Interview With A Cabinet Maker : Douglas P. Dimes


picture courtesy of D.R. Dimes & Company

Douglas P. Dimes of D. R. Dimes & Co. creates show-stopping reproduction furniture and kitchen cabinetry. As the owner of a business passed down from his father, his experience as a boy cleaning up in his dad’s shop. These days, D. R. Dimes leads the industry in period furniture, with pieces appearing in museums, in movies, and of course, in some of the finest homes in America.

Continuing our series of interviews with cabinet makers, I had the opportunity to ask the younger Mr. Dimes about cabinet hardware, kitchens, Hollywood, tiger maple and the environment. 

I think you’ll enjoy this one. His New England charm definitely shines through.

On Horton Brasses Hardware

How long have you been working with Horton Brasses?

Douglas Dimes: We have been working with Horton Brasses for over 25 years.  They are perfectly suited for our type of work which makes them a natural vendor.  There are other vendors we can use but there is no one else in the marketplace with the selection, quality and personal service we get from Horton Brasses.  They are so reliable it’s one of those cases where you take them for granted. 

What percentage of the hardware you use is from HB? 

Well over 50% of the hardware we use is by Horton Brasses and seems to be ever increasing. 

On Designing Kitchens

Your kitchen cabinetry is very dramatic and makes a statement on its own. How do you choose appropriate hardware for it? 

Since we started as chairmakers we have the ability to make all manner of custom wood knobs.  Increasingly our product line has become more formal which requires brass knobs.  The 2108 Guilford Cupboard is a good example.  We built the first one in 1989 and have sold hundreds of them since then.  We selected the P-97 1 ¼” brass knob with the antique finish.  The piece was so successful that the hardware has become synonymous with the cupboard.  Both our employees and our customers refer to the knob as a “Guilford knob”. Kitchens are a little more involved.  The clients taste is paramount but the existing architecture and décor must be considered.  While many customers’ requests wood knobs, when brass is required I usually give the customer three options, all from the Horton Brasses Collection.  That way the customer gets choices and I can ensure they won’t make a bad one.   

Kitchen trends come and go. What elements make your kitchens timeless?  

Since we are using design elements of period pieces it is unlikely it will look dated in ten years.  We pay little attention to trends in that we are generally working in early American surroundings.  It is not at all difficult to make a good looking kitchen and not difficult to make a well functioning kitchen but it can be a challenge to do both.  Clients come to us because they want something better and something different.  There is usually an extensive design phase and it’s hard to put into words how I get there.  I use all manner of design clues from our furniture, the surrounding architecture and just things that I’ve seen.  I will say that I pay virtually no attention to trends.  I look at each space and client and think quite directly how to best make a kitchen that works for them.    

On Working with Hollywood

It’s so interesting that you’ve made furniture pieces for movies. Does designing and constructing movie set furniture differ in any way from residential pieces? 

We’ve always just made things the same.  They are far more demanding.  I suspect since most people will fall all over themselves to have something in a movie they don’t plan ahead real well.  We have made furniture for three feature films but we have turned down more than a couple because the want it right away.  We consider the movies a fun project more than business.  If they take the fun out of it we decline to which they are always surprised. 

On Wood Species

Tiger maple. It’s everywhere on your site. Absolutely beautiful and definitely unique. Can you tell me more about this species and what makes it so special. It really has such depth and translucency to it. Is tiger maple a wood your father started out using?   

Tiger Maple was used widely during the 18th century.  It was rarely used other than in musical instruments for 200 years until the bicentennial when people became more interested in the period.  My father started out as a Windsor chair maker.  We didn’t start using tiger until the mid to late 1980’s. 

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What other wood species do you enjoy working with?

We make furniture primarily out of pine, cherry, tiger maple and most recently oak.  Given we now make both custom furniture and cabinetry we work in all manner of species.  We’ve done some work in reclaimed oak which was a pleasure to work with.  We recently made a piece from reclaimed chestnut.  The piece was lovely but the wood was nasty to work with.  We have used mahogany under duress since I overwhelmingly prefer to use locally grown wood. 

On His Company’s Carbon Footprint

These days, there is increased interest in green business practices. How does D. R. Dimes & Co. integrate environmental sustainability and the business of making wood furniture?

We have always believed in being a steward of the land that we own.  The land on which we work and live is literally our environment and we are very careful to leave it in as good a condition or better than when we acquired it.  We invariably have a much longer view that most people or businesses since our furniture is designed and built to last hundreds of years.  We switched to water stains many years ago.  Our shavings are used and coveted by the local dairy farmer who claims he saves thousands of dollars on antibiotics which of course saves the people consuming it as well.  We burn our scrap for energy.  We don’t even put our furniture in boxes because of the wasted cardboard (trees).  The most important green concept is that our furniture will store carbon for hundreds of years.  It literally won’t be recycled, it will be used.  Consider that the wood used to make a piece of our furniture will grow back in five.

2 thoughts on “Interview With A Cabinet Maker : Douglas P. Dimes

  1. Orion Henderson says:

    A common theme among our customers in the inter-generational aspect. I was amazed when I visited several people last spring how many of us share this. I know for me, and I suspect for many of the others, I am driven by a desire to both live up to the reputation our predecessors built and simply to not screw it up.


  2. Orion Henderson says:

    Touching on the “green” aspect: I have thought for a long time, and I already knew Doug felt this way, a key and oft forgotten point about going green is making something that will last forever. An object built to last is far more “green” than a disposable item made with high tech recycled materials.


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