The Ins and Outs of Custom Cabinets: An Interview with Victor Rossi of Rossi Brothers Cabinet Makers, Inc.
Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.
Rossi Brothers has been a family-operated business, producing custom cabinetwork and furniture in Philadelphia for two generations since 1956. Rossi Brothers incorporates handed-down traditional Old World methods in our cabinet making. Our services include design, reproduction, wood carving, veneer work, and finishing.
What should be the first step involved with getting custom cabinets made for your home?
A good way to start is to have an idea of what you would like. Look through some of the design magazines to get a concept of what you might like in your home. Many a designer has come to my shop with pictures of rooms or furniture that they cut out of a design magazine.
Is there anything that homeowners should know about custom cabinets versus stock cabinets?
Putting aside comparison in reference to quality, custom cabinets are made to order for the homeowner. The word custom has been overstated especially in the kitchen cabinet industry, where a kitchen is called “custom” because you are given a choice where you would like the mass-produced standard-size box cabinets arranged. Custom should mean you are having made what you cannot buy. If you can buy it then why have it made, unless you are looking for a better quality than what you can buy on the market. This is where quality comes into play. Custom cabinets should also be of a better quality than can be bought on the mass produced market.
What are the basic options available for types of wood and colors? Do you have any suggestions for when specifically to use any of those?
In custom cabinetry, the type of wood used should only be limited by availability. Color, as in stain, can be limited by the species of wood chosen; for example, a dark wood like walnut you wouldn’t be able to stain lighter. You can always go darker but lighter can be more labor intense than necessary. I order to go lighter you would need to bleach the wood. That process could be avoided if you let the cabinet maker know the general color you would like, then he could suggest the proper wood for your project. Some woods may only be available in veneers. Then the shop chosen would need to specialize in veneer work.
What is one of the biggest trends for cabinet finishes right now?
The custom shop that offers in house finishing could usually satisfy the homeowners needs or likings. It’s been my experience that trends are temporary. We have gone through all the styles and trends over the years from dark hues to light, from high gloss to dull sheen; but if I were to say at this point in time what I find to be the trend in finishing, I would say muted stains like gray with lighter overglazes in an almost-dull sheen. That is just today. In custom work you follow the trend or whatever the designer/ homeowner wants , you do your best to produce.
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“It takes as long as it takes.” That was Victor Rossi’s response when I asked him how long it takes to refinish an antique piece.
Gant charts, timelines, and spreadsheets just don’t apply when an artistic woodworker gets down to business; these folks are meticulous to the last detail. Tommy, the veneer guy at Rossi Brothers, once sliced 32 flawless triangular wedges to collage the perfect.
The term “good enough sunburst doesn’t fit into this environment; it’s either good or it’s unfinished.
Victor started working in his father’s shop in 1972 and in 1986 he opened his own workshop. Two of Victor’s six employees started sweeping floors in the shop at the ages of 15 and 18 and now they’re the foreman and lead veneer guy at Rossi Brothers. These people have been at it for a long time and the antique lined workshop walls are a sort of chronological trophy wall. Victor proudly points out that every piece of molding is designed and custom cut for each project, all carvings are done by hand, and gold/silver/copper leaf is applied in house.
Traditional techniques and talents gradually fade as woodworkers transition to computerized process; the closer the craftsperson is to the wood, the better they can anticipate design and execution challenges. Conventionalists like Victor face a constant struggle to meet the demands of customers while maintaining their handmade reputation. Rossi Brothers’ prestige is built on the highest quality workmanship and their customers are willing to wait for the superior products Victor delivers.
March 23, 2013
The desk in Victor Rossi’s office is laden with diagrams and drawings of furniture design, heavily annotated with notes. Above this disarray is a row of antique clocks Victor likes to fix, and a reproduction of Peter Paul Rubens’ “Prometheus Bound. The wall opposite his desk is an extensive library of art books on different eras and crafts: Bernini, Art Deco, Bugatti. The collection is rich in variety. What’s apparent from Victor’s office is his overall appreciation for craftsmanship, and his deep knowledge of design.
Victor has dedicated his life to his skill, and is able to reproduce any style of furniture with impeccable detail. A ceiling high bookcase from Victorian England, a French Empire style armchair fit for Napoleon Bonaparte—if it existed at some point in history, Victor will know how to make it.
Outside of the office is the warehouse. It’s an immense space, occupied by different projects throughout. Everyone is measuring, drilling, and sanding, and there’s the fresh smell of wood being cut. Victor bought this building in Kensington at 1805 North Howard Street 17 years ago. Before that, Rossi Brothers started out in 1956 as a little shop on the 500 block of Fitzwater Street. Victor’s father studied design after the war, and was trained as a finish carpenter. He specialized in built-in work, just like Victor does today,and went into business with his brother Anthony, a cabinetmaker.
Victor is a Philadelphia native, and is well-acquainted with his city’s history. He has seen a lot of things change, but his business has kept its traditions. Despite the increasing role of computerized design in the field of cabinetmaking, Victor’s style of work is still very much hands-on. He is known for being thorough and careful. He is a craftsman who never trades expediency for meticulousness, and never rushes his work. Through this steadfast approach, he aims for perfect execution of each project that comes his way.
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March 23, 2013
The best of them are turning out reproduction furniture of such high quality as to pose the question, Why is original necessarily better?
By Jeff Book on March 30, 2010
Elsie de Wolfe loved antiques—French ones in particular—but the doyenne of American interior design believed that anything worth having was worth copying. “I am not one of those decorators who insist on originals,” she wrote. “I believe good reproductions are more valuable than feeble originals, unless you are buying your furniture on speculation.” A favorite example was the Louis XV sofa from the Petit Trianon in Versailles that she duplicated for several of her upper-crust clients. After all, declared De Wolfe, “The effect is the thing you are after, isn’t it?”
The vast majority of designers would answer yes to that, adding that the devil is in the details. There have always been slapdash reproductions; the good news is that today’s eclectic design marketplace also offers a growing abundance of fine ones made in the spirit of the originals, with great attention to form, materials, and finishes. Makers of fine reproduction furniture can be compared to classical musicians performing the great compositions of the past, with a similar leeway granted for artistic license. From note-for-note renditions to more imaginative interpretations, the best of their efforts can blend easily with antiques or stand alone on their own merits.
A major reason for the growth in demand for high-quality reproductions is the rise in cost and scarcity of first-rate antiques. Factor in the time and travel that finding the right pieces can demand, and it’s little wonder that many people are opting for compatible reproductions. “It takes longer now to find unique, high-quality antiques, and the costs are often prohibitive,” notes Washington, D.C., designer Thomas Pheasant. “I mix antiques with my own designs as well as reproductions—not assembly-line reproductions but furniture that has the fine execution of the old pieces. It’s really about the quality of the craftsmen. And it’s wonderful that if I can’t find exactly what I’m looking for, I can have it made.”
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The National Association of Contractors and Remodelers of America – August 20, 2013
By Victor Rossi | Rossi Brothers Cabinet Makers | Philadelphia, PA
In many kitchens and other doorways throughout the house or apartment there is sometimes the need for the convenience of a double swing door. The type I’m referring to is the door hung on the double acting pivot hinge. This hinge is mounted in the top and bottom edge of the door and the door is usually hung in the center of the jamb. There are several styles on the market but the principal is the same.
Here at my shop (Rossi Brothers Cabinet Makers), since we package our doors and jambs, we have an alternative. We route the jamb to receive the swing of the back edge of the door. This is a much cleaner look and the door does not appear different from the other doors in the house.