Design Critique 05/12/2010

Steve Millican has submitted plans for a hutch to be used in the kitchen. In this case he has marvelous wood and some functional requirements driving the design. In our house, I tread lightly in the kitchen. Barb is master and commander of that ship and I know not to make stupid remarks about the geraniums she planted in her kitchen window box. The following are Steve’s comments:

 First off, my client is a very important one…she is my wife!  My wife loves to cook and I love to buy her tools for her kitchen.  As a result, even with our decent sized kitchen, the cupboards are full – our boys and I are often confused where something is supposed to go, or how to make it fit! 

 For my day job, I work as an engineer.  As a result, you will find my design of the hutch is very focused on utility.  The hutch will be placed in our galley style kitchen.  The breakfast nook falls inline with the kitchen.  As the cupboards end, there is a 36-37″ space along the wall before the breakfast nook windows begin – that will the future home for our piece.  So the width of our design is set at 36″.  Breaking the hutch down, the lower cabinet has 3 sliding drawers.  The lower two are for pots/pans etc, while the top drawer will get a built-in kitchen knife holder.  Moving up, you’ll see a space between the top of the base unit and the doors.  This space is sized to allow bottles or cookbooks to stored or used as decoration.  Behind the doors will be two levels for holding cookbooks – each shelf has about 14″ of vertical room to hold even my wife’s tallest cook books. 

 For this project, we decided to go with walnut.  We ultimately settled on claro walnut and proceeded to spend a good chunk of money on some really nice claro walnut boards.  Overall the design of the piece follows a less is more concept.  Using frame and panel construction will allow us to place the curly/marbled claro walnut on display in the panels while some nicely matching non-curly western walnut (all of which is quartersawn/rift sawn) will be used for the frames. 

 
 
 

Photo courtesy of Northwest Timber (http://www.nwtimber.com/)

I would love feedback on any aspect of the design.  Some specific points of question my be about the widths of the various rails/stiles, the design of the crown molding, the width of the upper cabinet, mortising the ends of the rails into the stiles vs. mortising the stiles into the rails.  Given the frame and panel construction, I’m struggling to decide how best to attach the shelves – sliding dovetails was my first choice but that is compromised by the frame and panel concept I really want to stick with (I was thinking the panel can be flush with the stiles on the inner surfaces and still have a dovetail?).  We don’t know what we want to do for handles/pulls.  Purchase metal ones or make wooden versions.  We are currently leaning towards making handles/pulls from ebony but they won’t be round – they would be some curved shape since the one machine that I don’t own is a lathe (ran out of room in my garage).

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30 Comments

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30 responses to “Design Critique 05/12/2010

  1. Steve,

    I like your overall design very much–especially the arch across the top panels in the hutch and the way it complements the arches below it. Very nice! I think the general proportions are good too. However there are a couple of details that seem, to my eye, to need polish. First, the cove molding on the crown doesn’t seem to be quite right. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it is the contrast with the base top. It’s hard to tell what the edge profile of the top is from the image.

    I understand the functional limitations that dictate the drawer sizes, but I don’t think the face frames on the drawers are as visually appealing as they could be. I would start by varying the thicknesses of the top and bottom rails on each in proportion to the drawer size. Or perhaps changing to a solid drawer front.

    When you finish, I hope you post this model online. I think you’re off to a great start.

    Jim Lancaster
    Dallas, TX

    • Steve

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for your response. The cove molding is a very simple arc with short edges at the end of the arc which return the board to the horizontal/vertical planes. I’ll can try to add a little more detail and see if some other designs look better. (I probably should have given George a close up of the cove as it doesn’t look as good as it does in SketchUp).

      I started to play with different rail thickness on the drawers last night. Tonight I’ll have to try inserting solid drawer fronts.

      I am more than happy to give anyone my SketchUp model. I’m just not sure where to post it.

      Cheers,
      Steve

  2. Dave

    I too am an engineer by day and woodworker by night. As an engineer I’m all about function. I like this site because it helps to polish my aesthetic side. Which I know needs a lot of help.

    My first take at your design and the beautiful wood you have were the drawers. I think the drawers are visually noisy and will take away from the wood. Doors might present the wood better, if there is a requirement for drawers you can always put pull out shelves or drawers behind doors.

    I would also make the panel in the back of the open space a single panel rather than a double. That would help clean up the noise as well.

    I think the proportions are pleasing and you are off to great start.

    • Steve

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for your thoughts! On of my first designs actually had doors on the lower unit. And I think they would look best. But, I moved towards the drawers for ease of use for my wife. I felt it would be easier to lift pots out of a drawer than sliding pots out of a shelf and then lift. On top of that, my wife will likely wind up stacking a few items together and then you wind up having to slide the other back in. I also though of sliding drawers behind doors but felt like that was too slow again – open doors to then pull out drawers.

      I think what I’ll do is make a version of my model with a couple of doors and give my client a chance to revise her options!

      Steve

  3. aaron

    I agree – overall the design looks solid. Nothing in there looks thrown together. some points:

    1. the cove molding looks fine to me, even with respect to the base top. eye level will normally be high above the base, so you wont catch too much of the molding under there. It looks like the base top has a simple bevel underneath. maybe a shallow cove would be a good alternative if you think there’s a mismatch?

    2. i agree with jim about adjusting the proportions of the rails on the drawer front… if you want to keep them. I think that using solid fronts is a better choice aesthetically *and* structurally – especially for the bottom one for the pots.

    3. your idea of the sliding dovetail through the panel is intriguing, but i would be nervous about going to deep into that panel. And then once a shelf is in place the panel then becomes a load-bearing member. Seems risky. using sliding dovetails seems like a bear of an assembly process too. I wonder if a couple of dowels into each stile (including those 3 on the back) would sufficiently support the shelves. That or dados, but I’m not convinced of any strength gained by using those.

    • Steve

      Thanks for your discussion Aaron.

      The idea of a cove on the bottom of the base top sounds quite promising. That will go into the model tonight.

      On the sliding dovetails, I should be able to keep the panels 5/8″ upto 3/4″ thick and the stiles 7/8″ to 1″. I was thinking it would be ok if they are load bearing along with the stiles as the panels will still be able to expand and contract w/ the seasons. The shelves will probably need to made from baltic birch plywood to minimize wood movement relative to the frame and panel side assemblies. However, I could be wrong on these assumptions! The BB plywood will also make the interior of the upper cabinet a little bit brighter than if I made the shelves from walnut.

      My life in general would have been easier to make the sides as one solid pieces (which seems to be more common on a hutch), but when I am sitting at the dinner table, I will be looking at the sides of this piece of furniture every day and I wanted something that had more to differentiate it from the kitchen cabinets and also gave me the opportunity to use a little more curly/marbled claro walnut.

  4. Doug

    Kitchen projects are great in something that is not only seen and looked at a lot, but also used more than most furniture in the home. To that regard, I would ask first off what hardware are you planning on using for your drawers in particular. With pots and pans, lots of weight, a full open slide might be the way to go. Those drawers are going to get a lot of use and a smooth drawer slide with full extention will make getting at all you kitchen supplies easy. I’m not a big fan of the doors with drawers. You usually can only access them from the very front and you will lose some drawer size area to clear the doors unless you open both doors usually beyond 135 degrees depending on your drawer size. I’ve done quite a few cabinets similiar to your lower layout, and the drawer size that seems to work best is two lower drawers with the same size front and a standard size top drawer. Your drawers don’t quite appear to be graduated so their sizing looks a little “off”. If you are going with slides, overlay drawers may be a way to go and then the rails and stiles for the face frame are less of a factor except on the drawer fronts themselves. I do like the frame and panel constuction for the fronts. It allows you to use wide figured wood framed by straight stock as you mentioned. With some highly figured wood, I’ve made rails and stiles as wide as 3 1/2 inches to “capture the wild wood” for drawer and door and panel fronts, but that measurement is really a factor of your drawer front size. I’d like to see a little more size in your rails and stiles.

    How are you planning on getting the frames attached to your legs? Edge gluing the stiles to legs? If that is the case, then having the rails mortised in the stile might make joinery easier. (Having the side lower panel match the side upper panel) Or use the legs themselves as the stiles for your panels. I’ve found the frame and panel attached to legs sometimes, to me, a bit heavy, though you can layer your legs, stiles, and panel to create some steps and depth.

    I’d try to get the shelving attached to the frame, that will carry the weight better, not to mention, if you are going to make the panels flush with the frame, your panels will probably be 1/2 inch thick (if your panels are flat out front, not raised). Books weigh a lot.

    Your side upper panels appear to be carried all the way up so how will those frame and panels appear in the storage nook below the doors? What you do there, should probably be carried to the back panels of the storage nook as well.

    I like the layout and it should make a nice piece when you get into it.

    • Steve

      Hi Doug!

      Thank you for all your thoughts.

      We are going to be using Blum Blumotion full-open under-mounted tandem slides on the drawers. I haven’t ever used these before and am a little timid about installing them, but they probably aren’t any harder to get working than hand planing a typical drawer to fit a carcass.

      I appreciate your feed back on sizing the drawers. Right now, they are graduating larger at ~2-3/8″ as I recall. I’ll have to make a model with the bottom drawers sized equally to test out that idea.

      I was planning to mortise the side stiles on the base unit into the legs (see one of my commets below for more on why I wound up with the framed panel). There are definitely going to be steps to try and break up that series of parts!

      I think the storage nook under the doors will ultimately look great with the different panels showing on the sides and back. We are going to be using some incredible book matched curly/marbled claro walnut for the doors and the two back panels (the back panels will be resawn from the stock that will make the door panels, hence the design you see). The color of the side panels and the door/back panels will match very nicely. (We are so excited about some of the wood we are blessed enough to have that even my wife as requested to wet them with mineral spirits on a couple of occasions! It is fun that she is having so much fun with project!)

      • Doug

        The Blum slides are great, and on Blum.com under Blum literature, they have PDF’s for all there hardware installation. Very helpful and as long as you follow their directions (particularly with regards to bottom height up sides) they work great.

  5. I’ve made frame and panel drawer fronts by customer request, but do not like them, personally.
    Very “kitchen designer-ish” to my eyes. Other makers have used stronger terms, in fact one craftsman from the U.K. has called them an “abomination.” If nothing else, solid drawer front surfaces offer some variety to all the frame elements.

    • Steve

      Point well taken about potentially too many frame and panel elements. I’ll be thinking about solid drawer fronts some more. Right now, I still leaning towards the frame and panel setup as I don’t think I have enough of the right claro walnut to pull off solid drawer fronts of the caliber I would like.

      Some parts of this project have forced me to let go of a few things I didn’t want to do in one of my project. The biggest one of those is using the door hinges we are using (described below), but function won over form in an essentially none visable area.

  6. Jeremy

    What does the rest of the kitchen cabinetry look like, Steve? To me, that would dictate a lot of the design elements of this piece, unless you’re trying to make a complete departure from the rest of the room. Is the cove molding on the top going to clash with the upper cabinets in the rest of the kitchen? Do you have frame & panel drawer fronts in the rest of the kitchen? Is the color and grain of the wood going to be at all similar to the rest of the kitchen? I certainly don’t have a problem with a distinctive piece in a kitchen, but given that you’ve got a very particular spot you need to put this in, which will be very close to existing cabinetry, I think that’s something that needs to be considered.

    • Steve

      Great question…the kitchen has basic builder grade cabinets that are painted a brownish color. Since the cabinets are now painted, the walnut is going to look nice next to them. The cabinets have frame and panel doors. There is a single row of thin drawers immediately under the counter top and they are single pieces of wood that were screwed onto the drawer boxes. There is a cove at the top of the cabinets but is very small – too small if any of us were building the cabinets. The hutch design is I think about 4-6″ lower than the top of the cabinets so they won’t be in directly opposite each other.

      We are building this piece for the current house, but we hope to live long enough to enjoy it our future houses for the next 40-50 years, God willing!

  7. Tom

    The side bottom panel, why not use the legs as the stile? It does look awkward to me.

    I did 4″ rail and stile door fronts in my kitchen and it looks great. I use full extension Blum sliders that make it easy and efficient to get into the drawers. The thing to watch out for is the height of the drawer box, since you attach the frame and panel front through the front of the drawer box.

    Maybe you could use cleats to hold up the shelves, not as elegant but strong.

    • Steve

      Hi Tom,

      The question you raised troubled me for a LONG time. Since I wanted to use the curly/marbled claro walnut in some degree on the side of hutch, I tried several designs. My first attempts divided the lower panel down the middle w/ a single 2 or 3″ wide vertical stile (which by itself looks great to my eye). However, the problem I could get past was how that middle stile would not line up properly with the front side stile on the upper cabinet. So my options were to use one very wide board, or frame the panel. With the wood I have, I could quite make the “frameless” panel work, so this is where I ended up.

      Thank you very much for the cleat idea. I agree it isn’t elegant, but much simpler. I gave my wife her options for the door hinges, and she choose self closing Blum hinges with the Blumotion dampers. I think those hinges are ugly, but they have fantastic way of closing which is great when you have your hands full of whatever you just pulled off of the shelf. All this being said, I can probably make cleats look decent with a cove, etc.

  8. jlsmith

    Steve
    These types of projects are always fraught with all sorts of conflicts that usually involve program requirements, construction issues and aesthetics (not to mention stuff like costs and one’s skills). So it is a bit awkward to comment on specific parts of the design because projects like these are always a sort of a rubic’s cube, however given that as a context I offer the following comments:

    The Big stuff

    The project is highly articulated. Visually the frames and panels produce a lot of edges. Edges tend to attract the eye (basically it’s the mind trying to sort out what it is seeing). This can produce a visual clutter (which I believe is what Dave’s “visually noisy” comment is referring to) and while the choice of a single dark wood (walnut) will not add to the ‘noise’, the figure in the wood will in fact have to visually complete for the eye’s attention.
    The figure of the walnut brings up another issue: The ‘tyranny’ of figured wood. Reading the description and your responses to some of the comments it is clear that you view the hutch as a vehicle to display the walnut. In other words the walnut trumps the form (but perhaps not the function) of the hutch. If you were to build the hutch out of a less visually interesting wood would it change your design? At times in your design decisions is the tail (walnut) wagging the dog (hutch)?

    The other stuff (starting at the top and working down)
    Given the level of articulation in the design the simple cove (with no transition moldings) appears somewhat out of place or perhaps an after thought. I would be curious as to when the cove was added to the hutch, was it one of the last things? With a relatively simple piece of trim you can provide the cove with some ‘connecting tissue’ between itself and the hutch.

    Except for the arched doors all the other arches are unbroken. It appears it might be possible to adjust the overall proportions of the upper cabinets so that the side panel arch and the door arches are the same this would result in four identical framed panels that vary only in length which I would argue would ‘quiet down’ the design (not to mention make things a little easier to build).

    The lower side panels are not shown to be constructed the same way as the other stiles and rails (ie the rails ‘cap’ the stiles). I am curious as to why this is and would suggest they be changed to be consistent with the other frames. I have the same reaction to the legs abutting the stiles as Doug and others. Unless there is a significant change in plane between the leg and the stile the connection always appears awkward (in my opinion).

    The bottom rail of the lower side panels has a different vertical dimension than any other rail, is there a reason for this? The fact that it aligns with the top edge of the lower rail of the bottom drawer seems a bit odd as well. I see you did a similar alignment with the top rail ( I am assuming because there wasn’t much in the way of another choice) but the more typical height of the top rail sort of allows the rail to be less visually dominate (also it lacks a curve) and thus the eye isn’t as drawn to it.

    I assume you are using the curves at the bottom to ‘knit’ the bottom and the top together but I would advise you to reconsider that design move. Given the material choice, this piece isn’t going to appear disjointed, the walnut will have a powerful unifying effect on the design. Contrast always draws the eye, therefore any curve in a predominately rectilinear design will be an attention grabber and I don’t believe you really want to have the design pulling someone eyes down to the floor.

    • Steve

      Mr. Smith,

      Thank you for all of your thoughts.

      Firstly, you are spot on in your analysis of the cove molding. I started designing at the bottom and hence the cove design was the last item to be drawn. The cove design is serial number 001 for me and it clearly shows. I personally find a lot of elaborate cove moldings too over the top (pardon the pun) for my tastes. But I may have gone too far in my desire to keep a clean cove design. I’ll have to pull out some of my woodworking books and look for additional inspiration to add a little more detail to the cove to help it tie in better.

      Your second idea about separate curves over the doors has now been added to an alternative SU model for my loving wife’s inspection (today I finally have time to catch up on everyone comments and play in SU). At first glance, it is probably looking a little too much like eye brows to me, but it might grow on me (another bad crack I know!).

      The height of the bottom rail on the lower side panels was designed exactly for the reason you mention. I designed it that way based on some pieces I have seen where my own eye was drawn to the different heights of a lower side rail and a front apron. Thinking back, these projects had contrasting woods (like cherry/maple) and thus since I am using walnut throughout my project, my eye won’t be drawn to the different elevations in the same way. This should make me comfortable “lightening” up the lower side rails. This update is also now waiting for the boss to get home this afternoon!

  9. Steve,
    Put me in the category of liking the idea of showing off the figured panels. I love figured wood, stone, metal. Overall I think the proportions work, I too have reservations about the frames on the drawer fronts. Perhaps something you might think about if you want to stick with frames is to make the inset panel very shallow or even flush. That will help back away from that busyness. I’d use a frame material that doesn’t contrast too boldly with the insets. Given that you may want to take this with you to your next house, you might feel a little more freedom to design with less regard for the current interior. Perhaps it can be the inspiration to build the next kitchen around.
    I look forward to seeing the completed cabinet.

    • jlsmith

      Interesting you use the term ‘showing off’ for it clearly has both a positive and a negative connotation. ‘Bad’ design can not be saved by ‘showing off’ the most evocative figure and ‘good’ design can easily be overwhelmed by figured wood if not incorporated adroitly. Figured wood is just another element to be used in conjunction with all the other elements when designing.

      Given the interest Steve has in highlighting the the figure in this project, I would recommend importing images of the actually lumber into the SU model and applying them (at scale) to the model. It would provide a visualization of the finished piece that the current version of the model is lacking. I would be glad to assist in helping if he lacks the experience with the using images as textures.

      • Steve

        Another good idea Mr. Smith! I had thought about trying to learn how to use images of the wood I have but didn’t want to force myself to learn how to do that. I will start on that now and I’ll post an updated model when I’m successful in figuring it out.

      • jlsmith

        Steve
        These two videos will be useful to get you started:
        Adding photos to faces http://www.go-2-school.com/media/view/156
        Moving, scaling, rotating and distorting textures: http://www.go-2-school.com/media/view/155

        If you need some more help check out the various videos on you tube until you find a good one (there are several and they vary in quality). I am pretty sure you will be able to sort through the process with little trouble but if you need some help just let me know.

    • Steve

      Thanks for your comments George and hosting this design forum. It has been a great experience for me.

      I’ll be using western black walnut that was purchased from the same company that we got the claro walnut. The owner of the company was able to take boards from a tree that has a very similar color to our figured boards so they are very complementary to each other.

      I share your comment about loving figured wood, stone and metal. My next project(s) are going to be new table for the great room (coffee tables, end table, and entertainment system/TV table. I am really wanting to find some way of incorporating granite into the design. I am also very attracted to copper and would love to learn more about working copper someday into forms to complement my furniture.

      I am still wide open on what material to use for the pulls or knobs on the hutch and would love to use a different material, but feel they must not provide too much contrast else they act like attention grabbing spot lights.

  10. Bob Passaro

    Steve,
    Overall, very nice, simple design that looks like it will serve its purpose well. I’m just going to toss out a few impressions after reading the other comments:

    * I agree with a few of jlsmith’s comments, to wit:
    — Perhaps try two complete arches at the tops of the doors — rather than splitting the arch across the two doors. It’s worth making another sketchup and pondering that.
    — The difference in the width of the front lower rail and the side lower rails seems odd to me, too.
    — And the different arrangement of rails and styles on the bottom half of the sides seems a bit off.

    * The lower rails of the upper doors want to be a little wider to my eye.

    * Yeah, put me in the “against” camp when it comes to the frame-and-panel drawer fronts. Visually, they seem too busy to me. And, well, I’m kind of a traditionalist when it comes to woodworking, so they strike me as being somewhat at cross purposes with the way we typically build things from wood. A frame-and-panel door has a functional purpose, of course, not just an aesthetic one. A drawer is essentially nothing more than a shallow box, and typically there’s no real reason to build a frame-and-panel box if the sides are not so wide as to make wood movement an issue. It also make the pulls one further layer of joinery removed from the weight they will have to move.

    * Fantastic claro walnut and then you open the doors to find … baltic birch ply? Say it ain’t so! If movement is an issue, i.e. a solid wood shelf would move while the case wouldn’t, fix the shelf in the front and leave it free in the back with a small gap.

    * As for the sliding dovetails through the panels, I’d say that sounds like more trouble than it’s worth. I would agree with an earlier comment to let the shelves bear on the legs/posts. This piece is all about utility, a kitchen piece alway should be. Why not make the shelves adjustable by drilling holes in the legs and just using moveable pegs to support the shelves? If you do want to do fixed shelves, they could just bear on a ledger attached to the posts, along the inside of the side. (I hope you know what I mean). You might check Joyce (“Encylopedia of Furniture Making”) for other solutions to this problem. I don’t have my copy in front of me. If you don’t have it, it’s a great book for learning the traditional methods for solving these kinds of construction (engineering, I guess you could call it) problems.

    • Bob Passaro

      Looking at this some more, I see of course the issue of the lower rails. They need to be tenoned into the legs, so you can’t really arrange the rails and stiles as you do in the doors. What you could do, if you wanted to emulate that, is create another frame and panel that fits between the legs. That is, the legs are not the stiles. You would have: leg, stile, panel, stile, leg. Does that make sense. More work of course, but this is going to be a lot of work anyway :)

      Good luck. Nice job.

      • jlsmith

        Hey Bob

        I was going to wait to see what Steve had to say (where is he anyways, lol) before I commented further but since you mention it I decided to join in. Now I am no purist and I have a substantial heretical streak that goes hand in glove with my ‘home schooled’ wood working knowledge, but if I was trying to design this detail I would might go with an extended integral tenon on the rail and the female part of a bridle joint on the stile. The bridle joint could slip over the tenon to produce the vertical joint between the rail and the stile. The extra length of the tenon could then be mortised into the leg. The other possibility would be to make a conventional frame and panel and the using loose tenon joinery to attach the frame to the leg along it’s edge. Of course you could do this with integral tenons but that seems like a waste of wood to me. Given your own sensibilities would you find either of these methods acceptable and if not why not?

        jlsmith

      • Steve

        Gents,

        I’m so sorry I haven’t been able to get to type a reply for a few days. I have been swamped w/ work, family time, and volunteering with my church to help and repair some run down homes.

        Anyhow, Bob’s comment on why the sides of the lower unit are designed hit the nail on the head. I was using the tenons from the rails to hold the legs together. When I read Mr. Smith’s comment that it wasn’t consistent with the upper side design, I thought of the bridle joint as well, but to me it would seem awkward with the gentle curve on the lower rail. (Mr. Smith’s comment about the effect of a curve in that area of the design notwithstanding)

        Speaking of the lower rail, the comment was made about why it was so thick. We’ll, my reasoning was that by making it taller, it would allow the bottom of the side panel to follow around to the bottom of the panel in the lower drawer – ie there is one “line” that follows around the base with a consistent starting point for the panels.

        I used similar logic for the upper rail on the sides. On area that I pondered for a while was whether or not to hide the upper most rail on the front of the lower cabinet behind the upper drawer (since I’m using Blum slides I figured this would be easy enough). But I decided not to do that given that when the hutch is viewed from it a typical standing perspective, that upper rail would disappear under the overhang of the top, and thus preserve the proportions of the upper rail of the top drawer.

        I think the baltic birch shelf is out (I was going to edge band it with something nice of course!) – I am seriously thinking about an adjustable shelf now.

        Thanks for your comments!

      • Bob Passaro

        jlsmith,
        I guess my inclination, though, would be that I’d like that fairly beefy lower rail tenoned right into the legs, so the shoulders of the rail tenon bear directly on the leg. I can’t give a thorough, logical, engineer’s sort of explanation. It just strikes me as the most solid way to make that joint. That said, I think your ideas would certainly work, and I doubt there would be any problems. The tenon would just have to be haunched, so that the end of the bridle joint on the stile was flush with the bottom edge of the tenon. Then, when the tenon enters the leg, it could be haunched up 1/2 inch to make for a normal mortise and tenon joint into the leg.

  11. Eli

    Hi,

    For the lower side discussion, I don’t see a problem with tenoning the rails into the stiles, as with the other frames, and edge gluing the stiles onto the legs. The joint will be plenty strong. If you don’t like that, glue the rail to the leg first, then just cut your mortise through it all. That saves you a step.

    An adjustable shelf is a great idea, but if you really want the dovetail, you can run a dado through the frame and panel, then dovetail the front edge. This gives the shelf full support while tying the sides of the upper case together. Only glue the dovetail, so both the panel and shelf can move.

    I don’t know if this was addressed (I may have missed it), but what about a vertical ship-lap back. To me, the stile running up the background is confusing. Straight grained vertical stripes could simplify things.

    I too am not a fan of frame and panel drawer fronts, structurally or aesthetically. They add a lot of lines on a purportedly “less is more” case and your knob is on an unglued panel in a 1/4″ groove. Sounds dicey.

    I’m trying to think of a way to work around your wood limitations for the drawer fronts…I have nothing so far.

    Eli