Building a Credenza #1: Design Process

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Blog entry by Blake posted 05-08-2010 09:07 AM 16543 reads 6 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Building a Credenza series Part 2: Milling the Main Parts »

For several months now I have been dreaming about building a credenza as the ultimate next project to tackle. I don’t have a clue where I am going to put it when its done. I don’t have any space for a 6 foot long cabinet, but I really want to build one.

So I started drawing and looking at pictures of credenzas online. A credenza is basically a low, wide cabinet that is mostly used these days as living room furniture, often below the TV. My first design looked like this:


What I liked about this design is the simple symmetry and the fact that there was an open shelf in the middle where you could put the DVD player and be able to use the remote control without opening a door. But I felt like there was something just too generic about it… something bothered me about the design but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I asked my wife, “does it look too Ikea, or something?”

Then I walked into the kitchen and it hit me. This is the cheap Ikea cabinet we have been living with and looking at every day for the past 5 years:


When I finally made the connection, I couldn’t believe it. My brain had sub-consiously lead me to the familiar and I had re-designed our Ikea cabinet. How weird and absolutely hilarious. No wonder I came up with that design. But it wouldn’t do at all. So back to the drawing board, and this time the goal was to design something as far from the Ikea look as possible.

I really struggled with the door/drawer arrangement in the front of the cabinet. How could I lay it out so that it was interesting, practical, and unique? Here is part of my brainstorm-on-paper process:


Finally I came up with this design, and built it in Sketchup:


...And I really liked it. The style, proportions and layout was just what I was looking for.

Then one day I was in the shop and was thinking about this project and I decided to build a 1/6 scale model of it out of scraps. I didn’t have my Sketchup drawing with me so I built it form memory. I forgot the exact dimensions and layout of the original drawing and it ended up a little different, including three drawers on the left side instead of two.

I also decided to try something a little different and added an inlay (masking tape) of “grass” across the front for visual interest. Here is the 20 minute model I came up with:


I’ve never built a model before starting a project, but I’m glad I did. First of all, I hated the “grass” inlay. Too corny. And after taking it home and comparing it to the Sketchup drawing, I decided that the original proportions of the drawing were much better than the model. I also like the two drawers on the left instead of three.

I had also put four sweeping arches in the Sketchup drawing that cascade from top right to bottom left (look closely for the thin black lines). I really like those arches and think I will carve them into the front of the solid drawer fronts instead of inlay them. That will keep the color uniform and subtle, add depth to the piece, and make the furniture-savvy recognize instantly that this is a solid-wood piece of furniture… no veneer to be found.

Feel free to let me know what you think.

-- Happy woodworking!

13 comments so far

View degoose's profile


7258 posts in 3866 days

#1 posted 05-08-2010 09:27 AM

Has a distinct Asian Influence.. the shallow drawer over the doors is incredibly intuitive..The carved arches are inspirational without being corny…I think that over all you have come up with a design that will fit in many homes..
Look forward to the following blogs..and 3 drawers draws on nature.. all things in 3’s.

-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View dustbunny's profile


1149 posts in 3807 days

#2 posted 05-08-2010 11:53 AM

Stunning design !!
No open space for DVD player ?
How about a flip down false drawer front above the double doors.
Can be dropped open when in use, closed to hide when not in use.
Still keeps with the overall design, yet functional for TV unit,
if that is what it will be used for.
I think Larry is onto something with the 3 drawers : )


-- Imagination rules the world. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte ~

View Tony's profile


993 posts in 4542 days

#3 posted 05-08-2010 12:23 PM

Hi Blake.

I agree with you, the sketch-up design is much nicer, the proportions are much better, I especially like the ratio of the cupboard doors and the long narrow drawer, 2-high drawers are better than 3 smaller ones. The carving/inlay of the grass is more fluid and pleasing to the eye (mine anyway), than the mock up, which looks confusing. The sketch-up version is more fluid and gently take moves you vision to follow the lines gracefully.

The larger legs on the sketch-up version are better proportioned than the model, and if you can keep the crispness on the corners, it will keep it individual. The legs reaching and becoming a part of the top is very nice in the profile view, what does it look like from the top view?

The colors you selected on the sketch-up model are a great contrast, mahogany legs and black walnut (for example), if you do inlay, then maybe very thin Holly, but I think the shadow created by a carved relief would be more subtle and interesting.

Where did you buy you miniature hand tools to make the model? . The shavings created with those miniature hand planes are in great proportion.

-- Tony - All things are possible, just some things are more difficult than others! - SKYPE: Heron2005 (

View SPalm's profile


5334 posts in 4393 days

#4 posted 05-08-2010 02:15 PM

Sweet. I like the sketchup version better too.

Like Tony, I would like to see a top view too. Your model has the top overhanging the legs, while the sketchup has the legs level with the top. But I know that the model was just a quickie.

Keep it up Sir,

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 4184 days

#5 posted 05-08-2010 04:38 PM

Blake you is off to a great start.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4611 days

#6 posted 05-08-2010 04:43 PM

I look forward to following your journey on this one.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Derek Lyons's profile

Derek Lyons

584 posts in 4080 days

#7 posted 05-08-2010 04:56 PM

Overall a great start. I can’t say I like that long thin drawer on the right, and the legs look a little bit heavy at the bottom. To me they draw my eye down rather than up.

-- Derek, Bremerton WA --

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4386 days

#8 posted 05-08-2010 05:11 PM

Tony—the top of the legs will be flush with the top of the cabinet. The square of end grain will show from above. Here is the joinery I plan on using where the top meets the legs:


And I also forgot to mention that I plan on joining the top and sides with hand-cut dovetails so it will look something like this:


Oh yea, and here are the tools I used to make the model:

-- Happy woodworking!

View dustbunny's profile


1149 posts in 3807 days

#9 posted 05-08-2010 05:15 PM

The tools are LOL hilarious !!


-- Imagination rules the world. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte ~

View Tony's profile


993 posts in 4542 days

#10 posted 05-08-2010 06:03 PM

Blake can you post a sketch-up view of the top and an oblique view (45°), it was the visual impact I was thinking about.

You cannot two dove tails joints at right angles to each other, there is no way to get them to slide in to each other. You could use dovetail keys to slide into one of the joints to lock it into place, or two sliding butterfly keys (double dovetails).

The top does not look that thick on the sketch-up (maybe an 1” or so), will it really provide any real strength to have a dovetail joint? I think that hidden joints would look nicer, keeping sides clear, not drawing attention to the joinery and distracting from the appearance.

Where can I buy the 1/12 scale 1” screws that you use (nice photograph)

-- Tony - All things are possible, just some things are more difficult than others! - SKYPE: Heron2005 (

View bfaubion's profile


21 posts in 3485 days

#11 posted 05-08-2010 06:04 PM

Thanks for sharing your design process. It is great to see how others approach this very difficult, and crucial phase. I have found that even with Sketchup renderings I don’t always get the proportions right. I find it helpful to make full-size elevation drawings and tape them to the wall to get a better feel for the piece. Sometimes I will make a cardboard mockup to see how the mass of the piece will relate to other elements in the room.

On this credenza I like the asymmetric yet balanced look, the curves of the legs, and the simple detailing. However, I think the top might need something to balance the mass of the feet. In your initial sketch you had the ends of the top curving up. That was a nice detail. Not saying that is what the newer design needs, but to my eye the top is wanting ‘something’.

I am looking forward to following your progress.


View bfd's profile


502 posts in 4318 days

#12 posted 05-08-2010 06:16 PM

Blake I don’t remember you showing me your minature tool set when I visited your You know how much I love this design and I am excited that you have decided to build this piece. looking forward to following your progress. I really like the leg joinery that you are planning on using. As far as the number of drawer goes I think it is simply a matter of “form follows function” Think about what you will be storing in the drawers and then that will determine if you need 2 larger drawers or 3. One suggestion, hold the stile between the doors and drawers back 3/4” and overlay the door/drawers so that you don’t see it from the front elevation. It will be a much cleaner look especiallly when if you carve the curved lines in the front which I think is a great idea. Are you going to route that or carve the design? You could make your fronts from the same glue up (blank) and then carve or route the design. After that cut to size your fronts so that all your grain and design is consistant across the front.

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4386 days

#13 posted 05-09-2010 06:26 AM

Yes… lots to think about still.

”You cannot do dove tails joints at right angles to each other…” Sorry for the poor drawing, those are not dovetails where the legs meet the top. It is just a wrap-around L-shaped mortise and tenon that you will see form the sides.

I wish I had room to pin up a full-sized elevation drawing or 1:1 cardboard model. I know what you mean though about needing to see it in life-size. I usually leave my legs and other pieces a little long until I can clamp it all together to get a sense of it before cutting the parts down to their final dimensions. This way I can make changes as I go.

I think I am going to hand carve V-shaped grooves for the arch detail. And I agree with you on hiding that partition. I was thinking the same thing.

-- Happy woodworking!

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