One on One With Dean Nichols


Craftsmanship With Local Roots


By Gina Dostler


Dean Nichols

Custom woodwork can add a wonderful touch to virtually any portion of cabinetry that includes doors, windows, moldings, arches, crowns and keys, capitals and columns, corbels, mantels, inlays and finials. Floors and walls can also become a beautiful focus of woodwork when done properly.

When it comes to working with wood the challenges are many and the talent immense for a beautiful piece to be created, whether it is cabinetry or flooring. Even reconstructing doors to line up perfectly requires a skill and precision that can be hard to find.

Yet the art of craftsmanship is still around and getting that incredible detail and custom-tailored look is still possible even in this day and age of products continuously pumped out of China. I ran across Dean Nichols, a long time local of CdM and full-time craftsman who heralds beautiful custom woodwork and proves perfectionism and taking pride in the job is not lost to the days of past.

And humor. Dean, when confronted about his own home on Marigold Avenue and how it must be a solid paradise of gorgeous wood cabinetry and floors simply shook his head and said, “Does a postman go for a walk after work?”

I understood completely and realized his talent is spent in beautifying other’s homes and so I asked him a few questions on woodworking and the craftsmanship involved.


Q:  Being a long time local in Corona del Mar, you’ve seen lots of changes take place here on the Orange County coast. What do you miss the most from years before?

A:  Well, naturally the wide open spaces that existed. All that empty space was my playground as a kid. I have lots of fond memories climbing trees on the cliffs and catching south swells when it broke at the end of the jetty on canvass air rafts. That’s right, no bogey boards those days! But growing up in the ’50s and ’60s in CdM made me a witness to the construction of Cameo Highlands and Cameo Shores and pretty much all the growth around the area. I get the nostalgia bug every once and awhile wishing the open hills were back and my kids could have fun running around them like I did.


Q:  How did you get into woodworking?

A:  I watched my father working with wood. He was a pilot coming out of WWII and struggling for work. So he built furniture until the airline industry picked up and then he ended up as a pilot for TWA and one of Howard Hughes’ favorite pilots of choice. So when I went to college I decided to turn the woodwork I had learned from a hobby into something more substantial. I worked solely by recommendation. After college I started to get lots of work so I got my license and my career just took off from there. Working with wood comes natural to me. I can look at a picture or a drawing and build it. I think all good craftsman work this way.


Q:  Having been a craftsman for over 30 years, what are some details that stand out to reveal a good craftsman.

A:   Details become a labor of love when a craftsman really cares about what he or she does. And that shows in the finish of the room, how much tolerance is shown in the work. Creating perfect lines and symmetry throughout the project makes the job stand out. Too much caulking in the joints or uneven ceilings that are not perfectly flat is sloppy work. Hanging a door takes precision and should be plumb (up and down), and square. The door should sit in the jamb with equal reveals all around the door. I always make sure the quality of work lines up for beautiful upgrades in homes as well as tackling fixes that realtors appreciate when selling a home.


Q:  What are the challenges of your job?

A:   If you have ever lived through a remodel you know how stressful the whole process becomes with delays, expenses and not getting exactly what was expected. So I make sure communication is key, or how I like to put it, keeping the romance in the job. The client is the most important item here, to keep the experience as stress free as possible. Being on the same page as the client on what they want, the price and duration of the building is key to a successful job. The same care goes into the actual construction of the kitchen or house, once I know what the client wants by drawings, pictures or an agreement on what the client wants.


Q:  Having been a craftsman for many years, what parts do you like best to build?

A:  Though I do everything from demolition of walls down to studs and moving interior, exterior walls, I like doing the finish wood work, the pretty stuff such as multi step crowns, base, case, hanging doors, cabinets, countertops, and floors. Granite countertops are very popular and add elegance to the home. A lot of the traditional cottage homes have remodeled with lots of wood cabinetry and flooring and ceilings. When a customer has an idea I like to make it happen. Show or draw a picture and I’ll build it. If I have to think out of the box, that’s even better. In the end, I want the home to be a showpiece when it’s done. I want the project to be a comfortable home for the client.


Q:  Advice to homeowners if their remodel requires working with wood.

A:  It’s best to use alder or soft maple for cabinets. They both stain out nicely. For doorways or jams avoid MDF. It may pull from the jam and hinges after time or from hanging on the door. So I use Douglas fir with a vertical grain for jambs. A flat grain tends to show ripples in the grain of the wood and doesn’t paint well. Also, some folks try to paint oak. Oak doesn’t paint well because of the grain and the wood being so porous. Oak is made for stain grade only. I also like to use real wood instead of MDF as much as possible. Although cheaper, when nailed the MDF has a lifting where the nail was shot in. So I use popular which is great for casings, crowns and moldings because it is better and sands out nicely. Be sure the popular used has been stored properly because it has a tendency to twist and bow, as any unsealed wood, and that makes it very difficult to get a nice clean miter cut. Putting pieces together become more of a challenge with bowed wood. But there are a lot of exotic woods to use as well. It all comes down to costs and budget.




Nichols Construction

Craftsmanship and Doors

Phone:  949-292 3922