Econo-Kitchen, Sweat Equity Style...

I mentioned in a previous blog that I had ordered new, unfinished kitchen cabinets for my house. It was the only way I could afford to replace the existing cabinets, which were old and filthy. I would have had to do some major work to get them clean enough to even use, and they were built in place at some point after the house was built, I believe. The back of the cabinets were actually the plaster walls, so it was impossible to even remove the cabinets, clean them and reinstall them. To boot, the kitchen is fairly large - 15 x 9.5 ft - and has almost a 9-foot ceiling. So I needed 48" tall upper cabinets to avoid building soffits - those alone really boost the price of new cabinets.

Without even pricing out what I needed (forget about the pretty stuff I wanted - some glass doors, in cabinet lighting, under cabinet lighting, a mix of finishes) I figured I'd be looking at a $15-20K price tag. Very early in the renovation, new kitchen cabinets were redlined out of the budget... Until..........

I found that I could get solid wood cabinets, unfinished for under $5,000.00, including freight. I was so excited it seemed almost too good to be true, but I had already ordered the cabinets I installed in my bedroom, so I knew that the quality would be there even though the big ticket price wouldn't be. All the drawers are tongue and groove, solid wood and cabinet grade wood ply, fully extended drawers, custom sizes, 48" tall upper cabs, etc. I ordered knotty pine cabinets with a beadboard-style door. I have beadboard wainscoting right off the kitchen in the stairwell, so I thought this would be a nice bit of continuity, even though the cabinets would get a completely different finish.

Once the cabinets came in, we unpacked them and checked them for shipping damage, then we checked them for size to verify that I hadn't screwed up the design somehow. Another benefit that you get when you go to a kitchen design place and order your cabinets, is that you have access to a kitchen designer and their software. Between the two, they can usually save you from yourself as you are designing that nifty plan that won't work in the real world!

Since I didn't have this little service, I was on my own. During the planning process, I found several things I had to change or tweak, and I am lucky to work with 3D design engineers, so we put my design into a 3D model to further verify that doors opened the correct way, that drawers wouldn't bump into appliances, that the design looked right in the space, etc. If I hadn't done that, and had someone else double-check all my options and decisions, I would have had some real problems once the cabinets came in. Even though I have designed, or helped design, several kitchens, there are so many details that it is easy to miss at least one until all the cabinets are staring at you, and you realize there is just no way that one cabinet is going to fit there!

In the photo above, I lined up the upper wall cabinets on the floor to make sure they would fit. It will be very tight on the left side of the photo, but the cabinets will just make it.

After everything was verified, we took the glass out of the doors that had it, removed all the doors, removed the hinges from the doors, and removed all the shelves and drawers. I covered the living room and dining room floors with cardboard, taped it to itself so it would stay in place, and we covered the dining room wainscoting with plastic to protect it from flicks off of our paintbrushes. We set up as much of an assembly line as we could in those two rooms, and went to work.

First order of business was to stain the insides of the cabinets a light gold. We used Minwax Golden Oak, and two coats of urethane. My mom and dad did much of this part, and got a pretty good method going. They also had to stain and urethane all the shelves - both sides - so they pre-drilled and inserted nails in the ends of the shelves where the holes will never been seen, so they could work one side of the shelf and then flip it to do the other side in one step. The only other option would be to do one side one day and the other side the next day. Not really a great option when you have 30-odd shelves to deal with.

Since there is so much natural wood in the house already, I didn't want all of the kitchen cabinets to be natural wood. Especially since they will go all the way to the 9-foot ceiling. I felt that all that natural wood in that room would look too imposing and end up feeling claustrophobic even though the room is a good size and has a large window.

My solution was to stain the base cabinets a dark brown - the same color as I used on the rest of the woodwork on the first floor (Minwax Provincial) - and paint the upper cabinets a lighter, softer color. This would give the base cabinets a nice anchored feel and provide some continuity with the rest of the first floor, and it would allow those tall upper cabinets to appear lighter and less imposing.

I also scoured the web looking for inexpensive bun feet to attach to the bases to give a more finished, polished look since the cabinet makers didn't have any sort of foot or valance available for this cabinet style. I found the perfect feet for 4 bucks and change a piece. I needed 10, so about $50 later, I had feet that would make my cabinets look much more expensive. Stuff like that gets me soooo happy!

To make the two finishes work together, I used the acrylic "milk" paint on the upper cabinets, and used a dark brown glaze to accent the architecture of the doors. When you look at the cabinets in place, the dark brown glaze on the upper cabinets will provide a color connection between the stained lower cabinets and the painted uppers. Right now, the glaze looks a little heavy-handed, but once everything is installed, it will calm down and make sense.

So while my dad was staining and urethaning the base cabinets, mom and I were painting the multiple coats on the upper cabinets. First coat to go on was a yellow (same as I used for the top coat in my bedroom), then a clear coat. Over that went the periwinkle blue that I had to mix myself (thank you Jane for the great paint mixing advice!!!)

Once the periwinkle dried, dad and I pulled out the sanding sponges and went to town removing some of the periwinkle to reveal the yellow, and in some spots the pine wood. We followed the logical wear that cabinets would receive over a lifetime. Around the door handles, on the door faces in spots, sides and edges. We made sure we knew where the door handles would go on every case piece and every door so that we could distress it in the right spots.

To save some time, I used my random orbital sander on the larger areas. With 220 grit, a light touch, and a constantly moving sander, I got a really good jump on those large areas. We did hit all surfaces at least lightly because that paint dusts up so nice that if you hit it even lightly with sandpaper, you get a beautiful, smooth finish with no brush marks.

What I love about doing this kind of work is that I often find an unintentional, but cool effect happening that I didn't expect. On this particular project, I am seeing where the style of the kitchen is developing into a sort of French country look. This was completely unintentional on my part, and not a style that I would have consciously chosen for myself. Not because I dislike it, but because it's just not something that I would have thought would fit into the aesthetic of my house. However, a few things have pushed it that way - the beadboard doors, the combination of yellow and periwinkle blue is very French, the bun feet I chose have a sort of French country style to them, and the pastel antiqued finish paired with the darker wood just seems to feel very French country to me.

Again with the web searches, I found some oval glass knobs that have a beaded edge for 2 bucks and change a piece. You can spend a small fortune on cabinet hardware, and I needed quite a bit of it, so my inner cheapskate was quite self-satisfied with this find!

Now all we have to do is hang the cabinets, wire the under cabinet lighting, install the in-cabinet lighting in the ones with glass doors, and then I'm ready to do the tile wainscoting and back splash. I'll order the counter top, and keep knocking details off my punch list.

Today I cut in and painted the stairwell where the slate tile is, put the first coat of finish on that back door, re-installed door stops on the basement door, and sanded the window in the kitchen.

Tomorrow, I go back to work and rest!

Views: 2821

Comment by Stacey Friesen on August 5, 2011 at 4:42pm
I'd love to see the finished product!
Comment by Bill Hendrickson on September 1, 2011 at 10:23am
I like those cabintes. We wanted bead boards as well. I think you gave me an idea......
Comment by Karan Andrea on September 1, 2011 at 10:57am
Excellent! Check my latest blog for the (more) finished photos. :)
Comment by Bill Hendrickson on September 1, 2011 at 11:13am

What quality level cabinets did you buy? We plan to go with a painted beadboard style, so the company recommended maple as the best for painting. But what about the "furniture board" (another name for MDF I read) stuff.

If we go with the beadboard on the the Woodcraft Standard or Select comes that way.

Comment by Karan Andrea on September 1, 2011 at 11:32am

I bought knotty pine. Yes, maple is great for painting, but is also generally more expensive, and if you are going to paint it, you never see the wood!! That just hurts my feelings! The knotty pine painted up great, especially since I was doing an antiqued finish. If there was a knot with texture in it, I just let it be. All I did was paint all the knots with shellac first to seal them so they didn't bleed through the painted finish. However, if you had knots that showed some texture (i.e., were a little broken out) you could fill them with wood putty and sand before painting.

I would NOT EVER use MDF in a kitchen or bathroom. It will not withstand the moisture in those rooms. It will look great for a while, but once you beat it up with daily use and expose it to the steam, heat and moisture that happens in either a kitchen or bathroom, you will be ripping it out WAY too soon.

I'd say get quotes for knotty pine and paint-grade maple and see if the price difference is a big deal. The quality will be the same. However, the paint grade maple cabs I bought for my bedroom had the drawer boxes finished - the knotty pine cabs did not, so that may make a difference to you since the factory finish on the drawers is really nice. That could be worth the difference in price if you have a lot of drawer bases.

Comment by Bill Hendrickson on September 1, 2011 at 11:59am
Kara, great info! I am now fiddling with some kitchen design software just to play around. It will be a few weeks (we are in the process of buying this old house) before we get some measurements to deal with. But this was very good info.
Comment by Karan Andrea on September 1, 2011 at 12:13pm
Glad to help :) It might be worth going to Lowe's or Home Depot and have their designers put a plan together for you that you can use to order your cabinets from. That's terrible to say, but their design service is free, and kitchen present lots of annoying issues that we might not consider until it's too late! I got lucky, and I had already done several kitchens and had some experience. There are SO many ways to do "the most expensive room in the house" on the cheap. Good luck, post pics, and keep us in the loop!!


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