Kitchen Cabinets

This project is one of those that I am the most proud of. It hits just about everything that I love and want out of our home projects. It 1) saved something old and well made out of the landfill, 2) brought out the beauty of something that had been covered under many layers of paint for years, 3) saved a ton of money, and 4) looks good. It also took a butt-load of time, but we’re finally done.

We needed cabinets for the kitchen, since our house came with none (correct, there were no cabinets). We were looking for a salvage set that was hopefully from the 20’s or 30’s, so that we could have something that looked authentic.By a stroke of incredible luck, we found an old handmade set of cabinets on Craigslist for about $80! They were covered by a thick layer of many coats of paint, but they were solid and usable, so we decided to give them a shot.


A diamond in the rough. You can tell its age by the vent holes for the sink base – for the most part, this style only existed in the 20’s and 30’s. The interior joinery also spoke to an old style of putting things together (more mortise and tenon and dovetailing, few nails, glue, or screws). 

To be honest, we made an attempt to strip these on our own but there were just too many layers of paint for us to handle. You gotta know when to fold, so we took them to a professional to have them stripped.


And we were happy to see that the wood underneath looked wonderful.

A few months later, the naked cabinets were returned to us. We got lucky, and the wood underneath looked wonderful. Unfortunately, the person who stripped them lost some of the hardware, so after the fact we had to track down old hinges that fit the doors. Remember this post? That’s what this was for.


We left the interiors unstripped and painted them with a heavy duty alkyd paint.

We decided against completely stripping the interiors and opted to paint them  black instead, since they don’t face the outside. For the exterior color, we chose our good ol’ favorite, Minwax Mahogany stain, since this was what was on the floors in that room as well. We stained and painted for many days over the summer until we were ready to poly and install.


Doors are stained and taped off in order to paint the interior. We stained and varnished the exterior first so that if we accidentally dripped any black paint, it would be easier to clean off.

We had to make some adjustments for installation, since these cabinets had been custom made for a different space. Since we were installing a dishwasher with the base cabinets, we had to remove the left end section of the base to make room for the dishwasher.


Lopped off end section. Goodbye poor cabinet. We hardly knew ye.


Outsides stained, insides painted – getting close!


Starting to rough in everything


Installed base with the counter top and dishwasher. Added Hardie Backer (the purple stuff) for later tiling. The end edge of the base cabinet looked rough, so we ended up covering it with a new piece of wood, stained to match. 

After the base cabinets and counter top were installed, we put in the uppers. We had to do a bit of customization here as well, because they were too short for the space we needed them to fill. Dan custom created some open corner shelving to take up the extra space. Also once we got them up, we realized that the two upper cabinet pieces were not flush with each other! So we had to rip off and re-make a front piece to make them look square.


Can you see where they veer away from each other? That’s where we had to put a new front piece.

After everything was installed, we hung the doors (using our newly cleaned hinges), and commenced the long process of arguing/debating over hardware. The handles on this cabinet had long since been swapped for newer ones, so unfortunately we didn’t have them and had no way of knowing what they originally looked like.


We ended up with these after looking at approximately 800 handles (or it felt like it anyways). As you can probably see, there had been new holes drilled for hardware at some point, so we wanted something that would match the already existing holes without having to damage the fronts even more.

If you’re in the same situation, it’s worth noting that you can order in just one of a hardware piece you think you might want from a big box retailer such as Home Depot, Lowes, or Amazon, and easily return it if you don’t like it. Hardware is something that is really helpful to see in person, so this is one of the few things I suggest the large stores for, largely for their liberal return policies.

The preferred knobs having been selected and installed, for now we are done with the cabinets. You may have noticed that there was some trim on the doors originally. We do still have the trim and it was stripped, but we aren’t sure if we’re going to put it back up. At this point we like the cabinets the way they look and we think the trim would detract from their simplistic beauty. I also used Minwax Polyshades on them without testing first, and it looks awful! Always test first.

This is the finished product for this project. We also have a salvage cabinet on the other wall, but that is a different story for a different time. This one took a lot of work and some outside help, but it was worth it to save an old piece of handmade craftsmanship from the landfill. And it fits perfectly with the room!


Finished and installed base, with finished counter top and tile installation.


Finished uppers with additional corner shelving and redone trim around the door frame. On top of the cabinets, you can juuust barely see a little model church. It was made out of matchsticks by Dan’s grandpa; it’s of the church he and Dan’s grandma were married in. Happy to have a place to lovingly display it now!





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