How did you first start honing your craft? What originally drew you to woodwork in general and cabinetry specifically?
I grew up in the antique business, my dad owned a furniture refinishing and restoration operation, and my uncle owned a 7,000 sq-ft antique collective here in Santa Cruz. We mainly dealt in early American furniture like Shaker, Empire, and Art Nouveau in Oak, Mahogany, and Walnut. Even my grandparents were in the business, restoring, dressing, and dealing in antique porcelain dolls and some ephemera. Growing up between both shops, furniture was a big part of my life. There was always something to fix, sand, stain, or spray, a new vignette to set up in the store, or another antique show to travel to with a truck full of furniture and collectables to sell. My biggest influence was everyone around me making things, fixing things, taking things apart and making different objects. They were all artists of some sort – painters, sculptors, mechanics, pattern makers, and a lot of wood workers – I always had someone around that could show me how to make or fix anything. I quickly developed confidence – even if I didn’t know how, I could figure it out.

When I was a teenager, clients started asking my dad to build one-off pieces of furniture, or even a whole kitchen, and custom cabinetry started organically out of that. Back then, all the work was furniture quality cabinets – hand cut dovetails, hand shaped raised panels, carving, turning – all by hand or with basic tooling. It wasn’t until I worked for wood shops later in my 20’s that I worked with a CNC machine or any large-scale industrial machine. CAD drawing wasn’t on anyone’s radar back then.

I started my own small shop when I was 25 years old, focusing mostly on built-in cabinetry: media centers, bookcases, mantles, etc. A few years later, I was offered a job building for a high-end cabinet shop nearby. It was great money and better hours, which worked well with a new daughter at home. For a while, I bounced around until I landed at a prominent Bay Area shop that gave me the opportunity to learn to draw with the computer program I still use now, some 15 years later. That was the breakthrough for me. I was able to develop a new skill and really create my own career in cabinet design and engineering.

How does your early career and previous experience in the industry influence your work today?
Growing up around furniture, particularly Mission and Arts & Crafts furniture, had a big influence on my style and taste – the clean lines and subtle angles were always very attractive to me. Being in my dad’s orbit and learning about specific designers like Gustav Stickley and Charles Mcintosh was also influential. Working in the shop with him and emulating their designs helped me get a feel for not only style, but also proportion and function.

Tell me about your process. How closely do you work with clients?
Describe your relationship with the architect and contractor.
I really love collaborative projects. The jobs where everyone – the builder, architect, designers, and especially the homeowner – are all working together to create the best version of something. I like to get involved in a new project as early as possible, before framing, which allows us to take our time refining the design through the redline and iterative process.

I’ve always tried very hard to act as a partner in the process, which contractors appreciate. They know they can rely on me to help guide a homeowner through the cabinet process, freeing them up to focus on the long list of other pressing tasks that need their attention. I also think the quality of my drawings are especially helpful to this process – I’m able to supply very accurate scaled drawings of all the cabinetry, including floor plan views, cross sections, and elevations with detailed notes and photo references of the convenience hardware and pre-installation items. Most helpful to a homeowner is getting to see near photo quality renderings of the final cabinetry designs.

Who is on your team? Is collaboration important to your process?
I currently work with two custom cabinet shops – first with BFD Cabinets (I’ll let that sink in) – Brown Felicetta Design is the best shop I’ve ever worked with. Dave Brown runs the shop day to day, and Vince Felicetta runs the business, operates the CNC, and does his own sales. They’ve invested heavily in the best machinery and an even better staff. Victor, the shop foreman leads the fight, and Bob, Juan Pablo (JP), Sergio, Marc and Rich can build anything I can come up with. Emeterio gives everything that finishing touch. Lastly, we have an awesome group of site carpenters – Shawn, Bryan, Jesus, Zabdi, and Roman – that can handle anything we throw at them. We have an amazing team where everyone seems to have the same idea about what we do. Doing good work begets good results, client satisfaction, appreciation, self-satisfaction, and of course a good living. Without their collaboration, none of what I do would be possible.

When BFD is too busy, Coastal Woodworks, out of Salinas, is a small shop run by James Copsey and Larry Williams. They’re two Salinas Firefighters that love woodworking so much they that opened their own shop. They’ve invested in some of the best tooling and machinery – and excel at crafting first class work.

Tell me what it’s like to run a small business. What challenges have you faced and what has been rewarding about that?
Claiming that running a small business is hard is cliche, but it’s fully accurate! Most days, I’d rather poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick than “run a business.” Draw, meet with clients, build furniture, that I LOVE! But running the day-to-day stuff – filing paperwork, bidding jobs, scheduling work, and collecting money!? Ugh, Kill me now! Even with all that, being self-employed is the best, if you can do it. Being completely self-reliant on generating an income isn’t for everyone – there can be long periods between checks as projects develop or finish up. Managing client, family, and especially my own expectations is key. I don’t always get it right, but through good management, I’m able to make my own schedule and find ways to balance my work, life, family, and solo pursuits.

At this point, almost 30 years in, I think I’ve made a pile of mistakes and created a lot of challenges for myself. I’ll continue to make more, unfortunately, but of all the mistakes I’ve made, I’ve not only been able to fix, but I’ve been able to learn how to do better. After the initial frustration, I take comfort in the fact I was able to identify my shortcoming and make an adjustment. Beyond that, there have been so many ups and downs. I’ve made it through recessions, housing bubble bursts, shop moves, and now COVID. These hurdles have taught me that everything will be okay, don’t panic. Do good work and take care of your people and they will take care of you.

Which new technologies have influenced your work as of late? How do you think they will change the industry going forward?
The new pre-finished veneers and various laminates are all pretty exciting. Many of the new wood textured laminates are so spot on that, without touching them, you wouldn’t know they aren’t wood. The solid color acrylic panels, my favorite being the ultra-matte products, are amazing – several are made with a “self-healing” coating. When scratched, most Magic Erasers work well – for more severe scratches heat makes blemishes disappear. Most of the solid colors are available with a “zero joint” edge banding that creates an essentially seamless panel. If you’re thinking of designing a kitchen with a flat flush solid color door, you’d be crazy not to use these products. A bonus is that many of these materials are laid up on a core made from recycled materials and newer high tech green resins – making them not only sustainable, but also extremely water resistant. I think real wood and exotic veneers will always be in style, but if you could use a sustainable product that’s equal if not better, why wouldn’t you?

Our studio deeply values working with makers and artisans who are experts in their craft. What is special to you about high-quality, custom goods?
Everything we do is one of a kind. Even if we use the same materials and hardware, every project we do is different and unique. We’re able to create beautiful custom spaces that meet our client’s needs, and while many of these needs are similar, everyone has their own individual need according to how they’ll live in their space.

I love visiting a home I’ve worked on and seeing the family using the pieces we’ve created. That’s a special feeling. Somebody once said to me, “a new kitchen is a game changer,” – that captured it for me.
Pictured to the right: Aaron with our San Mateo clients in their recently finished kitchen.