestions and see how that goes before asking him to be away from his business. No matter what happens, this Thanksgiving, I’d like to share my deep gratitude for my friend who is not only willing to take time away from his work, but also go through the hassle of getting on a plane to give me peace of mind.
I’m thankful for his time and talents, but also for the gift of being made to feel as though his offer was one I should feel just fine about accepting.
He would never want to be named, but I decided I had to share this story even without his name attached to it.
The Dark Horse team and I wish you a great Thanksgiving and hope that you, too, have a community like the one I’ve become part of with my CMA friends.
were able to show our 50 guests – fellow
CMA members from all over the country –
our set-up and the technology we use, and answer questions about how
as I’d hoped, we also got some feedback and ideas about how we
could improve our way of doing things. The ideas ranged from workflow
suggestions to little tweaks we could make to save steps (and
therefore time) – for instance, shifting the location of an
knew our lighting wasn’t great, but we didn’t realize how bad it
was until getting several
and comments about it;
already added some additional lighting and plan to add more.
most surprising question during the tour? “Hey, since you don’t
use that [fill in the blank] much, can I buy it from you?” It’s
pretty obvious what equipment we don’t use because it’s all
shoved into one area that’s completely inaccessible unless you move
other things around. (The answer was always, “Sorry, no.”)
The International Woodworkers Fair (IWF) is being held in our back yard (well, in our city), and Chris Dehmer is putting all the travel time he’s saving into sharing his experience with fellow cabinet makers and woodworkers who are in Atlanta for the show.
“I’ve always learned a lot from my fellow cabinet makers at IWF and other shows, and it’s great to be able to return the favor and share some of the lessons I’ve learned since starting Dark Horse 10 years ago,” Chris says.
If you’re going to the show, check out these descriptions of the presentations he’s participating in and stop by to hear what Chris and his fellow CMA members have to say:
Wednesday, August 22, 9:00 -11:00 am
“Working with Architects & Designers” – Chris Dehmer (Dark Horse Woodworks), James Fox (Fox Woodworking) and Joe Knobbe (Exclusive Woodworking)
Wednesday, August 22, 1:00 -3:00 pm
“Buying that Big Machine” – Leland Thomasset (Taghkanic Woodworking), Matt Krig (Northland Woodworks), Chris Dehmer (Dark Horse Woodworks) and Matt Wehner (Cabinet Concepts by Design)
Thursday, August 23, 10:30 am -12:30 pm
“Boundary-Pushing with your Nested-Based Router” – Leland Thomasset (Taghkanic Woodworking), Matt Krig (Northland Woodworks) and Chris Dehmer (Dark Horse Woodworks).
Friday, August 24, 1:00 -3:00 pm
“Acing that Modern Job” – by Chris Dehmer (Dark Horse Woodworks), Shelley Wehner (Cabinet Concepts by Design) and Joe Knobbe (Exclusive Woodworking)
“My experience being on the CMA board inspired me to participate,” says Dark Horse owner Chris Dehmer. “It’s great to be part of a group that is so generous with its time and so willing to share its experience. I’m inviting people to come on the CMA tour and tell me what we’re doing wrong!”
Dark Horse has invested in technology to optimize its capabilities and work flow as well as the quality of its products. Tour participants will get a chance to see how a small shop makes use of innovations such as Zero Edge technology and a CNC router.
The shop tour event gets rolling early with a 7:30 am breakfast at the Embassy Suites (Centennial Olympic Park) and continues throughout the day.
Registration includes group transportation as well breakfast, lunch and an evening reception.
The shop tour cost is $55 for current CMA members and $75 for non-members. Student/Instructor members can participate at no charge, while non-member students/instructors will pay a discounted rate of $25.
In Part 1 of this story, you heard about the lead-up to the kitchen reno I’ve been working on at home, and the ups and downs that come with being a professional cabinetmaker overhauling my own kitchen.
After working on so many awesome kitchens for clients, I wanted to have an amazing kitchen at home, too. So my wife and I had to put ourselves in the shoes of clients and find our way to a design we could agree on. Once we got all of our ducks in a row, it was time for that made-oh-so-famous-by-HGTV step in the reno: Demo Day.
Or, in my case, Demo Days.
Because one of our dogs can’t stand loud noises, we had decided that I’d skip a vacation with extended family over Labor Day weekend last fall and take care of the demo while my wife and the dogs were away.
I’d finished the new cabinets in August, and I was ready to get rolling.
My own worst enemy
The kitchen we’re replacing was a DIY project that I tackled before starting Dark Horse (you can find more details about that in Part 1). For an amateur job, it was fine and served us well for 15 years. All in all, I couldn’t complain about my first big kitchen project.
But when I started in on the demo, I began to feel differently.
I’m glad there were no TV crews on hand for the Dehmer Demo because it turned out to be a lot more complicated and frustrating than swinging a sledgehammer. I had some unprintable thoughts about the job that Amateur-DIY Chris did on installing that kitchen.
It sucked. In a word, it was overbuilt. The fact that I built it in place meant that the entire kitchen was basically one big cabinet (the cabinet makers who are reading this will instantly understand the problem this creates for dismantling a kitchen).
As I wrestled with those cabinets, I thought about how we do things at Dark Horse now and cursed my overzealous ways. In spots where one screw would have been fine, I had used five. It was mind-boggling.
In this photo (taken as installation of the new cabinets got under way), you can see a piece of an original wall cabinet that was particularly stubborn.
In the end, I had to cut the cabinets off the wall, and demo took every bit of the two and a half days I had. In addition to the hard physical labor it required to get the cabinets out, demo-ing the floors turned out to be labor-intensive, too – pulling up each board and getting the nails out was no fun.
All that is to say: While I understand that smashing up a house pre-reno makes for great TV, it’s really not much fun, especially when you find yourself doing battle with the younger, less savvy, more meticulous version of yourself.
And then there was none
Anyone who’s gone through a kitchen reno is familiar with the work-arounds you have to resort to in the post-demo phase, and we used them all – eating out, ordering take-out, making good use of our grill and (of course) washing dishes in the bathroom sink.
When your renovation work-around strategy consists of eating a lot of take-out meals, we recommend dog-proofing your trash can … just saying.
Meanwhile, we were dealing with all of the bumps in the road that come with actually installing the new kitchen … delays, last-minute changes, trying to get on the same page about all of the big and little decisions you’re faced with in real time. (Didn’t we make all these decisions during the design and planning phase?? you both think every single day.)
Even someone who does this for a living can’t sidestep issues cropping up unexpectedly, not to mention those moments of decision paralysis (for us, it was the paint color for the walls) or last-minute inspiration.
My 11th-hour decision to use Blum Servo Drive to open all the drawers required a fair amount of work that would have been much easier if planned for up front. (Servo Drive is an “electric motion support system” that allows you to open and close drawers just by tapping them.)
Once the floors were finally finished, it was a bit of a free-for-all for awhile, and then we got back to following the usual rules of a kitchen installation.
Cabinets went in, followed by counter tops. Once the counters were in, appliances were installed, plumbing was hooked up and the final electrical work was done. All of that happened in about three days once the tops were in.
Then it became a matter of tying up loose ends: Moving some lighting, building and installing one last cabinet once the rest were installed and a little trim work. (Some of these loose ends are still loose!) We also had to complete some other reno tasks in the laundry room and sunroom – these spaces became part of the kitchen reno only because the flooring needed to be extended into those rooms so it would all match.
Light at the end of the tunnel
In the final post, I’ll show you the finished kitchen and tell you more about what went into it (literally) – cabinets, appliances, floors, backsplash, hardware, etc.
Early days of installing the new cabinets
To close out this post about the messiest part of the project, I’ll leave you with this bit of perspective/advice about creating or renovating a kitchen: Just go for it. Get what you want.
For our reno story, the Blum Servo Drive system was the major “go for it” feature. We had talked over and over again about how much we’d love to have it in our kitchen, but we always ruled it out because of cost (about $2,600). At some point during our reno, I was talking to a client and making my usual soapbox speech about all the reasons not to skimp, and I realized I was ignoring my own advice.
While I understand that budgets matter, I recommend that you think about the big picture. The kitchen is the most-used room in your house: Don’t compromise.
Postscript: We love our touch-to-open drawers and doors, and we have no regrets about adding them to our budget.