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April 26, 2015

Kitchen Cabinets

This week, the kitchen cabinets were installed.   

After much experimentation, worry, anticipation, and a few setbacks, these cabinets have lived up to our hopes.  We are very, very pleased with the beautiful workmanship and finish.

Lots of pictures below.

The gray finish changes with the light of the day, varying from warm to cool, from a flat appearance to having a varied depth.  The figured veneer adds a shimmer and subtle liveliness.
View from Breakfast Nook

This 2-sided cabinet forms a wall and storage at the entry.  A steel box will fill the horizontal slot.

View from Mudroom

Kitchen Island

The gray finish, with subtle wood grain figuring showing through.

Kitchen sink, Island, and Refrigerator

Note the missing side panel on the tall pantry cabinet.  Still pending.  Duct above for the range hood.

Earthbound Industries made these excellent cabinets, and brokered the veneer (which was no small task).
The gray finish is by Stan Hanson Custom Finishing.
The veneer is a medium-figured maple.

The search for a beautiful gray finish started almost 2 years ago, and took some doing.  It can be incredibly time consuming when one chooses to diverge from the readily-available.  A warning to those who casually embark on their own pursuit of something different.
  • This kitchen from a design blog caught Lisa's interest.  
  • I tracked down the maker, WORKSTEAD in Brooklyn, NY, who was kind enough to chat with me and share information.  Turns out, the veneer used is a pre-dyed veneer from Italy, and to be 'used with caution'.
  • I contacted the Italian company's rep, Materials Inc., and ordered samples and got pricing.
  • As expected, the cost well exceeded our means, so we began to look elsewhere.
  • I ordered various gray wood dyes from sources on the internet, and experimented in the basement - with horrible results.  
  • I started shopping around town, hoping to find a cabinet maker that was versed in modern detailing, and who might have some idea of how to approach this finish.
  • After a few meetings with cabinet shops didn't look promising, I spoke with QuarterTwenty, who isn't a cabinet shop but sometimes takes on special projects.  They were too busy, but hooked me up with Stan Hanson Custom Finishing.
  • Stan passed along an intriguing sample of a silver-finished sycamore, that was not what we were looking for, but continued to haunt us.  
  • Decided that we liked the interest that the figured wood added to the mix, and decided to look into sycamore veneers.  Turns out they are not especially common, and are fairly expensive.
  • Spoke to Vincent Furniture, who almost took on the project, but got over-booked.  He noted that sycamore & maple are related, and pointed us in the direction of figured maple as a cheaper alternative.
  • Finally tracked down Bren at Earthbound Industries, who impressed us with his great work and expressed a willingness to experiment with gray finishes.  We hired him to be our cabinet maker, though the veneer and the finish were still up in the air.
  • Bren tracked down a possible local veneer supplier, but they couldn't make a long enough panel.
  • Bren tracked down another veneer supplier who could, but they were not local, and we had to judge veneers based on pictures.
  • At this point, we were well behind schedule on the cabinets.  The difficulty in sourcing the veneers was dragging on and on, and seemed like it would be more weeks to explore other options.
  • Decided to approve the veneers based on the photos, only to be rather disappointed when they arrived.  The figure was almost non-existent.  It did not look similar to the pictures.
  • We rejected the veneers, and entered into a hubbaloo with the supplier over what to do.  These panels were not off-the shelf, so not really an item that could be swapped out.
  • The manufacturer agreed to give us a rebate, and we decided to keep the panels - mainly because we were under a lot of time pressure to get the cabinets underway.  A lot of other work on the house needed the cabinets to be in place, and Bren's shop schedule was taking a beating also. 
  • At this point we were committed to the cabinets and veneer, but still had no gray finish.  Proceed on faith.
  • I experimented with the finish some more, with horrible results.
  • Bren experimented with the finish, with poor results.
  • Bren had an third party try her hand at it, with poor results.
  • We were getting rather worried.  Meanwhile Bren is building cabinets.
  • I finally was able to get Stan - who does only woodwork finishing for a living - to produce some samples.  Everything was hinging on him.  The results were... poor.
  • Devastated, I did not know what we were to do now.  
  • While discussing the failed samples, Stan wet an unfinished sample board with water, and the wood grain figuring suddenly came to life.  None of the gray samples showed wood grain like that; they were muddy and lifeless.  I asked him to try a sample starting with a clear coat, then add the gray on top of it.  Voila, we have a winner!  The grain figuring popped, and the gray glowed.  A bit more experimentation along this line, and we found the right balance.  Whew.  Skin of our teeth.  
  • Then a finish shop accident damaged the tall side panel, and we started down the veneer supply path all over again to replace it.  But I already told that story.
We measure for countertops this coming Wednesday. They unfortunately will take weeks to arrive, which hold up the tile backsplash, the range hood, the cooktop install, and other items. 

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