Sunday, January 8, 2012

Keeping What You've Got: Rehabbing the Kitchen

Take a good look. Quick, before I fry some bacon.
These last few days I've been packing away the Christmas goods and unrolling the drop cloths. I need to check some painting projects off my list so they're done and blog fodder! In the meantime, I thought I'd show off what's up in the kitchen, an ongoing project that's been headed up by my Mom.

The house was built in 1939-1940, and the kitchen was updated somewhere in the 1960s-1970s time frame. I'm leaning more toward 1970s because of the style of cabinets and hardware--slab-style wood doors with dark stain, and colonial revival style hardware.

To say I was less than in love with the kitchen is probably being kind. "Vintage" and "period" are two words you use when a room is aging well. "Old" and "tired" are the words you use when it's not. This kitchen was not a whole lot of the former, and gobs of the latter. Add "icky" and "gross" to the list of descriptors and you've pretty well got the idea. Rusty and mildewed refrigerator that had no freezer. A ten year old range that looked like it hadn't been cleaned in its lifetime. A blah yellow Formica counter top with chips, cracks, dings, and bleached spots all over it. Someone had slopped a nondescript dark blue paint over some of the walls in recent years. And I do mean slopped. They got paint on the cabinets, the floor, the appliances, and the window trim. The cabinets were the worst. They were sticky, fingerprinted, covered in dirt and grease, and looked like someone had beaten them with a stick. They even smelled bad.

It's a good thing I lived with them for awhile. At any rate, I had to. While I was mucking through the plumbing disasters of July and counting my pennies, it became clear to me that I had money to rehab the cabinets but not to replace them. And if I bought an older home because I loved its character, wasn't I supposed to, um, you know, save its character? It's unfortunate I don't have any "befores" to show, because readers would truly understand how discouraged I was, despite my commitment to old home character.

When Mom started cleaning the cabinets and we started really looking at them, we noticed that these were actually very well-made, with high quality hardware. I suspect they are maple. She took a few doors off and brought them back to her place to strip, sand, and refinish them (we decided to leave the stain as is). She also cleaned about forty years of muck off the hardware. The results were pretty darn fabulous, as the opening photo above shows (The new microwave, installed courtesy of my brother-in-law, Rusty. Holla!) And here's the hardware detail below:

There's "patina" and then there's "grime."
Mom's been tackling it a cabinet door or drawer face at a time since September, and when she gets a whole raft of 'em done, she refinishes the face frames and puts everything back together again. To say that I owe her a bunch doesn't even do it justice. She has transformed this kitchen.
Also in September came a new counter top. It's a good thing I take a dim view of granite, because I couldn't afford it anyway. Formica (and other associated brands of material) is durable, economical, attractive, and was the material of choice for most of the decades this house was occupied. And it will continue. I chose Sand Crystall by Formica. I liked that it had the natural colors that were trendy in the 1960s and 1970s but updated to now, looked like a sandy river bottom, and had a dark fleck that picked up the dark stain of the cabinets:

It also hides spilled coffee grounds and bread crumbs, but I wouldn't know because I'm so tidy. Hee.

 Here's another look:

The photo shows the pantry closet corner, the ucky blue wall, the pantry (with missing trim piece), and a bit of the floor, which is faux parquet vinyl tile (another project and another post). The photo is showing the counter as paler than what it really is, a toasty warm speckled color that really plays up the cabinet tones.

The best part of reviving these kitchen cabinets is knowing who made them. A metal label was still affixed on the sink face framing:

A very mid-century modern logo design.
Believe it or not, Haas Cabinet is still in business, still in the same location, and it's all still made in the U.S. Their logo is even still much the same. You can find them at their website here. I even made note that their first year in business, 1939, was the same year my house was built. I shot off an email to their customer service people, hoping to find out for sure what wood my cabinets are made of. I'll be sure and share the news if I hear back from them.

What I learned from this project is to look past first bad impressions. Live with it awhile. It might just be that there is quality, something worth having, hidden under dirt and the abuses of time.

Here's one last shot:
No fruit were harmed in the filming of this segment.
My oatmeal container and recipe box. It gives some clues to future color schemes, and also to the work left to be done. The yellow band above the counter backsplash is the wall damage left behind from the previous backsplash, which was a flat band of Formica trimmed with a metal spline. Also note the crooked socket. Who DOES THAT? I have issues with symmetry. Details like this one drive me bananas. Or, apparently in this case, clementines.

***disclaimer: I am making no product endorsement for Haas Cabinet and I have not accepted any payment to promote the brand.


  1. The refinished cabinets look awesome!

    1. Thank you! My mom's hard work really paid off!

  2. We are rehabbing a 100 year old farmhouse that has Haas cabinets. Would your mom share how she refinished them in more detail?