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Kitchen Challenge Part 4: Cabinet Conumdrum

By far and away the hardest decision in this whole kitchen renovation process has been choosing cabinets. Problem numero cabinets are hella' 'spensive!!! Like really, unfathomably costly. And my cabinet dreams weren't even that extreme. Just some plain old cabinets in a hardwood like knotty alder or hickory.

The cabinetry and entire kitchen were inspired by a single image on Pinterest that I fell in love with a few years ago. It not only captured a clean and simple aesthetic but felt like a modernized version of the butler's pantry/Paris bistro style kitchen I imagined the house may once have had.

Working from a Pinterest image is pretty tricky. No information, no real sense of scale and an inability to see a space in its entirety make for a lot of guesswork. I looked at wood samples and the cabinets looked like Knotty Alder to me, so that is what I went with in my first several designs. It wasn't until I somewhat belatedly showed the Pinterest picture to the cabinet designer that I discovered I had been looking at Hickory all along! Another thing about Pinterest pictures is that you get a tiny snippet of something without seeing the rest of it in context.

The picture I was looking at turned out to be a very small corner of a much larger kitchen. I hit Pinterest gold when I saw a picture of the same kitchen shot from the other side--the side that contained all of the appliances, a ton more cabinets and a ton more space than I had in my own very small kitchen. It helped me put the design and scale back into perspective for my own project.

But back to the cabinets. No crazy molding, no fancy paneling, just the minimum. For a set of what amounted to three regular cabinets, one corner cabinet, a panel for the dishwasher and a surround for the fridge I was looking at $11,000 to have the cabinets of my dreams. How do people even put cabinets in an entire kitchen? Most people have a whole row of bottom cabinets on each wall and then some top cabinets and are apparently just spending $40k on cabinets alone. Unfortunately, I was not ballin' on that kind of cabinet budget, nor did I want to be. From my perspective, I just needed boxes to put things in and rest a counter on top of. My husband wanted a little more out of them, insisting that they needed to close quietly and not be offensive to look at. In the end, we settled on the first place we went--Studio 41, a local home and design store. They offer free design services with the cabinets and, although I'm sure you're only supposed to get one free redesign, we got about 10 from our very patient, if somewhat skeptical designer Sergei.

Now here's the deal with Sergie, or designer. We did not see eye-to-eye on any of the design choices. We wanted refrigerator drawers, he laughed in our faces. We wanted knotty alder, he kept asking us if we were "sure." When we switched to Hickory he said "That's so wild!" When we told him we wanted a vintage look he told us it was a terrible match for our 100-year-old house. Clearly, our aesthetics were not in alignment and he definitely thought we were a couple weirdos about to throw a lot of money away on "old timey looking" cabinets when we could get something fresh and modern instead. Strangely, this did not matter one bit when it came to the design and his total skepticism helped push us towards refining what we wanted out of the cabinets.

Because we have a small kitchen, the design options were fairly limited which made it easy to choose the layout of the cabinets. We had to have space for a stove, sink, dishwasher and fridge all along an L-shaped wall. The stove had to go on the left, the sink had to go under the window, the dishwasher had to go next to the sink and the fridge had to go at the short end of the "L." The spaces left in between all of these things amounted to a few narrow cabinets, one cabinet large enough for a pull-out trashcan and one corner cabinet.

So that is exactly what we ended up with!

Deciding on the cabinets was definitely the most difficult part of this entire kitchen renovation. Because you only get to see a few samples of door shapes that are inevitably not going to be in the wood type/color combination/stain you have chosen, it is impossibly hard to imagine how anything is going to look. It was really just a leap of faith when it came to the final choice on the wood and stain. We opted for the unknown excitement of the "wild" Hickory in a color called Rumberry--a brown, slightly darker than most of the rest of the wood in the kitchen but the same color as the built-ins in the rest of the house. We added a Glaze and Highlight to give a little age and accent to the otherwise fairly plain doors.

All of this was still way over budget so we went back in and had to make some hard cuts--no Lazy Susan for the corner cabinet (that shaved off $1000). No floating shelves (also $1000, each). Opting to not finish a few sides that would be hidden by appliances also took off a few hundred dollars. By then end, we ended up right at our $6000 budget. Still a lot to spend on a few cabinets, but hopefully worth it. Now we just have to wait and see if we made the right choices!

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