Working with an Architect to make a custom-designed medicine cabinet


     Many architectural firms have in-house interior designers who work with clients to complete a home renovation project.  We were called upon to make a custom sized medicine cabinet for a client of Van Dam Architects in Portland, Maine, and I would like to share with you the process:

     The client was renovating a late Victorian home to include modern updates to the kitchen and bathrooms.  Their goal was to add modern design elements within the  vintage interior.  They were keeping the fireplaces and woodwork original to the house, but wanted to have a blend of contemporary and antique options in the new interior design. 

     To work with the bathroom fixtures, the new backsplash tiles, and the accessories in the room, the client and designer chose a frame with a warm nickle finish to harmonize with the other color options. 

     I developed this warm nickle finish several years ago while framing a painting by the artist Helen Nicolay.  It is a lovely warm finish which brings out the warm side of silver or aluminum leaf while not becoming too gold.

     This frame used composition ornament for the patterning.  We first milled and joined the frame to the exact specs on the architectural rendering.  We even went to the site to check the measurements and to examine the distance the frame would be set above the sink hardware.  It would be a real set back to build a medicine cabinet that you couldn’t open because it was set too close to the faucet!  We built the face frame and the back frame at the same time.  The back frame had to have enough width to be screwed into the casing which was inset into the wall.  We routed out the left side of the frame along the vertical for the piano hinge which would be installed for the  cabinet. 

Compo ornament on the steam tray
Steaming the composition ornament

The gadrooning pattern for the outer edge of the frame was placed on the frame beginning at the center of each rail and running in both directions from this point.  This is a nice option to have as it makes a frame completely custom in design and execution.  We had to mark the center points and, once steamed, layed the pattern accurately in both directions, going back after the ornament set up to form center designs in epoxy to match the  gadrooning pattern.

detail showing ornament before and after gilding
Frame detail for before and after gilding

     To give the frame a solid metal look, we applied two layers of aluminum leaf before we began toning it.  As this medicine cabinet face was going to be installed in a bathroom, we made certain to allow ample time for drying at each stage of the process.  To have the ornament still in a plastic state before gilding could result in mould formation in a humid bathroom environment.

The mirror installed
The mirror installed in the workshop, ready to be installed in the home

We delivered the medicine cabinet face to the job site.  The General Contractor/builder Ray Keith Carpentry was there ready to install!  The client was very pleased with the result.  The  magnetic catch we installed works perfectly and, as you can see, it is a great accent piece in an updated setting

Medicine cabinet installed
The medicine cabinet face installed and in use!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s