28 November 2011

Three reader questions for a Monday morning


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Help! My husband and I are planning to finish up our kitchen with all new appliances and by fixing our old cabinets at some point after the new year. Ideally we want to replace the cabinets rather than just fix them, however  we want to keep the granite counters we had installed a few years ago. Is it possible to replace cabinets and keep our existing granite counters?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but here goes. No.

Except for cases that are very few and very far between, a granite counter can't be reused. The act of removing them carries with it the very real chance that the counter will crack or break all together. Granite's a very hard material, but it's also very brittle. I has to be supported completely when it's in a horizontal position. That's why it's always transported vertically. Sliding a counter off of the cabinetry where its's resting will leave it very vulnerable to being held in an unsupported, horizontal position.

Adding a layer of complication and risk to all of this is granite's sheer weight. 3cm slab granite weighs between 18 and 20 pounds per square foot, depending on the density of the stone you have. So if you have a counter that's eight feet long and 25 inches deep, that single counter will weigh around 330 pounds. Manipulating a large object that weighs that much will take a team of people. Dropping it will destroy whatever it lands on, be that a floor or the feet of the people carrying the stone. If it breaks while it's being carried, potentially catastrophic injury and damage await. Do not attempt this on your own. Please.

Since it's not a DIY project, one would think that a stone yard would take on a project like that. Don't hold your breath. You'll be amazed at the cost if you look into it. A team of stone workers' labor costs that aren't folded into the cost of an installed counter can be pretty steep and that's if you can find a company willing to take on the liability of moving a previously installed counter.

Barring some miracle, you'll end up saying goodbye to those counters unless you're willing to do a cosmetic do-over on the cabinets you have already.

Since you asked me this question I'm going to tell you what I think is a better plan. For 2012, have you and your husband set a goal to save between $25 and $30,000 so that you can renovate your kitchen correctly and without having to resort to Band-Aid solutions. Once you have that goal set, make an appointment with a local, independent kitchen designer. If you need a referral, I will find someone for you. In that appointment, tell the designer your budget and talk about the items on your with list for your new kitchen. Explain too the time frame you have in mind.

If you have a rapport building, terrific. Any designer I'd send you to is there to help you get as much for your money as it's possible to get. It's his or her job to do the math, figure everything out that needs to be addressed and to make sure that everything not only looks great, but that it works too. You'll spend less money with a good designer at the helm than you would on your own, as paradoxical as that sounds. Good luck!

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Help! Do you have any idea how to refinish brass cabinet hardware? The knobs in my kitchen are legion and I'm in no hurry to buy new ones. I just replaced my faucet with a new one that has a brushed nickel finish. I really like how that looks and I'm wondering if there's a way to change the finish on my knobs to brushed nickel. Is there a product out there that can help?
No there isn't, sorry to tell you that. While it's true that there are metallic spray paints out there, they cannot accurately recreate the appearance of something like brushed nickel.

Spray painting cabinet knobs is a surprisingly enormous undertaking because all of those knobs have to be removed from the doors and drawer fronts, attached to something like a piece of cardboard and then sprayed evenly. Spray painting is not as easy as it looks under normal circumstances and in the case of kitchen cabinet hardware, the existing finish will will working overtime to prevent you from painting it.

Metal knobs and pulls (and faucets and just about everything that gets installed in a kitchen) have a stain-resistant clear coat applied to them while they're being manufactured. This clear coat locks in a factory finish and makes cleaning up spills a whole lot easier. It makes adding a new finish over top of that clear coat nearly impossible at the same time.

While it's true that you can remove that clear coat with a solvent, you'll probably end up damaging the metal underneath as you rub off the clear coat.

A much better use of your time and resources is to bite the bullet and replace everything. Lee Valley Hardware sells a plain, brushed nickel knob from their Atherly collection for $2.80 and if you buy ten or more, the unit cost drops to $2.40.

Start saving up your shekels and save yourself a whole lot of heartache and replace your brass knobs.

Andrew Coppa, Vis Vitae/In Touch Weekly
I get it that in certain areas of the country like Florida and California there's a historical and cultural link to Spain, so the architectural heritage of that country informs the aesthetics of those parts of the US. But in the northeast, kitchen designers are still pushing miles of tile, corbels, distressing and glazing in an attempt to recreate their idea of Tuscany. I think theme rooms belong at Disney hotels or Graceland. Any thoughts?
Oh you bet I have some thoughts. You hit a nerve. But before I get to that, let's have some geography first. While it's true that Florida and California were once Spanish territories, so was the rest of North America. However, it was only in the southern areas of what's now the US that the Spanish actually did any kind of development. Surviving Spanish structures in California were primarily missions and the surviving Spanish structures in Florida were forts and a handful of homes. Oh, the wild pigs that wreak havoc in our great state are their legacy too.

Furthermore, Tuscany is a region in northern Italy. Tuscany, while lovely, is a very different place than Spain is and the Italians never played a role in the colonization of North America.

What passes for Tuscan design in the United States is a uniquely US creation and yet another embarrassing example of trying to prove one's cultural awareness through excess. The nightmare in the photo above has nothing to do with Tuscany or anywhere near the Mediterranean. It is however a testament to the striving ambition of the nouveau riche vulgarian standing in the middle of it.

Here's a kitchen in a home for sale in Gandia, a coastal city 70km south of Valencia in Spain.

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The hole on the left side is where a washing machine will go and the hole on the right side is where a dishwasher will go. Notice the oven and the cooktop. They're the metric equivalent of 24" wide. Note the absolute lack of "Mediterranean" details. By Spanish standards, this is a large kitchen and by Italian standards, it's enormous.

Here's a kitchen from a villa in Montagnana, 20 minutes outside of Florence, the capital of Tuscany. That makes this a real, Tuscan kitchen.

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Where are the corbels? Where are the multi-step glazes, the dried flowers, the tapestries and the enormous appliances? I'll tell you where they are. They are in every cul de sac subdivision in the United States.

I've said it here more times than I can count, a home is no place for themed decor. Architecture should look the time when it was built and it should reflect the place where it sits.

There is no way someone walking around the streets of Florence or Valencia could conceive a kitchen such as the fist one show at the top of this question and then call it Tuscan or Mediterranean. A kitchen such as that is the product of some kind of warped nostalgia, too many weekends in Las Vegas and too many dinners at the Olive Garden.

But all of that excess is expensive and I believe very honestly that it's the expense of that stuff that drives peoples' asking for it and designers' willingness to give it to them.

So there you have it. My thoughts.





8 comments:

  1. "...a testament to the striving ambition of the nouveau riche vulgarian standing in the middle of it." Apt description; good stuff all around.

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  2. Thanks Kathy, I've been aching to use the word vulgarian for weeks.

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  3. Great post! Why people insist on putting granite counters on crappy cabinets is one of life's mysteries. And Disneyland Tuscan does not belong in most homes.

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  4. I'll go a step further, Disneyland Tuscan doesn't belong in any home.

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  5. There's a nice little book by Elizabeth Hilliard called Casa that has some lovely photos of kitchens in southern Spain (along with baths and other rooms). Open upper shelves, tile, and pot racks. Looks nothing like the overdone showcase kitchen in the photo.

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  6. It's always fascinating (and alarming) to me to run into the ideas about the Mediterranean of someone who's never been there and who isn't curious enough to read up on it.

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  7. Well, OK, I don’t mind being Odd Man Out or Devil’s Advocate—your choice. I think people should be able to design whatever they like for kitchens, regardless of whether it is true Tuscan or fake Tuscan or any other permutation that I may not personally care for.
    You said, “Architecture should look the time when it was built and it should reflect the place where it sits.” If I were to follow that dictum, I would be relegated to the cheap tract cabinetry that came with this tract home. Or, if I wanted to “reflect the place where it sits,” I might well put in a fake Tuscan kitchen or some other such monstrosity, since this is an older tract and by now many of my neighbors have surely done just that.

    At one point I was seriously considering building an Arts and Crafts style kitchen for our home, but have since decided against it. The current plans are for cabinetry of my own design, which doesn’t mimic anyone or any style, but is just something I have designed with an eye toward simply having well-built cabinetry. I do strive for a simplicity that seems “right as rain,” but that’s my own tastes. Maybe the reason the lady in the photo looks so smug is because she’s achieved her dream with that kitchen.

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  8. People can do anything they want to do, but it won't make me bite my tongue. Ugly is ugly and overwrought is overwrought.

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