Graphic Standards for Architectural Cabinetry

January 18, 2016 — 30 Comments

Architectural drawings serve the obvious purpose of conveying specific information in a linear and direct manner. I also believe that they serve the additional purpose of letting everyone know that I take my drawings seriously and they had better take them seriously as well. That sounds serious, doesn’t it? I won’t go so far as to completely eliminate my ego as a contributor to my line of thinking,  but since I haven’t actually drawn any of these drawings, I’m going to add, that how we draw helps build the sort of design culture I am looking to establish in our office. To that end, what I will be discussing today is the brainchild of Ryan Thomason, one of the employees in our firm.

In our every expanding desire to have our drawings look a particular way (while at the same time conveying the sort of information that we believe will ultimately lead to a better built product), today we are going to be turning our attention to cabinetry. Since my first few years out of school involved (mostly) working on retail projects, I became pretty knowledgeable about how cabinets were built. It was also during this time that I became intimately familiar with AWI standards. AWI stands for “Architectural Woodworking Institute” and they have organized the standards that we follow in our office for how cabinets are built.

AWI Casework Design Series Standard

The image above is an example of a system of identifying cabinets using AWI’s “Casework Design Series” nomenclature. The graphic above (created by AWI) uses a series of symbols (squares rotate 45°) with a number contained in the middle, and an additional three numbers below. The center number corresponds to a certain standard type of cabinet, and the numbers below correspond to the width, height, and depth of each individual cabinet.

There are a considerable amount of typical cabinets already identified using the Casework Design Series (CDS) system and they are subdivided as follows:

Base Cabinets w/o Drawers – 100 Series
Base Cabinets w/ Drawers – 200 Series
Wall Hung Cabinets – 300 Series
Tall Storage Cabinets – 400 Series
Tall Wardrobe Cabinets – 500 Series
Library Cabinets – 600 Series
Moveable Cabinets – 700 Series

 All of the cabinets in the CDS system are intended to be TYPE A construction with integral finished ends and scribes to wall not exceeding 1 1/2″ in width.


AWI Casework Design Series - Base Cabinets example

The image above is just a small sample of the types of standard cabinets that are available to reference in the CDS. I took the above two images from the 2009 edition of the AWI Standards book that we have in the office, and there are approximately 20 pages worth of typical cabinet designs available from which to choose. If for some reason the cabinet you are looking for doesn’t exist as a typical standard, all you do is choose the cabinet that matches most closely, and add the letter “M” (for “modified”) to the end of the cabinet designation.

I am a big fan of using and referencing AWI standards; it makes sure that the millwork shop that is pricing or building our cabinets knows exactly to which standard they will be held. There are three classifications of grades associated with these standards and just by specifying the grade, you can ensure the level of standard that you expect. The grades are:

ECONOMY GRADE: (which we rarely use) This specification indicates that you are expecting the most basic and minimum of all aspects of cabinet construction. This can be as simple as butt construction with painted particle board members and is typically reserved for woodwork that is not in public view.

CUSTOM GRADE: Typically specified for and adequately covers most high-quality architectural woodwork, providing a well-defined degree of control over a project’s quality of materials, workmanship, or installation.

PREMIUM GRADE: Typically specified for use in those areas of a project where the highest level of quality, materials, workmanship, and installation is required. This grade calls for an upgrade in the thickness of the members, the quality of the frame construction, dovetail boxes, and how the wood veneer is laid up among many other things.

As a typical rule of thumb, we typically call for Premium Grade on all of our projects.

(all the following images can be selected, and they will open in new window at a much larger scale)

Kitchen Millwork before

To show how we are going to start implementing the CDS, I thought I would take a look at some before and after images of cabinet drawings that show up in our interior elevations. These particular elevations are taken from the cabin project we are currently working on – and it is my intention that this set of drawings will become the gold standard in our office and the basis to which all other sets of construction drawings will be measured.

We always design and draw in the cabinetry in our interior elevations.While we could theoretically dimension the cabinets in our plans, the vertical control dimensions can only show up in elevation. The kitchen elevation above is delineated clearly enough for any competent millwork shop to accurately build our design … but we think it could be better.

Kitchen Millwork after AWI Casework Design Series tags

Enter the CDS. Now we don’t have to dimensionally break down every grouping of cabinets in order to convey sizing, nor do we have to cut a couple of pages of cabinet sections. Each cabinet has the cabinet type designated (i.e. 301M as seen in the upper left-hand corner of the drawing above) and the appropriate width, height and depth.

Since we use Revit in our office, each of these cabinets can be a standard within our cabinet family, and as a result, they will be “smart” drawings. This means that I don’t have to add the dimensions of each cabinet to the tag AND I can create a millwork schedule that will self-populate should I choose to do.

I should state for the record that these millwork drawings are not complete and ready for issue – these are simply the drawings that were submitted for my review. There are some small changes that need to be made but on the whole, I am very enthused with graphically how these are turning out, as well as encouraged by the overall level of quality control we will be able to implement across our small office.

Powder Bathroom millwork before

Just as an example of how the millwork in another type of room could benefit from this system – the humble ‘Powder Toilet’. We already endeavor to delineate the actual tile patterns as well as drawing in the actual plumbing fixtures – again, these drawings could function perfectly well to any competent millwork shop … but this is about making things better, right?

Powder Bathroom Millwork after AWI Casework Design Series tags

Same drawing, just with the most recent redline comments added, along with the appropriate CDS designation. This system also gives us the opportunity to add a tag line at the bottom to further clarify some unique feature to each individual cabinet. For instance, I could add a roll-out shelf to the sink cabinet as a modification to the base family. All I would add is the line, “Roll-Out Shelf” and I would be covered. Again, since these are smart drawings, this modifier would show up in a millwork schedule under a “Notes” section. There really shouldn’t be any confusion between the design and intent we are looking to achieve as an office, and the product the millwork contractor is building.

There are still some items we need to work through – but those have more to do with our understanding of the CDS system than our ability to implement them into our drawings. For example, in our more modern projects, we use a lot of full overlay frameless cabinets. Do I dimension the depth to my box frame, or to the field applied trim piece – giving me a finished dimension? One would define the finished depth, while the other could define the box depth for shop fabrication purposes.

We also run the risk of working with a millwork contractor that is unfamiliar with AWI standards. Unlikely but if that did happen, and they weren’t willing to get up to speed, I’m not sure I would want to work with that millwork contractor anyways.

At any rate, you can get a feel for the amount of effort we put into the drawings and I think this latest modification has nothing but upside to it.

This is the 5th article I’ve written on the importance of architectural drawings, and as I write more and more of them, they seem to get more and more specific. If you would like to see all the articles in this series, just follow the links below:

KHouse Modern Graphic Standards Floor Plan

Graphic Standards (Part 1) – a look at how an architect draws, the construction drawings of an architect and how they convey more information than just how to build something. This article focuses mostly on plans and the symbols and keys used to send the reader to the appropriate location.


Wood Siding Vent Detail - Architectural Graphics Standards

Graphic Standards (Part 2) – the continuation (obviously) of the Graphic Standards Part 1 post, but we continue with a close up look at interior elevations and details.


Modern Cabin Elevations Drawings Bob Borson

Trying New Things – shadows on construction drawings? What sort of idiot would do that? (thumbs pointing at my chest) This guy … and I have a good reason for doing it regardless of what you old-timers think.


Modern House Drawings Bob Borson A501

The Cabin Project Technical Drawings – this might actually be the motherlode of all architectural drawing posts. I show what each sort of sheet looks like in our drawings (typical floor plan sheet, Exterior Elevation sheet, Wall Section Sheet, and Detail sheet). Beware … only for the nerdiest among you.

I also need to take a minute to reiterate just how happy I am that it was someone else in my office who brought this cabinetry idea to me to discuss. It’s easy for me to preach to the converted here on Life of an Architect, and another thing all-together to have the fruits of my labor manifest itself with the people who work with me. It just so happens that all the projects that I have shown here on site over the last 3 years, have involved Ryan Thomason in one form or another. Ryan and I have collaborated on many projects, including the KHouse Modern and my current Cabin project. Ryan has drawn just about all the technical drawings and I am happy to say that he has drunk the Kool-Aid and cares as much as I do about how our drawings look. I was perfectly content to maintain the status quo on our cabinet drawings, but it was Ryan who saw the opportunity for improvement.

For all of you who read this site who think that the only thing that matters is the white-paper design work, you couldn’t be more wrong. These projects are only as good as the execution, and Ryan is proof that paying attention to the little things pay huge dividends. He is a valued member of our office and he is the guy I want working on my projects. That’s what we should all be striving for … to be the guy that people want working on their projects.

Happy drafting,

Bob-AIA scale figure


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  • Ro

    nice but your website is not easy to scroll up and down maybe it is because there are too many graphics on one single page

  • Joep van Os

    Hi, do you use Revit to design a 3D model that generates 2D drawings? Or are all above examples 2D drawings that aren’t connected to a 3D model?

    Last 1,5 year I used Sketchup Pro to make 3D models of my house designs. Worked great to generate 2D drawings out of the 3D models, but the graphic standard wasn’t good enough. I highly appreciate my drawings to be clean and very good readable for contractors etc. I’m back to my old Vectorworks license, for me, the ultimate software to make hand drawn look-a-like-drawings in 2D.

    Good luck, a fellow Dutch architect, Joep.

  • M

    I applaud you for continually looking for ways to improve your drawings.


    The AWI/CDS drawing is a generic drawing – what information does referencing it provide the contractor that your interior elevation doesn’t already?

    I think this is complicating things. Now you have to spend time finding the accompanying AWI/CDS drawing, insert the tag on the drawing, edit it, etc. Then this all has to be double checked in final QCR. By adding this reference, you’re also asking the contractor and sub-contractor to reference another drawing, when in fact your drawing does all that is needed and more.

    I look for clarity in a drawing. When I see each cabinet dimensioned, it is easier to read then trying to decipher the tag. The AWI/CDS drawings are useful references as to the types of cabinets available, but they’re generic drawings – your drawings still need to fully note and dimension all of the components.

    We almost always request shop drawings, and they always fully dimension each component. I think it makes it easier to review the shop drawings if we dimension each component on our drawings.

    Also, the tag text size appears pretty small, something that would be hard to read on a half size set.

    • I should point out (again, but not your fault) that these are families built in Revit so by choosing the cabinet, the tag comes with it. If it is elevated right, the tag will be right. Also, the AWI CDS drawings are tied to a level standard, something that is not fully articulated in a 2D elevation.

      As a side point, if contractors are working from half size drawings, they deserve whatever problems come there way from not being able to read a tag. In fact, if the contractor told me he was working from half size drawings as part of a conversation around a mistake that was made due to the legibility of the tag, I think I would literally laugh in their face and tell them to move on.

  • Wade

    I haven’t had a chance to read all of the comments, but another thing that gets overlooked are the scribes (fillers) at the inside corners of casework and at the end of a run of cabinets. How does your office handle these conditions?

    • You are asking an excellent question … but I don’t have a reasonable answer for you. Ryan and I have been talking about how we can systematically deal with the automation benefits associated with using a program like Revit while taking in to consideration the uniqueness of the cabinets that will require scribes. We are currently looking at adding some boilerplate notes to our legend key that require the addition of scribes (sort of a “if this, then that” sort of thing)

      • Wade

        Good idea. I ask because I have seen on past projects where the Contractor will use 3″ scribes and they look terrible.

        • FYI – the standard associated with AWI restricts the scribes to a maximum width of 1.5″

  • Ian Toner

    So, if the tags tell me the dimensions of the casework, why is it still dimensioned in the elevations? Same goes for the description–if I have a tag and the cabinet face has a hatch, why do I still label the cabinet “wood veneer cabinet”? Do you schedule the cabinets?

    Also, do you do a room finish schedule? If so, then why label the wall finish in the elevations?

    This noting on the plan as well as in the tags/schedules seems like a great opportunity for conflicts.

    Thanks for these posts–they are always interesting and generate interesting comments!

    • since this is done in Revit, there are no errors on the redundancy. We intentionally include a certain level of redundancy on purpose (call it “redundant redundancy) because these are residential projects and having a complete set of drawings on the job site is a miracle in and of itself.

      We also used to dimension every single cabinet – now we can just do them in groups (because other people reference these dimension in addition to the cabinet maker).

  • Kyle B

    Great post Bob. We emailed a link to this around our office and hopefully it will spark some change in the way we do our millwork elevations. I noticed your kitchen countertop is at 39″ and then your uppers are 29″ above that. Is your client just super tall or do you have a really slick reason for doing that? (I’m hoping the latter).

    • client preference – we have a 6’4″ design criteria and the client specifically asked for both dimensions.

      I’ll probably have to do a follow up at some point to this post – we are discovering a lot of intrinsic challenges on how we need to label and clarify certain dimensional clearances (i.e. do you include scribe tolerances in the overall, or just the specific cabinet) At a certain point, the automated portions get further and further diminished and we potentially lose what makes this system attractive in the first place.

  • Randy Cole

    My work is in healthcare projects, and we’ve used Revit and the CDS standards for a few years now. I like how you’re tagging the components; I imagine you have your library set up in the same fashion (i.e. 302-303012 or something like that) so that when you’re designing you know what you’re placing in the model. Our own library uses a specific tag (i.e. u12) to call out a specific cabinet, and then we have a legend on the sheet that gives the dimensions of that upper cabinet (Revit is great at legends too). My question is this: did the rotated square tag format you’re showing come from AWI, or is that a creation of your office? Our own method makes things consistent over time WITHIN our office, but has no relationship to what others in the field are doing. It would be nice to be on the same page with others and I’m sure it would make things easier for the millwork houses.

  • Brian Payne

    Great post. For those that are skeptical of the CDS system, I can say from experience that CDS + Revit has been a huge part of the increase in both consistency and efficiency at several firms I have worked at. The feedback from mill workers has been extremely positive.

    • That is terrific news to hear. We are implementing this system because we think it’s a good idea, we’re just hopeful that our millwork contractors will agree. SInce most of our work is residential, we are guessing a bit at the familiarity of AWI and the CDS system to these individuals.

  • Michele Grace Hottel

    The most interior elevations I ever drew were while I was at Marc Appleton’s office and then at Lewin Wertheimer’s (who started his own office after working for Marc for many years) mostly because of the budgets and type of residential work they do (big as far as SoCal standards, greater than 5,000 sq ft and very expensive). All 1/2″ scale, hand drawn, all of the tilework and cabinetry and molding on sheets and sheets of drawings, but when you lok at the final projects, it all makes sense.

    • that pretty much is our standard – we elevate everything and show every trim profile. The only difference would be that our interior elevations are at 3/8″ scale. They used to be 1/2″ but I modified that intentionally so that the contractor couldn’t scale them on site with their tape measure.

  • Gene

    Good employees and bosses willing to share credit with them is the key to any successful office.
    I like the clarity and completeness of your drawings. I only have a couple comments, and since they are free that is what they are worth.
    Looking at Elevations 14 & 13; I don’t know how smart your AWI keys are, but I think it would be better to key the cabinets either in section or elevation whichever you want as a standard. I know clients and bosses can and do change their minds. When this happens keying in one place assures that there will not be a conflict if ALL key changes are not picked up. This would apply to most noting especially when drawings are near each other. Don’t identify everything everyplace in order to keep drawings more simple.
    The advent of computers has made it easy to cut and paste notes to one’s heart content, but this doesn’t make the drawings better. When someone had to do all these notes by hand they figured out how to convey the information in the simplest way. Not so much for clarity, but because of time and cost.
    As a tease. Is the first elevation 14 the way the architect wants the tiles all nicely lined up and centered, and the second Elevation 14 as done with tiles installed so the tile guy only has to cut tiles on one side? 😉
    Another drawing dilemma coming. I don’t mind the shadows, but the other day when at the printers they had a display of a Cover Sheet in color and in big letters advertising that ALL prints B&W or COLOR are the same price.

    • You have touched on a subject that we have discussed in length – actually, this comment was started and I took a break to discuss your comments with Ryan (funny how that works, isn’t it?). The good news is that by using smart tags in Revit, I don’t have to worry about cut and paste errors, or making changes and losing track of all the revisions that have to be made. However … there are instances when we draw something in 2D on top of our smart drawings that is not reflected consistently. For example – shelves within cabinets. In elevation, interior shelves shoe up as a dashed line, and I might want three in a particular cabinet. Unless my cabinet family has three shelves in it, any cross sections I cut through that cabinet will not show those shelves. Hello conflict.

      In the past, we would not show cross sections through millwork in our interior elevations, instead we would use a profile line and indicate the outline of that cabinet. If we went back to this system, not only would we eliminate the redundancy of tags, we would also eliminate the possible conflicts that show up when we add 2D linework on top of 3D objects.

      It’s a change that we will be making – I appreciate you bringing it up for discussion.

      • Gene

        KISS is always a good rule. I’ll put 2 cents on the cuff.

      • Ian Toner

        If you really want to, you can model those shelves in the families and have the dashed lines show up with them. Looks like you’ve got the skills in your office to figure it out.

        • we’ve talked about it – we’ll see where it goes. The conversation went something like this:

          Bob – “Why don’t you model the shelves and put them into the Revit Family?”
          Ryan – “Well, I could but I would have to ….” (stopped listening to Ryan)

  • Mark Mc Swain

    Ok, a brief precis: I list 8 architectural firms and two cabinet companies on my resume, along with my own contracting firm (which did a bunch of TI work among other things).
    Means I’ve seen some cabinetry (more formally, casework) drawings–and the boxes, too.
    I’ve yet to see any casework drawings match, other than within a given office or firm. Does not mean those people are wrong, other than that the biz has failed to recognize a given standard.
    Curiously, none of the cabinet builders I’ve worked with/for used CDS (would have solved many problems, had they done so, though).

    This is something that has always frustrated me. Every one of the cabinet outfits will insist (and with good reason) redraw cabinetry layouts. Which is a giant pain when it comes to shop drawings–either making them or reviewing them.

    Perhaps Revit will help get us to some sort of standardization. They need to find a way to change the Wall attachment to be a Line attachment model to ease placement, though.

    What would be nice would be if our educational curricula could squeeze a college hour or three into teaching about casework as a discipline–but I’m not holding my breath for that.

    So, I applaud your use of a standard.

    • Kerry Hogue

      when our firm developed casework standards to use in healthcare projects years, we solicited input from the U.S. top casework companies so that our standards would meet industry standards.
      we have found that when developing standards for use on your documents, that getting input from the industry top companies for the respective systems gives your documents credibility, and knowledge that they meet requirements of the sub trades.

      • so what you are saying is that we should feel pretty good about what we are trying to accomplish. Truth be told, we have always referenced the AWI manual for reference and detailing, but we simply pulled out the details we liked, redrew them, and then made them a part of our construction documents. With this new system, our goal is to streamline the architectural drafting part, reference a widely known and accepted standard, all in an effort to provide clearer information. Since we are using this particular project as our test case, we will sit down with some of the better millwork shops we work with (both locally and in other states just to avoid regional preference) and get input as to whether we are on the right track and how we can improve. The real moving part to this is getting the families properly built in Revit so that we aren’t reinventing the wheel from job to job and that the less knowledgeable staff can work with confidence.

        We’ll see how all that goes …

        • Kerry Hogue

          Revit Families. you could a couple kabillion posts on that one.

          • someone could, but I probably couldn’t.

          • TX Architect in LA

            Functional or dysfunctional? What I find is that what is lacking is basic “drafting” skills and understanding what needs to be on the drawings. Kerry, That skill was taught to us there at your firm through the true mentor-ship that we received. The Revit issue has distanced the Mentor from the Intern. The mentor may not understand the full capability of what it can do.

          • there is no question that there is a gap between the “intern” and the mentor where Revit is concerned but the solution to that is the same as almost all things – communication and collaboration. I rarely just tell someone to do something, and I never give my reason as “because I said so”. Because I am known for working in this manner, that is why it is not uncommon that the people I work with (and who technically work for me) are the ones to initiate solutions. I can add my critical thinking and experience to the conversation, and together we can discuss what opportunities lay before us.

    • Thanks Mark – I appreciate that. I am well aware of the potential growing pains we have lined up for us but unless we decide to take this on, I’m not sure how we can continue moving forward and maintain the expectations we have fought for so long to create. I’m quite sure (depending on the interest this post creates) that a follow up would be in order to check in on the development and implementation.