John McDonald isn’t the first guy to head to Los Angeles at 21, following a shiny dream of being in the film business. He’s not the only one who toiled away in a studio mailroom, or waited tables while writing screenplays. But he just may be the only person who went from being a Hollywood sushi slinger to the owner of a design company listed on INC.’s 500 fastest growing American companies. 

John didn’t get the furniture bug until his early 30s, when he started refinishing vintage pieces for sale. He obviously had the aptitude for woodworking, though, because soon he was selling his own designs at the Melrose Trading Post. He enrolled at Cerritos College to further his woodworking career and was about to take a shop safety class when, alas, he lopped off two fingers. “That was a bit of a setback,” he says dryly. But John is unstoppable, and he was soon running Handmade, his business which focused on custom cabinetry and furniture.

Pretty Smart /  Bethany Nauert
Pretty Smart /  Bethany Nauert

At one of the many West Coast design trade shows he attended, a chance conversation piqued his interest. Someone asked him, “Have you ever thought of doing custom doors for IKEA cabinets?” Hmm.

“The genius with IKEA cabinets it’s all a la carte,” explains John. “You can buy solid boxes, you can buy doors, hardware, and they use Blum hardware, which is the best in the business.” But by buying only the boxes and hardware, and having doors made as one-of-a-kind custom pieces, customers get the look and feel of a truly custom kitchen, at 30 to 40 percent less than it typically costs. Spotting a market, John launched Semihandmade in 2011, with the goal of providing the same craftsmanship and expertise he had with his custom work, but geared specifically to doors for IKEA kitchen cabinets, closets and media cabinets. He worked tirelessly, up to 90 hours a week, even at one point living in his woodshop, sleeping on an IKEA sofa.  

Annabode + Co / Kelli Kroneberger

Gradually, he talked his custom clients into trying the idea of using IKEA cabinet boxes, with custom doors, and word spread. Fast forward to today: 10,000 kitchens, closets and bathrooms have been installed or remodeled using Semihandmade doors. John now has 75 employees at his LA-based company.

“Doors really define the room,” notes John. Designers, contractors and homeowners can choose from 50 options of doors, which are available in a variety of materials, including melamine and real wood veneers, and, for the IKEA Godmorgon bathroom vanity line, reclaimed wood.

Sarah Sherman Samuel /  Tessa Neustadt

What’s next for this constant creator? In addition to opening a brick-and-mortar showroom in Palm Springs, the company has used WeWork, the office-sharing space company, to do mini showroom pop ups in places such as Pasadena, Times Square in New York, Seattle and San Francisco. In 2019, they’ll move their company headquarters to a newly purchased, 30,000 square-foot campus in Monrovia, CA. “I’d like to make Semihandmade into a lifestyle company,” he says. We can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.

To learn more about Semihandmade, visit semihandmadedoors.com.