Design, SketchUp, Woodworking Plans in Progress
Comments 8

Designing the Modern Kitchen Cupboard

I am in the early stages of a new woodworking plan. I continue to explore easy ways to make durable, stylish furniture which does not rely on pocket screws for primary joinery. I don’t mind using pocket screws, in fact my last woodworking plan calls for 26 pocket screws to be used during construction. I just think that there is more gained by learning to use as much wood-to-wood joinery as possible. Past woodworking plans feature dado and dowel joinery. With the right jigs, these two joinery methods are easy to execute, but a truly successful dowel joint relies on precise placement of a dowel jig. With the upcoming woodworking plan, I am going to include mortise and tenon joinery in place of dowels. With the use of a chisel and/or hand plane, a tenon can be made to perfectly fit a mortise. In my future woodworking projects, I’ll be using mortise and tenon joints in place of dowels.

Rustic furniture is still trendy. I recently saw in the pages of Architectural Digest, a fashionable room with one piece of barn wood style furniture. A recent story on featured reclaimed/barn wood for kitchen cabinets in a contemporary home. Proof that rustic is cool and therefore a good design idea for my plan. So, I started playing around with the idea of designing a rustic, worn, painted kitchen cupboard.

Because I didn’t have a set size in mind, I Googled this type of cabinet to see what size others are making theirs. Once I got a shape I liked, a more specific design came to be. I begin to fill in with the face frame and arched feet which helps determine the door/drawer size. After some adjustments, the resulting design is below…

The original design.

I think a good furniture design includes something which is visually interesting or even visually exciting. I felt this first design was sort of boring. Too much painted surface and some of the components, like the left and right face frame stiles, were too bulky. One design idea I liked a lot was the center door/drawer divider and how it extends below the bottom face frame rail.

This drop down detail seemed to me more like a more modern element vs. something you would see on a rustic country piece. I wanted to keep it in the design, so I began adding more modern design ideas to the cupboard.

Old design and new.

Instantly, I changed the door material from a combination of painted and stained wood to an all natural wood look and nothing is more modern looking than birdseye maple, so I source a good birdseye image and began changing the doors and drawer fronts to this wood. Also, I raised the height of the cupboard by three inches which gave me taller, more slender looking doors. I changed the molding below the top from a cove molding to square stock and added modern drawer pulls made of a contrasting wood, in this case mahogany. And, I took some width out of the left and right face frame stiles, and enlarged the top so it hangs over the sides a little more.

Something that I wanted to work into this project is moving the door and drawer fronts back from the face frame. This is something I wished I had done for new tool cabinet. I had seen Mike Pekovich do this with very good effect and I like how moving the doors and drawers in creates a shadow line and eliminates a flat surface to a cabinet.

Note how the door and drawers are inset 1/4″.

Inset doors limit their ability to open flat against the face frame.

There is one drawback with this kind of door location: they won’t open flat. In the image above, the right door is opened as far as it can. The face frame will limit the travel of the door. I almost removed this feature and made the door and drawers flush with the face frame, but I like the inset design and Mike Pekovich uses this idea a lot (another example here), so I made a slight compromise; I moved the doors/drawers outward so they are inset only 1/8″. This means they will open to more than 160 degrees which is close to flat. As you might suspect, I think Mike Pekovich is a first rate designer.

Thinking that I had a final design, I actually started creating the woodworking plan. But as is typical, the more I looked at the design I saw something I wanted to change: the rectangular top; it needed something different. Since the door/drawer pulls are curved and there is a curve to the feet and even the little center drop down element is curved, I decided to do two things to arrive at a final the design. I added curves to the top and I decreased the size of the pulls so they stick out a little less. How the kitchen cupboard design looks currently…

With curved edges on the top.

I like the color combination.

Doors open (note the detail: screws for the pulls and magnetic catches.

A close-up of the birdseye maple wood material.

I am liking the gray and natural maple colors, but what would this design look like if someone built it with walnut or mahogany? With SketchUp, we can see how this design would look with these different wood combinations…

Maple and walnut.

Maple and mahogany.

Before I can call this design finished, I need to draw it out full size on poster board and make sure it looks right. Designing in 3D can sometimes fool the eye. But even if there are changes, this design is pretty close. Almost time to get back to making the woodworking plan.

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Have a question or comment about this post? Leave me a comment below; but I also like email. Use my contact form to send me an email (click here).


  1. Jeff, I really enjoy looking at your sketchup drawings. So nice.
    A couple comments; I liked both designs the old and the new. The inset doors and drawer fronts look great. I really like the color combinations.

    I think if you are keeping the foot design with that curve the cove under the top is a better compliment than the ovolo profile you have in your final drawing.

    Just my two unasked for cents.

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