The Do-It-Yourselfer


A woodworking hobbyist takes on the ultimate project: his own kitchen.

Ray Gundlach loves to build things. So when he and his wife, Laurie Wood-Gundlach, renovated the kitchen of their 1929 Sacramento home, he decided to tackle one of the most challenging parts of the project himself: building the cabinets.

Gundlach, a real estate developer and project manager, knows his way around a table saw. “I’ve been doing this all my life,” he says. “Woodworking is a hobby of mine.”

He’d built kitchen cabinets for the couple’s previous home back in 1993. But this, Gundlach says, was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” It took him almost a year, working nights and weekends, to construct the furniturelike cabinetry, made of tightly grained riff-cut red oak, for the roomy kitchen and the adjacent laundry room.

Gundlach’s earlier cabinetmaking experiences had taught him one thing: He needed a real workshop. (In ’93, he worked in his garage, “which was a nightmare,” he recalls: Every night, he had to move and stack cabinets in order to park the cars.) This time around, the couple decided to construct a free-standing, nearly 1,000-square-foot woodworking shop in the backyard, so that he could spread out and work unimpeded.

And Gundlach realized something else: He needed the right tools. (Anybody who’s ever watched Norm Abram on PBS’s “The New Yankee Workshop” knows that.) For his first cabinetmaking venture, Gundlach had made his own router table—“not a great piece of equipment,” he admits. This time, he invested in a top-notch router table to go with his other woodworking tools: a table saw, a router (used to make the stiles and frames for the cabinet doors) and a biscuit joiner (to join door pieces together).

Gundlach built the cabinets in a cross between Arts and Crafts and Mission styles, with all the bells and whistles: pullout shelves, fluted-glass insets, sophisticated hardware. “They’re overbuilt,” he explains. “I made them almost like furniture.”
The cost? About $10,000 total: $8,000 for lumber, $1,000 for hinges and $800 for door and drawer pulls. His labor, of course, was free. “Ray worked day and night,” says an appreciative Wood-Gundlach. “He even gave up playing golf.”

Gundlach estimates comparable custom cabinets would have cost the couple $50,000 or $60,000. “There’s a lot of labor in these,” he says, adding with a laugh, “I probably would have made about $1.25 an hour.”


• Ray Gundlach and Laurie Wood-Gundlach recently remodeled their dated kitchen. The couple debated what material to use for the countertops. They didn’t want granite—too new-looking. They considered concrete and lava stone before settling on soapstone from Brazil. “It looks old,” says Wood-Gundlach. “Plus nothing stains it, and there are no seams.” The integral apron-front sink was carved from a single block of soapstone.

• The homeowners chose a classic cream-colored six-burner Aga stove from England. To disguise the modern-looking stainless-steel exhaust hood, they had a hood cover fabricated at a metal shop, then painted it to match the stove at an automotive paint shop. (The shade? An actual 2001 Audi paint color.)

• Appliances include a GE Monogram refrigerator, Viking microwave and wall oven, Bosch dishwasher and Fisher & Paykel dishwasher drawer, and U-Line wine cooler. Tucked into the kitchen island are two Sub-Zero refrigerator drawers, where Wood-Gundlach keeps apples for her horses.

• Ray Gundlach is the ultimate do-it-yourselfer: In addition to building the cabinets for the new kitchen himself, he acted as the project’s general contractor, overseeing the construction and scheduling the subcontractors.

• The couple wanted an old-fashioned-looking kitchen to complement their 1920s-era home. They worked with interior designer Claudia Bordin, who recommended a simple square white tile for the backsplash and a “noncolor color”—Benjamin Moore’s Inner Balance—for the walls.

• Scot Dorffler of Scot Dorffler Hardwood Floors laid the distressed mahogany floors. “He’s a wood artist,” says Wood-Gundlach admiringly.