Tag Archives: kitchen cabinets

30 Projects, Week 1

First off, I can already tell that I’ll be re-defining what a project is. There were a lot of things on my list. Second of all, it’s been a struggle lately to go to the gym, cook healthy food, and keep up with house work, let alone do remodeling on weeknights. But today I doubled up at the gym, am now blogging, and did some stuff to the house! But, sorry Mom, the dishes are gonna sit in the sink. Anyways, here are the tasks I’ve completed:

  1. I cleaned out the junk side of my closet, and the floor on the clothes side. I found some real gems, like pieces of the Pontiac that broke off and put in a box to reattach later. Now some of my random crap is in control and I’m ready to add  the missing baseboards, robe hooks, and clothes bar. Also note that I built more twice as many shoe shelves as I can fill.
  2. The Irishman seemed to have forgotten to paint the back sides of all the kitchen cabinet doors that are the hardest to take down. I’ve had them leaning against a wall for a month. Now the back sides are all painted and they’re hanging again. The fronts will be painted in place on a separate item. (He also started to paint a bunch of his off-cuts because he didn’t check whether they were doors or not. Since I paid for that work, I’ve finished painting them to use them as extra shelves. But that’s not finished yet.)
  3. I helped my roommate move out. Setting up my guest room is on hold until I can borrow the Suburban, or use my parents’ car and some bungee cords on a dry day.
  4. The bookcase in my living room had an open top. It was supposed to fit tight to an 8-foot ceiling, but because I have higher ceilings, I closed it up with a piece of scrap plywood that I stained. The color is too dark but you can only tell because I had the flash on.
    The edges of the plywood look pretty bad but I’ll fix that once I retrieve my spare mahogany boards from the lumber-hoard.
  5. Here, I’ll let you see how much I cared about my containers this spring.
    I finally weeded them. Believe it or not, I had a boxwood and a camellia hiding behind those weeds. The vegetables on the wall aren’t mine. The neighbors borrowed my pots.

So, even with this rather generous re-numbering and staying home on a holiday weekend, I am a little behind one project per day. Do you think I’ll make it?


Planning… Stucco?

So I’ve had a pattern. Do project, burn out, take time off, start 2 new projects. I was around that point in the cycle 2 weeks ago and, well, it was pretty obvious that sooner or later I need to finish painting the kitchen cabinets, get the knobs on, and get glass in the doors. So I took down the ones that the Irishman never painted on the back sides. Incidentally, he skipped all the ones that are the hardest to pop on and off.


And he convinced me that I need to stucco around the patio door this year. I’ve had plywood sheathing exposed to the elements (under an overhang at least) for 2 years now. So after lining one side of the dining area with cabinet doors I filled  the other with stucco materials. Also PVC trim boards for casing around the patio door.


And then I got food poisoning. (And I don’t know what from but I probably cooked it myself.)

So here’s the plan. First off, the old plan was to have the whole rear of the house stuccoed at once. The new plan is to defer the air shaft area indefinitely…


And do it like everyone else did and just redo the part that I can see for now. As in, new stucco on the plywood and the stucco that got this lovely green paint.


Now, stucco terrifies me. Because there are some stucco houses I love.


But there are others that are McMansions. Also, modern stucco is supposed to have ugly control joints so it doesn’t crack. I’m definitely going to need a couple because the stucco around the back door will be installed as a veneer over paint and plywood while the rest of the house (to be stuccoed later) can get it right onto the masonry, the old fashioned way.

So here’s what I’m thinking. I’ll install the new stucco with one horizontal control joint right around the top of the first floor. And I’ll wrap the corner and put the control joint right behind the downspout where you can’t see it. Because inside corners are bad, this means that when I go back and stucco the rest there will be a really long skinny strip of stucco that wraps the corner from the siding (the trim is PVC) to behind the downspout. Then the rest of the back inside the air shaft can hopefully get one seamless coat. Back to this photo again, the little bit of brick that’s showing behind the downspout is where the joint will be. (Note: I’m pretty sure the back of these houses are all a low grade of brick that needs to be stuccoed.)


Then there’s the small matter of texture. What I’ve noticed about old stucco is that it’s not as perfectly flat and often has a heavier texture than new stucco. That house I showed above? The walls seem to have heft. New stucco more often than not looks like a card house.


But the Crooked House is not Tudor. It’s not Cotswold Revival, Colonial Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, or arts and crafts. It’s a very modest late Victorian, a period when I don’t think stucco was particularly popular. And the back has no architectural style at all really. I’m going to do the walls in a fairly smooth sand finish. That’s basically the plainest stucco finish and it was popular before my house was built and after. It’s also the easiest to do. And I’m skipping the corner bead. I’ll chip off some of the old bad repairs to let the wall be semi-flat, then I’ll just let the corners be a bit rounded off.


The Kitchen – A First Look

All right, the dust has settled in my brain and been (mostly) cleaned out of my living room. Where does this leave us? Well, the kitchen looks more or less finished! Big sigh!


So let’s talk about what I’ve got and why. Painted slab doors. I was emphatic that the kitchen be plain. I wanted this partly because I’m a messy cook – ask me about that time I tried putting ganache frosting onto a hot cake in my parents’ kitchen with beadboard cabinet doors.

And I did it partly to be as unlike the horror of super ornate kitchens as I could. (Even more horrifyingly, this is a 1926 neo-Georgian that surely had some architectural value before it was redone in the style of the Trump Taj Mahal.)

villanova kitchen

I balked at Shaker style doors even though I like them because I don’t trust that they’ll stay in style, and there’s still a little bit of grooves co clean melted ganache out of. But flat doors and all that white had me afraid it would be boring. Now that it’s mostly done though I’m totally fine with it. The upper cabinets will get the same chrome knobs as the lowers and the patio doors will be stained darker. I have drywall soffits because I wanted the cabinets tight to the ceiling and the beams slope.

The toe kick runs right under the dishwasher, which makes it look like it’s floating. The dishwasher is up on blocks because the floor is so low over here. The door threshold juts out from the wall and runs past the door under the cabinets because there was a gap in the flooring near the old door.

The stove is up on blocks, too, so now it has a toe kick of its own, painted white. The Irishman thought I was crazy for wanting it white. I thought he was crazy for wanting it blue. Now he says I need to repaint it real white instead of the off white I’ve used everywhere else. I probably will eventually.

The end of the peninsula gets one big panel spanning the 2 cabinet heights, 2 floor heights, and floor slope. The plywood riser between the 2 countertops will be white until I add backsplashes.

Remember how I thought this piece of trim was too skinny?


The door opening is now 3/4″ narrower. The way it was before would have been even worse on the kitchen side than the living room side.


Now to finish the room, I’d like to get the painting done this year, though countertops, shades or curtains, and backsplashes will have to wait. My mom wants me to paint the trim the same blue as the lower cabinets. I’m thinking I’m happy with the room being a bit plain, but it was an idea. Colored trim works just fine in her house.


But as the idea intrigued me and I feel like showing off the fact that I don’t have crappy vinyl windows, I’m thinking of painting the window sashes over the sink blue.


And in a year or 2 we can figure out livening the space up with the missing bits. Mainly counters and backsplash tile, but I’m also thinking of putting in roller shades made of patterned fabric and wood valences to hide the rolls. Of course, just because I can’t finish the room this year doesn’t mean you can’t volunteer ideas for it.

And, one more shot from the living room side because I don’t get things this tidy every day. I still want to paint the inside of that cabinet blue. And get glass in the doors.


An Irish-Made Kitchen

So here’s the deal. Yes, the HDF was kitchen cabinet doors. I’ve been told that it is a suitable material for cabinetry. I hope I was told right.


And the rest of the deal. What I said about being burnt out from tedious work and a messy house was true. I was absolutely ready to live my life unencumbered by house projects. The house had gotten a thorough cleaning and I had friends coming for dinner. And the Irishman needed a job and begged me to let him make my cabinet doors. I relented and on my first day of freedom he set up his cutting station on the sidewalk. And as the doors came through the saw he brought them in and dropped them onto my clean countertops. I told him that friends were coming over to cook and started moving them into the basement stairwell. He said, “I need them where I can get to them.”

A bit later on he asked me, “Where are you taking your friends tonight?”

Now let’s back up to how the project was planned, aside from the fact that it wasn’t. I had a few things oddly laid out: wall cabinets stacked 2 high and cut to non-standard sizes, fillers scribed to fit tilted walls, toe kicks scribed to fit sloping floors, a plinth holding the stove level, and a split-height peninsula room divider. The plan was to get a shop to make these, and I was gonna start with Semihandmade, a company that makes custom fronts for IKEA cabinets. The Irishman told me a while ago that he’d make them for me and slash Semihandmade’s price. At the time I think he had access to a shop. This spring, not so much.

And all these conditions came together to create a few of the greatest horrors I’ve endured since buying the Crooked House. First, he used the sidewalk in front of my house, shielded by an awning, as his shop. He had materials stored there under a tarp for the whole project, making my house an official nuisance property. No one reported me though.


And my living room became his lay down area.

Then there were his wildly unrealistic expectations about how fast he could work without a proper shop plus our usual agreement that I’d pay him for his time meant that I had a terrifying series of promises of cheapness and fastness followed by him hitting me up for more money. At one point I cut him off and he threatened to walk. I wondered when to cut my losses and put the stuff in the basement.

The Irishman started working shorter days. My fuse shortened more than his days. I started berating him every time he told me he was taking a break. People at the office heard me. He took offense that I was mad at him. Finally, it was my mom who intervened. She read my bank statement and totaled up the ATM withdrawals that paid him. Only she knows. I don’t want to. But now the Irishman decided that he owes me forever, that he’ll finish the job dutifully, that he’ll take on a litany of other projects, and that there’ll never again be a copper between us. (Read that sentence with a thick brogue.) I don’t know how she manages to slay like this over and over again. (The gun is plastic)


Anyways, one week became… 6 1/2. My plans to enjoy spring fell through. My plans to pay off Phase 1 are delayed a solid 6 months. But I’m a big step closer to a finished kitchen. Was it worth it? No way. Anyways, I’m desperate for a break. Maybe a long one. But the Irishman says he owes me work and I’m not about to miss collecting the debt. We’ll see how I do both. In the meantime, I should have my house back tomorrow – guess what that means I’ll be doing!

Happy woman cleaning

(I won’t be holding my balance on one foot in heels.)

Finally, the bottom half of the kitchen!

All right, Day 1 of my 16 day “vacation” was mostly figuring out how to do this kitchen job. Remember my old 3D rendering? It still comes pretty close to what I’ll be getting. The room shrank a little bit and I put in upper cabinets that I didn’t bother to show back then, but the base cabinets are almost exactly as planned. Just picture another cabinet facing you on the back side of that peninsula.

kitchen rendering

But I had to refine the design now that I know exactly where my walls ended up. So here it is with dimensions and construction notes. And yes, lots of refinement.


The big problem spot here is the dead space right around the pipe chase. The cabinets don’t fit perfectly. Because I’m not spending 3 times my net worth on custom cabinetry. So that means I’m gonna have a gap shaped like Oklahoma in the back of my peninsula.


The space on the living room side is easy to fix. I am installing wood casing around the big opening between the living room and the kitchen, so I’m just building the opening to exactly the size that fits my cabinets. The top of this doorway will be at exactly the same height as the window. With the cabinets assembled you can already see it! Right?



Around the other side it’s more complicated. The cabinet facing the living room is actually supposed to go on a wall. I want it taller to hide the stack of dishes in my sink. And from this angle that stack is already hidden!

The problem is that I need to cover the back side of the taller bar top/china cabinet with better wood than IKEA’s flimsy backings and attach the cabinets to each other in a non-standard way. IKEA’s cabinets have these brackets that fit into rails on the walls. This is amazing for my non-level floors.


But I’m thinking that the solution here is to take them off of the cabinets you can see above and just screw cabinet grade plywood right into the cabinets with trim head screws. The standard hardware leaves a little gap behind the cabinets. I’ll just make it all flush and try to make that piece of plywood super sturdy. And then I’ll hang the wall-turned-into-base cabinet off of it. I’ll build a plinth for that cabinet to sit on since it’s not drilled for legs like the others.

This solves another funny problem. The cabinets stop just a teeny bit short of the corner. I thought about adding a filler strip in the middle of the run of cabinets to make them fit the room, but that would be ugly. So instead, I’m going to run the plywood all the way over and leave a little dead space between the carousel and the pipe chase. That means the higher bar top will look like this. I think it looks more awkward on paper than it will in real life.


Then I’m also adding a dryer vent to the back of my carousel cabinet. My laundry facilities will be in the basement, but the basement is fully underground at the back. And I’m not willing to board up a basement window or bore a hole in the marble base of my façade like most people do. Luckily, the completely useless dead space at the back of the carousel cabinet is just big enough!


And here’s this peninsula arrangement from the other side. Tell me what you think. Even though I’m not changing it now that the cabinets are non-returnable. The main cabinets will be about 5 inches higher. I can cheat the other one as I please.


The Kitchen: Released for Construction

This is the weekend when the pope comes to Philly, and I’ve made plans to get out of Dodge. But that doesn’t mean nothing is happening to my house. The Irishman has the opposite plan: he’s not leaving South Philly, and he’ll be keeping busy by doing (the top half of) my kitchen! I put together a few last minute sketches to discuss exactly how the cabinets will meet the walls. He asked for a little more detail than I provided in the crude sketch I made before. And then when I remembered that we had this stamp at work, I COULD NOT RESIST.


Will this come together without a hitch? Well… have a look!


But I have another problem. I can’t afford appliances. The stove was in rough shape to begin with so I didn’t bother protecting it when I tore the kitchen ceilings down and now it’s really bad.


But my friend Eugene came to the rescue. He lives about 3 blocks away in a house very much like mine, though it’s bigger. And he just got a loan for a total gut remodel that’s set to begin in October. So here you’re looking at my new kitchen! Sorta. I’m now taking his countertops, sink, faucet, and garbage disposal. Pretty exciting! So these countertops will definitely go in my Phase 1 kitchen. The appliances likely will, too, but I have other options. It comes down to which stove is worse.


For the appliances, I was just gonna let them all be white until I saw that he just has a normal range hood. So no matter what I use, the black over-the-range microwave that came with my house is going in. His stove is a little better than mine but it’s not great. I have a black dishwasher and a stainless steel fridge available to me if I want them… and I don’t have a lot of time to choose as both sets are coming out of places that are being gutted.

As for the counter tops, remember that granite that’s still sitting on my parents’ driveway? The one that caused us to put a dent into my parents’ car? Now all that was for nothing because I decided it’s not even worth the trouble of cutting up to reuse. It’s going on Craigslist once I know for sure. And it gets a little worse. My dad sealed the driveway, and the granite was too heavy to move so he just painted around it. So when the slab disappears there will be a very obvious mark there. At the very least, it makes me smile that I’ve turned my nose up at granite and taken beat up powder blue Formica.


The last kitchen cabinet plan?

Maybe the last you’ll hear if the uppers anyway. For like 2 days I could walk around my living room. It was so great. Then I cleaned up the basement and that went away. So I want to burn through a lot of the crap that’s sitting out everywhere by (1) installing all the cabinets and shelves and then (2) putting tools in said cabinets and shelves. So I’m doing the top half of my kitchen. I don’t own the rest yet.

Looks wise, I’m emphatic that the kitchen is a work room and if form and function are in conflict, function wins. I want to work and store things in here. But once those are taken care if, of course looks matter.

You might remember this rough sketch of my wall cabinets on the stove/fridge side. I’m putting in 4 foot tall wall cabinets to get as much storage as possible, putting a deeper cabinet over the fridge, and installing an over-the-range microwave. The first plan was to stack small cabinets over big ones, which I think is normally the more attractive way to do it, but I was never sure if I liked the cabinet doors bouncing up and down like this.

Elevation Stove Side

It’s not that bad. Not like the advertisements granite fabricators put in Clipper Magazine showing kitchens that look like casino lobbies with horrors like carved corbels, Corinthian columns, and elaborate ogee countertop edges. It doesn’t have apothecaey drawers or wine racks or staggered caninets that look like a Chichen Itza that wants to be a hutch. Over the range microwaves aren’t pretty, but they aren’t pretending to be 18th Century mantles like some range hood covers do.

But it’s not as plain as I wanted. Something is still off. So when Ross (a reader with an amazing blog of his own) suggested flipping this and putting the 30 inch cabinets on top instead, I was thrilled to see a defiantly plain, orderly row of wall cabinets that still accommodates the practical things I want. And most importantly, it won’t cost me a penny more.

Kitchen Cabinets Without Up Down

The other side of the kitchen is going to get the same treatment with cabinets flanking the window. I am not fond of disrupting the shapes of rooms with pipe/duct chases or closets, but I did have to have one visible chase in the kitchen. But on the bright side, the chase centered the window!


You can see that my 1930’s reproduction woodwork is up. The Irishman had his co-worker make a custom knife to match the old trim and then mill all this out of scrap wood for a scandalously low price. I’ve already committed to custom doors on my wall cabinets because IKEA doesn’t make all the cabinet sizes I wanted, so I’m going to cut the cabinets on this wall down to whatever width I think gives the awesome trim enough breathing space. I’ll have big cabinets stacked over little again, but I could consider having 4 foot tall doors made and scrapping the stacked look. I have options.