My Home Remodel, Part 12: Custom Cabinetry by a Carpenter Who Cares

kitchen remodel, custom cabinetry
The seats from which Clare and Gaga were appreciating the beauty of the kitchen.

My mother-in-law watches Clare, my three-year-old daughter, on Mondays and Tuesdays while I work on retrofit from my basement office. A few mornings ago, I overheard Clare say, “Gaga [the name Clare gave grandma when she first began speaking], come sit over here and look at our beautiful kitchen.” My ears perked up! Clare asked Gaga to sit on a couple of newly painted vintage chairs I placed in front of our shiplap wall and then she pointed out the beauty in each part of the kitchen. “Gaga, look at my beautiful oven!” “Gaga, look at the pretty cabinets!” “Gaga, look at the counters!”

I can’t help but think Clare is imitating me just a bit. I have spent more than one evening, sitting at different angles within my kitchen, just marveling at what it has become. It has been a long—sometimes stressful, sometimes strange—trip, but as we approach the end of our kitchen remodel, I’m overjoyed with how beautifully it has turned out. There are so many parts of my kitchen that are stunning but none of it would be a reality without the gorgeous custom cabinetry, which was built by a friend who put his heart and soul into his work.

My husband Bart (right) helps Ted move in the perimeter cabinets the day before Christmas 2020.

When our original contractor, who demolished our existing kitchen and framed the new one, no longer could build cabinets for us, my husband Bart recommended Ted, his friend from college who lives in our area. Ted is a full-time farmer but studied computer aided design and construction in college and now does carpentry in his spare time.

When Ted stopped by our house in October 2020 to discuss the project, I was ready for him with a 20-page portfolio, complete with photos of exactly what I wanted to see in my kitchen—from the Shaker style cabinetry to the exact color (Sherwin Williams’ Passive) of cabinetry to where I wanted pieces located and how I wanted to use what could easily become “wasted” space. I didn’t know Ted well then and I hoped he wouldn’t think I was the most “bossy” client he had ever worked with; I spend my days providing direction to writers, graphic designers and others so I’m pretty good at explaining my exact vision. Fortunately, Ted was grateful for the direction. He told me the last kitchen he had worked on, the homeowner had no idea what she wanted or needed to make the kitchen work for her. That is so NOT me!

I probably gave Ted some stress when it came to the vent hood. At first my design was too curvy and then when he installed it, it was too big. The final look, though, is perfection in my opinion.

Once the new kitchen addition was framed to the north and our existing kitchen’s north wall was removed in November, Ted came back to take measurements. I had always dreamed of a kitchen island with enough space to prep meals and seat our family. I thought, with the 8-foot extension of our kitchen, I could have my dream island. Bart and I had talked about placing the sink and dishwasher in the island, so our plumbing could remain in the same location as in our existing kitchen to save a few dollars. In my mind, I saw myself standing at the sink in the island with my back to the north-facing window I once looked through while standing at the sink.

After taking measurements, Ted presented me with a CAD of my new kitchen’s layout. In Ted’s drawing, he had turned the island so the window would now be on my left and I’d be facing east (facing our dining and living areas) while at the sink. Once he had taken measurements, Ted thought people seated at the island oriented my way may impede the refrigerator doors opening and, because we planned to install a fireplace and hang our TV above it, on our east living room wall, Ted thought I could see the TV too while prepping a meal or cleaning up after a meal at the island. Reorienting the island would truly take advantage of our open living space and include me in anything happening within our living space. It had never crossed my mind to have the island face east but it absolutely MADE my kitchen. Once I saw that drawing, I knew Ted was right.

Thank goodness for the NanaWall door so Ted and Nick, his assistant, could move in the refrigerator cabinet (seen here) and island on one of the coldest days of the winter.

By December, Ted was sending me photos from his workshop of completed cabinetry. I wanted a traditional vent hood look and we tweaked my original vision a bit to make it easier on Ted (from a curved shape to straight lines); I actually love the final design of the hood even better than what I had put in my portfolio. Ted also had already built my refrigerator cabinet with wine storage above and broom/mop storage within and was working on the island, literally building it around my BLANCO sink (see part 11 of this series).

On Dec. 24, Ted brought the perimeter cabinets over and installed them. That was a pretty fabulous Christmas gift! And after New Year’s he installed the upper cabinets and the vent hood. It was one of the coldest days of the year in February when Ted and his assistant brought over the refrigerator cabinet and the island—both of which Ted had painted in his workshop. Thank goodness our NanaWall door was installed so the duo could haul these big pieces in through it! I finally got to see what my kitchen would eventually look like and I got a little teary that day.

Ted reoriented the island to face east, which ensures that I’m always part of what is going on in our open living area.

Not only is Ted a talented woodworker, but he was an invaluable help to me during the kitchen remodeling process. I think it takes a certain personality to be a carpenter and Ted has that easygoing, not easily stressed or flustered modus operandi. Nearly everything completed in my kitchen affected Ted, so I often found myself calling and texting him to help me answer another contractor’s questions or to figure out who needed to come to my house to install whatever next.

In addition, because I was the GC on my project, whenever I was confused about something or wasn’t sure what would look best, I found myself texting Ted. I made sure he could come over the day the countertop installers measured for counters so he could help me make decisions on overhangs and edges. When the plumber neglected to anchor my dishwasher to the island, I simply mentioned it to Ted while he was working on my cabinets but found—after he’d left for the day—the dishwasher was anchored. When we couldn’t find a painter who was available to paint the cabinetry, Ted painted it (and he did a stellar job!). He also built my barn door when the guy he subbed the door to took on a kitchen project of his own.

My kitchen cabinets have all the bells and whistles you’d expect in 2021: drawers for plates and bowls and pots and pans, slide-out trays for spices, dividers for cookie sheets, an appliance garage to hide the toaster and coffee maker, the coolest Rev-A-Shelf in the corner and soft-close everything. I expected these items when I handed Ted my 20-page dream kitchen portfolio. However, I’m forever grateful for how much care he took in building these things for me and that he was always patient with my questions, texts and calls.

Now you see it, now you don’t! The pantry is hidden by a barn door Ted built that leads to our basement stairs. This is one of my favorite design features of our kitchen. (The refrigerator cabinet is on the left side of the photo; it has broom/mop storage built in. The appliance garage, which still needs doors, is on the right. The “T” is for Thoreson, my married name.)

When I asked Ted if mine was the best kitchen he has ever built, he responded with, “It’s definitely the most unique.” I’ll take that as a yes!

Read the previous posts in my home remodeling series:

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editorial director and associate publisher of retrofit.

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