Name: Dan Bailey
Type of Project: Kitchen remodel
Location: East Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
Type of building: 2nd Floor Condo in a Greek-Revival Row House
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When we left off last week, I implied that all of the kitchen cabinets had been installed. But this wasn’t entirely true. There was still a roughly 11-inch gap between the stove and the wall that needed to be filled with an upper and lower cabinet.
The problem, of course, was that IKEA doesn’t make cabinets smaller than 12 inches wide. So early in the planning stages of the renovation, I decided that I would simply cut a 12-inch cabinet down to 9 inches. Since I was already ordering custom cabinet doors from Semihandmade, I asked them to send me two 9-inch doors, one for the upper cabinet and one for the lower. I wasn’t exactly sure how I would cut up the 12-inch cabinet boxes and assemble them into 9-inch cabinets, but it seemed easy enough to me at the time. But then I wrote about this plan here, and a few readers commented that they didn’t think cutting down a cabinet was a good idea. I started to worry that my plan wouldn’t work, and I would end up with an awkward empty space next to the stove.
Fortunately, I’m working with Gregg, who is an excellent carpenter and was completely unfazed by my cabinet-cutting plan. In fact, he took my idea one step further and devised a way to completely fill the 11-inch space with the cabinets while still using the 9-inch doors. He cut the top and bottom panels of the cabinets down so that the assembled cabinets just fit in the 11-inch opening. Since the pre-drilled cam-lock holes were now missing from one side of each cabinet, Gregg assembled them using old-fashioned screws. Next, he’ll attach a roughly 2-inch-wide filler panel on the front, left side (the side next to the wall) of each cabinet. We bought new hinges, which will make a 95-degree angle when open, allowing us to mount the cabinet doors on the filler panels such that they'll open toward the wall. The 2-inch front panel will provide enough room between the doors and wall for the doors to open. This setup maximizes the interior cabinet space, rather than cutting the cabinets to 9 inches and covering the remaining space with a filler panel, leaving it unusable.
While Gregg finished up the cabinets this week, I continued painting the cabinet doors, drawer fronts, and filler and trim pieces. The process of priming and painting two finish coats on both sides of each door is taking a lot longer than I expected. There seem to be a lot of doors for such a small kitchen.
When I wasn't painting this week, I finalized plans for the countertop. For a while I considered marble countertops. I think Cararra marble would look outstanding. It would mirror the condo's original marble mantels and would really class up the kitchen at the same time. But marble seems to bring up strong feelings in a lot of people. It's a porous stone that can pick up stains and is etched by acids and bases. Even though many marble countertops are protected with a surface sealant, marble kitchen countertops are bound to pick up a few stains and etch marks over the years. Some people prefer pristine countertops and can't bear the thought of stains and marks on their counters, while others view these same imperfections as desirable "character" that the stone develops over time. I probably fall somewhere in the middle of this debate.
But in the end I decided to go with my original countertop choice, soapstone. It's a really durable stone. The company that's sourcing, fabricating, and installing my countertops warrantees their soapstone for 400 years, which seems like a long time, even for a chunk of stone. Bench tops and sinks in chemistry labs were traditionally made from soapstone, since it's nonporous and unreactive toward acids and bases. I work as a chemist, and even though most lab bench tops are now made from a synthetic material, I still find soapstone really appealing – if it can stand up to years of organic solvent spills and strong acids in a lab, I figure it will hold up well in a kitchen setting. And even though soapstone is a relatively soft stone, any scratches that accumulate over time can easily be sanded away.
But beyond its durability, I think soapstone looks great. It doesn't require any sealant (treatment with mineral oil is optional) and usually has a matte, honed finish. I'm planning to get a dark charcoal stone with subtle, lighter veining. And best of all, soapstone is a period-appropriate material for my building. It was commonly used in the 19th century, especially in New England, and I think it will blend in beautifully with the rest of the condo's mid-19th-century architectural details.
Early next week the countertop fabricators will stop by and make a plywood template of the countertops. They'll use this template to fabricate the soapstone countertops in their shop and will return to install them about a week later. Once the countertops are in, we'll be able to hook up the sink and dishwasher, and the kitchen will finally be usable.
Estimated time for project: 27+ weeks
Time remaining: 2+ weeks
(Images and diary text: Dan Bailey)