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Omaha Magazine

Demolishing the Cost of Custom

Mar 27, 2015 12:37PM ● By John Gawley
Demolition. Three layers of wall paper, the kind where salmon isn’t only the color, but the pattern. Dust. Hang new mold-resistant drywall. Mud. Sand. Three more layers of mudding and sanding. More dust.

We wanted to simplify, expand, and upgrade every inch of our dated single bathroom on the main floor of our MidCentury ranch home. And how could I get what I wanted on an artist’s budget? The answer; do it myself.


The thing about being the creative director here at Omaha Magazine is that I’m always focused on the big picture and all the little things that make the bigger picture better. The simplistic design of my custom vanity was all in the details. After the dust settled, the real work began. In the initial sketches—next to dreamy drawings of furniture designs—I started the perspective drawings of a less-imposing vanity.

The first design priority was to give the impression that the cabinets float in the space. Noted: raise the bottom. Second, we needed more walking space between the bathtub and the cabinet. Noted: make it thinner. Now we have the feeling of a wider bathroom. But what about the storage? Where are Trisha and I going to put all the towels and rubber duckys for baby Michael? Take the mass we trimmed off the bottom and front and transfer it to the top. Problem solved.

What appears to be simple on the outside—clean lines, continuous wood-grain from drawer-to-drawer, and less-than-ornate draw pulls—is less than simple on the inside. No wall is straight. When the renderings for the floating vanity attach everything directly to the walls as a foundation—there are several 4-inch long screws throughout—I’ll simply quote my uncle Vaughn. “A good carpenter isn’t one who makes no mistakes—its one who knows how to cover them up.”

Modern drawers in nearly all new-construction homes have beautiful, sophisticated, quiet, no slam, automatic closing drawer slides. That doesn’t work to well when your walls aren’t square. So neither do the hidden supports between drawers that hold the weight of a granite countertop. So we reverted back to the ‘50s. The drawers simply sit on custom pine rails instead of those fancy slides. And every drawer is usable, with the ones under the sink built in a ‘U’ shape around the plumbing.

And about those drawer pulls. We ordered them online through a big, blue-box-Swedish home store. You know the one. We measured twice, drilled once. And drilled again. And again. The template for the width of the holes in the face of the solid-oak, single-piece, wood-faced drawers didn’t match that of the pull itself. Here we are with four holes where only two should be—in a piece of wood that was a quarter of the total budget of the vanity. So what did we do? We got creative. We covered up our mistake with a common 5-cent washer, the kind you’d use with nuts and bolts.

You might call us crazy for setting out on this project without any idea how to build cabinets, and we probably were. But with a little (make that a lot) of thought, pencil and paper—and even more elbow grease—Trisha and I more than love our custom vanity, the one we built without the cost of custom.

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