custom finishes for cabinets - Englund Studio part 1

February 2015 Newsletter

home remodeling topics for 2015

Mies van der Rohe is often credited with the adage "God is in the detail". Everyone else seems to think it is the devil (and sometimes we agree). Regardless, we at bL pride ourselves on our attention to detail in all of our work. Ultimately, every detail requires the input and artistry of the highly skilled local craftsmen we collaborate with. To express our appreciation, we will feature each personality and explain the unique process of creating elements that contribute to the overall architectural quality. For this first issue, we visit Englund Studio.

custom finish: a painstaking and methodical process

Located in the still authentically industrial area of West Oakland, Englund Studio is a spacious and state-of-the-art facility. Founder Steve Englund took time out from his busy schedule to chat with us about his work. In business for 22 years, his studio specializes in the application of industrial wood coatings. If you have a custom kitchen designed and built by building Lab, chances are the cabinet faces are beautifully finished by this local workshop.

One of the most used finishes in custom cabinetry is called conversion varnish. In contrast to store bought polyurethane or oil finish a do-it-yourselfer can apply with a brush, conversion varnish must be applied with an industrial sprayer under the stringent regulation and monitoring of the BAAQMD. It is formulated with melamine resin, which simulates the elegant appearance of lacquer. It contains solvents which evaporate quickly and therefore its application requires a high level of expertise.  

the process

Basic Clear Finish - wood pieces must be cut, sanded and cleaned perfectly by the cabinet maker. This preparation work is critical to the success of the final appearance. The pieces are laid flat on supports. A clear sealer coat of varnish is applied, then the surfaces are sanded by hand. A top coat is applied and the pieces are left to dry overnight. A typical cabinet door will take about a week since the process has to be repeated on both sides.

Coloring - stains, dyes, or bleach can be brushed or wiped on by hand. After drying, the same process of 2 coats with sanding and drying in between will complete the job.

Opaque - finish ready surfaces are first sprayed with a primer and sanded. Any holes or imperfections are repaired. Then the surfaces are sanded until completely smooth. A top coat of white (or colored) varnish is applied. Some people think these surfaces are painted or lacquered, but they are actually finished with pigmented conversion varnish.

the artist

Steve's background is in art. He purchased the business in 1993 from a sculptor friend as a way to supplement his art career. He expected it to be a short term measure. But after 22 years, his business is still going strong. Amazingly, he also maintains a full time painting studio.

He admitted that the most difficult but important aspect about mastering this business was not the day-to-day management, but the understanding of all the different wood species cabinet makers use, and the differences in the way they take finishes.

So, stay tuned for Custom Finishes Part 2....
Photo captions: L-R
1. Fredy Luis with Steve Englund     2. Patrick Gallaher inside a spray booth
3. Finish ready maple panels            4. Dark color applied, then one sealer coat on white oak
5. Master craftsman Sam Saeliew    6. Opaque: primer + top coat of white varnish applied

a big thank you to our clients and colleagues for their stellar reviews

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