Dan's Kitchen: Demolition Part the Second, in which the Cabinets Come Down

Renovation Diary

A section of upper “cabinets”, which turned out to be glorified shelves, come crashing down.
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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

The Renovation Diaries are a collaboration with our community in which we feature your step by step renovation progress and provide monetary support towards getting it done in style. See all of our Reno Diaries here.

When we left off last week, I had started some exploratory demolition, which included pulling up a section of vinyl flooring and the subfloor beneath it to reveal the original pine floors. This week I pried up the last of the plywood subfloor and was relieved to find that the original floor is in decent condition. Sure, it needs some patching and refinishing, but even in its current rough, dirty, and unfinished condition, the original floor adds some rustic, 19th-century charm to the room.

The original pine floors uncovered.
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The floorboards are really substantial – each board runs the full length of the room, over 14 feet! They have some scratches and gouges and they’re not perfect, but I’m ok with that. The floors are one of the only original architectural details left in this room, and once the kitchen is finished, I think that the imperfect floors will lend a sense of history to the space, counterbalancing all of the shiny new cabinets and appliances.

50 years' worth of rubble had accumulated on top of the upper cabinets.
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After I exposed the original floor, I set about removing the upper cabinets. But before I could begin, I had to clean up an impressive amount of rubble that had accumulated on top of the cabinets, behind the old soffit. As I was sweeping up chunks of plaster and dust, I found a matchbook dated 1968 with an advertisement for Hunt’s Tomato Sauce with Mushrooms, and printed inside the matchbook was an incredibly bland-sounding recipe for “Confetti Chicken” (unseasoned chicken cooked in tomato sauce with canned corn and red and green bell pepper – blah). At any rate, the matchbook suggested that the cabinets were at least 45 years old, which isn’t surprising given their dilapidated state.

The upper cabinet destruction.
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As I began to take down the upper cabinets, I assumed that they were composed of several cabinets placed side by side that I could take down in manageable sections. This would have been a totally reasonable assumption if the cabinets hadn’t been cobbled together from scrap wood and hundreds of nails half a century ago. In reality, both sections of upper cabinets were one piece. They were made up of three shelves that were closed off at the sides, with doors stuck on the front. Removing them involved prying out dozens of nails and loosening sections of wood that held the shelves to the wall, until the cabinets eventually began to collapse under their own weight. At this point I was able to rip them away from the wall with my bare hands, which made me feel like the Incredible Hulk. Unfortunately, I was working alone, so no one was around to witness these amazing feats of strength.

Demolition debris is slowly consuming my dining room.
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Once the cabinets were down, I realized that they were actually really heavy. Since I'm not actually all that strong, I had to pull them apart to carry them out of the kitchen in pieces.

The upper cabinets are gone, leaving behind some plywood walls of questionable quality.
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After removing the upper cabinets, I realized that most of the walls consist of sheets of bare plywood nailed over the original plaster. I'd like to remove this plywood, but I'm worried about the condition of the plaster beneath it, which is very likely cracked and crumbling. Using a pry bar to pull the plywood away from the wall could irreparably damage the plaster. I'd like to avoid tearing out the entire plaster wall and replacing it with drywall, but it remains an option. I'll need to consult my contractor on this one.

The new dishwasher. Thanks, Craigslist.
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In other news, I scored a very nice dishwasher on Craigslist for $100. It's a stainless, integrated Bosch dishwasher, and it's currently sitting in my living room waiting for a time in the seemingly distant future when I'll be ready to install appliances. It's an 18-inch-wide model, which is exactly what I was looking for. The smaller dishwasher will free up some much-needed space in the kitchen, and it seems like a very reasonable size for a 1000-square-foot, two-bedroom condo.

Up to this point I’ve tackled all of the demolition on my own, but I think the time has come for me to call in reinforcements in the form of my contractor, Gregg, who will help me disconnect the sink and remove the remaining base cabinets. Then, hopefully, we’ll be ready to begin the monumental task of rebuilding this mess of a kitchen.

Estimated time for project: 12 weeks
Time remaining: 10 weeks

Check out the full series (so far) and be sure to join us next week for installment #6 of Dan's Kitchen Renovation.

(Images and diary text: Dan Bailey)

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