One of the most striking ways to elevate the look of a room is with a simple change you likely haven't considered: cabinet doors. John McDonald made a business of bringing sophisticated style to home spaces with this straightforward switch. Trading screenwriting for custom cabinetry and founding Semihandmade in 2011, McDonald has been using IKEA cabinets as a base for handmade craftsmanship at a competitive price. Semihandmade now boasts showrooms in Palm Springs and Minneapolis and has grown to 25,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
Most recently, Semihandmade teamed up with Los Angeles designer, art director, and content creator Sarah Sherman Samuel to bring to life a covetable collection of original doors to personalize kitchen cabinets, credenzas, and consoles. The two met when Samuel worked with Semihandmade to redesign her own Venice bungalow kitchen.
"I love to mix metallics to give a space more personality and to make it feel more collected," she notes when describing how she designed her own space. "Brass was a no-brainer for the hardware as it paired with the light green color so beautifully."
Samuel's custom doors went viral, and McDonald says they still get at least one email a week mentioning it as inspiration. "I always strive for something a little unexpected," declares Sherman, who describes her aesthetic as relaxed but edited, modern meets vintage. She brings that same discerning taste to the collaboration with Semihandmade, which launched this week.
Head below to take a look at the new collaboration and read our interviews with Sarah Sherman Samuel and John McDonald.
MYDOMAINE: How did the collaboration come to be?
SARAH SHERMAN SAMUEL: After working with Semihandmade first on my own kitchen, I fell in love with the product and the innovation behind it. We [my husband, Rupert, and I] had just bought a house and were doing extensive renovations, adding square footage as well as a bathroom, so we were stretching our budget pretty thin. By taking on the kitchen renovations ourselves (including demo, cabinets, etc.), we were able to get the kitchen of our dreams without compromising, and Semihandmade was a big part of making that possible.
By utilizing the IKEA kitchen cabinets, we were able to assemble them ourselves and still get the high-quality doors we wanted from Semihandmade as well as all the extra trim and filler pieces that you can't get from IKEA to make it look like a completely custom kitchen.
From there, I also realized it worked perfectly for a lot of my clients, as well, even if they are not into the DIY aspect that I was. They are able to choose one of their pre-finished styles and coordinate an installer at still a fraction of the price of a fully custom kitchen.
It was when I was designing a kitchen for a client where wanted to use Semihandmade in their kitchen that I came up with the idea of designing my own front and proposed the idea to John with some drawings and a rendering. That was about a year ago now. I proposed the modern take on the classic beadboard, and John and his team produced it exactly as I imagined.
MD: How did you decide on the colors in this collection?
SSS: A few of the colors I knew I had to have as they turn up in my client work and my own home so much, like the blush pink (blush) and the dark green (juniper), so I specified those. From there we of course wanted to make sure we had to all the basics—white, black, off-white, etc.—and then I worked closely with Semihandmade to choose the rest of the colors from Thermofoil samples. There is a warm gray (desert gray), which is close to a khaki color, and another favorite is agave, which is similar to my original cabinet color but reads bluer.
MD: How did you decide on the shapes and materials of the handles?
SSS: For the hardware shapes, I wanted something that updated our modern take on the beadboard design even more, and working from my love of simple geometric shapes, the half-moon shape was the perfect complement to the clean vertical lines, especially how they can come together to make a full circle.
That was the design I took to Park Studio, and from there we developed a coordinating knob, which is a simple small cylinder (the Ottawa) and a long drawer pull (the Mackinaw) whose ends have the matching radius as the knob. For the material, solid brass was never a question!
MD: What advice would you give to someone for choosing the right doors for their space?
SSS: I'd say when in doubt, take cues from the existing architecture of the house. I have a client right now that has a classic midcentury-modern house that someone renovated in the '90s and installed ornate traditional cabinets, and they look so out of place. It did a major disservice to the home.
MD: As a designer, can you please speak to how cabinet doors have the ability to transform a space?
SSS: Cabinet doors, especially in a kitchen, make a huge impact on the space. In nearly every kitchen, they have the most surface area, so whatever style the cabinet doors are largely dictates the style of the entire room. That is one reason I was so excited to bring a modern version of the beadboard to market because it can easily fit into a farmhouse-style home paired with an apron sink and more traditional hardware while still giving the space an updated look. And it works equally as well in a very modern space with cleaner lines and pared-down details.
The simple geometry of the vertical lines conveys a clean foundation without a lot of decoration but just enough detail to add some texture and simple pattern to the room. They have the ability to fit into kitchens of a range of styles depending on what they are paired with.
MD: What inspired you to launch Semihandmade?
JOHN MCDONALD: Fear and desperation. I'd been waiting tables and kicking around the film business in L.A. for about 12 years when I stumbled into woodworking. I didn't have any prior experience, never took shop or made things as a kid. I was mid-30s, and the screenwriting wasn't working, and I needed to do something with my life.
I bought tools and took some classes. Cutting off a few fingers definitely helped with focus. I kept my restaurant job at night and was doing a lot of custom cabinetry around town, selling furniture on weekends at swap meets. One thing different than anybody else I knew was I made a point of exhibiting at tradeshows like Dwell on Design; it would be me and my one-man cabinet shop alongside major brands like Caesarstone and Kohler, a full-on David-and-Goliath kind of feel, but there was no better way to build the brand and stir up business.
I also befriended people at much bigger companies, soaking up as much information as I could.
It was at one of those shows in 2009 that a stranger asked, "Have you ever thought about making doors for IKEA cabinets?" I hadn't. I knew as much about IKEA as anybody else—affordable, DIY, the kind of stuff you furnish your dorm with. I left the show and continued to focus on custom work. And then suddenly it was six months later, the economy had tanked, and I was divorced and living on a sofa in my shop.
It was a slow, steady build from there. Innovation—having either the guts or stupidity to try new things—has been key. It was just me, then a few guys, then my partner, Ivan. Today, there are almost 60 of us.
MD: What do you think are the elements that go into transforming an affordable piece into something that's elevated and stylistically striking?
JM: A solid foundation is the key to good furniture or cabinetry; get that part right, and the rest is easy.
One of the best things about IKEA, and it's truest with their kitchens, is they put a premium on sturdy boxes and quality hardware. They're also smart enough to let people not buy doors; that's the space we fill. People call it hacking, but it's more than that. We're adding to what they do, not taking it apart—offering handmade craftsmanship to the most people at an affordable price. That's where all those relationships we've built over the years come into play—finding great and different materials, working with companies, designers, and architects that inspire us.
This line of doors with Sarah is a perfect example of that. We couldn't be happier.
MD: How would you describe the Semihandmade customer? For whom is this service a perfect fit?
JM: Nobody in the world sells affordable quality better than IKEA. Most important for us is managing our customers' expectations.
A typical Semihandmade customer loves and appreciates the IKEA platform but wants a little more, some hand-holding. They want to be made to feel special and a little taken care of. They like options. Some are looking for lower-priced doors in a wider variety than IKEA is able to offer; others want a custom look and are willing to pay a little more for it but still come in at a not-so-custom price. All our customers see the kitchen as a room that's not only practical—it's warm, social, and fun. We love the work we do and strive every day to make the best IKEA doors on the planet!
Ready to revamp your cabinet doors with this sophisticated makeover? Get started with Semihandmade.