Tag Archives: oval cabinet latch

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



Salvage Catz

 Our 80-something neighbor, Tom, used to live two doors down from us in a house he occupied with his family since he was a kid in the 1940s. A couple of years ago, Tom inherited his sister’s “newer” mid-century house across town. He finally sold the family bungalow, which hadn’t been updated since the 1960s and was sorely in need of some TLC. A guy named Jessie bought the house as a flip.


Small brown bungalow needs updating

Tom’s house

Jessie’s attention was diverted to another project, and Tom’s place sat, gutted, sidingless, and sad, for what seemed like forever. Last summer it became a flop house for homeless people and druggies. Over the fall and winter, Jessie’s crew was back at it, thank goodness, and the house was secured and squatter-free at last. Recently we asked the foreman if we could peek inside, and we were thrilled to see what a nice job they’d done. The house retains its early-1900s charm and general floor plan, but with beautiful wood floors, gray and white paint, and a modern but period-appropriate kitchen. Some family will be proud to call it home.

Updated Craftsman bungalow

Jessie’s house

This house not only belonged to Tom (who taught me how to prune my roses), but another family that I recently learned about. A few months ago I read Midnight in Broad Daylight, the biography of Harry Fukuhara, whose family lived in the house before some of them moved back to Hiroshima just before World War II. It’s a fascinating account—I highly recommend it. I was amazed to discover this personal neighborhood connection to the story.

Jessie’s crew made a debris pile in the backyard, which has been slowly disappearing to the dump. And then—Eric spied something interesting: old glass-front cabinet doors with the original brass latches! Eric asked Jessie if we could pilfer their trash, and Jessie was only too happy to let us lighten their dump bill. So, we sauntered down the alley on Sunday to do some pickin’.

A gravel alley behind old houses

I love alleys. You can see all kinds of interesting things.

Along the way we encountered our tux cat, Crosby, out for a stroll with beautiful Dot, our feral friend. Dot, Dash, and Ditto Morse like to hang out in the blackberry thicket across the alley.

Two cats hangin out in the alley

Alley catz Dot and Crosby

A tabby cat looks out from a blackberry thicket

Dot in the blackberry thicket

We salvaged ten windows for their wavy glass—something you pay good money for these days. (We paid about $400 to put “new” old glass in our kitchen cabinets.) Some were glass cabinet doors, and some were the kitchen’s exterior windows. Coincidentally, the kitchen cabinets and trim are pink, ,just as my kitchen once was.

Back of remodeled bungalow

Is there anything interesting in this pile?

Man salvages old windows from debris pile.

Ooh! Windows with wavy glass!

The windows moved into our greenhouse, because, obviously, you never know when you might need a wavy glass window!

I have no idea what we’ll use these windows and doors for … but now a little piece of Tom and Harry’s house belongs to us. Yay!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

Little boxes without topses*

My horoscope for this week:

Your past experiences may help you to see beyond the immediate tasks at hand. You need to use your positive energy to promote more change on the homefront.

So, instead of bemoaning all the things that are going wrong, I’ll focus on what’s going right … and actually, there’s quite a lot. I bet you’re glad to hear that.

I’ll start with the simplest thing: We moved the two bulky base cabinet carcasses back into position. (No. 1 had been up on saw horses in the breakfast room for face frame painting, and No. 2 was in the middle of the kitchen while we fiddle-farted around with the upper cabinet doors.) Just moving them out of the way was such a relief! Suddenly we can maneuver around the kitchen again–it feels almost normal. And we don’t have to stumble over poor Duke and say “‘Scuse me, Duke—MOVE!!” every few minutes. Duke’s happy, the cats are happy, we’re happy … but still far, far from done.

We’re still unsure what’s binding on the upper cabinet doors. It occurred to us that the original left door never closed, either. Hmm … I always attributed that to its ten coats of multicolor paint, but maybe, just maybe … it’s the house!  Eric did some research online and found he’d used too small a bit when he predrilled for the latch screws (he also found plenty of complaints about cheap screws). He couldn’t drill the broken screws out of the doors, so he simply filled the holes and moved the latch slightly higher. It covered the previous holes perfectly .The latches look fabulous. I’m a bit worried that the left and center doors, still wanting to pop open, are putting too much pressure on those little latches, but dang, this small part of the room is looking almost finished! I had to put a few pieces of Fiestaware on the shelves, just to see the effect.


With the “paint room” free once more, I started sanding and polyurethaning the drawer boxes. Stacked in the basement shop, they reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin III lamp.

little boxes without topses


I could look at these sweet dovetail joints all day. Eric did such a beautiful job of constructing them! Here they are, all finished, waiting to have their faces applied … kind of like me in the morning (only smoother and better rested).


TA DA!! Here it is at last, our first functioning drawer, presented by Lacy! Unlike some of our other camera-shy kitties, Lacy loves to pose. She tells me her dream job is to model next to a concept car at the International Auto Show, so I’m helping her assemble a portfolio.

Lacy and drawer

Not to be outdone, Duke wanted to be featured on the blog, too. Even though Eric has to tweak the self-closing drawer glides a little, I’ve already loaded it with silverware. For the first time in months, we won’t have to rifle through boxes in the dining room when we want forks!

Duke and drawer2

*If you’re wondering about the title of this post …

In a cavern, in a canyon,
Excavating for a mine,
Lived a miner, forty-niner
And his daughter, Clementine.
Light she was and like a fairy,
And her shoes were number nine.
Little boxes without topses
Sandals were for Clementine.


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.


Buying the bling

Who doesn’t love opening presents at this time of year (or any time of year)? Santa Claus—you know, the guy in the brown suit who drives a brown truck—has already paid us a few visits. I left the unopened boxes stacked on top of our kitchen-stuff boxes for days, until it dawned on us that perhaps we should open them and check to make sure Santa got our wish list. And he did.

While Eric toiled on the cabinets down in the shop and I held up progress in the Kit-Cat Room, beating the paint into submission, we were mentally down in the brushed nickel weeds, making design decisions. We are going with brushed nickel because it echoes the stainless steel appliances. I like to keep a consistent look when it comes to finishes because it contributes to a unified design.

But wow, what a lot of pieces to consider! Let’s start at the top: we’ll have two light fixtures in the kitchen (a new one over the sink–no more excuses for badly washed dishes … um … especially since we’ll have a dishwasher), and one in the breakfast room, ideally a combo light and fan. I wanted to go with classic semi-flush schoolhouse lights. I started my quest at Rejuvenation Hardware, just to see what I couldn’t afford. Sure enough, they had exactly what I wanted … at $124 apiece. I think not. I found this one locally at LampsPlus:

schoolhouse fixture

At 12 inches, it’s the perfect size for the large room. And best of all, I got them for $39.00 apiece, on sale. Is it solid brass? No. The base is probably made of recycled dog food cans, but it’ll be nine feet in the air, and you will never touch it, so that’ll be our little secret, okay?

I really want to replace the existing fan light in the breakfast room with another fan. Things can get hot in the Kit-Cat Room when the kitties dance the night away. Do you think I could find a schoolhouse light ceiling fan in brushed nickel? For under $440? No. So I’m hoping that the one we ordered from LampsPlus, with a smaller, rounder white glass globe, will blend and at least pass for a half-sibling.

Now, down to eye level. My original cabinet doors featured old-fashioned oval spring-action latches. I loved ’em. I can still remember their satisfying click. Why did I get rid of them? I have no idea, but I’m getting them back. These latches will see a lot of action, so this is no place to cheap out on dog food can metal. These babies are solid brass, and pleasantly hefty.

cabinet latch

Next are the hinges. Our cabinets will have inset doors, meaning the doors and drawers will fit flush inside the face frame openings. The hinges will be exposed, like this:

inset doors

Inset doors are typical of Craftsman kitchens, and an important element of creating our vintage look. Behold—brushed nickel, ball-tipped, full-wrap inset hinges. Aren’t they beautiful?

Ball tip hinge

Last but definitely not least, we need drawer pulls. Lots of them. I already have several in this basic style that I bought years ago, obviously waiting for this day:


Usually I’m most attracted to simple, clean lines, but since I saw the design below, I can’t get it out of my head. It’s slightly more decorative with its reed-and-ribbon pattern, but it’s still clean.

reed and ribbon bin pull

What do you think?  (I admit, this is a thinly disguised excuse to try this fun polling feature.)

Here’s a photo that shows pretty accurately what our white Shaker cabinets with the plain bin pulls would look like (except we’ll have latches, not knobs):

Shaker cabinets with bin pulls

So that’s the kind of jewelry I’m getting for Christmas! And this is just the beginning—soon we’ll be picking out the fancy storage innards for our cabinets! Oooh … I know you can’t wait to read about that. Right??