Cabinets? Cabinets!

New, refaced, or painted, that is the question? Not quite the $264,000 question, but we could see it from here. When facing a kitchen remodel, cabinets can be a significant investment. Apart from appliances, (which is an entirely different discussion) cabinets are likely the most expensive part of a kitchen remodel. It was a decision I spent a lot of time pondering, planning, replanning, calculating and a few sleepless nights of a racing mind.

Our situation was this: the cabinets were custom-built in the 1950s, were very sturdily built, but lacked storage space, counter top and had very plain-flat-faced doors. They were built from birch and were stained a light oak color. We had one 10 foot run of cabinets with a small 6 inch jog at one end where the stove was located. In the middle of the run was the sink leaving very little working counter space.

Over the 15 years we had lived in the house, I had pondered how to dress up the cabinets. I painted the existing knobs, got a great deal on new knobs on eBay, had tried to figure out a way to add moulding to them to dress them up, but never found anything I really felt was worth the money or effort.

In the dreaming/planning stage, I visited with every home improvement cabinet department, some custom cabinet companies, refacing companies, etc., and reviewed all of the options. It was quite overwhelming, so many options! Here is a brief summary of what I found:

New cabinets: this of course if the most appealing option, everyone loves new. But, it comes with a price. After pricing out new cabinets for my space, dream cabinets, we were looking at about $30,000 + counter top and organizing supplies. There are many justifications for going all new and I know a lot of people who have gone that route, but I am pretty frugal and was choking on the $$ just a bit. And then there is the "do it right, or not at all" argument. Well, we had gone the "not at all" route, and there really wasn't much longer we could continue on that path. Was it time to just bite the bullet and do it right?

For couples who are looking at resale, I understand that the kitchen can be the make-or-break in a sale and the investment is warranted. Our house was built by my great-grandparents, my children are the 6th generation of my family to live in the house. At this point, I really can't see selling it outside of the family and looking to cash-in on a resale just isn't in my mindset. That said, our house needs to serve us, my husband and I, as we will likely be here long term.

Reface Cabinets: I researched this a bit, and the changes can be pretty impressive, and the cost can be as much as half of new cabinets. There are a number of options available, cabinets styles, finishes, etc. They place a veneer over your the cabinets and replace the doors. The doors being the most expensive part of that process and I had 20 doors and 8 drawers. Not a single one a standard size. Still a significant investment, but the same old cabinets. Or we could attempt to build our own doors, after all we are pretty handy. We would need to invest in some new tools, but it was doable.

Paint/Stain the existing cabinets: This was the least expensive of the options, the most labor intensive on our part. I have seen both the good and the bad versions of this option. This of course didn't solve the flat-faced cabinet doors. With a number of colors, techniques, theories it is also one of the most flexible/changeable over time.

Decisions, decisions...

One of the beautiful aspects of our house is the dark woodwork and lots of it, and I had envisioned that we could go with dark cabinets to tie things together. In the refinishing of the floor, there was a very dark colored stain which caused us to need to go with a dark floor stain. The thought of dark cabinets in a room with one small window and a dark floor, seemed a little depressing. I had determined that light cabinets were in order. Painting was looking better all the time.

Through a series of conversations, what we decided was a priority at this point in our lives were our girls. Hope, a freshman this coming fall, and Megan an 8th grader we were looking at 4-5 years until they were likely starting to head off on their own. Focusing time and money on family right now seemed like the logical choice, deciding to revisit our kitchen needs after the kids were gone and we had a feel for what we were going to need when it was just the two of us.

And then, I came across this video, which made me think about the potential of our doors: 

I have always loved the look of glass cabinet doors, but my cabinet organizational skills are always not conducive to having transparent doors. Luckily, glass is easily frosted and having done some stained glass work in the past, I knew there were some beautiful options available. Although, when looking at new cabinets, the doors we had liked best and felt fit the vintage of the house, had bead board in the center. The wheels started to turn, maybe there is something to this? We could do this, what did we have to lose?

The Plan

Profile of the trim moulding

Finding the right trim and cutting out the center of the door. I think this just might work. If nothing else, we are committed now, no turning back.

We took a door and decided to give it a shot. I picked up some trim that I thought would work at Lowes making sure the profile would be right to cover our cuts as the video showed, and some quarter round to finished the back side. Here is the moulding we went with: Stain Grade Pine Ply Cap Moulding which was under $5 for an 8 foot length. Remember this is going on the inside of the cut you make in the door.


Corner miterYou will want to miter the corners at a 45° angle like a picture frame, this might take a little trial and error to get just right, so pick up a couple of extra lengths.

Before & with Trim

To secure it all together we opted for another purchase, the Micro Pin nailer. Now there are brad nailers which uses really tiny nails, but the Micro pin is even smaller. Probably a hair smaller than a stick pin, it holds well and the holes are far less visible. We picked ours up at Menards, this is the one we chose: Micro Pin Nailer. We shot in from the top as well as in from the side to make sure it wasn't going anywhere.

Next, we played with glass vs. bead board material for the panel and the quarter round on the back side. I wasn't completely happy with how that quarter round trim looked on the inside and opted to just use the same moulding on the inside as we had on the outside since it really wasn't that much more expensive and made for a nicer finish inside.

AfterAs far as the glass vs. bead board debate, we decided to use the bead board on the upper and base cabinets, but glass on the row of "bonus" cabinets which are smaller cabinets above the upper cabinets.

Pleased with the result we decided to move forward cutting and trimming the remaining doors.

Up next....Prime & Paint!


Doing the goundwork

As we set out to spruce up the kitchen, we had considered a number of things; gutting it and starting over, refacing the cabinets, painting the cabinets, but everything was hinging a bit on the floor. A couple of different people had told us that there was hardwood under the carpet, but no one really could tell us what kind of shape it was in, if there were any major issues, what kind it was, etc. Before I was ready to pull up the carpet, I wanted a plan for if it actually was hardwood, what if it wasn't, and what is the plan if we pull the carpet and there is a major flooring issue?

In any nearly one hundred old house, you don't expect things to be level and square, but we could feel some heaving in the floor just a bit. Squeaks here and there, but the worst spots seemed to be nearly in the center of the room. We pulled a corner of the carpet back and through multiple layers of carpet glue we found hardwood. 2.25" maple to be exact. At least we knew what we were working with now, at least on the edges, but what was lurking beneath the carpet in the center of the floor, eluded us.

Finally, Tom (my husband) decided we would move the table and pull the carpet back and take a peek. About half way through pulling the carpet back, he looks at me and says, "You realize this isn't going back down." Not really a question, but more of a we, "we have reached the point of no return," brace yourself.

So the carpet comes up, and the floor appears intact, no major issues through the span of the flooring. But the finish has darkened with age and the layers of carpet glue were hard to really tell for sure. Next stop, floor sander.

 I had done enough research online to have seen both camps; don't even attempt to do your own floors and the "it really isn't that hard." Being relatively handy, we figured we would give it a shot.

I had researched random orbital floor sanders online and found one nearby to rent. So off we went to collect it. It worked well, but didn't have enough power to eat through the carpet glue. Back to the store and we brought home a drum sander. This did wonders, chewed through the carpet glue and down to raw wood. I couldn't believe ho great it was shaping up.

And then we got to the spot in front of the sink. It had a dark stain, and no amount of sanding was even touching that bad boy, no wood stripper, bleach and a variety of other wood lighteners could make a dent. So we made the decision to go with dark stain and try to blend it in.

Being in the relative early stages of a Pinterest addiction, I started searching for more dark wood floor concepts. And the more I saw, the more I liked. The house has very dark woodwork and we had talked about doing dark wood cabinets, but the floor was destined to be dark.

The first coat of stain went down, and all of a sudden the many blog posts of why you shouldn't sand your own floors came flooding back to me. You could see every little mark from the drum sander and it wasn't pretty. So back to the sander we go!

Sanding, and then sanding some more, and then sanding some more, trying to get it as smooth as possible. Finally, we resorted to an orbital sander, a 6 inch orbital sander. That is a LOT of time on your knees!

So after several days of hard labor, sore aching shoulders, raw knees, we decided to try again. This time, the stain was going down beautifully and we finally could tell that all of the hard work had paid off. It was going to take several coats to get the darkness/richness that we wanted, but the stain was looking good.

This photo is about midway through the staining process and was still wet.

Finally, the floor was starting to take shape. From the monster lurking from deep down below the Berber, to a farmhouse hardwood floor. Flaws of 100 years of love and use, but beautiful nonetheless. Evidence of not just a house, but a home. A home full of love, and life and activity. Floors that my very grandfather crawled across as a child. How could I possibly see anything but love, even through the sore muscles and exhaustion. This is "home."

up next......cabinets! cabinets?


Cooking up a kitchen "refresh"...preface

Over the past couple of years, we had determined that a kitchen remodel/redo/refresh was in order. The house we live it is truly "vintage." Built by my great-grandparents in 1913, it has seen its fair share of history, children, holidays, sorrows and most recently, better days.

We moved in about 16 years ago, knowing we had some work to do. The house had been sitting empty for a few years and definitely needed a little TLC.

The foundation/basement walls showered the floor with debris as you walked by, over the years water had gotten into the basement a number of times and it still held that damp musty smell. The floor as much dirt as it was concrete and I remember as a child being afraid to even venture there. We jacked (read: hired someone to) the house up and put a new basement below, reconfiguring the mechanical room into one corner rather than spread out throughout the basement.

The attic was full of "treasures," insulation not being one of them. So we added insulation and several boxes of mouse poison, both were effective.

We replaced the windows throughout the house, only after a couple of years of going the "tape the plastic and shrink with a hair dryer" route, which was getting old, and was ruining the beautiful woodwork.

We had replaced carpeting, painted every color under the sun, literally, and moved the main bathroom/shower from directly off the kitchen to a more private upstairs location.

And yet the big elephant in the room, the kitchen. It was time to eat the elephant. How do you do that? One bite at a time. 

Click for larger imageThe before: While the home was built in 1913, the kitchen had been remodelled sometime in the 1950's. My father actually helped to build the cabinets. They were of sturdy construction, but had plain Birch plywood doors. The corners of the doors had plenty of "character" marks but were still holding together well, they just weren't particularly attractive.

The hardwood floor had long been carpeted, and when we moved in, we put down a very light colored Berber with plenty of flecks to hide whatever gets tracked in when you live on a farm and the kitchen is the first room you enter into. In the years following I often regretted that choice, given we had two small children consuming hundreds of gallons of Kool-aid.

Click for larger imageThe walls were currently a very bright "ketchup" and "mustard" colors as my daughter Megan had proclaimed. I had selected that theme when the trend was not to be "afraid of color," and I found a couple of chef prints that I liked and pulled the colors from there. I liken it to the 1980s hairstyles and shoulder pads. Just "too much."

A hutch had landed in the kitchen after we swapped some things around in the dining room, and basically just became a home for a lovely collection of clutter and misc. things we didn't quite know where to put them.

You will notice the refrigerator is recessed into the wall. Well, the layout of the kitchen is such that there are 5, yes 5, doorways from the kitchen to other various parts of the house. One of those was the door to the basement, which we moved when we put the new basement under, so this left a big void, and conveniently, the refrigerator fit back into that space perfectly. More conveniently it took the refrigerator out of my kitchen space freeing up more room for the table. The stairs to the upstairs of the home go from right to left behind that wall, leaving another small space, just enough space for a dishwasher, which I otherwise did not have room for. Not ideal, but it gave us some space.

But, it was time for a change...Join me over the coming days/weeks as I share the journey of the process and the end product, and all of the creative challenges along the way.