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Saving the Old: My Green Home Remodeling Project

Blog0812_LivI posted an article about Saving Old Homes on Tuesday. It is a topic that is dear to my heart. I love architecture and I enjoy playing weekend designer. Not that I am good at it, but I still like to share my views. After all, art is subjective. I like helping friends out with their design projects. Recently, I helped a friend with her mini-remodel. The nature of the project fits right in with the topic at hand. So I thought I'd share it with you.

My friend Janet lives in a condo that was built in the mid-90s. The whole building and the condo has a traditional ornate look - think panel doors, corner stones, cobble stone decorations, colonial style moldings. Janet's taste is far from ornate.  She is a minimalist and prefers clean-line designs. When she moved in a few years ago, she made some "structural" changes to the interior. So this project only focused on the built-in decorations, such as cabinets and moldings, which were untouched last time.

 

 

Blog0812_FamSizing the Project

The goal of the project was to modernize the interior with a clean-line look, in an economic and eco-friendly way. To keep the project manageable, I suggested that we only focus on the elements that are the focal points of the condo. That criterion helped to limit the projects to two elements - (a) the built-in cabinets as they draw attention when they are being used, and (b) window/door trims as the trims are at eye-level. We left out the floor and ceiling moldings, which extend throughout the condo. Changing them would be expensive and wasteful. They are not the focal point and their ornate look actually helps to relate the condo back to the overall feel of the building.

Evaluate the Options

The analyst in me wanted to lay out the options and analyze the pros and cons of each. Just a bit of background for our discussion below, the cabinets had many decorative elements, such as cobble stones and corner stones, attached to them. They also had small moldings with detail lines and many small recesses and bump-outs.

Janet and I met with a cabinet consultant. He laid out 3 options for us - (a) tear down and replace, (b) reface, and (c) strip and paint.

  • The experience from a few projects on old houses taught me that nothing is square in old constructions. The tear-down-and-replace would be the easiest of all options as all the new parts would fit well together. However, it would be the most expensive and wasteful option. While the old cabinets could be recycled, it would be hard to avoid waste along the way.
  • Refacing in this context would be to replace the cabinet doors and parts with new ones. Additional work had to be done to take out the ornate decorations on the cabinet boxes. This would be less expensive than a full replacement. However, there would still be a lot of waste and we might run into fitting issues. The whole cabinet would still need to be repainted to ensure the color of new and old parts match.
  • The strip-and-paint option would involve striping off the ornate decorative elements, replace the small moldings with clean-line moldings and straighten out the recesses/bump-outs. This is the least expensive and least wasteful option. However it carried the biggest unknown. We were not sure how the decorative elements were attached to the cabinets and whether we could find the craftsmanship to do the job.

In the end, I was able to convince Janet to give the strip-and-paint a try. The cabinet panel doors and built-in decorative flute columns on the side were untouched. That helped to lower the cost as well as create a tie-in between the "modern" cabinets and some of the remaining ornate elements in the condo. Our carpenter was able to strip out the details without much problem. He did a marvelous job in softening the details and replacing the ornate trims. Even more impressive was that he removed the parts with care so that many of them could be reused for other projects.

Blog0812_KitchenThe Paint

Oil-based paint was the common choice for painted cabinets. That was not our preference. Our painter selected a low-VOC paint for us. To soften some of the remaining details without extra carpentry cost, I recommended using the same off-white color of the wall on the cabinets. The color tone helped to blend the cabinets in with the walls. The brighter white, which covered up the original taupe, gives the condo a refreshing lift.

Remodel Without Waste

The project ran over schedule a bit but pretty much on budget. I was over Janet's for dinner last weekend and was able to see the final product from a more removed perspective for the first time. The result is spectacular - a much cleaner, modern and refreshing look while still blending well in with the surrounding. I was happy that we were able to do it without wasting materials and money. After all, we don't really want to, or need to, strip out our past. We just need to reinterpret the past so it fits well in our time. You can get the Best of Both Worlds.

Special thanks to Janet for allowing me to share her experience with us.

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