Cabinet Artistry: The 12-Year Kitchen

Custom Kitchen Cabinetry

Photo: Roseann Foley Henry

Anyone who embarks on a large-scale renovation like our kitchen project worries about it—it’s a huge expense and a major investment in time, with consequences you’re going to live with for many, many years. When you’re a worrier to begin with—well, that’s a lot of worrying.

Margaret and I mostly worried about our choice of painted wood, ceiling-height stacked cabinets. We worried that the green-painted maple that we loved in a 4×6-inch sample would be too much green once the whole kitchen was outfitted in it. We worried the cabinetry would look dense and imposing, with two parallel walls of wood doors reaching eight and a half feet up to the ceiling creating a “tunnel” effect.  And we worried about the extra cost of installing it all, since we knew doubling the number of wall cabinets would increase the price of hanging them.

We spent hours looking at photos of other people’s kitchens, reassuring ourselves that our design would work. We decided to spring for glass fronts on the upper cabinets along the longer wall, to break up what could have been a sea of wood doors. We selected a two-piece crown molding to help draw the eye upward. And we carried that little green sample around with us for months, matching it to fabrics, paint, and tile.

I wouldn’t say that our worry was needless, exactly, since it did focus us (intently) on the details of what we were choosing. But we probably could have saved ourselves a few hours of sleepless nights along the way, because they look fabulous.

Custom Kitchen Cabinetry

There's nothing quite like drilling into a wall and hitting a pipe or electrical conduit - Keith avoided that by carefully marking the wall before the cabinets even arrived.

Custom Kitchen Cabinetry

It may look as if they're just sitting there, but these base cabinets have been shimmed and trimmed and are perfectly level, straight, and plumb. That first space is precisely 30 inches wide - we're praying that a 30-inch stove is a bit less than that! The second space is exactly 24 inches wide, which should be just right for the dishwasher.

We give ourselves credit for making some darned good choices, starting with the cabinets themselves—willow-painted maple in “Atwater” door style—simple, clean, with a vintage look that’s in keeping with our 1920 house.  The KraftMaid designer, Matt,  gets some credit as well for asking the right questions: How much bakeware did we need to store; how large were the range, range hood, and refrigerator; was the cook right- or left-handed; how wide a sink were we ordering?

And the installation? Well, a lot of credit is due there, too.

To the extent that I’d thought about installation at all, it had been about the wall cabinets—getting them exactly right in the vertical space between the counter and the ceiling, stacking them seamlessly one above the other, hoping that a 36-inch refrigerator really did fit under a 36-inch cabinet. I hadn’t realized that the artistry began with the bases—I guess I figured you took them out of the boxes and sat them against the wall, and you were done. Well, that’s not true…

Custom Kitchen Cabinetry

By this point I was confident our cabinets had been a great choice - but I realized I should have primed the ceiling first! I was up there at midnight that night rolling on the second coat before the crown molding went on.

Keith trimmed each base cabinet along its bottom to erase any variation in height (of the floor or the neighboring cabinet), and he leveled and plumbed and shimmed for hours to get all our green maple ducks into a perfect row. He detected a tiny variation in level from one side of the galley to the other, and he recommended a small adjustment to fix it—not because any cook or visitor would ever (in a million years) have detected the difference in counter height, but because that small difference might have been noticeable when the crown molding went in later.

The upper cabinets were stacked and snugly attached before they went up on the walls—and need I say that each wall had been reinforced at the correct heights early on, so they could carry the load? Keith shimmed and shifted and nudged until they were all perfectly aligned and tight as a drum. In fact, at one point I realized it would have been smart of me to have primed and painted the adjacent walls first, so I wouldn’t spatter the cabinets, but I hadn’t. I figured I’d slip a piece of paper between the cabinet and the drywall as a means of protection when I painted—but I discovered that I couldn’t fit one in. That’s how snug those babies are.

Cabinets with crown molding installed

With the molding finished, doors on, and even the range hood installed, we were looking good. I had even had time to prime and paint! We still didn't have anywhere to plug anything in yet, of course...

A strip of cove molding (at bottom) to hide the under-cabinet lights and the crown molding (at top) combine to finish it all off, and it’s gorgeous (or at least it will be once the electrician finishes installing the lights and the outlets). We’re not at all worried any more—at least not about the cabinets. We love them, and we especially love that having them installed means the finish line really is in sight.

Now we just have to worry about that quartz countertop we chose…

If you have remodeled your kitchen we would love to see before and after photos for a Gallery of Kitchens coming soon.  Upload your photos now at the Bob Vila Facebook page here.

Next: The Last .2 Mile

For more on kitchen remodeling, consider:

Builder Grade Cabinets in the Kitchen
Installing Molding on the Kitchen Cabinets
Custom Made Kitchen Cabinets