The Big Dollhouse

I really enjoy designing custom cases for people. I like the customers I work with, and find them all interesting, and I like to get personally invested in projects. If I spent my career just making shiny boxes, I think that would be very boring. Rather, I spend a lot of time getting to know the needs and wants of my customers, and as a result, a lot about the customer themselves.

Cliff and Donna came in to see me this winter. They had just moved back to the area from Alaska, and were in need of a custom wall system to hold a variety of things.

This was all normal stuff at first. Then we discussed scale. Donna showed me the fireplace. It was huge, larger than any fireplace I had personally seen. The room was enormous. The ceilings were very high. The job was now to design an eclectic looking piece that fit the space as well as complimenting the array of objects collected during their many travels.

When Donna told me she wanted a cabinet ten feet tall, twelve feet long, and thirty-two inches deep, I thought she was a bit delusional (sorry Donna-we love you). Once she pulled out her ipad and showed me pictures of the space, I understood the scope of the project. Scale is a driving force to any design, but I find that the space a cabinet sits in also defines the project.

We sat down and walked through all of the ‘this and that’ about what the unit would hold. I really did not know how this would work out. After several hours of AutoCAD, I finally figured out how to do this. Working a design is all good, well, and fine, but you have to execute the task, transport the unit, and get it installed. The sheer size of this job made me re-think how we build cases.

Once the case hit the shop, the lead craftsman and my buddy, Brent, proceeded to question every detail and decision. He always does this. I think he takes a bit too much pleasure doing this, but he is very good, so I really can’t complain too loudly (he’s a little fussy, don’t you know, like most good craftsmen). Due to the depth, he suggested two sets of lights, two in the back and two in the front, to ensure proper illumination.

Brent also suggested adding a top to the crown. This was great for me because I felt the crown was small, relative to the size of the cabinet. I had not come up with a good solution for increasing the scale. This top added a little more mass to the whole effect.

Lastly, Brent wanted to add a second back to the TV area. In today’s world, we don’t need a 32” deep TV cabinet. The “false” back keeps the space from looking cavernous, hides the wire management, and keeps anyone from having to dust way back in the cabinet.

The last problem was the actual execution of installing the cases. I had designed it to come in nine sections – six cases and three platforms. The real problem was that two people could not lift sections of the wall system. The center hutch alone weighed about 250 pounds. They had to strip the cases of all the doors, drawers, shelves, etc. and bring a third man. Oops, looks like I owe someone lunch, again.

The installation took over 12 hours. We had already included things like wire management and vents in the plinth to allow for air flow from the vents we were covering in the floor. The fact that a lot of parts had to be removed added to the time.

I think the overall system turned out just the way I had envisioned. Cliff and Donna have told me that they are pleased with the final results. More important, I had a very pleasant experience getting to know these two lovely people, and I got to solve a problem for them. Like I said, I consider this the best part of the job, and I can’t wait for the next adventure.

Mark Gatterdam

3 thoughts on “The Big Dollhouse

  1. From working with Mark Gatterdam to design the perfect piece of furniture (after convincing him I wasn’t delusional about the required dimensions), to final delivery and set up by an expert team led by Brent, the senior craftsman for the piece, our Hardwood Artisan experience was exceptional in every way. It’s no coincidence that we went to Mark and the HwA team when we knew we needed a piece of furniture for our new house that would be “out of the ordinary” in scale, design and craftsmanship. We have over a decade of experience with this extraordinary company. And for each piece of furniture designed for us by the Hardwood Artisans, the result has outstanding – and the service unparalleled. We have lived around the world – and our HwA furniture has made the moves without a glitch. This time though, Mark, we’re really never moving. When it gets this right . . . you just stay put!

  2. I just have to say that the piece is extraordinary. I especially love how the interior lighting at night reflects the treescape from the windows opposite — at first I thought you all had installed backlit stained glass pieces in the back cabinet walls! Well done!

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