Old Mother Hubbard gets a makeover

Meet Old Mother Hubbard, the only completely original cabinet remaining in our century-old kitchen.

floor-to-ceiling pantry cabinet

She’s a cold pantry—the kind with screen shelves and outside vents to keep things cool.  Her vents have long since been covered up and the cooling work has been done by a refrigerator for decades … but she’s still a pantry, and I don’t know what I’d do without her. Of course, with the kitchen renovation, she is getting a makeover. It’s the least I can do to show my appreciation.

pantry screen shelves

Poor old Mother Hubbard’s no longer in the shape she used to be. Countless coats of paint over the years have rendered her doors too bulky to shut properly. And inside—well, you can see she could use some nutritional counseling and a good cleansing purge. Some of her innards are out of date, too.

crowded pantry interior

See that little red, white, and blue can of seasoning next to the Pam spray (fourth shelf from top)? That’s “Pleasoning” … and it belonged to my mom. I remember this very can from when I was a kid in Milwaukee. The company address on the can does not include a ZIP code, if that’s any indication of its age (and mine). No, I don’t use it, even though the seasoning hasn’t hardened into a brick—suspicious in itself. I just like thinking about how long it’s been in the family.

Mother Hubbard’s a little skeptical of my good intentions, which one can expect of a centenarian. Everyone, including cabinets, evidently, seems to resist change when they get up there in years. “I’m fine just as I am,” I hear her murmur. “All these coats keep me warm.” “Nonsense,” I reply, as I unscrewed the knob from her tall top door. “You’ll love it. You’ll look and feel 50 years younger, I promise.” As I get out the Jasco stripper, I’m sure I see her tighten her grip on her eight-plus coats of paint.

many coats of apint on door

I haven’t used Jasco for years, and I am concerned about the smell in our kitchen, even with the window open and a fan running. To my surprise, I can barely smell it. I suspect, like many chemical products, it’s been reformulated  to be less stinky … and consequently, less effective. Mother H blushes every time she hears the word “stripper,” but Lacy is up for anything.

black cat on cabinet door

The first application of stripper eats through the current buff and into shell pink, a couple of sky blues, some Pepto-Bismol pink, and sunshine yellow. As I scrape the goo, I try to imagine my kitchen with blue or pink trim and cabinets. “We’re committed now, Mrs. H … you might as well let go of all those old coats!” But the old lady clutches her glad rags even more firmly, daring me to go further.

paint with stripper

stripping first pass

after first stripper application

After the second application of Jasco, I’ve got her down to her skivvies: a crispy, stubborn tan over a shiny, buttermilky white (what many fashionable cabinets were wearing in 1913). Patches of clear fir are showing through, and her edges are looking sharp and square again. But these base coats are resistant. I pictured Mother H as a subject on What Not to Wear. “Oh, Mrs. Hubbard … that’s got to go! No one has worn lead-based enamel since the ’60s!”

seconnd application of stripper

The third application’s the charm, and Mother Hubbard’s beautiful skin—er, wood, is exposed. Almost seems a shame to paint her again. But it would look odd to have two natural fir doors in a room of white painted cabinets. I flip her over and begin exfoliating her back.

door stripped to bare wood

I wanted to wait until Mother Hubbard’s transformation was complete to post this … but she’s taking a little longer than I’d expected (how typical). Every morning I feel like working on the kitchen as I sit at work … but by the time I come home and get dinner, I’m tired and not so much gets done. I still have to strip Mother H’s lower door, sand and paint everything, not to mention tackle her interior liposuction. So, you’ll have to wait a little longer for the big reveal. It’s feeling less like a makeover and more like major surgery. Mother Hubbard is anxious to get it over with.



10 thoughts on “Old Mother Hubbard gets a makeover

  1. Karen B.

    I’m coming over to help if you’re sharing the Starbucks cocoa. I love the fact that there’s a matriarch in the kitchen, willing to be updated and still able to keep the new kids (cupboards) in line.
    How long did that paint removal process take?
    Hope you’re having a great weekend.

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Haha–thanks, Karen! If only people really WOULD show up and work for cocoa!! I’ve been stripping for two weeks (but not every evening during the week). Today I finally can move to the sanding stage! YAY!!

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Lacy told me she wanted to help, but you make a good point: I don’t really know WHO she’s helping. As you know, cats don’t always tell the whole truth!

  2. Stacey

    So much work… and it’s paying off BIG TIME! Love seeing all those layers just melt away and reveal her pretty grains. It’s worth going that extra mile. It will look so beautiful with a fresh, clean finish. I’m so jealous of all your pantry space. This is one of those tedious projects that you just have to take your time on. In the end it will make you so happy every time you open those doors. You’re off to a great start!

    Also, I love how you and Jessica have “helpers” with all your projects. Our cats run like hell from everything we’re doing but yours are so hilarious and curious. They just don’t want to miss a thing!
    SO CUTE!

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Thanks, Stacey! It feels so good to be ALMOST to the end of this project. I can’t wait to see Mother H in her new coat and jewelry!

      I think Lacy and Crème are sisters separated at birth–they look and act so similar. It cracks me up to see Lacy’s twin on the East Coast!

  3. Cathy Lee

    Entertaining and witty writing really made me feel for the old gal as the young whippersnapper kept nipping at her doors. I looked for the Pleasoning, too! Nice job, D’.


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