Dan's Kitchen: Invisible Improvements

Dan's Kitchen: Invisible Improvements

Feb 4, 2014

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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There are certain aspects of any renovation that make a huge visual impact – painting walls, refinishing floors, installing trim. Completing each of these tasks is deeply satisfying. No matter how difficult or tedious the job, once it's done, you can sit back and admire the fruits of your labor. On the other hand, a lot of the work that goes into a renovation is decidedly less glamorous.

While I’m sure there are people out there who get really excited about framing that’s nice and level, or tidy electrical wiring, or a brand new section of PVC pipe, I’m not one of them. Of course, I realize that all of these things are crucially important to the basic functionality of the room. It’s just that I’ll never see this stuff again once the renovation is done.

A close-up of some of the old framing for all you framing fanatics out there. This particular stud looks like it was cut with an ax.

So far, most of the time, effort, and money I've invested in this kitchen renovation has gone toward these invisible improvements, a trend that continued this week as we prepared to hang drywall. Gregg, my contractor, spent most of the week carefully leveling old framing so that drywall will sit flat against it. The new framing along the rear wall is plumb and level, but the original framing in the rest of the room is pretty out of whack. In particular, the short wall where the stove will be placed is shaped like a V, with the point of the V protruding into the room. Gregg added some shims here and there and shaved down some of the old framing (actually the edge of an old door frame), until the wall was more or less flat.

The newly-leveled side wall of the kitchen.

Once he’d flattened the V-shaped wall, Gregg put up some new framing along the recently-repaired brick wall. He also framed a new, lower ceiling in the pantry closet. Like the kitchen ceiling, the original plaster ceiling in the closet was full of holes and in pretty rough shape. There’s also a mess of old wiring strung across the ceiling. So I decided to add a lower, drywall ceiling in the pantry to conceal the exposed wiring and damaged plaster. It’s the same solution I’m using in the kitchen, just on a smaller scale.

New ceiling framing in the pantry closet.

While all of this framing and drywall preparation work was going on this week, I turned my attention to priming the cabinet doors and drawer fronts. If you’re a regular reader, you might remember that I ordered unfinished shaker-style doors from Semihandmade. I decided to save some money by brush painting the doors myself instead of having them professionally sprayed. I also happen to like the look of brush-painted cabinetry. It’s never as flawless as a factory spray finish, but it has some character and better retains the appearance of wood. I think a brush-painted finish is suited to the rustic, 19th-century feel of the condo.

Priming cabinet doors is a time-consuming and tedious process. It involves wiping down the door with a tack cloth to remove all traces of dust; carefully brushing on primer, making sure that the primer coat is even and not too thick or too thin; lightly brushing back over the primed door with long even strokes before the primer begins to dry; allowing the primer to dry for 24 to 48 hours and flipping the door over and doing everything all over again. My girlfriend helped out with the priming, which sped things up. We’re now nearly halfway done priming the doors.

A freshly primed set of drawer fronts.

This renovation has been a long haul, and there’s still a long way to go. I’m really excited to begin seeing some finished results – walls, a ceiling, paint, cabinets, tile. Once some of this finish work starts happening – and it should start happening really soon – I think it will become much easier to stay motivated.

Estimated time for project: 20 weeks, but almost certainly more
Time remaining: 2+ weeks

Check out the full series (so far) and be sure to join us next week for installment #22 of Dan's Kitchen Renovation.

(Images and diary text: Dan Bailey)

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