August 30, 2018: Shut up, Norm Abram. You too, Bob Vila. We may not be master carpenters like you guys, but we’re doing this kitchen project! You undoubtedly wouldn’t approve of our methods, but sometimes you’ve gotta improvise and work with the tools and talents you have at your disposal — and in our case, those aren’t much. Just give us some wood, paint and a few jigs and we’ll have this puppy done in no time. Well, maybe a little more time than we hoped or thought, but eventually we’ll be cooking up meals in our own kitchen again instead of dining of Subway sandwiches and restaurant fare.
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It’s been two steps forward and at least one backward this month as our kitchen overhaul has progressed from cabinet frames to cabinet doors, our successes punctuated by myriad failures that have brought us back and forth to the home improvement stores more times than we care to think. When last we updated you on our project, we were on the cusp of building our first shaker cabinet doors to replace the old ones we had grown tired of and which wouldn’t fit the dimensions of the cabinet extensions we were designing. New router and pocket hole jig in hand, it was time to put our skills to the test and cut some wood.
Our approach to this project has been to purchase supplies as we need them, and when it comes to building door frames we’re looking at many feet of 2.5-inch boards. We just picked up as many of the non-twisted, bowed, cupped, splintered or otherwise useless 8-foot strips of “premium” pine we could carry from Lowe’s and started cutting. Because we already had some poplar on hand (before we determined that it was twice the price of the pine and would be covered in paint anyhow) we made our first door out of that. It was a thing of beauty, cut perfectly square and sanded to perfection. Glenn was really pleased with the performance of the pocket hole screws he was using.
And then we held it up to our cabinet frame.
Um. It was too narrow and too tall. Remember the old adage, “measure twice and cut once”? Well, we measured and measured and measured again, yet somehow all the numbers added up to something that wouldn’t have fit our cabinets under even the most liberal definition of fit. At least we have a really cool poplar picture frame, should we decide we need one somewhere.
This mistake seemed to set the tone for everything that has since transpired during this kitchen makeover, which has proceeded at a glacial pace. What a professional carpenter probably could have accomplished in a couple of days has taken us the better part of six weeks, but somehow we have managed to move along, and as of this writing the upper cabinets are nearly finished. But read on if you are curious about where this journey has led us…
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NE FEATURE WE both wanted to incorporate into our new, taller cabinets was lighting. For Roni’s birthday, Glenn had bought her a roll of LED lights with a controller that can make them change color and perform other effects. Well, they seemed like a fun gift at the time, but we really didn’t have a practical use for them until the kitchen remodel began. Instead of solid doors, we thought it would be fun to use glass windows on the cabinet extensions, then we could use the LED strips to light them whatever color we wanted. We thought we could do this cheaply with 12-inch-square panes of craft glass from Hobby Lobby, but once the window frames were measured out and built we discovered that the dimensions wouldn’t work.
The next idea was to buy clear window glass and cut it to the size we needed, then make stencils and frost it with a special spray paint so there could be a pattern on the glass. Roni ordered the paint and experimented on a sheet of picture frame glass we had, but wasn’t happy with the result. So we hunted around for another source for decorative glass and stumbled on a place in Berkeley called Stained Glass Garden. Not only do they have a huge selection of glass that you won’t find in a retail craft store, but for an additional fee they will cut it to whatever size you need for your project. Perfect.
We decided we had to check these guys out, so on a Saturday afternoon we drove to Berkeley and found the store to be a stained glass lover’s paradise. They have an entire wall devoted to sheets of glass of every size, color and style imaginable. Where to begin? We had a rough idea of our cabinet window dimensions — 15 inches wide by 9 inches tall — but little notion of what we wanted. We thought something that was semi opaque, perhaps gray, would work well to show off the cabinet lights yet disguise what we might have on the shelves. It’s not like we have antique china or something fun we need to show off; more like a bunch of old boxes and holiday platters we rarely pull out.
We gingerly thumbed through the various glass panels, searching for those that were the right size and quantity for our needs, until one of the clerks directed us to another corner of the store where they have a display of glass specifically designed for cabinets. They were all special order items, but we liked several of the options so we purchased samples of three of them to take home. As eager as we were to place an order that day, we wanted to verify our dimensions first and let them do the cutting once we settled on a style. Glenn balked a bit at the $6-per-piece cutting fee, but it seemed a reasonable cost considering that otherwise we’d have to cut it ourselves, and messing up the cut or breaking the panel could be a more expensive problem.
At home, we placed the three samples in our lighted cabinets and compared their features. We ultimately decided on a style called “Ribbon” that combines elements of etched glass into a playful, decorative pattern of swirls that should accomplish what we want it to do in the finished project. Glenn finished building the four window frames, measured the exact dimensions for each, then Roni phoned in the order. Stained Glass Garden only cuts glass on Monday and Thursday, and they didn’t have our glass in stock so it would need to be ordered from the manufacturer, which would add a few days. It was promised to us on Tuesday, Aug. 28, so we were eager to pick it up and put it in the frames.
We hoped to have some photos of the completed cabinets with the glass in them ready to go this week, but life gets busy and we haven’t quite finished the installation. Next month, we promise!
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HILE WE AWAITED our cabinet glass, there were other aspects of the project to keep us busy. Paint has been a major stumbling block. The way Glenn designed the cabinet extension boxes, the extensions and their face frames sit snugly on top of the existing cabinets. That created a visible seam that would be partially hidden by the taller doors we were building, but there was nothing to disguise the seam on the sides over the kitchen window. We thought about adding a strip of molding, but decided against it because it we already planned to add some along the ceiling and thought it would look weird.
Instead, Glenn used wood filler to hide the gap, sanding it smooth to the point where, once painted, it would all blend together. What followed was several rounds of sanding with a detail sander in an attempt to remove the old varnish and eliminate the wood grain of the old cabinets that would otherwise show through and spoil the smooth appearance of our paint job. Then we applied a couple coats of primer, sanded some more, and brushed on a coat of “Hailstorm Gray” latex paint, which was the color we settled on after weeks of comparing swatches and testing samples. The result was… underwhelming.
Although we liked the color, it had gone on anything but smoothly. Roni had watched numerous videos of people who had painted their cabinets with foam rollers, and all of them said how easy and professional the job was. All we saw was a bumpy surface that needed to be resanded so we could try again. The second time around we used a bristle brush. No better. Worse, in fact. So we switched to foam brushes and achieved a finish that was still textured yet the smoothest we’d seen.
By now Glenn had built nine cabinet doors and was eager to finish painting them, so we used the foam brushes on all of them, sanding and repainting imperfections as we went. This task went on for days, and each time we looked at the results the following morning and shook our heads. Too many brush marks. So we moved up to the next tool: a pneumatic paint gun. We bought a $50 model that can be attached to our air compressor. But before we got a chance to try it out, we heard about a paint additive called Floetrol that is supposed to thin latex paint and make it easier to apply. Some people reported that it eliminated their brush strokes and gave them glass-like finishes on their cabinets. We decided to try it.
We mixed a few ounces of the Floetrol with our Behr Hailstorm Gray paint and redid the cabinet doors using the foam brush. Yes, the paint did go on more smoothly. No, it didn’t give us a glass-like finish. Ugh. Not wanting to sand and repaint yet again, we decided that perfection is the enemy of good enough and moved on. The cabinets don’t look bad. There is no visible wood grain, although you can see some of our carpentry flaws (shut up, Norm Abram!) We have a few dings to smooth out, but there will be time for touch-ups as we move further into the project.
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HE FINISHING TOUCH on our new cabinet doors was the hardware. We planned to get away from the old-school hinges that are visible on the frame and replace them with European-style hinges that hide neatly behind the door. The ones we chose have a “soft close” feature that allows the door to gently shut itself, avoiding the tendency we have of banging them closed — that is, if we close them at all. The hinges aren’t cheap, at $10 a pair, but you can get a small discount if you buy them in bulk, which we have been doing. They are worth the price for the sleeker appearance of the cabinets alone.
We also decided to replace the door handles, moving away from our antiqued brass to stainless steel bars that provide a cleaner, more modern look. We didn’t exactly set out to design a high-tech kitchen, but our preference for shades of gray and simple lines on our cabinets and countertop seem to lend themselves to this treatment, so we’re going for a “contemporary country” appearance with some elements of a farmhouse kitchen thrown in. There will be a stainless steel farm sink in the new counter, lots of white subway tile, and painted shiplap on the walls that will hide the ‘80s-era textured plaster we have grown to despise. It is these details we have yet to settle on, and one of the reasons why we don’t expect this job to be finished before Thanksgiving. Glenn actually thinks it will be later than that; he jokes that as we unwrap gifts on Christmas morning he will be racing back to the kitchen to lay vinyl flooring. Let’s hope not!
With the upper bank of cabinets on the sink side of the kitchen nearly done, we have begun to turn our attention to the countertop. As mentioned last month, we at last chose to go with blue pearl granite tiles for their convenience and affordability. The decision took weeks, and for once that may have been a good thing. We wound up getting them when they went on sale at Home Depot, which was a significant savings because we had to buy them by the case and thus would have a lot of leftover. We calculated that we’ll need about 23 tiles for all the counters, and they come 10 to the box. So we ordered three boxes and had them delivered to the Brentwood store for pickup.
The tiles shipped quickly. We went to get them on a Friday night, eager to take them home and a little apprehensive that they would all be in one piece. Others have told horror stories of their shipments arriving damaged and not being able to return them easily because of the hassle of mailing, which is why we decided to have ours sent to the store so we could inspect them there. Plus we saved a bundle on postage, but that was a side benefit.
Unfortunately, our fears were confirmed when we arrived at the pickup counter. The notice Roni received said all three boxes had shipped, but the harried clerk could only find two. While she was on the phone with a coworker trying to track down the missing box, we inspected the two we had. The tiles — five to a carton, two cartons to a box — were well packaged in large, 60-pound shipping boxes filled with expandable foam. It looked like they could survive a drop off the top of the Salesforce Tower. Perhaps, but apparently not off the back of a delivery truck.
Another check of the receiving area turned up the missing third box on the bottom shelf of a closed cabinet, separated from where the other boxes had been stored. The reason for this was immediately evident: the box was heavily damaged. Not even the foam was enough to protect the contents, and we found several tiles in one carton with chipped corners. Dangit. The clerk set up a replacement order for us and offered us an additional 10 percent off for our trouble, so we can’t complain too much. It will probably be several days before we actually need that third box, so all is good.
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LENN GOT HIS first taste of an arena rock concert Aug. 2 when he accompanied his sister and brother at a performance of Jeff Lynne’s ELO in Oakland. The tickets were a birthday gift, and the show was highly anticipated by fans as it would be the kickoff for the band’s first U.S. tour in 37 years. The concert gave Glenn an excuse to try out the new eBART train that began service from Antioch less than two months ago. The diesel train connects with BART’s familiar electrified route in Bay Point, and it was a smooth journey from home to the Oracle Arena where the concert was held.
It was a packed house of about 15,000 for the concert, which dazzled with a 20-song set of Electric Light Orchestra classics performed to a laser light show and visuals beamed out from the stage and a towering bank of video screens. Folks seated front and center undoubtedly had a great view of the action and were into the show, dancing in the aisles. Glenn’s group was parked in the second deck at a slight angle in front of the stage, where it was impossible to see the performers’ faces. But the music was plenty loud. Glenn was thankful for the foam earplugs he’d brought, saving his hearing to be destroyed another day by a symphony of power tools as he continues his kitchen project.
The other thing destroying our hearing lately has been the barking of our neighbors’ dogs. The family that moved in next door last December unfortunately also brought with them a large German shepherd mix and more recently added a puppy. They take turns assaulting what little peace there is with their daily routine of barking at everything, and despite the neighbors’ attempts to isolate them in the center of their yard, sound travels. Glenn decided it was time to haul out the old PetSafe bark control device we’d purchased a couple of years ago when the former neighbors’ dog created a similar nuisance.
The PetSafe looks like a plastic birdhouse and contains a small speaker that supposedly emits a high-pitched tone that only dogs can hear. It activates only when they bark, and allegedly conditions them to not bark in order to avoid the annoying tone. It is harmless to humans, unless you count the little red light that blinks whenever the device detects sound. That is what got us into trouble.
The PetSafe had been hanging up near the fence for about a week, doing little to stop the barking, when we got a visit from the woman next door asking what that thing with the light was. Turns out that it was blinking a lot when the family was outdoors, and she was frightened of it because she was worried it might be a surveillance device. Yikes. That wasn’t our intention at all, and Glenn reassured her, explained the problem, and promised to take the PetSafe down. She told us she would work harder to keep the puppy from barking so much. It’s been a couple of weeks since then and there has been some improvement, but dogs being dogs, you can only expect so much.
If you can’t have peace in your home, the next best option is to go somewhere else. Glenn has been doing that daily, continuing his regimen of 2.25-mile walks around the neighborhood as the scale continues to show progress to the downside. The challenge has been finding a time when the skies aren’t shrouded in smoke, as they have been much of the summer on account of wildfires burning to the north of us. The smoke drifts into the Bay Area and makes it uncomfortable to breathe, even when you think the air quality seems decent.
It’s hard to remember another summer that has brought such smoggy conditions to the Bay Area. Blame it on climate change, maybe, or on wind patterns that keep bringing the pollutants our way. In any case, we are eager for the flames to subside and things to return to normal.