This is the sixth installment of Hands On, a series of informal posts dedicated to honoring the people, machines, and processes involved in making and manufacturing.

Introducing Carmana Designs 

Carmana Designs, established in 1981, is a family-owned, high-end custom cabinetry and millwork shop located in the Newbold section of South Philadelphia. It was launched by Carmen and Anna Maria Vona, a highly-skilled master cabinetmaker, and an interior designer respectively. This dynamic duo turns their clients’ design dreams into reality.


Carmen learned the craft from Anna Maria’s godfather, Luigi Sammarone. After four years of training, Carmen chose to set out and start a new business. Beginning in a small 5,000 sq. ft. building, Carmana Designs quickly outgrew its location and in 1999, the Vonas purchased a complex at 1715-19 McKean Street. Built in 1912 at the turn of the century, the grand front building was the offices and showroom for the former Abbotts Alderney Dairies and the rear building housed stables for horses that pulled milk delivery carriages. The original cobblestones can still be seen in the floor of Carmana’s shop to this day. Now the 40,000 sq. ft. structure houses Carmana Designs and all of their immense woodworking machinery imported from Italy and Germany. The machinery made things faster and more precise, but did not replace the old-world woodworking techniques where the cabinets were always authentically assembled, finished and installed by hand.

The Process 

Every project begins in the office at the drafting table. Carmen designs every aspect of each job in Microvellum/AutoCAD, a program that relays information to the enormous American-made CNC router in the shop. The CNC precisely cuts out the parts, effectively shaving down production costs and allowing employees  (usually a team of 4-7 at any given time) to work on multiple jobs simultaneously and finish assembling the cabinetry by hand.  From there, the pieces are sanded, assembled, and then taken into the shop’s double downdraft paint booth, which happens to be one of the largest on the East Coast. The piece is sprayed with a unique blend that is tailored to the client, and a proprietary high-gloss urethane sealer is often selected to deeply highlight exotic, natural wood grains. The final leg of the journey is installation, which Carmana Designs often does to ensure that the client is happy with the finished product. 

While nearly 75% of their projects are for commercial use, they are often called in, (sometimes at very short notice) to craft single parts, such as tabletops and wooden legs for various designers. Both wood and corian are used to full effect in the shop and only metal has to be subbed-out to another local Philly manufacturer named Meschino Metal Works. Carmana stops at nothing to fabricate, finish and install authentic, handcrafted, high-end, high-quality custom cabinetry, millwork and case goods.

 Having been in business for over three decades, Carmana Designs has enjoyed the good times and has weathered the bad -- most recently the devastating recession that put many local cabinet shops out of business. Carmana Designs is stronger than ever and proud of its legacy of handcrafting custom cabinetry for generations to come.

Anna Maria, their daughter, and Carmen Vona

Anna Maria, their daughter, and Carmen Vona