Tag Archives: glass cabinet doors

5 years later: the kitchen project revisited

When last October rolled around, I thought about how I’d been writing this blog for four–oops, five years. Sporadically, sometimes. (I even began this post way back then.) I started blogging when Eric and I decided to renovate our kitchen. Remember that? Ever wonder how the kitchen’s holding up after five years of use? No? Well, you’re about to find out.

“If there’s anything you don’t want the world to know about in our kitchen,” I warned Eric, “fix it now, or it’ll be in the blog.” My threat elicited no response. So here we go, warts and all.

This kitchen has been lived in a lot. Forty individual feet (eight cats, one dog, and two humans) tramp through it many times daily, in all weather. We cook a lot. The critters are messy eaters. We accumulate too much stuff. We fail to put things away. We are not perfect, and we are not minimalists. This is real life.

Old kitchen needs remodel.

This is where we started in 2012.

Remodeled bungalow kitchen

This is what we have today.

After five years, what’s working well?

Quartz countertops. Best decision I made on the whole project! They are perfect and indestructible. Easy to clean, hard to hurt. And when they’re not clean, the subtly mottled black color of Caesarstone “Raven” hides a multitude of sins.

closeup of quartz counter

Caesarstone quartz in Raven, just after installation.

Linoleum flooring. Real linoleum, not vinyl! Made of natural, fully biodegradable materials. Soft and comfy underfoot. It’s exactly the right look for this Craftsman bungalow. And the classic gray marbled pattern hides, yes, a multitude of sins. The only problem we’ve encountered was our own fault: For a long time, Duke had a rubber placemat under his food and water dishes to catch the inevitable mess. But Duke drinks like a moose drooling in the swamp. Water collected under the mat, causing the linoleum to discolor and roughen. Do not let water sit around on linoleum!

Boxer and cat on new linoleum

We looked so young back then! And so did the cabinets.

Stains from water on linoleum

The linoleum has been stained and damaged by water.

The glass-front cabinets. Eric built new face frames and glass doors for this original feature, and we splurged on wavy “antique” glass. The original doors were wood. The original shelves (these are actually shelves with doors on them, not typical cabinet boxes) are so sturdy that they hold all of my super-heavy Fiestaware and our Seattle-sized coffee mug collection (of which we regularly use maybe eight).

finished counters

We splurged on wavy glass. No backsplash at this point.

White Shaker cabinets and black quartz counters

The same view today.

The original pantry cabinet. I didn’t do much other than clean, strip, and paint Old Mother Hubbard, who holds much of our food and cooking supplies. Like the glass cabinets, I’m happy we preserved this original feature, which, back in the day, was a cold storage cabinet, vented to the outside.

Removing paint from old cabinet door.

Refinishing the tall pantry door.

Tall pantry cabinet in Craftsman bunglaow kitchen.

Old Mother Hubbard today.

Eric’s wonderful cabinets. Eric hand-crafted all of the other cabinets for the kitchen. We learned a lot about cabinetmaking, finishes, paints, hardware choices, and how dang long it takes to DIY your own kitchen. We had professional help with wiring, plumbing, and flooring, but the rest we did ourselves. The only design change I’d make would be to combine the two drawers over the pet food bins into one wide drawer. I’d gain about six inches of space. It never occurred to me in the design stage.

The base cabinets as they were being built.

The cabinet hardware. I wanted to keep the look of the old-fashioned oval spring latches that were on the original upper cabinets. I ordered new ones in brushed nickel, but I didn’t know if they’d last. I’m happy to say, they’re holding up just fine.

Brushed nickel oval cabinet latches

Tougher than I thought!

What didn’t work so well?

Sadly, my vintage sink. I love this sink, saved from the original kitchen … or at least from the 1940s-version kitchen. We had it refinished by Miracle Method, but one guy was training a new guy, and I think they did an inferior job. The moment the warrantee expired, chips began forming, and by now the finish in the bowl is shot. We’ve since learned that some other refinishers don’t guarantee kitchen sinks because they take such a beating. Eric read that refinished kitchen sinks typically last abut five years before they need refinishing. I’ll have this one refinished again, because the alternative—a 30-inch farmhouse sink—would require recutting or replacing the quartz counter and possibly rebuilding the base cabinet. I don’t want to go there. Besides, I really, really love this old sink with its built-in drainboards!

refinished old sink installed

The pristine refinished sink perched on temporary counters.

Refinished sink with chips.

The finish in the bowl is chipping badly.

The bridge faucet. Oh, it works just fine, and I like its slightly steampunk aire, but it’s hard to clean around, and I wish I had a sprayer. If I had it to do over, I’d get one of those big, industrial-looking gooseneck jobs. The caulking is discolored and shrunken, and needs to be replaced already.

brushed nickel bridge faucet

So shiny!

Bridge faucet on antique sink.

Even after a beauty treatment of Soft Scrub and CLR, the stains remain.

Lazy Susan. Susan is so lazy, she needs to be fired. The revolving shelves in this corner base cabinet are attached to a central pole. They haven’t held up under the moderate (I think) weight of the contents. The support pole dislodged at the top and, because the shelves are attached to the door, the whole unit looks cockeyed. Eric wants to remove the inner lazy Susan unit and install two L-shaped shelves that would each support a separate revolving shelf. That means building a new double-hinged door that will open out instead of disappear into the unit as it turns. Rebuilding the innards of an existing corner cabinet sounds awfully awkward to me, but it must be done, because Susan has become a recalcitrant pain in the butt.

Lazy Susan cabinet

Back when Susan was just lazy … now she’s broken.

The wonky cabinet between the stove and fridge still stands, although it’s been missing a rail for some months. Every time I pulled out the towel drawer, the damned thing fell out, and I tossed it in the trash the thousandth time it clattered to the floor. Now the bank of drawers looks gap-toothed. This cabinet warped as it was being constructed, and needs to be completely replaced. Eric didn’t attach it  to the wall in case we bought a wider refrigerator  (our new fridge is the same width). I really need its storage space, so we’re considering replacing the interior with a Rev-a-Shelf unit. That way, Eric would only need to build a new carcass and one front panel—much simpler than constructing all of those drawers. One of these days …

Warped stack of drawers

Functional, but compromised.

The Frigidaire appliances. Won’t buy that brand again! The stove didn’t last more than a few years, and the fridge not much longer. They’ve been replaced with Samsung units that I like much better.

The old pair.

SamSung French door fridge and electric stove.

New Samsung pair.

So, what’s next?

Someday, I hope this project will be a wrap. Maybe 2018 is our year. In addition to Eric needing to reconfigure a couple of cabinets, I still need to paint the doors and window trim. This summer … I promise!

If we get ambitious, we’ll even start Phase 2. We’ll build cabinets to fit on top of the shelf behind the stove and fridge. (The shelf is the posterior of the built-in buffet in the dining room.) This is why we pounced on the glass doors that came out of our neighbor’s house when it flipped. They’re the perfect size! These cabinets will be hard to access, but they’ll be great for seldom-used items or for display. You can never have too much storage.

Finally, can you guess our number-one favorite kitchen item? The island, of course!

Old boxer sleeping on kitchen floor.

Duke, our kitchen island.

Have a fabulous, productive 2018, everyone!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it




Lately I’ve been writing a lot about gardening, as many bloggers are this time of year. The front garden is bursting with spring color, even on a cloudy day.

colorful garden seen from paned window

And moles … why, with six cats, do we still have moles??

mole hill on brick sidewalk

Lacy doesn’t know how to catch a mole, but she knows how to pose for the camera.

Black cat sitting in front of Japanese lantern

But, you’re wondering … what happened to the kitchen project? It went underground for a few weeks. More precisely, Eric developed a hernia, very possibly from running (hard) into the corner of one of the cabinets. (A lesson here: Do not park unfinished cabinets in the middle of the kitchen.) As his symptoms worsened, he could do less and less physical work. Seven weeks ago he had surgery, and believe me, recovering from hernia surgery is no picnic. (I say this never having had hernia surgery … but I’ve witnessed the result, and I know I never want to experience it!) Eric’s getting better every day, and he’ll soon be back to 100%. But the bottom line is, we’ve lost two months of progress on our kitchen renovation.

I’ve had my heart set on celebrating our house’s 100th birthday with a big party in July (August, at the latest), but the reality is, it’s just not going to happen. I can’t deny that I am bummed. (No way are we entertaining before this kitchen’s finished!) This saddens me because a house only turns 100 once, and on the West Coast, relatively few houses are much older than that.

I also can’t deny that I’m partially responsible for our complete lack of progress during this time. At the very least, I coulda, shoulda painted the breakfast room, the ceiling, and all the beadboard. Nothing was stopping me. I just ran out of steam and enthusiasm, and I was distracted by Eric’s distress … and a garden full of weeds. Without Eric working on the kitchen with me, renovation just wasn’t as much fun.

As for the party, there’s always next year, right? It won’t be a 100th birthday party, but it could be a “Happy 2nd Century” party. And with a year’s reprieve (see how I’m talking myself into this?) we’ll have time to paint the exterior and rebuild the side porch! Whew! I’m suddenly so glad I don’t have a July party deadline breathing down my neck anymore! (I know darned well we will be rushing to complete whatever project we’ll be doing at that time … but it won’t—better not—be the kitchen.)

Now that Eric can resume building and installing drawers and there’s no excuse for me not being productive, we’re rededicating ourselves to getting this train back on track. Once again I’m hearing saw-and-sander noises coming from the basement. (I admit this always makes me a little nervous, but Eric’s only come upstairs holding a bleeding body part a couple of times. He uses safety equipment and he does know what he’s doing.) Now he’s actually waiting on me to catch up and apply polyurethane to the drawer boxes.

We can almost see the finish line on this section of cabinets. Most of these drawers and their glides are not yet attached to the cabinet boxes. They’re just sitting there, looking good (like Lacy) … but as soon as I finish finishing them, Eric will magically make it all work. Of course they’ll all have drawer fronts and pulls attached when they’re done, like the one at upper right. But you knew that.

base cabinets with drawer boxes

Turns out, installing the drawers has been a bit of a pain because the drawer fronts are inset (they don’t overlap the frames). The glides are attached to blocks inside the cabinets, and the boxes and fronts have to line up precisely, adjusted for the pressure of the load they will carry. Much tweaking involved. I tend not to watch because it makes me twitchy.

drawers and glides installed in cabinet

Duke points out which drawer will hold his food bin. The cat food—which he likes even better—will be in a similar bin in the next drawer.

Boxer sniffing plastic food bin

Last week I picked up a paintbrush and finished touching up the upper cabinet shelves, which, if you’ll recall, Eric had sanded down, trying to get the doors to fit properly. (This didn’t really work, and we are resigned to straight doors that won’t fit perfectly flush in the warped frame—or is it the other way around?) Finally, I reinstalled my shelf paper—for the third time—and moved our dishes back into their home-with-a-view. This accomplished two things: I got rid of FIVE boxes from the dining room, AND we can once again eat off of our real dishes (b-bye plastic picnic set)! Think we have enough coffee cups and wine glasses? Good grief … it’s just the two of us!

upper cabinets with glass inserts

I love how this cabinet turned out. To paraphrase Woody Allen, “Love is too weak a word for what I feel — I lurve it.”


Man vs. screw: Who will prevail?

Here’s an actual email exchange between a friend and me (my responses in red):

“From what you are relating in your blog, you seem to be living the old saying: “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”!! Surely there must have been some projects that went off without a hitch? Maybe you should devote a blog to those positive projects. Here’s the criteria:

– came in at or under cost. No. I didn’t even know that was possible.
– was completed on time. Are you kidding?
– you did not discover or cause any other problems as a result of the project. Oh come on—this house is 100 years old!!
– the job was NOT more difficult than anticipated. NO. (Duh!)
– everything turned out as expected (or maybe better than expected). Yes—the bathroom really looks nice. The livingroom floor used to.
– (here you add your own) Did not require purchase of expensive new power tools. Uh … no.

Of course, I am assuming that you have actually had some projects that fit the criteria – you have, right? I suppose the front walkway comes close to fitting the criteria, but Eric did come down with serious pneumonia in the middle of that project … so ‘on time’ went out the window.”

My friend’s conclusion: “How depressing!”

No! I thought. It’s not depressing at all! It’s frustrating, aggravating, patience-testing, discouraging, maddening … but it’s not depressing. I know home renovation doesn’t appeal to everyone. In fact, I bet it doesn’t appeal to most people. But to those of us with the vision, it’s a labor of love and a great adventure.

That was so last month. I’ve been stalling this post until I could report the “ta-da!” moment when we installed the upper cabinet’s glass doors. We have been fighting with those doors for three weeks. And counting.

glass doors

Attempt No. 1: We marked and pre-drilled holes for the hinge screws. I carefully supported the doors (rather heavy, with glass in them) while Eric screwed them in. Left and middle doors didn’t fit properly. What the … ? We installed them upside down! On perfectly rectangular doors, why would that make a difference? Read on. Down they came.

Attempt No. 2: The doors fit much better turned right-side-up … except now they have visible ugly screw holes on the edges, which need to be filled. The middle door hung too low and none of the doors would close. The hinge sides seemed to be binding against the shelves. (I should explain that this is not a proper cabinet mounted to the wall. No—these are just stout shelves with three doors on the front! In hindsight, we should have torn it all down and built from scratch, but sentimental me wanted to retain the original 1913 shelves. When Eric built the new doors he discovered that he had to rebuild the face framing as well, because new wood is a different dimension than old wood.) We took the doors down.

old shelves

Eric sanded the hell off the front edges of the shelves. I gritted my teeth because I’d already cleaned the shelves and laid shelf paper twice, and now everything was covered in sanding dust AGAIN. I reprimed and painted the shelf edges, and we rehung the doors. Right door closed nicely. Middle and left doors obstinately popped open. More sanding. Yet they popped open. I am holding off on repainting the shelves. We took the middle door down.

Attempt No. 3 (or was it 33?): We redrilled and rehung the middle door. It’s now straight and level. And it still pops open. Eric determined that the hinge screws are not sunk quite deep enough, and they won’t go in any further. In fact, they are as deep as the hinge will allow them to go. And … they are stripping. The hinges themselves are fine, but the screws are evidently made of pot metal and are crap. Eric cleverly created an impression where the screw meets the wood of the frame, so that when the door closes, the screw head fits into a little custom depression. Did it help? Somewhat. Does the door close completely? No.

hinge problems

This is what happens when you try force a May/December marriage between new construction and an original structure. A straightedge proved that the doors are straight and plumb, but the shelves, and therefore the face frames, are not. I’m not flummoxed by out-of-kilter antique shelves. But THE DOORS MUST CLOSE!

To cheer me up, Eric attached a latch to the well-behaved right door. That’s when I heard the F-bomb explode in the kitchen–never a good sign. The latches are solid brass and not junk … but three of the screws sheared off in the door, under only moderate pressure! Crappy material strikes again!! Now Eric will have to drill them out (somehow!) and I’ll have to patch and repaint the door and hope the latch can be reattached in the very same place and that it will cover the scar. And of course, we’ll buy stainless steel screws to finish the rest of the job.

latch problem

Dejected, we threw in the towel for the night. Will I ever get to show you our beautiful glass doors?

I’m so tired of writing blog posts about how things are not working as we’d hoped. Yes, I cry “uncle!” It’s depressing. We’re beaten … the damned little screws have won.


Doin’ the DIY shuffle: one step forward, two steps back

One step forward

Casey, our electrician paid us another visit this week. By now you know that a Casey visit is always illuminating, and this time was no exception. We now have—OMG—a light over the  kitchen sink! I know, you’ve had a light over the sink all your life, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is, I’ve been living without one for almost thirty years. And now, before old age overtakes me, I can finally see to do dishes (not that I will spend much time doing dishes when we get our new dishwasher). It’s rather strange to stand at the sink in the evening with the light shining right over my head. I feel so … exposed!

ceiling lights

We also have a new wall outlet for our microwave and toaster, which eliminates an extension cord. Pretty fancy, eh? Although I’m concerned that the absence of that extension cord might somehow interfere with the coalescence of cat-hair dust bunnies, which could ultimately affect the formation of hurricanes in the north Atlantic.

When Casey removed the old fixture and cut through the drywall ceiling, and then through the lath and plaster above it, dark, fluffy, ancient insulation floated down over everything. And there, from the ceiling, hung two wires. No junction box, just two wires. (I was not surprised. I have seen this in other rooms.) Boxes? We don’t need no stinkin’ boxes! Needless to say, now we have boxes. Our house is getting safer in small increments.

no box

Two steps back

Months ago, back when we were naively beginning this project, Eric demoed the old white plastic tile that lined our walls and replaced it with beadboard. The beadboard’s all installed and primed, waiting for us to quit banging around and creating dust so that I can apply the finish coat of paint. But, when Casey installed the microwave outlet and wired the new overhead lights to their wall switch, sections of beadboard had to be ripped out to permit access to the wiring. Not a big deal, but we were a little discouraged to undo something that was so close to done. I guess we just weren’t thinking of wiring when that paneling went up. Sigh.

new outlet

Eric and I have been eagerly awaiting the day when the upper cabinet frame would be painted and cured long enough to hang our three beautiful glass doors. Finally, that day had arrived! To give the structure more strength, Eric had replaced the two central vertical pieces that the doors attach to,  but the vertical members at each end of the shelf unit were still in decent shape and firmly attached. However … neither of us had thought about the fact that new wood is not the same dimension as old wood. (We are usually smart enough to catch things like that—really, we are!)  The new frame pieces and doors were nearly 1/8 inch thicker than the original pieces, which made the doors and hinges protrude 1/8 inch beyond the original frame. Dammit! The remaining old frame pieces would have to be replaced, too, to make everything line up flush. Off they came, splintering in protest and popping chunks of my new paint job (and the 100 years of paint it covers) off the woodwork. @#$%^!!!


Eric painstakingly cut and fitted new pieces, difficult because the arched wall on the left side of the cabinet is anything but smooth and square. Now we’re back to fixing plaster damage and repainting, just when I had mopped the inside of the cabinet and was ready to roll out the shelf paper like a welcome mat. Sigh.

During this process we discovered one reason why the paint doesn’t stick to this house. The original cabinet wood is coated in spar varnish—typical of the time period. Of course. Sigh.

However, despite the fallbacks, we are close to making some major progress. Not actually making progress yet, but close to it. Downstairs, where the real magic happens, Eric is assembling drawers: cutting, gluing, dovetailing, and routing up a storm. Any day now, a small army of drawers will come marching up the stairs and install themselves in our base cabinets. That day will mark the halfway point of our DIY cabinetry adventure. When I see drawers (and I will see them long before they’re installed because I’ll  have to sand and finish them), I will know we’ve turned for home.