The cabinet industry lost a quiet but significant presence last
month with the passage of a gifted and dedicated cabinet maker
whose life and death are worth far more than just a routine
John Achey, the founder of Plain & Fancy Custom Cabinetry
and an important influence in the cabinet trade for several
decades, died in mid-June, at 69.
Achey, no doubt, would be embarrassed by reading a tribute like
this. Soft-spoken, humble, unassuming, he was never one who’d be
comfortable with a spotlight aimed his way. He was, you see, all
about unpretentious, understated substance. Nothing fancy. Nothing
loud. Just an honest, quiet, hard-working guy from small-town
Pennsylvania who loved making cabinetry and made the best cabinetry
he knew how. That was Achey.
His family, in a statement released shortly after his death, hit
it on the head.
Achey, they said, exemplified the “plain” in Plain & Fancy.
Plainspoken, plain dealing and just plain decent.
There was more to it, of course.
John Achey epitomized, in many ways, the old-school cabinet
maker. A guy who was driven by a passion for the craft and a sense
of pride in the product. A guy who was more comfortable with
sawdust on his clothing than a suit on his back. A throwback to the
days when the owners of cabinet companies spent their time making
the product and sweating the details making sure the cuts were
precise, the joinery was stable, the finish was consistent, the
final product looked and felt just right.
Achey was also the last guy around who’d acknowledge that as a
cabinet maker and industry presence he was anything special.
But that, of course, simply wasn’t the case.
Beyond his simple, quiet persona, Achey, in reality, was a
skilled cabinet industry innovator whose vision, dedication and
sense of craftsmanship were not only instrumental in building Plain
& Fancy into one of the country’s premier manufacturers, but in
defining and symbolizing the custom cabinet trade itself.
Achey, like countless others, founded his business in a garage
in eastern Pennsylvania a region deeply rooted in fine cabinet
Like similar innovators, Achey helped shape the cabinet industry
in the days when there was still a sharp distinction between custom
and stock cabinetry, when semi-custom cabinets had yet to become
part of the industry’s everyday lexicon, when steel and job-site
products still dominated the domestic cabinet landscape.
Working quietly along with others, Achey did nothing less than
help revolutionize the American kitchen, creating new concepts
along with new products, slowly transforming consumer expectations,
fueling the industry’s growth, raising the bar for others.
Achey, and others like him, introduced wood cabinetry in a
meaningful way into the modern kitchen, dramatically broadening
existing boundaries for design and construction, cementing the role
of the cabinet as the cornerstone of the kitchen, helping the
industry in a fast, dramatic ascent from an awkward adolescence.
The products that flowed from the shops and factories of companies
like Plain & Fancy challenged outdated notions of how cabinets
should be built, what they should look like, how they should
function. Achey, and others like him, pioneered the development of
new types of cabinet features and accessories, adding a new level
of function to the kitchen and expanding its appeal to the
He helped bring unique new details and upscale styling to the
cabinet exterior, adding an aesthetic dimension to what, until
then, had been only a primitive utilitarianism. Inside the cabinet,
he helped develop storage options and interior fittings, upgraded
the construction, experimented with new materials and finishes,
pushed the envelope when it came to the use of functional hardware.
Achey was also one of the first custom manufacturers to embrace the
use of high-grade particleboard in a custom cabinet, in an effort
to bring the price of his cabinetry into the reach of more
His legacy will be the countless cabinets the company produced
that are still in American homes. His legacy will be the thriving
business he placed in his family’s hands. His legacy will be the
kind of quiet, sustained hands-on brilliance that Achey like the
true cabinet maker he was demonstrated, right to the end, in a
business that has become increasingly reliant on volume, speed,
technology and the assembly of pre-manufactured components.
The cabinet industry will be just a bit darker from now on minus
Achey’s day-to-day presence. It’s no doubt a whole lot brighter
because of all that he did and all that he was.