Thursday, July 2, 2015

up to things: built-ins

I recently completed a project: I replaced my powder room sink with another powder room sink.  I plan to put together a post about that with some pictures at some point. 

(Hello again, by the way.  I am not dead yet.) 

Before that project was even done (it got dragged out for a week or more as I continued to need unforeseen small bits of hardware that required another trip to the big orange store - despite what I considered to be exhaustive advance planning), I was overtaken by a compulsion to take on another, much larger project.  I focused my energies on finishing the sink only with difficulty, and then launched into a flurry of planning the next one.  (This one is going to require a lot of planning.) 

There is a small square area at the end of my upstairs hallway:

Since we moved in, I've toyed with the notion of building in a window-seat-with-bookshelves here. I believe I've shared some of my inspiration photos for this idea before - such as:


And this one:


I like a combination of these ideas, really - MORE bookshelves (as in the first one), and I like the idea of the shelves facing in toward the window seat (as in the second one). As you can probably tell from the photo of my actual hallway (top), there are two windows in this area, at right angles to one another.  The window on the long wall (on the left in the photo) is very close to the banister, and shelving built around it might encroach on the banister's space. That is one issue I had not entirely resolved.

The other issue I had not entirely resolved - and the reason, though I was not conscious of it, that I had not yet embarked upon this project in earnest - was that building the bookshelf/window seat area would shut down other options for this space, and I remained concerned that my house does not have a linen closet.

Formerly, as you might conceivably remember, I had used the second closet in the green bedroom as a (very nice and effective) linen closet:

former linen closet

But then, of course, I demolished it and turned it and the former master bedroom closet into a much better master bedroom closet.

After that, I used the armoire I put in the second bedroom as a linen closet. This was as good as it ever looked:

armoire as linen closet

But that didn't really work out, between the crates-as-shelves and the armoire having only a center door. Plus, obviously the armoire is mine and would move with me, leaving a smallish house without ANY linen closet, which I imagine a prospective purchaser of the house (should we someday move) would notice. My hallway doesn't have a lot of space for a stand-alone linen-holding piece of furniture, either; it's quite compact. So I started thinking about building in a linen press. I thought the spot in the second bedroom (where I ultimately put the armoire, but this picture with it containing a tall dresser shows the shape of the wall inset better) might fit one well:

wall in green bedroom

However, that also left me with some puzzles from the resale point of view: neither linen closets nor built-in linen presses usually live in bedrooms. It should be in the hallway, no? Recognizing (using a level of wisdom I rarely exercise at the conscious level) that I did not have an appropriate resolution to this dilemma, I did not undertake any construction.

Then, in the last few weeks, I was looking at my upstairs hallway, and A Thought came to me.  I could combine the linen press idea WITH the built-in-bookshelves-and-window-seat idea!

Instead of doing three columns of bookshelves flanking two seats under the two windows, I could just do a seat under the one window, the one on the right:

That would avoid interfering with the banister. The longest blank wall in that area is the one the desk is currently sitting along - I could build a linen press to the wall just to the right of the left-hand window frame. That might run 30" - 36" wide, a fairly normal size for a cabinet-y thing. I could transition that piece directly into a built-in bookshelf, which would face directly into a window seat under that main window. And on the other side of the window, there would be more shelves facing in. The bookshelf/window seat part would be symmetrical; the linen press part would make it asymmetrical, but I think that would be OK, because the wall arrangement itself is asymmetrical. And I found other pictures of different types of built-ins transitioning into one another that I thought looked fine:


Even some that were asymmetrical:


So, I don't think the idea is totally unworkable.

Having trouble picturing exactly how this would look in practice? That makes two of us. I would push my over ten-year-old graphics skills to their fullest extent and offer you some kind of mockup to help you figure out for what I'm talking about, but for one thing: I'm nowhere near skilled enough to create a mock-up that would enable ME to see whether the finished product would look attractive, what with the different setbacks and trim styles I would need to use. I could only get as far as clarifying the general idea for you. And much as I like you, that isn't, of itself, worth the time and frustration making a graphic would take. Instead, I shall take a much more practical route to clarifying my intentions: I'm just going to build the darn thing.

But before I do (as with all projects that exceed my skill and good sense level), much, much research and planning are necessary. And I am, of course, going to torment you with those.

First of all, this is basically what I mean by a linen press:

(from Layla)

I'm not saying mine would have tall doors and a drawer at the bottom. But it would be a built-in cabinet, and most of all, it would look like it was the same age as my house. Just like the one in that picture looks convincingly old (you can see that, right?). Now, I know I'm on the road to forgery here. But I actually believe that this is a move with integrity. I tried to be historically reasonable (not strictly accurate) with my kitchen cabinets, but that was more of a style question: modern stuff would look silly. I don't really expect the kitchen cabinets to stay with the house forever and ever: people do replace kitchen cabinets, even cabinets as cool as the ones I put in. They don't, however, usually replace the built-ins elsewhere (nor should they). Whatever I put in, it can have nothing to do with 2015, and it has to make sense for how people building houses in 1894 usually allocated space, and wanted things to look.

I'm confident that a built-in linen press is practically and stylistically appropriate for the house's age. It's possible I'm pushing it by combining the linen press with a window seat and bookshelves, but tricky built-ins, window seats with hidden storage, and the like were in fact common to the era. For just one example:

fancy window seat

That is a built-in bench and bookshelves ACROSS A WINDOW (foreground), from a house built in the late 19th century. And I would bet you a delicious cookie that that window seat has hidden storage. I rest my case.

Because I think this built-in needs to live on with the house, I'm trying to exercise a high degree of discipline in how I'll put it together. I definitely want it to look right on the outside, but I'm debating whether I should go so far as to avoid using plywood (even where I would paint it and conceal the edges), or 2x4s as bookshelf braces on the inside (in my planned design, they would be visible when you lifted the window seat to access the storage. Even painted, 2x4s are pretty distinctive, and they definitely weren't used in 1894). I'm not sure what I could use instead, but I am going to research my options methodically.

Figuring out how to keep the exterior, stylistic elements on point is actually easier, since I've done more of that before. First of all, from my kitchen experience, I knew the door itself would have to be the real deal - not something I build myself. I stopped by the Community Forklift, which I knew would have something, though probably not something affordable. After flipping through the vast collection of wooden windows and noticing that the tall skinny ones that would make nice cabinet doors tended to be priced over $80 while the sash-type ones were priced at more like $6 (coincidence? I think not), I found this: 

For whatever reason, it was priced like the sash windows (because of the divided lights?), even though it actually IS a cabinet door. (Look at the hardware.) And windows were on sale, so they gave it to me for $3.10! Even the plainest of hinges to add to a window would have cost more, to say nothing of a real antique latch - which this piece already has.  OK, yes, and it's filthy, overrun with messy caulk, has some missing wood that needs to be filled in, and the paint is peeling.  Whatever

My project was off to a good start.

I figured that I should do a cabinet on top and drawers on the bottom; maybe the top would even sit back a few inches from the bottom. I'm aiming for about 18" deep for the bottom portion. And I decided that I should go for an antique dresser, too, since building drawer boxes is a laborious project (doubly so if I wanted to use an old-world construction method, which I don't really have the tools for), and, more importantly, because that would get me correct-looking drawer fronts. I haven't gotten a piece yet, but I was thinking of something like this:


I found a similar one on craigslist, but it's gone now - which is fine, as it was a bit too far to drive. But something along those lines - tallish, and ideally something already painted, so I don't have a crisis of conscience about painting over an antique finish.

Also, I figured I needed to take a look at some era-appropriate built-ins before deciding on the appropriate trim and finish styles. I decided I need to stick to inset-front drawers based on the style I'm getting from these:




Those also give me some ideas about how to do the trim on the entire piece. For one thing, I think I need to wrap the hallway's baseboard around whatever I build, to make it look properly built-in. It's normal baseboard, so that should be no problem. I'm also thinking that the top should either be a straight plain vertical run topped by a small bit of angled molding (as in the last photo), or a bit of fairly plain cove molding (as in the first photo). Unfortunately, I can't find primed pine options at the big orange store. However, the real Victorians did use plaster for molding (especially the complicated stuff, which this is not), so I'm thinking MDF might not be cheating too-too much. (PVC is right out, though. Even with a coat of paint, I don't think it really looks like wood.) I think this is a nice plain cove, and this one is good if I want maybe a bit more detail.

For the sides of the upper cabinet, regular boards ("common board") should be appropriate if I want to avoid plywood. And I think I should trim out the side of the cabinet that will be open to view, so it will look appropriate. I had a "Eureka" moment when I realized that the cheapest stock baseboard, turned on its side and mitered at the corners, would actually give the correct look for paneling. OK, yes, this is REALLY cheating, but making the paneling the authentic way (the way my kitchen cabinet doors are done) requires decorative panels inset into channels. I may be crazy, but I know when I am all the way out of my depth. Real wood will have to be authentic enough for this part.

Since my original preference was more for a door without glass, I thought it might be nice to use a vinyl treatment on the door - something that looks reasonably historically appropriate (the 1915 house I grew up in had frosted doors on some of the built-in cabinets, though those were actually ETCHED glass). Maybe like this:

(from amazon)

And of course, although I'm already doing well on hardware for the door and the dresser will probably come with its own, I can't resist the temptation to consider a few hardware options from those I loved but passed up on for my kitchen cabinets. Maybe something like these:

antiqued brass drawer pull

(from Lowe's)

And these:

antiqued brass cabinet knobs

(from Lowe's)

So, that's what I've got so far. Wish me luck!