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Custom Cabinets from Start to Finish: An Interview with Joshua Winkley of Maple Tree Cabinetmakers

By Joshua Winkley

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Maple Tree Cabinetmakers started in 2006, building custom cabinets and furniture out of a shop in my garage. At that time it was just me designing and building custom woodworking projects. Our current 4000 square foot shop is located in Essex, Connecticut, and is well equipped to handle any custom cabinetry project that comes our way. We design, fabricate, and install cabinetry and woodworking of all kinds, but like to focus on kitchen cabinetry.

Besides the kitchen, what are some common places or uses for custom cabinets?

For the living room we build entertainment centers, bookcases and window seats with custom storage. We outfit bathrooms with custom vanities to fit unique spaces. We have also constructed home office built-ins and master bedroom suites. The occasional custom furniture project comes our way, such as a living room credenza featuring a live edge walnut top.

Can you briefly explain the basic process of getting custom cabinets for your home?

I provide an initial free consultation visit in which ideas are discussed and site measurements are taken. After that meeting, I produce design concept sketches that I combine with a proposal. Once the proposal is approved the design phase commences in earnest. I'll submit CAD drawings, material and finish samples, and other design aids such as pictures. We do not have a showroom so oftentimes we also visit previous projects where a client can see our completed cabinetry in action.

Once the design is approved and shop drawings are completed, any site preparations are arranged to be done. This could include major work, such as removing walls or minor electrical modifications. For less invasive projects, usually no site work is required. My fabrication lead time is usually around two months. Once the installation is scheduled, we deliver our cabinets and start the installation process. We deliver and install our cabinets with love and care. Any related trim work or site finishing is also done at this time. Ultimately, we aim for a seamless fit in which the cabinetry blends with the rest of the house in details and finish.

How much flexibility do homeowners have when it comes to design? Can you share any examples?

The amount of input a homeowner has on the design is really up to them. Some homeowners come to the table with architect's plans from which I just need to create shop drawings and build beautiful cabinetry to specified plans. Others have a list of their needs and wants and have inspiration pictures that they share with me. They can be very specific about what they want. Still others have a basic concept in mind and ask me to flesh out the layout and details. And finally there are others who really just ask me to come up with something after we have met and I have taken measurements, letting me influence the design as I see fit. I like to let the homeowner lead the design process as much as they desire to, whether they know it or not. I am flexible enough to lead them in the right direction, depending on their needs. Every client is different.

Is there something that most people don't know or understand about the fabrication process?

We outsource a number of components in each project. Most of our plywood is cut by a CNC shop, giving us unrivaled accuracy. All of our drawers are fabricated and finished by company that specializes in dovetailed drawers. We also occasionally outsource door fabrication. By doing this we have the resources of a large and well-equipped factory, without the expense.

Do you have any tips on custom cabinet finishes?

My preference for custom cabinet finishes is a hand-painted finish that matches the trim in the house. A hand-painted finish wears well and is easily repairable. We do the majority of the finishing in the shop, but some finishing of moldings is best done after they are installed.

If natural wood is desired, then a hand-rubbed finish will show the beauty of the wood best. We use an oil and varnish mixture that provides added durability. We also offer shop-sprayed finishes that are economical and durable. Due to increasingly strict regulations and the harmful off gassing of chemicals we prefer to work with waterborne finishes when possible. Each project and design requires a finish tailored to the specific needs of our clients.

What's the best way for people to contact your company?

An easy way is to send an email to or reach out by calling (860) 304-8408.

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