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July, 2010 | A House By The Park
Archive for July, 2010 —

The Cabinet Package

One of the single biggest budget items of the house was the cabinet package. Custom cabinets are very expensive, no matter who builds them for you and what materials they use. If you’re looking to save a good chunk of change on your house project, cutting out the custom cabinets can go a long way. Short of custom, you can go with stock cabinets (like what you see at Ikea) or “semi-custom” cabinets, which are essentially pre-made but can have certain dimensions modified.

Open shelving at the end of the large kitchen cabinet makes for a nice glassware display.

I ended up spending $61,867.50 on my custom cabinets, and that included a fairly extensive ensemble in the kitchen, consoles in four bathrooms, a large dresser/armoire in the master bedroom, a full package in the walk-in closet, and a built-in desk for the office. This number could have easily been closer to $90,000 had I chosen a different cabinet maker, but could have also been closer to $20,000 if I went with stock stuff.

User interface around the house, in general, is a very big deal to me, and in the end, I felt that only custom cabinets would let me make the most out of the space and ensure that everything fit perfectly and provided easy access to the contents within.

One of my favorite interface features: dueling trash and recycle drawers for easy access.

In general, we’re happy with how the cabinets turned out, from a design and usability standpoint, but there are some color inconsistencies and visible veneer seams that we feel could have been avoided if a different process had been used. The cabinet shop that designed and produced our cabinets uses a process called “spray finishing” which we knew nothing about before embarking on this project. Essentially, there are two ways to coat a cabinet: by staining it with a paint brush and stain or by putting each piece into a booth and spraying it with clear finish. This clear finish can be mixed with “tint” to help alter the color of the wood.

We specified espresso-colored cabinets from the beginning so we figured it would just be a question of laminating some rift-sawn oak to some plywood and then staining/spraying it a dark brown. We’d seen thousands of espresso-colored cabinets before so it didn’t seem like a complicated process. The shop began showing us sprayed samples and none of them looked right. They all looked more walnut-like in color than espresso-like. After going through probably 15 samples, the suggestion was made that we try a wood called wenge, which is a lot closer to espresso-color than oak. It’s a very hard African wood and it looked really nice to us so we said ok. The wenge ended up tinting pretty nicely and was close enough to espresso that we signed off on it.

Here’s what the cabinets looked like in the shop, before finishing.

Unfortunately, a few months later, as the cabinets were installed, we noticed that the edge pieces were much darker than the faces. The reason for this is that the edges were made with wenge hardwood and not the thin veneer on the cabinet faces. The end result is sort of a “two tone” cabinet, in dark brown and much darker brown. To add to that, the color of the wenge varied from room to room and sometimes even board to board. Definitely not what we were expecting. Additionally, the porous nature of the wenge did not seem to take the spray finish evenly and needed touching up in multiple places.

A very handsome built-in desk, but note the color difference between the surfaces.

There were several things we had the cabinet shop fix, and to their credit, they were very friendly and responsive about making things right, but the cabinet color was something that couldn’t be fixed without a complete redo. Given the fact that this color could conceivably be construed as intentional and it was extremely unlikely any visitors would ever notice anything was wrong, we decided to just live with them.

The color isn’t something that bothers us every day and we’ve pretty much gotten over the entire issue, but we did learn some lessons:

  • Although spray finishing is, according to some, a high-end way to finish cabinets, do not try to radically alter the color of a wood with it. It should only be used when you are looking for a clear finish or perhaps go a shade darker. I wish the shop had apprised us of this.
  • Do not use a wood that your cabinet shop has never used before. Woods vary tremendously in how they react to coatings and you don’t want any surprises in your project.
  • Participate vigorously in the user interface design of your cabinets. Because we thought of things like where we want to toast our bread and where we want the garbage and recycle drawers to be, using the cabinets is a breeze.
  • For areas like walk-in closets, consider building cabinets with both hanger bars and adjustable shelves built in. That way, you can fine-tune the amount of hanging and folding space to suit your clothing inventory.
  • Know when to insist on fixes and when to let things go. Cabinetry is never perfect and if you insist on perfection, you’re going to end up making a lot of honest people redo their honest work.

Be sure to check out more photos of the cabinet package in the photo gallery.

The last miscellaneous cost post

The last of the miscellaneous costs that don’t warrant their own blog entries have been entered and this post doesn’t really serve any purpose other than to get them into the system. If you have costs turned on, you should see them below. If not, move along now… nothing to see here!

How the front yard came together

The front yard and and landscaping turned out to be one of the most pleasantly surprising parts of the entire project. Having never owned a house before and knowing very little about gardening or landscaping, we assumed the (one woman) team at Alexandria’s Creations would do a nice job for us but that we’d probably want to change a lot of stuff later on. Alex’s work, however, has turned out so beautifully that we don’t foresee wanting to change a single thing, provided all plants adapt nicely to their new environment.

A few months ago when landscaping work began, I posted details of what was going in where so I won’t rehash that again, but there are a few other details to discuss, now that everything’s done.

Irrigation

For one reason or another, I decided to axe irrigation from the budget early on… probably because we were looking for stuff to cut in order to hit a number. As landscaping plans came into focus, however, it became clear that skipping irrigation now would only mean a year or two of laborious manual watering followed by a destructive installation of proper sprinklers later. For that reason, we added it back into the plan just in time and the folks at the Hale Company came in and did a wonderful job for us. Because the driveway was already poured, Gary and the Hale team had to bore a small hole underneath it to run water there, but other than that, the install went smoothly and took about a week.

We created 4 sprinkler zones for the front and side yards and ran a water line to the backyard for if and when irrigation would be installed there. In order to tie the irrigation into our home automation system, we used the Rain8Pro from WGL Designs. It’s probably the single ugliest piece of equipment in the entire house, but it’s also one of the best irrigation controllers on the market. Because it ties directly into the automation system, we can trigger it with moisture sensors, on a timed schedule, or even from a web browser or iPhone.

The Rain8: Beaten repeatedly with an ugly stick but still outperforms its peers.

The Lawn

So far, the lawn has not proved to be very difficult to maintain. It needs a little more watering than the plants, but since it’s flat and not very big, I can cut the whole thing with a manual push mower in less than 10 minutes. We’ll see how long I go until calling a neighborhood kid in to do it, but right now, I don’t mind it at all. I think there’s a difference in having a lawn you have to mow versus a lawn you want to mow. Right now, I’m in the second camp.

The Lighting

Landscape lighting isn’t too complicated of a subject once you get the hang of it, but I have to say, it’s pretty hard to find nice looking modern landscape lights. It seems like 99% of all landscape lights are either very traditional or very cheap looking. I thought briefly about using solar lighting, but after trying it in the back yard, I found it doesn’t really flood areas with any reasonable amount of light. The ones I found all used a tiny single LED bulb which only spread light across about a two foot radius… and spottily at that.

Through the advice of someone on Twitter, I called Sidney Genette at Lighting Designs and hired him to put together a basic lighting plan for the front yard. I didn’t end up using the equipment he spec’d because I found fixtures I liked even better, but Sidney’s plan successfully lit up our paths, our lawn, and our plants.

We ended up going with some pretty expensive downlights in the BK Lighting Alpine PAR 30 (purchased from Stoller Inc.), some moderately priced path lights in the Hinkley 1579SS (purchased from LightingSale.com), and some super cheap uplights in the Malibu 20 watt cast metal flood (purchased from Home Depot).

These are the BK Lighting downlights. Solid as hell. Maybe 15 pounds each. Kind of overkill though.

The Hinkleys are the real superstars, lighting up the walkway to the front door and providing a nice, modern, subtle accent to the concrete path, even in the daytime. If the Hinkleys are an A, the next closest path light I found was maybe a C-.

Mmmm, the Hinkleys. So modern, so smooth, so perfect.

Next Up

Since we did so well on the overall house budget, Alex will be coming back in a week or so to landscape the back yard. It’s already beautiful so I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

I just posted a bunch of front yard photos to the photo gallery, so feel free to check them out here.