Painting Metal Cabinets - Part 1

As I talked about in my last post, my kitchen is about 50 years overdue for an update. I swear, we don't do anything around here without thinking about it for at least 15 years, and then maybe give it another 5 for good measure. Unfortunately, the kind of update this kitchen needs isn't going to happen any time soon or probably ever. I'd rather leave that to the next owner down the line. But I can't live with it in its current condition any longer either. A few cosmetic changes will at least keep me from cringing every time I walk into the room, or turning red faced with embarrassment if someone else sees it for the first time.

Number one on our priority list had to be the old Geneva metal cabinets. They consist of a six foot base unit for our vintage double drainboard sink and a set of upper cabinets. The bottom cabinets were in really bad condition, with considerable rust. It was an embarrassing eyesore that was impossible to hide. Here's a picture of one of the worst spots on a drawer front. I know...yuck. We don't have a dishwasher so when we hand wash the dishes they go into a dish drying rack that's just above that drawer. Water inevitably gets slopped around and drips under the edge of the drainboard there.

In the cabinet directly under the sink there was adhesive vinyl on the bottom shelf. I hadn't planned on doing anything to the inside of the cabinets because they looked to be in fairly decent condition. But then I just had to go and remove the ugly blue contact paper, didn't I?  Let me tell you, getting old contact paper off is not a matter of just pulling on a corner and pulling the whole works up in one go. Oh no! Just when you get a couple inches pulled up and think you're going to get a good run it suddenly snaps off...or breaks leaving pointy little edges that are hard to get hold of. I tried using a putty knife but that was no better than my now broken and dirty finger nails. I finally discovered, about halfway through, that a 6-in-1 painter's tool with a beveled edge worked like magic. I was able to scrap the second half off in about three minutes in nice big strips, as opposed to the forty minutes or so it took to get the first half off. 

But then I was left with this mess to have to deal with. Not only was there substantial rust but also the sticky adhesive residue from the contact paper. I really wish that stuff had never been invented! My first inclination was just to cover it all up with some more contact paper and forget about it. (Scratch that. My first thought was to run away from home.) Out of sight out of mind. But sadly there's no way my OCD would let me forget something like that once I'd seen it, so I knew my project had just gotten bigger.

We had considered several options for rehabbing the cabinets including sending them out to be professionally spray painted or powder coated. But we really didn't want to invest a lot of money into something that is probably a temporary measure. It would also involve plumbing and having to remove the big cast iron sink, which my husband deemed too much of a hassle. For him anyway. I haven't avoided any hassle. Quite the contrary. I thought about trying to paint them with my spray gun. But I really haven't used it enough to feel like I've become proficient enough for this project. I also don't have a large dust free place to do the spraying. In the end, after tons of research and tips from others who have gone this route before, I decided to just go for it. Have brush, will paint.

 The first step was to remove the drawers, doors and apron piece under the sink. That process involved a fair amount of frustration since some of the hinge screws were rusted practically solid. It took a full week just to get the last door off, using WD40 and liquid wrench to loosen the screws. I then took everything I could outside for some long sessions of sanding that spanned several days, using both a power sander and hand sanding, to remove all the rusty areas down to bare metal and de-gloss the finish. If you do this be sure to wear a face mask and eye protection since old finishes most likely have lead in them. I did have to sand the base cabinets indoors since we weren't removing them. I covered everything I could with plastic and sealed the top cabinets with tape to keep dust out of them. I made sure all the windows and doors were open for ventilation. I also used a shop vacuum to clean up as I went to keep the dust mess to a minimum.

Here are a couple of the doors after sanding. All the bare spots had been rust. If I'd been super ambitious and had nothing better to do with my life for the next few months I would love to have taken these all down to the bare metal and put a clear sealant on them. But I'm not that ambitious by a long shot.

And then I discovered that rusty bottom shelf. Oh and there were some yucky looking wood dividers between the sink compartment and the side shelf units which I removed. We'll be replacing those with some type of water impervious material like plexiglass panels or something similar. Egads, I don't think the wallpaper really looks that bad in person! Or maybe it does.

After thorough vacuuming I wiped everything down with a slightly damp rag and finished with a tack cloth to get any last bits of dust off before the prime coat. I was able to use aerosol spray primer on the doors and drawer fronts since the weather was conducive to doing it outdoors. I used a Rustoleum  primer specifically for metal. For the base cabinets I went with Zinsser B-I-N Shellac Base Primer and Sealer .

That stuff is amazing! It's expensive but worth every cent. I applied it with a good quality brush in the small areas and a foam roller on the flat end piece of the cabinet. I then went back and very lightly brushed over the rolled areas because I wasn't particularly happy with the orange peel texture it was leaving. You just have to be sure to do it fairly quickly because the primer dries quite fast. Within half an hour it was completely dry to the touch. If you want to see Zinsser's amazing awesomeness here is how that rusty bottom shelf looked after sanding and one coat of primer!

I was not expecting that kind of coverage since the primer seems really thin and runny. You can also see that I primed the wall under there. The cabinets are open in the back and if you look at the picture up above you can see the awful pink color this kitchen was originally. That was before the awful mustard yellow which I'll get to show you once we strip the wallpaper off. You'll want to keep some sunglasses ready for that!

With priming finally completed it was time for paint. The project up to this point, by the way, did not happen overnight. It was stretched out over several weeks. Yes, weeks! For one thing, just as I was about ready to start priming the temperatures soared into the hot and humid 90's. Not ideal for spray painting. After that we had rain. Then I took a week off to prepare for our thrift sale. By then I was starting to wish I'd never started the project. But it did give me time to consider altering my original plan to repaint the cabinets white.

I started looking for inspiration on Pinterest, decorating blogs and design sites. I kept coming back to gray and white kitchens, and then I saw this beautiful kitchen makeover over at The Inspired Room and it clinched it for me.

I know I mentioned in my previous post that the kitchen is too dark already, so you're probably wondering why I would consider painting my cabinets charcoal gray. And you're right. For now it will only make things darker. But eventually we're hoping to paint our woodwork a crisp white and the walls will be painted something light. New flooring, etc., along with our white appliances should make everything lighter and brighter in the end.

The color of the paint is Benjamin Moore Kendall Charcoal. It picks up the same tones as the stainless steel on my kitchen island and the gray cooktop of my stove. We'll be keeping the top cabinets white. I chose to use BM Satin Impervo Alkyd Low Lustre, which is an oil based paint. It's not available in some states, like California, that have strict environmental regulations.  Eventually, I'm told, all oil based paints will be phased out everywhere. They do carry a waterborne version but I decided to go with the oil because of its reputation for durability. The oil also has a slightly longer working time before the paint starts to get tacky. It takes quite awhile to dry so you'll want to be aware of that. At about 70° it has taken 5-6 hours to be touchable without any stickiness, and at least a week to cure before I'll dare start putting things back in the cupboard. I used the same method as applying the primer, rolling and then back brushing.* The Satin Impervo smooths out nicely with very minimal brush marks. It has a nice satin finish that does a good job of masking any blemishes compared to a gloss or semi-gloss. I did two coats with a light sanding in between. The downside of course is the clean-up which requires mineral spirits instead of soapy water. There's also more odor with the oil paints so you may not want to use it if you have young children in the house or are concerned about the volatility.

Again, the Satin Impervo is expensive but worth it. I think I paid just under $30 for a quart. It goes a long way and has amazing coverage. I was worried about using a dark paint over white primer but after one coat you can barely see any white showing through. If I'd known I was going to go this route I would have used a dark primer.

I already had some Benjamin Moore Advance white paint (waterborne) leftover from a previous project to use for the inside of the cabinet. It's quite a bit cheaper than the Satin Impervo and is supposed to be very durable and not yellow over time like oil based paints will. 

Next I'll be painting the doors and hopefully this cabinet will be back in use soon. The upper cabinets are in much better condition than the lower ones. I'm not too eager to get started on those but if I want to do a tiled backsplash it needs to be done first. I don't think I'll have to do any sanding with those, or very little anyway. They aren't rusty,  just a bit of wear to the finish and kind of dingy looking. A thorough cleaning with some phosphate free TSP and the Zinsser B-I-N primer will hopefully be sufficient prep, which will make the job go much quicker, albeit on a ladder which I don't like. I know once I have this part of the project done I'll be all the more determined to keep working on the rest of my kitchen. I'm looking at you, Wallpaper! 

Have you ever painted metal cabinets? Have they held up or did it turn into a disaster? After all this work I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they'll buy us a few more years of use. 

*I wasn't very happy with the roller and in the end decided to just use the brush. The supposedly lint free roller that was recommended to me actually left a lot of lint and the foam roller gave it too much texture. I'm going to add some Penetrol to the paint before I do the doors to increase the work time and help the paint level out even more smoothly. 


And So It Begins

I live in a 90 year old craftsman style house. Our next door neighbor, an elderly gentleman who is now in his 90's himself and has lived in the same house his entire life, remembers being a small tyke and watching our house being built! The original owners of our house, Ted, who was a builder by trade and built this house with his own hands, and his wife Rosa, lived and lovingly cared for this house for its first 60 years. They nearly lost it in the Great Depression. Rosa had to take in laundry to help with the mortgage payments and with frugal living and some help from family they managed to hang on to it. They had two daughters. There is a crawl space underneath our back porch. It must have been a favorite play space for them. Protected from the elements their names are still visible on a beam, written in chalk in a typical child's scrawl. Knowing these few things has always made me feel a certain responsibility for wanting to preserve the period integrity of the house and not make any drastic changes. That said, kitchens and bathrooms are a different matter.

I remember distinctly the first time we came to look at the house. It had charm and curb appeal, a lovely yard and garden space, a great location, beautiful original woodwork and a horrible kitchen and single small bathroom! Fast forward thirty years and guess what? It still has a horrible kitchen. We did a little facelift in the 80's...wallpapered, added a microwave shelf above the stove. That was about it. The saving grace is that it has doors that can be shut so I can hide it if I want to. 

And now I am going to throw those doors wide open for all of the world wide web to see! Give me a valium. This is a little like a 12-step program. It begins with "Hi. My name is Marcie and I have an ugly kitchen." Inspired by Daniel's kitchen makeover at Manhattan Nest I have decided to do something with this horror show. So, hope you haven't eaten recently. These pictures were taken in the middle of a project I've already started so it looks even worse than usual, if that's possible. Here we go.

Standing at the door from the dining room you can see one reason why we've never done much here. Three doors! Two windows. The door to the left next to the sink goes to our front foyer. Just to the right as you pass through it is the door that goes down to the basement. On the left, opposite the basement door, is a nook that we use as a utility cupboard and coat closet. When we first moved in there was a working toilet in the nook for the elderly owners, since the only bathroom is on the second floor. To the right in the photo is the door to the back porch. You can see how much space it takes up in order to open all the way, blocking part of the windows. That rules out that whole wall for kitchen cupboards, even just base cabinets.

This is looking from the back door. The dining room door is on the left. It's a swinging door which I love but it isn't really practical. We usually leave it open towards the dining room. Otherwise it would be against the built in cupboards. It is nice to be able to close the doors when it gets noisy in the kitchen and someone is trying to watch television or work in the other rooms. The stove and refrigerator are located on the biggest wall in the room. My husband built the microwave shelf and added the range hood. Scary! The hood is way, way, way too low!! A fire waiting to happen! We took off the door that used to go into the pass through to the foyer. It opened into the kitchen in front of the refrigerator. There's a second door beyond it that you can see, not to mention the basement door. It made a good time out spot for the kids when they were little, though. I'm sure they have nightmares to this day. The butcher block was a gift from my Dad who ran a butcher shop for many years.

Finally, standing in the doorway from the foyer is the view of the back door to the porch and the built in cupboards. Everyone who sees the kitchen loves those cupboards. They are a nice architectural feature, but aside from that they are very impractical. For one thing they're built out into the unheated back porch. With a crawl space underneath and probably not much insulation in the wall behind they are ridiculously cold in the middle of our midwest winters. Second, not really obvious in this picture, some of the door fronts have split so they have cracks that run the entire length of them. The doors swell and shrink with the temperatures. In hot weather they expand and can't close and in cold weather they shrink and sometimes don't stay closed. Because of the hot/cold issue the paint inside the cabinets tends to peel too. Lead paint flakes with your cereal anyone? The shelves are also quite deep and it's not easy to get at things that are in the back. The top shelves are too high to reach without a step stool. 

Adding to the horror show is the old blue linoleum floor. It's probably been around for at least 50+ years. We put up the wallpaper back in the day when country decorating was all the rage. Shudder. I won it in a store promotion otherwise we would have just repainted the room. Oh how I wish we'd never won that stuff! Underneath is a bright mustard yellow paint! We aren't sure what happened but not long after we installed the paper a pinkish color started to show up in a few spots on the paper. It's not mold. We think it had something to do with the paste that we used and a chemical reaction with the paint underneath. Whatever the case, it has continued to get worse over the years. I tore off the section of the sink backsplash a couple years ago and painted it with chalkboard paint. The residual paste leaves a rough mess that is hard to even sand off. The walls will probably need to be skim coated when we take the rest off. 

Other than the built-ins, the only cupboards are the metal cabinets by the sink. Those are mid-century Geneva steel cabinets, rusting and yellowing. Not original to the house. They were all the rage in post WWII days. The original sink is in my basement laundry. It's a big cast iron sink, the kind that hung on the wall with a big backsplash and drainboard on the side. I do love the "newer" vintage double drainboard sink that replaced it and it's staying, as are the cabinets. There was also originally a gas or wood/gas stove in the corner where the refrigerator is. When we papered we sealed up the opening for a stovepipe that went into the chimney behind the wall. There is no countertop space for food prep. We had a small dinette set at one time and used to eat all our meals there when the kids were little. That meant prepping the meal on the table and then clearing everything off so we could set it with dishes and sit down to eat. What a pain! Eventually we bought the butcher block island that is there now, under the mountain of plastic. It finally gave me lots of room to work and a little extra storage. There's room for a couple stools for casual eating. Our family meals were then relegated to the dining room, although by then the kids were getting to the age that their activity schedule rarely had us all eating together at the same time anyway. 

So there you have it. As you can see there isn't much that can be done to improve the layout without a major remodel or addition. It's grand central at times with three doors and the ensuing traffic pattern. The windows face north so the room is gloomy even on sunny days, more so in winter when I can't have the door open to the east facing porch. The dark woodwork and floor suck up even more light. The northern exposure and under-insulated cabinets leave it cold in winter. The single ceiling light is inadequate. There's no light over the sink. But all said it still is a fairly functional kitchen. The work triangle is good and compact so I'm always within an arm's reach of almost anything. Items that I don't use frequently are kept on shelves in the basement. There's plenty of physical contact when my husband and I are both preparing a meal or cleaning up after. We joke that it keeps the intimacy in our marriage. It's a bit like a dance at times trying to work around each other. I don't think I would like a big kitchen, just a more efficient one out of the traffic pattern. 

Given all the minuses there is plenty of room for improvement even without getting into major remodeling. And so it begins. It won't involve knocking down walls or gutting anything but certainly it will look better, brighter and cleaner. If Daniel can do it I'm hoping I can too. Really, it's amazing what that guy can do! Be sure to check out the rest of Manhattan Nest for more inspiration. 

So here is the long range plan:
  • Refinish the metal cabinets.
  • Tile backsplash over sink. 
  • Strip wallpaper, prep walls and paint.
  • Repair cracked ceiling and paint.
  • New lighting: Pendants over the island, sink lighting.
  • Properly vented range hood installed at correct height.
  • Paint the woodwork white?
  • New doors made for built-in cabinets.
  • Insulate built-ins.
  • New flooring.
  • New energy efficient back door.
  • Cabinets to make use of empty space above and around appliances.
  • Bifold doors for utility nook.
It won't happen all at once, or quickly. But I'm determined to light a fire under this project, figuratively of course. As you can see from the pictures I've already started. More about that next time. 


Going, Going, Gone?

Just popping in a for a short hello. We're getting ready for a thrift sale this weekend so I'll be busy organizing. It's such a chore to weed through every nook and cranny and decide what goes, not to mention pricing things. Every time I have a sale I vow never to do it again, and yet here I am. This won't even begin to make a noticeable dent in everything we should be getting rid of. Ah, dreams of a minimalist lifestyle. To achieve that I'll have to sell my house with all the contents included and just leave.

My favorite part of holding a sale is setting up and displaying. My husband always complains I take too much time to make things look nice. I do, but I've always had people comment on how clean and organized everything looks and I think it translates into better sales. I also take a little extra effort to be sure the items I'm selling are clean, usable and in working order. I personally hate going to sales where everything is a jumble, dirty and just junk. Some people love that. The thrill of the hunt, digging for treasure and all that. Anyway, we're throwing this one together rather quickly so it may not be my best. I'll be spending today down in the basement digging stuff out and pricing. Good day for it. The forecast calls for a heat index over 100 by this afternoon so I might almost enjoy being in the cool basement.

Aside from the sale readiness, I've been adding a few new items to my Etsy shops. Over at Blue Casa you'll find this cute retro orange pig dry erase board. I think it's so much fun. If I had a spot that it fit I'd keep it.

At my Red Telly vintage shop you'll find some items to perk up your day. For starters, this beautiful retro aqua Thermo-Serve coffee carafe. Pretty, eh?

And another little flame proof stove pot percolator. It looks like it has never been used. Perfect when making coffee for just one or two. I'm always looking for pots than can brew coffee that won't come into contact with plastic. I truly believe that drinking coffee day after day that is brewed through plastic coffee makers can't be good for a person. 


I don't know what this little stand is for. If anyone knows please leave a comment. I just thought it was a really cute bit of midcentury decor. It would be nice on a desk holding some office accessories, in the bathroom for toiletries or guest towels, or even used as a plant stand. 


I can't leave out some dust collecting tchotchkes. Ha ha. Can you tell I've seen more than my share of dust while getting ready for this thrift sale? Anyway, the dove figurine is so sweet. We have a lovely pair of mourning doves outside our window that coo me awake every morning. This reminds me of them.


Not listed yet, if they ever will be, I just needed to show you these cute oriental figurines. They remind me of my grandmother. She had something similar that I remember from my childhood visits. I think they were perched on a TV lamp that had a conical shaped shade, like this one.

Finally, for you Cinderellas and shoe addicts, I found a cute ceramic high heel. It was white and boring, so I gave it a shot of spray paint. I'm thinking of making a fitted roll inside for storing and displaying rings. Not sure yet. Maybe even add a few embellishments on the outside to bling it up a bit. It'll be listed at Blue Casa in time. 

So that's it. Back to the dungeon for me. I'll be back next week, if I survive, to let you know how we did on our sale. Hope all the work will be worth it. Wish me luck!