Tag Archives: Shaker cabinets

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



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.



Our third calendar year!

It’s 2014, and … oh, man … that means our kitchen renovation has spanned three calendar years! How can that be? We must be the slowest renovators on Earth. We began in September of 2012. This blog debuted in November, 2012. I had swell plans for commemorating those anniversaries, but somehow the dates slid past the Queen of Procrastination, and then it was too late. This entire project feels like that much of the time. But then I look at photos of where we started and I realize how far we’ve come:

kitchen corner

Fortunately for Eric and me, the company we work for closes over the holidays. We’ve had 16 wonderful, carefree days off, and if that’s not a holiday blessing, I don’t know what is. We’ve plugged away on kitchen details every day, at a pace that I’d call “pre-retirement.” And it feels good.

What have we accomplished? We have DOORS on all the cabinets! This no small feat, because every door is handcrafted and every single one needed special tweaking and adjusting. I love walking into the kitchen and being surrounded by white Shaker cabinets!

drawers next to stove

I’ve always wanted one of those hidey-holes under the sink for my sponges … and now I have one.

sponge drawer under sink

My favorite cabinet front is this little door under the sink, with its graceful legs and recessed toe-kick. (The rest of the cabinets have no toe-kick, typical of Craftsman style.) Is that cute, or what? I love the way it sets off the sink and faucet.

sink cabinet with legs and toekick

Lazy Susan’s doors rotate with the shelves. We elected to install oval brushed nickel knobs here because latches would be a hassle. I just want to grab it and spin, like on Wheel of Fortune. Lazy Susan has made Eric work hard: The shelves have required a lot of adjustment to spin smoothly, and even the pole itself dislodged! @#$%!!!! It’s possible I’ve overloaded her … but I refuse to give her a break.

Lazy Susan cabinet

Skinny Sally is so thin that she can’t carry off the Shaker look, so she wears a plain panel. Her neighbors tease her and call her Plain Jane, but she’s beautiful on the inside. And she has a great personality.

slim cabinet next to stove

To the right of my handsome hunk of a dishwasher is a quirky angled cabinet. As you can see, the door doesn’t fit properly—it had the audacity to warp. There’s no place to attach a latch because of the angle, so this one also has a knob and a magnetic closure. Eric’s going to remake this door, but for now it keeps the fur kids from pilfering their food supplies.

angled cabinet next to dishwasher

Lastly, we have the narrow bank of drawers to the left of the stove. Eric’s currently building the drawer fronts and I just finished polyurethaning the drawer boxes. This cabinet is not permanently attached to the wall in case we (or the next owners) want to remove it to accommodate a larger refrigerator. I would miss it, though … lots of storage space!

black cat and drawers next to stove

We’ve also painted and installed base molding all around, and patched, sanded, painted, and paneled some awkward transitions from bead board to plaster to countertop. I particularly admired Eric’s ingenuity when he glued bead board to the chimney surface.

bracing bead board while gluing

I have one more cabinet to paint, dozens of finish nail holes to fill, then I’ll tile the backsplashes. And—oh yeah—I keep forgetting the dang doors and the window trim. But, you can see the list is getting shorter! I can almost guarantee we won’t be working on the kitchen in 2015.


The painter’s waltz

A few weeks ago, you’ll recall, I was bemoaning the results I was getting from my paint. No matter how careful I was, it was sticky and draggy. Mixing in a paint additive didn’t really help much (if at all). I was desperately disappointed with the finish. After all, this paint is going to cover a lot of our kitchen. People WILL notice. WE will notice.

It’s not that I’m a perfectionist. I’m more of a high-expectationist. I know I can’t achieve a factory finish because I’m not using a sprayer or baking it on. But I wanted it to be smooth, and smooth it was not. Then, in the depths of my despair—This Old House to the rescue! I chanced to be watching an episode where the guys were evaluating cabinet finishes for a high-end kitchen. They decided to go with the one that was hand-painted: “Look, you can see the brush strokes! You know this has been hand crafted.” What?? Brush strokes are good? Even desirable? Hey, if a few brush strokes are good enough for Norm Abram, that changes everything. I had been pardoned.

So I consulted the TOH website for advice about paint. I needed something that flowed better, more like oil-based enamel.  Why not just use enamel? It’s winter. Drying time would take forever, and we have very limited space to lay pieces out to dry. Also, I didn’t want the clean-up mess. This is a big painting project, so there’s going to be a lot of clean-up for weeks to come.  TOH recommended a few brands, one of which was Benjamin Moore’s Advance, according to their website, a “100% alkyd formula water-dispersible alkyd, developed with proprietary new resins that keep VOCs low even after tinting.  It flows and levels like a traditional alkyd with the extended open-time required to achieve high-end finishes.” I didn’t even know what an alkyd formula was, but thought I heard angels singing. Sounded ideal. And expensive.

Advance Halo

Lots of stores in our area carry Benjamin Moore paint. Do you suppose any of them sell the Advance line? Heck, no! Off we went to north Seattle … and home we came, proud owners of a $52 can of BM Advance in Glacier White, and two adorable little mohair rollers.

Did it make a difference? Holy cow … YES. Sometimes you do get what you pay for.

If I ever worried how the Shaker-style doors would turn out, this upper-cabinet door frame (which will hold a glass panel) shows what an awesome job Eric is doing. They are perfect—it’s almost a shame to paint them. (By now, you know that Eric is the secret sauce that makes this renovation possible. Without his talent and diligence, none of this would be happening. I would be reduced to haunting various Home Depots, hoping to run into the crew from “Kitchen Crashers.”)

Cabinet door detail

Down in the shop, Eric created mounds and mounds of fluffy shavings with the router. This stuff is weightless, like a handful of wooden feathers! It’s everywhere, including on our wine collection. It must be good for something … if only we had time to think of what that might be.

feathers and wine

Back upstairs … I enjoy painting; it’s almost a meditative thing. But all the prep, well … it’s just plain tedious. Sand-prime, sand-prime, paint-paint, repeat. Sand-prime, sand-prime, paint-paint, repeat. Got it? It’s a waltz. And, like dancing, it can be physically demanding. Lots of bending and reaching, holding awkward poses and my breath as I roll on the paint, then following with a light brush stroke, up and back, following the construction of the door: vertical on the stiles, horizontal on the rails. Mopping up the edges with a little foam brush to prevent drips. Oh, my aching back! I can break a sweat standing in one place. It’s like working at a ballet barre … but with more comfortable shoes.

And did I mention? My Kit-Cat paint room has expanded to take over the entire kitchen. The doors are big, and the Kit-Cat Room can barely accommodate two of three. It’s the attack of the zombie doors! Eric has simultaneously begun construction of another cabinet across the room (more on that in a future post). I mean, who could function in this chaos? We sometimes try to restore order before we go to bed, but when we wake up, the zombie doors have left it looking like this (what this photo doesn’t show is the ever-present boxer standing right where we need to walk):

kitchen chaos

The doors must cure for several days before we can deliver them to the glazers. (We figured, let someone else cut and break the expensive glass.) Patience. In about a week, I should have something gorgeous for show-and-tell.

Norm Abram would be pleased.