BUILT BY HAND

Meet cabinet-maker Mikael Seppänen

The smell of wood is striking in the joinery workshop of cabinet-maker Mikael Seppänen. Here, large industrial saws stand side by side with classic tools. I get a moment with Mikael while the glue dries on some doors that he’s just assembled.

Why did you choose to become a carpenter?

Even at school I felt I was practically inclined. Woodwork was my favorite subject and it felt natural to work with my hands. It’s what I know how to do and what I have an aptitude for. It felt right to become a craftsman and work with my hands.

"There was not an alternative. Woodwork was my favorite subject and it felt natural to work with my hands."

How did you end up at this joinery?

Well, there’s a funny story behind that. I knocked on the door of a local joinery and asked if there was any chance of gaining work experience. At first the owner was doubtful and said that they were planning on winding the business down before retiring. But I was quite insistent. I said I would help as much as they wanted, and it wouldn’t cost them anything.

He asked that I call back after the weekend so that he could think about it. And that’s exactly what happened. I called back and was invited to come and look around the workshop. Even then he joked with me and said, “Mikael, one day all this will be yours”. I laughed it off as I was only 18 and still at secondary school. At the time, the idea that I might start my own business simply wasn’t on my radar. But he planted an idea in me.

How long does a typical kitchen cabinetry project take you to build?

A normal kitchen cabinet project takes about a month to produce; that’s from the first meeting with the customer through the drawing process and right up to the final fitting.

Is there any part of the process that you especially like?

I like it when I can get started making the cabinets, screwing the frames together and gluing the doors; seeing the kitchen gradually come together on the workbench.

What materials do you mainly work with?

For doors, I always use pine as it’s a traditional wood used in homes for things like moldings and furniture. I use oak for the drawers as it’s a durable wood that looks attractive. It’s also fashionable to work with oak, as that is an exclusive material.

"Why change a winning concept? Classic craftsmanship requires classic tools."

You obviously work with a lot of power tools in the workshop, but which hand tools could you not do without?

I couldn’t manage without my folding rule. I use it to take rough measurements of all kinds of things, but when precision is required, I use the measuring tape. Then there’s the craftsman’s knife, the best general-purpose tool you can get. I use it to open paint cans, scrape away excess paint, open packaging and scrape debris out of workpieces.

These sound like classic tools.

Yes that’s right. Why change a winning concept? Classic craftsmanship requires classic tools.

Are there any typical characteristics of a customer who orders site-built kitchen cabinetry?

A typical customer has bought kitchen cabinetry before and knows what is involved. They’re familiar with the process from the drawing board to the choice of materials, fittings and paint. Those customers are often trend conscious with a keen sense of quality and aesthetics.

Why do they choose site-built kitchen cabinetry rather than a ready-made one?

Because it’s made-to-measure. The only fixed parameters are the appliances: you can’t change the dimensions of those, but everything else can be tailored to your exact requirements. You get a symmetry that simply can’t be achieved with ready-made solutions.

Can you see a general trend for more people to choose site-built furnishings?

Yes, absolutely. There’s a rising trend in home-produced and locally made. More and more people are opening their eyes to buying cabinets from a local joinery, rather than going to a kitchen supplier and getting cabinets off-the-shelf.

"You get a symmetry that simply can’t be achieved with ready-made solutions."

How long is the lifespan of site-built kitchen cabinetry?

I’d say it depends on how the individual uses their kitchen. Normally, kitchen cabinets last 5-7 years, but my cabinets last twice or three times as long. With cabinets like these you can have the doors re-lacquered or sand and brush-paint them yourself. And of course, a lot of things can be repaired and renovated; kitchen cabinets allow for it because the doors are solid wood and can be brush-painted leaving the overall feeling the same even after renovation.

Do you have a dream project?

One really cool project was when I got to make a kitchen for an old church in Romelanda in the south-west of Sweden. They had removed the altar and I got to install my kitchen in its place. My kitchen ended up on the altar, so to speak. (Laughs) That was quite a powerful moment. My dream would be to do more projects like that, installations that really stand out.

Finally, who or what inspires you?

I’m inspired by other talented colleagues in the kitchen industry, whether they’re skilled craftsmen or architects, all producing amazing creations. I’m surrounded by great people like these. And of course, hats off to the craftsmen of a hundred years ago, who didn’t have access to the machines and tools we have today. I build similar kitchens now to what they did back then.

Facts

  • Name:Mikael Seppänen
  • Profession:Cabinet-maker
  • Lives in :Olofstorp, Sweden
  • Website: stilkok.se

Tools featured in this story

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