Buying Antique Cabinets before design done

navi_jenMay 18, 2013

So, I went out to Brimfield Antique Fair today, thinking I would pass along business cards to folks who could help me find an antique kitchen for my teeny tiny (950 sq ft) 1928 house.

Lo and behold, I may have found it. I found 5 cabinets, torn out of an apartment in Columbus OH. McDougall cabinets from the same period of my house. Refinished Old growth poplar with lead glass. 33.5 inches wide x 7 feet tall x 22 inches deep. Uppers are 11" deep. $6500 for all 5. They are gorgeous. See attached.

The biggest problem is that my kitchen is not designed yet. I've interviewed my final architects this week, but I'm am probably at least a month from getting to my new architect starting on kitchen design. From my design software, I think at least 3 of them will work, with some potential cutting down (Look like they can be split in 1/2). Then I might have to get the rest made. They have the original ceramic tops, they need patched.

I am also concerned about the softness of Poplar. Custom in a stain grade hardwood would probably cost me at least double this amount (I HATE ready made or semi custom cabinets...I think they look horrible in an old house). But I am concerned about spending lots of $$$ that may not be useable.


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If it helps, here is the kitchen layout....

I really wanted a original kitchen, been infrequently scanning CL/ebay and architectural salvage for awhile and have found nothing. I am concerned these will get sold out from under me, but also concerned about buying something that may not work.


    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 8:37PM
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I'd do it and make them work. You obviously love them and will lay awake at night saying I should have done it. If some don't work you can always sell them. If they lasted til today at Brimfield, try a bargain offer and maybe you'll get a deal.
I miss Brimfield.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 10:28PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

Beautiful! You're very lucky to find matching cabinets. I used some salvaged cabinets in my kitchen/DR, and I love them. I knew that I could sell them if for some reason they weren't used in the remodel.

Do you feel that you can sell the cabinets if you can't make them fit? Can you use them in other rooms? I can imagine one being used as a bathroom vanity, with a beveled mirror attached to the upper.

If they're the style that you want, the price is less than you would pay for new, and you can rework them yourself, I'd say go for it. If you will have to pay someone else to alter them, and order custom cabinets to fill the gaps, will it still be feasible?

Will your dinner plates fit in the 11" uppers? Are the drawers in good shape, or are the glides worn and shedding sawdust?

Please keep us informed--I'd love to see another antique kitchen!

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 10:51PM
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We used a lot of salvaged materials when we did our kitchen and baths. Personally, I think the BEST time to buy things like salvaged cabinets is before the plans are finalized. That way, the plans can be drawn to accommodate exactly what you have. Before we talked to an architect, we made a list of all the salvaged items we needed/wanted and started actively buying things. That way, we were able to give exact measurements for doors, sinks, windows that needed to be accommodated. Just my $0.02.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 8:50AM
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Thanks all. Mama, I remember seeing your remodel, and loving it.

They would definitely need some slight reworking, since I would want to cut them into separate uppers and lowers. I am also concerned about all the drawers in the lower cabinets. Some of the drawerfronts might have to be swapped out for cabinet fronts. I have a lot of cookware, so having tons of drawers would not be good. I figure since they have been refinished, the value of the original is gone. I am concerned about them being a bit dark since my kitchen is on the smallish size (though they are pretty close in color to my millwork). And although I love the idea of a white kitchen, I think it would look odd with my original millwork, not to mention being a pain to keep clean.

Wondering if I could I use a satin poly to help make them less dent resistant? Also reading more on poplar, seems like the old growth is much stronger...wondering if that is true???

I am kicking myself for not buying the one that was here in MA and seeing what it looked like in the house. And to check on the strength of the glides, etc.

I could potentially buy 3 of them and have the rest custom built....I just don't know how that would look. Good news is that my kitchen is a gut remodel, so if they are going to fit, it would be this scenario. This is exactly why I need an architect :-)

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 8:56AM
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ITA with arlosmom. I have remodeled a lot of homes in my day, and EVERY truly great room I ever designed began with one element I just loved. The most beautiful bathroom I ever designed was based on a scrap of wallpaper. Eventually, it sold the house -- or so the realtor said.

For me, I've gotta have that one element. A table. A rug. A cabinet. For my current kitchen, it was a slab of Cambria. It's like that faucet commercial, where the carefully coifed customer hands her architect a faucet and says, "Make me a kitchen for this." Or whatever.

Point being, those cabs are to die for. Snatch them and make them work. If they just won't, what's the worst that could happen? They look easily marketable to me.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 9:33AM
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I still feel some twinges of regret that I didn't bid more aggressively on a set of right for the age of the house kitchen cabinets that turned up on ebay. The were in easy driving distance. But I had only the roughest idea about a design, which changed substantially.

So on one side: they would have been stacked up in the living room (no where else to put them) for months and months, would have required finding the absolutely right contractor with cabinet/finish skills to work with me, and would have been the big determining force in a space with a lot of elements to work around already.

But if only I would have been willing to go to $500, it might have been really special.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 10:05AM
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I'd go for it! As to being strong/durability - if they are antiques and they are in good shape, that seems to indicate to me that they are pretty durable, right? :)

Oh, and don't talk to us here about getting *RID* of drawers! We love drawers here. Cookware goes in drawers. Read up a bit more in here - you'll see that we adore drawers. It borders on blasphemy to talk of removing drawers around here! haha

Personally, this isn't my style - but rather than trying to match the old with the new, what about having those old pieces as highlights to your kitchen and having a painted white/cream with similar styling for the rest of the pieces you need? You have the opportunity to design your kitchen AROUND these pieces to highlight them and really make them a feature. I think that instead of trying to match them completely, get a cabinet maker on board who looks at what you've got and will make pieces that will compliment those. You can further tie it together by getting drawer pulls that match the ones on the piece you are purchasing. I'll bet you that this will wind up looking gorgeous if you get a cabinet maker who is excited about working to provide similar style.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 10:08AM
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Thanks everyone. It seems like everyone is of the same mind (on both this any 'em and make them fit.

Of course, when it rains, it pours. Look what I just found. About the same price. Would need a bit of reworking as well.

2 Door cabinet: 47.75" x 22.5" x 80.25",
3 Door cabinet: 70.5" x 22.5" x 80.25",
Both have top interior depth 10.75, bottom interior depth 17".

I'm concerned about the oak coloring against my trim (which is definitely more of a Mahogany color) and the depth of the bottoms (only 17" as opposed to 22" for the Poplar). Plus, the Poplar uppers are 5" taller...and there aren't enough oak uppers for the entire kitchen. 4 Poplar uppers are just about what I need.

But it's oak...and I love oak. But they are more plain than the poplar...and I think the poplar would probably be a better fit visually with the trim.

Help :-)

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 10:23AM
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delete, double post. Sorry!

This post was edited by navi_jen on Sun, May 19, 13 at 10:31

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 10:28AM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

navi_jen, thank you. You should definitely check out arlosmom's kitchen, for inspiration--it makes my heart flutter. :)

Have you considered looking for salvaged antique/vintage windows and cabinet doors, and having cabinets built to fit them? You could have the bases built with drawers, to fit your dishes and cookware, and use salvaged windows for the uppers. Trailrunner's kitchen is a wonderful example.

I wouldn't worry about the poplar--I have a couple of freestanding 'flatwall' cabinets, that are oak/ash and poplar, and they've survived my children, and many moves.

You might start a thread asking for pics of remodeled/restored antique and vintage kitchens. Cotahele's is a beautiful one that I remember, stained, not painted, as is sombreuil_mongrel's. Farmhousebound used various freestanding salvaged pieces in hers, and I know there are others.

If you missed the salvaged/upcycled kitchens thread, here's a link: honorbiltkit's thread.

Here is a link that might be useful: Finished Kitchens Blog

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 10:34AM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

I didn't see your last post until I hit submit--those are gorgeous! Old, mellow, golden oak is so different from what everyone refers to as 'builder's oak.' The cabinets that I used in my kitchen had bases that were 16" deep. We altered one of the three sections to 22.5" deep, so it can be done. (There was a 'bumped in' section--a shelf in the LR, so the 16" depth accommodated that perfectly.) IMO all the reworking, and acceptance of less than stellar components--in my case, lack of drawers--is worth it, to have authentic cabinets that match the period of my house. I tried to make up for it on the other side of the kitchen.

Would open shelving be an option, if there aren't enough antique oak uppers?

Oh, heck, in for a penny--in for a pound; look for antique flatwalls, like I mentioned above. If you can find oak, they could also be reworked into upper cabinets.

One of mine, bought in the early 1980s, when stripped/dipped was all the rage.

Edit: Sorry, that link didn't work--here's the pic:

If you want me to vote, I'd have to say that the poplar would be my choice. Does that help? ;)

This post was edited by mama_goose on Sun, May 19, 13 at 11:31

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 11:25AM
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Ah, yes, ArloMom kitchen. This was the very first kitchen from GW that I saved. This is my perfect kitchen. :-)

Thanks everyone for all the input. Being single, it's really hard to make decisions...all my friends are sick of hearing about my renovation (aren't you done already???).

MizLiz, thanks for your note...I did this with my condo kitchen renovation...used the old wall tile and integrated into the backsplash, rather than tearing it down. (see attached). I didn't love the cabinets, but those I went cheap on, since I knew I was selling soon. Everyone loved it. Thinking this could be the same, leverage those gorgeous leaded glass to the max!

Chester, hopefully I am farther along, as all of the architects I've had come thru the house generally agree on the plan I've laid out for the kitchen, so I think I'm 60% there already. I can easily fly out to OH (where my family is) and drive the cabinets back over the long weekend.

Andrea, thanks for the input. The biggest thing I worry about are the lowers that would be custom (where the sink is). It's the first thing you see when you walk into the house, and I would definitely need a good finish carpenter to build this set (or get a massive farmhouse sink) particularly since new poplar is hard to stain. And you are right, my Mom uses her drawers all the time...just wonder if some of them are too shallow for real use. And you are right, it does seem like the Poplar would likely be okay, given they have survived 90 years of beating already!

I forgot....the Poplar cabinets are already in 2 pieces...uppers bolt onto the lowers :-). If I bought them, only 2 would be side by those I would have decide if I wanted to cut down the fluted 'stuff' at the bottom of the upper. The other two would flank the stove, so they would be separated (top and bottom) and be mounted unchanged.

Mama, thanks for the link...had completely forgotten about that blog! Of course, every kitchen I saved was custom or old cabinets...and all of them white. I am deathly afraid of a white kitchen (since I am a sloppy cook), and all my kitchen trim is still unpainted. But when I go back and look at both sets of cabinets, like you....the oak I like, the Poplar I love.

I'm really leaning toward getting them. I can use 3 of them right now in my makeshift kitchen, the other 2 could go in an upstairs bedroom. If I hate them, I could sell them. Then I would probably buy glass fronts and have custom boxes built.

If I did buy them, the only thing I am really concerned about is if they would be too dark in my kitchen. I am going to be adding a couple of windows, I think, over my sink. And, the cabinets would come with the white porcelain tops (they need repaired as they are chipped). But I'm wondering if the additional windows, the white porcelain tops, plus a white blacksplash (similar to my old condo) would be enough 'light' to balance out the dark wood.

Oh, and tying up $7k before the loan is issued ;-)

This post was edited by navi_jen on Sun, May 19, 13 at 13:13

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 12:52PM
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I know I said not to purchase before design but I'm rethinking it. May e you should purchase a couple and work them into your design. I worry about all five but only you can make that decision.

While I like the style of the next oak set , they have that 80's oak color going on. Kind of ruined them for me. I wish refinished would stay true to the era.

We are closing on this mostly original 1910 duplex in June. This is the front kitchen. We plan to downsize into the back unit at some point in our lives. We will attempt to reuse original cabinets.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 1:30PM
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If you are going to re-use old parts you better get them before you commit to a design, and then carefully measure and evaluate them.

There are often all sorts of quirks in older items that are not readily apparent at first glance (to speak noting of wear and tear and possble damage from removal).

They may be out of square, or not exact measurements like new cabinets are (and I have still gotten a few that had to be returned over the years), or have been modified in ways that limits using them 'as is.'

This post was edited by brickeyee on Sun, May 19, 13 at 16:53

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 4:52PM
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Brickeye....that is good advice. I have a Hoosier and a set of metal shelves as my current cabinets now. I could easily bring them back for onsite use and measurement.

Per your excellent gardenweb discussions, custom would run $300-$500 per LF, coming out to somewhere between $8 and $11k for my entire kitchen. And I spent 8 hours today scouring CL, ebay and Architectural Salvage around the see if I could buy a matching set of leaded glass doors and have the rest custom made. Only 1 place had a set of 3 or more matching cabinet fronts with leaded glass...and they were $1200 per set. Methinks the vendors know that a matching set is near impossible (most were individuals, or at most, 1 set). Bad for me.

If I did decide to buy the Poplar, I think I would buy 4, not 5 (around $5300). Plus, 2 out of the 5 did not have leaded glass, and it looks to be around $500 to add the glass back I would definitely negotiate down that price to at least $5k....for 3 with the leaded glass and one without (to be re-installed).

Worst case, if I could only use 2 of the 4 lowers, custom bottoms would be in the $3 to $4k range...still under $10k for 22 LF of custom cabinets (including leaded glass uppers and porcelain countertops)....not bad, I think.

Welcome everyone else to chime in...I need the advice!

This post was edited by navi_jen on Sun, May 19, 13 at 22:03

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 10:01PM
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Keep checking on the glass cabinet doors. This ebay seller has posted sets. The seller has nothing up today, but I watch them off and on, and I know there are sets that haven't sold:

They are in Cleveland -- maybe roll that into the cabinet buying trip?

I bought 4 cabinet doors from these folks north of Ann Arbor last year. (Matching! My cab maker built new frames while a neighbor reused the old frames for an end of the hall cabinet). I picked up the doors. He had rooms full of doors and windows. Might be worth dropping them a note to see if they have anything for you.

Here is a link that might be useful: ebay seller

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 8:23AM
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If you find one item or set that really make your pulse race, go for it and design the rest of the kitchen around it. I suspect that It may feel tricky for a while, but you will end up with a kitchen that is wonderfully distinctive

In the thread that mama_goose cited above and meant to link to, you can see how she, trailrunner, remodfla, and mary_lu recognized the beauty in some cast-offs and redeemed them as the pieces de resistance of their respective kitchens. It is inspiring.

Here is a link that might be useful: recycled kitchens

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 12:11PM
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Thanks Chester! I emailed the MI ebay seller. Somehow I missed those.

I ran across these on CL this morning. 4 sets, would likely cost me about $2k for all four sets. They are painted green on the outer facing side, and have the old pole latching on the they would need refinishing. I will have just spent 1/5-1/7 of the custom cabinet budgets on the fronts. But they are gorgeous. What do you all think?

The cool thing about the Poplar is that they could have been original to the house, since McDougall was only in business from around 1910 to 1935.

Argh. Hopefully cabinets are the worst of the decisions, otherwise, I might go insane during this project!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 1:50PM
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Sorry, I rushed and only read the first posts, but I'd pass. You need to make too many changes, and there are lots of cabinets with almost no drawers out there.

As for soft poplar, tho, these did last a very long time, didn't they? :)

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 3:49PM
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Nice! But also consider contacting buckeye salvage -- I was wrong, they are in Canton. I remember seeing a set of 4 posted there that didn't run 2K. Also diamond, if I remember right, but clear.

Here is a link that might be useful: one ended listing

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 4:35PM
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Chester, thank you, I will call them. Challenge is that I need 4 sets, or 8 panels, which are hard to come by.

Oddly enough, I found another set today that aren't even listed yet. What does everyone think? I sort of like the diamond panes better, but the pattern and the colors are sort of cool. Maybe I could use some of the others around the house.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 8:09PM
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Delete. Duplicate. Man, I am having internet issues today. I apologize.

This post was edited by navi_jen on Mon, May 20, 13 at 20:32

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 8:31PM
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Love the poplar set the best. The leaded glass and hardware are TDF. I like the suggestion to make them intp focal points and do surrounding cabinetry in a creamy white to contrast, not try to match. They will be more like furniture pieces in your kitchen. I would also be concerned though in practical way about the depth of the drawers as they seem fairly shallow. That is another reason to augment your kitchen with a mix of new and old. In the new you could add deep drawers with full extension self-close to store your bulkier/heavier items. Definitely get all the ones with the leaded glass. Swoon....

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 2:19AM
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So, I hired my architect today. Ack! Things are actually progressing on the house.

So, I have 2 questions to you all.

1. Suggestions on how quickly to move on 'stuff'. I am still debating whether or not to buy those stupid poplar cabinets. My architect was really trying to get me to slow down, as he's not even started the existing plans yet. I am probably 3 to 4 months away from build (and it may be more than that if the bank doesn't appraise the post-construction value as high as I think it will be and I've got to save up more $$$). And he also rightly warned me that old cabinets have their problems too. But I am worried that I won't run across anything I like as much as the poplar cabinets and/or find another set of 8 glass doors that I've found thus far. Am I crazy?

2. Also, I think he was trying to infer that if I did choose old cabinets, that the ultimate responsibility of the design (to make sure they fit into the space) would be on me and/or the cabinet designer (or maybe the builder as a last resort). I found that to be a bit odd. Wouldn't this be the architect's responsibility if I already bought the cabinets? Is this normal? I am wondering if he's trying to avoid using existing....or if he's already annoyed with me, which I would not be surprised as I am annoying :-)

    Bookmark   May 23, 2013 at 6:46PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

You hired him today. Isn't it a little soon for him to be excused for being annoyed, no matter how annoying you are?

Isn't it his job to give what you want, within reason and building codes, no matter how annoying you are?

I've no experience, but aren't there architects who specialize in refurbishing old/historic homes?

Only you can decide about the poplar cabinets, or any antique cabinet. I'm willing to accept a lot of flaws, but I can usually figure out a DIY solution. Just go into it with your eyes open--carefully assess the condition of the cabs, and how much it will cost to get them to be both beautiful and functional.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2013 at 7:11PM
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It's interesting, he is an old house architect. On the phone, he did ask if I was using them to save $$$. And I said no, I really like old cabinets and the 'reuse factor' and he did apologize, saying he didn't mean to be so discouraging, but that given that he's only seen my house 1x for about an hour, it's hard to give an accurate assessment. He did warn me that old cabinets could be out of plumb, etc, and that I need to be prepared to work with the builder on this (he said sometimes builders don't like working with old cabinets). I sent him the pictures, and he did like them, and he said he had fair amount of clients that use old cabinets.

It was an interesting exchange. I couldn't tell if he was trying to abdicate responsibility or just being very cautious. His demeanor leads me to believe it's the latter (and given my reference check, he seemed VERY thorough). And I am really implusive. But it did strike me as odd that he wasn't more like 'hey, sure". And now I'm worried I made a wrong decision on the architect :-(. But I also know I am impulsive as all heck and maybe I need someone to be more cautious here. Ack!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2013 at 7:22PM
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Crud...Mama, now that I think about this, you are making some valid points. Now I am rethinking getting this architect. I admit, I made a verbal commitment to him, but have not sent him any money or sent him the contract I signed.

I only interviewed 3 architects, and he was the only one to formally bid on the place (the other 2 architects thought it was too small of a project....both of whom were local to my town, I actually clicked with one of the architects better, I thought).

Upsides: Knows old houses, does good work.

Downsides: More expensive than my other estimates. Not worked in my town, ever. He's a 45 minute drive from my house. Only 1 of his references called me back. And now I'm worried about today's exchange....

Do I hold off and interview more architects? ACK.

This post was edited by navi_jen on Thu, May 23, 13 at 19:58

    Bookmark   May 23, 2013 at 7:50PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

There are a lot of stories on GW about homeowners who weren't impressed with their architects/builders/GCs. I think you need to find someone who is a good fit, but maybe the one you interviewed just wants you to know the difficulties of using old cabinets.

I'm adding a link to an interesting website. They are in Ohio, I think (513 area code), but when you have some time, take a look. Their prices are astronomical, IMO, but you might be able to get some ideas for your kitchen, whether or not you go with the poplar cabinets.

I saw on the 'Where are you' thread that you have relatives in central Ohio. Hoosier/Sellers style cabinets can be had here for a few hundred dollars each--have you considered doing a freestanding, collected kitchen? As I mentioned, farmhousebound has a wonderful example, so do mary-lu and schoolhouse.

Google search - images of vintage cabinets in kitchens.

Here is a link that might be useful: workshops of david t. smith

    Bookmark   May 23, 2013 at 9:03PM
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Okay. I'm ready to weight in now.

Unfortunately all but one of our original built-ins were gone by the time I bought my house, so I had more license to go with new.

Here are my thoughts as I review the posts....

The original cabinets you were looking at look like they were original free standing cabinets. They also do not look functional at all to me - at least the lowers.

I agree that you need to spend some time working with your architect to decide what you really want vs. what makes sense for the space. His advice to slow down makes sense to me and I wouldn't jump just because he isn't immediately buying into your ideas. We hire professionals for their professional opinions. I would have more reservations of he just said yes without wanting to spend more time. He wants to figure out your motivation so he can help you.

I love old cabinetry, but what you originally posted doesn't work for me in a kitchen of today. The truth is, there is always something else. I found that out shopping salvage plumbing fixtures for my first bathroom reno.

You dont have a final budget or a plan yet. Slow down and put a plan together. That's the only way your going to be satisfied in the long run. The good news about being single - ultimately you only have to satisfy your design and not negotiate with someone else. So take your time and do it right!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2013 at 10:36PM
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Weighing in here.

I love the 1st set of cabinets. More subtle detail. They can easily (in my self-taught experience) be built in and secured.

You're worried about the durability of antique poplar? Something's wrong with that.

The architect sounds like he's setting you up so that whatever you might not end up being pleased with, he can say, "Well, I warned you that...."

I haven't been lucky enough to come across antique cabinets such as the ones you're finding. If I could, I wouldn't hesitate. As it is, I'm working with anywhere from 1965 on. Icky, usually. Sometimes I can find nice plywood cabs, at which point I pull out the crappier cabinets and redonate them. Nothing is not changeable. Well, concrete isn't, I guess, but we're not talking about that.

All these pictures are gorgeous!

    Bookmark   May 24, 2013 at 12:25AM
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Hi everyone....Well, I went back and looked at the poplar cabinets yesterday.....I didn't like them nearly as much the first time. They did scratch pretty easily and they had sold a second set of the glass fronts, which is what I wanted. And I really didn't like the lowers. So I think I will keep on looking. Given I was on the fence for a week, I think that is the right decision. Thanks everyone for the input, it is much appreciated.

Mama, I have thought about using at least the uppers of Hoosiers as my cabinets. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I could not go with an unmatched set. But thanks for the link, I will look it over.

I have some more comments about architects, but I think I will start another thread, since we switched topics midway.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 9:17AM
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