Meet cabinet-maker Mikael Seppänen

Hultafors - Ireland

The smell of wood is striking in the joinery workshop of cabinet-maker Mikael Seppänen. Here, large industrial saws stand side by side with classic tools. I get a moment with Mikael while the glue dries on some doors he’s just assembled.

Why did you choose to become a carpenter?

Even at school I felt I was practically inclined. Woodwork was my favourite subject and it felt natural to work with my hands. It’s what I know how to do, what I have an aptitude for. So basically it just felt right to become a craftsman and work with my hands.

How did you end up in this particular joinery?

Well, there’s a funny story behind that. I knocked on the door of a local joinery and asked if there was any chance of doing work experience. At first the owner was doubtful and said they were planning on winding the business down before retiring. But I was quite insistent. I said I could just help out as much as they wanted and it wouldn’t cost them anything.

He asked me to call back after the weekend so he could have a think about it. And that’s exactly what happened. I called back and was invited to come and look around the workshop. Even then he joked with me and said, ‘Mikael, one day all this will be yours!’ I laughed it off, I was only 18 and still at secondary school. At the time, the idea that I might start my own business simply wasn’t on my radar. But he planted an idea in me.

How long does a typical kitchen take you to build?

A normal kitchen takes about a month to produce; that’s from the first meeting with the customer, the drawing process and right up to final fitting.

Is there any part of the process that you especially like?

I like it when I can get started actually making the kitchen, screwing the frames together and gluing the doors; seeing the kitchen gradually come into being on the workbench.

What materials do you mainly work with?

For the doors I always use pine, a traditional wood that’s used in homes for things like mouldings and furniture. In the past it was used for service passages. I use oak for the drawers as it’s a durable wood that looks attractive. It’s also fashionable to work with oak, it’s an exclusive material.

You obviously work with a lot of power tools in the workshop, but which hand tools could you not do without?

I couldn’t manage without my folding rule. I use it to take rough measurements of all kinds of things, but when precision is required I use the marking measure. Then there’s the craftsman’s knife, the best general-purpose tool you can get. I use it to open paint tins, scrape away excess paint, open packaging and scrape debris out of workpieces.

These sound like classic tools.

Yes that’s right. Why change a winning concept? Classic craftsmanship requires classic tools.

Are there any typical characteristics of a customer who orders a site-built kitchen?

A typical customer has bought a kitchen before and knows what it involves. They’re familiar with the process from the drawing board to the choice of materials, fittings and paint. They’re often trend conscious with a keen sense of quality and aesthetics.

Why do they choose a site-built kitchen rather than a ready-made one?

Because it’s made-to-measure. The only fixed parameters are the appliances: you can’t change the dimensions of those, but everything else can be tailored to your exact requirements. You get a symmetry that simply can’t be achieved with ready-made solutions.

Can you see a general trend for more people to choose site-built furnishings?

Yes, absolutely. There’s a rising trend in home-produced and locally made. More and more people are opening their eyes to buying a kitchen from a local joinery, rather than going to a kitchen supplier and getting one off-the-shelf.

How long is the lifespan of a site-built kitchen?

I’d say it depends on how the individual uses the kitchen. A normal kitchen lasts 5-7 years, but my kitchens lasts twice or three times as long. With kitchens like these you can have the doors re-lacquered, or sand and brush-paint them yourself. And of course a lot of things can be repaired and renovated; the kitchen allows it because the doors are solid wood and can be brush-painted. So the overall feeling is the same even after renovation.

Do you have a dream project?

One really cool project was when I got to make a kitchen for an old church in Romelanda in the south-west of Sweden. They had removed the altar and I got to install my kitchen in its place. My kitchen ended up on the altar, so to speak. (Laughs) That was quite a powerful moment. My dream would be to do more projects like that, installations that really stand out.

Finally, who or what inspires you?

I would say that I’m inspired by other talented colleagues in the kitchen industry, whether they’re skilled craftsmen or architects, all producing amazing creations. I’m surrounded by great people like these. And of course hats off to the craftsmen of a hundred years ago, who didn’t have access to the machines and tools we have today. I build similar kitchens now to what they did back then.

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