12 Mistakes to Avoid when Designing Joinery

Designing and specifying bespoke joinery can be difficult for all parties involved. There are so many things to consider during the process of having it designed, surveyed and manufactured. We have collated 12 mistakes to avoid when designing joinery that we think often get overlooked or not pondered on for long enough.

Consider the bigger picture

Designing a joinery unit should be considered as part of the whole storage solution of a home or office. It is best to identify early on what essential items need to be stored where and in what room; this can lead to more efficient and cleaner solution as the end result.

Failure to factor in the everyday functionality of a unit will lead to clutter and frustration.

The bigger picture may mean considering moving perceived ‘fixed’ elements such as doors or radiators. Joinery and storage should not be thought of as a secondary design issue as it will end up being one of the more critical elements on how a space will look and function. Failure to factor in the everyday functionality of a unit will lead to clutter and frustration. Think big before compromising. Start with a floor plan and user requirements.

Avoid over optimising the design

Most designs will be drawn up in elevation – this format prioritises symmetry as most things on paper do. In practice, asymmetric doors or other less equal elements are barely perceptible and are not a cause of annoyance, as you will rarely be looking at them directly face on.  This should be considered during the design process as there is often a trade off on the inside of the unit to keep the outside symmetrical.  External detailing that is simple and conservative tends to deliver over longer periods of time than those that are more ‘striking’ or ‘fussy’. Today’s hip design and colour choices can seem less than discerning with the passage of time.

The ease of use of the unit will be important throughout its entire lifespan. Prioritising design and precise aesthetics over operational satisfaction misses the point, however it’s a very easy trap to fall into.

cornice around joinery unitMinimise detraction from the feeling of space

Installed, rather than free-standing units often have a far less physical presence if they present as complete, i.e. floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall. Matching existing or new cornices to the run of a joinery unit integrates them into the fabric of the building, and works to give the feeling of more space within the room, due to the way our perception works.  Another example includes allowing floors to run under a floating detail, which lightens the look of a unit, giving a feeling of continuity.

Incorporating a number of elements (beds, wardrobes, desks, shelving) can free up a great deal of space and create an expansive feeling, even in small spaces.

Ironmongery can compromise the timeline and design

Ironmongery is often considered as an afterthought, with an endless number of possibilities in finish, size and design all available online with a simple click of a button in just a few days.  This however if often not the case. Simple, generic designs are generally easily available, but when more specialised or designer pieces are required there are often very long lead times to get exactly what is required.

To avoid having to compromise, it is good practice to check availability and order as soon as the design is confirmed…

Often a design is envisaged with visible ironmongery as accent pieces helping to define the aesthetic. To avoid having to compromise, it is good practice to check availability and order as soon as the design is confirmed – This is true for any element which is not within the orbit of control.

On a more ‘hands-on’ level, be wary of single point attached items. These fixtures often have the tendency to spin around their fixed axis, which is a problem that doesn’t have a simple fix.

Obstacles and restrictions

We all have expectations as to how things should work, e.g. doors should be able to open to at least 90 degrees and drawers should be able to open fully. It is important to factor in items such as radiators, curtains or blind rails with regards to the unimpeded operation of a unit.

Maintenance Access

As units are increasingly being built in, more wall, ceiling and floor are enclosed.  Any services in these areas will now only be accessible through the installed joinery.  Things fail – any electrical, plumbing, air-conditioning, LED drivers should all have their access requirements designed and built in.

Access points integrated at a later date are always a patchwork job.

Incorporated access eases any maintenance issues which will undoubtably crop up, and a planned access point will look in keeping with the unit.  It will be regarded as a major design failure (at least a major oversight) seeing units hacked through to reach a terminal with an issue.  Access points integrated at a later date are always a patchwork job.

Beware social influence

Resources like Pinterest, Instagram and Houzz are great for finding inspiration, allowing for a mix and match approach when putting a design or mood board together. Often, the images found on these platforms are taken from the best angle and do not show the tradeoffs that would have had to have been made during fabrication and installation.

Conflating a number of design elements together can lead to incompatibilities, e.g. doors clashing due to ironmongery extending out too far, door hinging optimised for aesthetic at the expense of user practicality, storage elements which seem smart and cool but use up too much space and cost too much compared to the benefits they deliver.  These compromises and user difficulties are never highlighted.

Designs need to be stress tested in conjunction with the client to find the ideal balance between aesthetics, capacity, durability and functionality. Don’t be too disheartened if all your collated ideas don’t fit together.

Make a storage plan

If a module is chosen ( e.g. shoe boxes ) then sizes can be worked out for maximum efficiency . Consider what you or your client have at the moment as a good point of reference .

Having a plan for what needs to be stored and in what manner, can make a huge difference in the utility offered by a unit. Knowing how an item such as an ironing board will be stored, is one of the first things that needs to be factored in. Almost certainly, space for something awkward like an ironing board will not magically come to pass – some thought and a plan will make the design deliver.

Hotel wardrobes show how merely being big does not translate as being effective. Making a list of ‘have to fit’ items with volumes (e.g. 1.5 linear meters of short hanging and 0.6 of long) will inform the design. Once the major elements are included, the remaining space can be divided up in the most effective manner – It can help if you choose a module (e.g. a shoe box) as reference to work out divisions effectively. All of this also helps with progressing the internal and external design in unison.

Consider what you currently have as a good point of reference.

Tech support!

Installed joinery can cover existing power, data and AV points. This can lead to a shortage in electrical requirements for a room, and should be addressed prior to any joinery installation as part of the plan.

For example, wall switches due to be covered can sometimes be mounted into a unit. An adaption like like can allow the unit to be maximised in size, rather than being constrained by a relatively minor element. This can seem like a secondary consideration when compared to storage and look, but come to the forefront when units are used on a daily basis.

Equally, some thought about powered items can hugely de-clutter the look of a living space. Inclusion of telephone, internet and power into joinery units for example, can allow for the main or secondary WiFi routers to exist neatly out of sight. In cases where cables are incorporated, it’s good to have a cable management system in place that allows for inevitable technology upgrades. Items which require charging and easy access (e.g. handheld hoovers) can be mounted internally.

Building conditions are pivotal

Not all joinery designs are suitable for all locations, for example, floating shelves call for strong walls which allow for fixings wherever the design dictates, which isn’t always possible.

Joinery units will probably be the ‘squarest’ things in the building. This can cause issues when an installation exposes the odd slopes and angles of walls and floors. There are ways to obscure these connections, but it requires space and needs to be discussed early in the process.

Walls can often suffer from damp, which while not an issue when the surfaces are exposed to air, can quickly promote mould growth when enclosed. Man made boards from which some joinery units can be fabricated are good mediums for promoting mould growth due to their structure.  If a joinery unit has suffered a mould infestation, it is generally easier and cheaper to strip it out and start again.


The cold / damp / at risk wall, once picked up in a survey, is easily addressable at the design stage by taking measures to isolate the joinery from the underlying issue.

Hot lighting and shadows

Existing lighting can cause heat damage to doors and units if they are installed too close to them. Often it is the occasional user interaction, leaving a door against a wall light or directly under a ceiling spot, which causes the damage. Even modern LED lights which are largely cooler than the previous generation of halogen lights have a capacity to cause damage. Be wary of where existing light fixtures are, and consider moving them if necessary.

spotlight joinery damage

It’s also worth thinking about the shadows that existing lighting will make on new joinery elements, as they can often look strange in certain lighting conditions. It might be worth taking a step back and consider lining lighting up with certain elements of the joinery.

Strengths and weaknesses change

When something new and large is installed it tends to change the ‘centre of gravity’ of a room and move the ‘weak points’ around. Elements which were previously unconsidered or acceptable suddenly become exposed. Often it is radiators or pipe work, random electrical or switch locations and sometimes, something more structural like a badly placed door. Generally these types of things can’t easily be fixed after installation or may require the ‘design’ to be modified to accommodate them. Consideration of the wider implications can inform the design, sequence and priorities.


And that’s it! We think if you consider some of these points whilst designing and specifying your bespoke joinery, you will have less obstacles when it comes to manufacture and installation.

If you would like to learn more our bespoke joinery services, you can read about them here: Bespoke Joinery.

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