Kitchen renovation, part 8

Did we really finish the kitchen? I have no idea. I can say the official completion was around mid-September. Since then, I had to tinker a few things here and there that it feels like it’s still ongoing. Before getting into all those finer details, let’s back up to where I left off last on this blog.

Trim – the 3rd time is the charm

The kitchen has two entryways. One is connected to the dining room that has hardwood floor. The new kitchen has marmoleum. After two tries of putting down a trim to cover the transition, I think the third trim is going to do it. What’s wrong with the first two? The first one was too thick for such a high traffic area. I could really feel it under the shoes. I messed up the second one while I was attempting to install it with nails.

The third piece is real oak (not sure what the first two was made out of), matching the hardwood floor. It has pre-drilled holes and came with screws. The holes were not countersink enough to hide the screws with filler so I enlarged the countersink a little. Before putting it down on the floor, I put on a coat of polyurethane on the bottom of the trim and also the newly sanded transition area of the hardwood floor. In case of any major spill, those areas are a little bit protected.

Next up is installing the trim. It went much better than expected. We covered the screws with wood filler. Sanded down the filler and moved onto polyurethane. The instructions on the can of polyurethane said drying time is 3-4 hours so we thought we can put on at least two coats between the late afternoon and evening. That was a lie. When we put on the second coat, it bubbled up in large patches. I don’t mean bubbles from brushing. It looked more like a chemical reaction. When I later checked the Minwax website, it says drying time is 4-6 hours. We essentially messed up the 2nd coat. I ended up sanding that coat a lot, put on a third coat which still didn’t feel smooth, more sanding again, and finally stopped at the 5th coat. All these coats were spread out in a week. I put on a coat either in the morning before I went to work or in the evening before I went to bed. The end result is pretty nice.

Toekick troubles

There is a lot to like about IKEA cabinets but there are also some downsides. The toekicks are made out of particleboard just like the cabinets. Unfortunately, only only one side is finished. The narrow sides are exposed wood. The kitchen is where most spills and intense floor cleaning take place. Exposed particleboard edges are not a good thing. My solution for this problem is to cover all those edges with 100% silicone. It worked really well except it’s super time consuming and the smell of silicone got to me sometimes (I am sure it’s not good to breathe in that stuff). On the finished surface, I added 2 coats of Minwax polycrylic which creates a water resistance surface. This all sounds overkill. As you read on about the other toekick issues, you would agree that it’s best to overkill the first time and call it good forever.

The toekick comes in one width. Less than 5″ (I don’t remember the exact measurement). In a perfectly leveled kitchen, that would be fine. In the real world, most floors slope up and down all over the place. Our kitchen has a 3/4″ to 1″ difference from one end to the other. When we talked to the IKEA salesperson about this problem, he said we probably won’t see the gap. He pointed out that there are such gaps in the demo kitchens at the store and customers rarely see them. And he was right. We have to bend down to the floor to see this flaw.

Well, this flaw is not as invisible in the real world if one entryway of the kitchen comes from the garage which is three steps lower than the kitchen. Another problem we face is that there is a straight line of sight from the living room through the dining room to one 12-inch cabinet in the kitchen. When you are looking straight at a cabinet from 30-40 feet away, a gap is pretty obvious.

To solve this problem, I cut narrow strips of toekick to fill the gaps. We don’t have a lot of long pieces of leftover at this point. Since only the corners of the toekicks are most visible, I simply glued on some short strips on the corner pieces. The 12-inch cabinet is narrow enough that I filled the gap completely on its toekick. A lot of clamps and glue plus a little more silicone later, the toekicks were installed onto the cabinets in no time. Most IKEA hardware is well-designed for easy installation. While it isn’t the case all the time, I can attest to it on the toekicks. I am still not done though. Just to be doggone sure that no major spill would cause any serious damages, I caulked the edges between the toekicks and the floor.

The “entertainment system”

Hubby asked for a TV almost towards the end of the remodel. I hadn’t put in too much thought until when all the pieces to be connected to the TV were coming together. We have been using an Apple AirPort Express to channel music from our computers in the basement to the main floor. It’s a little bit of troublesome to go up and down stairs to access the computer (once it’s up and running, I use my iPod Touch to remote control the music). It would be much easier to have a computer on the main floor, not just for listening to music, it’s also good for surfing the web, etc. I have an old Mac mini (the last generation of PowerPC) that is too slow for day-to-day heavy duty work. It would be perfect for the kitchen. One main concern is its wifi. The internal hardware is only good up to 802.11g. I decided to connect the Mini to the AirPort Express to bring it up to 802.11n.

Continue adding to the TV equation is a SmartStrip. We bought one a long time ago to try out with our computer setup. I didn’t get a logical setup so I put it away. Hubby brought it up to my attention for the TV and I thought it would be a perfect idea. The TV can act as the control device to turn the other outlets off and on. This is a specially important device for the AirPort Express which generates a lot of heat when it is on. I would much prefer it to be off when everything else is not on.

Let’s sum up what needs to be connected to the TV: a computer (with a power brick and AirPort Express), a SmartStrip, plus a digital TV antenna. This is going to involve a whole lot of cables and I don’t want them to be too visible. My first thought was attaching the computer, SmartStrip and TV to the wall. Then hubby brought up the idea of hiding all the mess in the cabinet above the microwave. Bingo! That’s the perfect solution. What’s so great about this solution is that we had to install a filler strip between the cabinet and the side wall. There is gap behind the filler strip to channel all the cables. We drilled a hole on the side of the cabinet, added a furniture grommet to the hole, and wa-laa, we are ready for a serious AV challenge.

This is when all the tinkering started. My first choice of location for the TV antenna was the small space between the cabinet and the ceiling. The TV reception was okay until the big cycling event, Vuelta a España (Tour of Spain) came up. We fell in love with the Universal Sports channel when we switched to DTV. Cycling is one of the reasons. The reception for this channel wasn’t good due to where I placed the antenna. After some trial and error, I decided that it should go on the wall behind the TV. The antenna is made of black plastic and it is advertised as paintable. I took it out of commission and put on a coat of primer and 2 coats of the wall paint.

The next tinkering adventure was caused by poor TV audio. I knew about this potential problem when I read reviews before ordering the TV online. Since I really wanted a white TV, my choices are limited. The Toshiba TV/DVD combo is kind of the last one on the market at the moment. It looks great in the kitchen but it doesn’t perform so well in the music listening department. The sound gets distorted when we turn up the volume. The Apple AirPort Express came to the rescue. We have a good-sounding JBL iPod speaker that has a non-working iPod dock. I hooked it up to the AirPort Express and set up AirTunes to channel music while the Mac mini audio out port is connected to the TV. Problem solved.

The TV reception is still touch and go but I think I won’t mess with anything in the system for now.

The eBay clock

Before we tore apart the kitchen, there was a battery-powered clock above the window. When we took it down, we found out the clock was hiding a power outlet. After we removed the plaster walls, we even found writing on the wood framing specifying the outlet for a clock. We updated the outlet with the modern versions of a plastic box, receptacle and cover plate. The final step is to get a plug-in electric clock.

There are plenty of new electric clocks for sale but they are big ones, 12″ in diameter, designed for school or business purposes. The space above the window can only accommodate a small clock, 8″ in diameter at the most. I looked everywhere for a new one and came up with nothing. Once I got on eBay, I found a bunch of old General Electric clocks that are the perfect size. I guess these things were really popular back in the day.

We picked one to bid on and I won the auction easily. Including shipping, it cost less than $26. I thought I got a good deal until the clock started to run wild. It seemed to be doing fine until we had to turn off the circuit that included the clock outlet to do some work in the garage. When we turned the electricity back on, the clock got really loud. It was louder than the refrigerator. It also began to lose time after a few days. I adjusted the time and it would fall backward again.

I did some research. The clock is a GE 2F02 The New Hostess based on the Telechron clock technology. I found a site selling motors for these clocks and it costs $100 and up. This eBay purchase has suddenly become a whole lot more expensive. I decided to look around locally for a clock repair shop. I found one in the ‘burbs and it claimed they are one of the few repair shops in the area that can handle the Telechron. Well, I guess I have to go with them. I dropped it off a few weeks ago and got a quote for the repair at about $99. The shop is back up with a lot of orders. I have to wait 3-5 weeks for my clock to be done.

The final word

So, here I am waiting for the clock to return home. Meanwhile, we are cooking in the new kitchen. Since we didn’t have a real kitchen for a year, it feels completely foreign to me to cook on a real stove again. Aside from that, I am busy finding new home for kitchen stuff in the new cabinets. We had to buy new utensil trays and a few other gadgets to organize. Our spare bedroom, i.e. temporary kitchen, is still a mess. I am sure it will be back to normal some day.

One thing we miss a lot is a place to hang magnets. The doors on our new fridge are plastic. The body is metal. One side faces a wall and the other faces the stove. I want to hang magnets on the empty wall next to the TV. We found a white magnetic board from IKEA. Hopefully, I will be able to hang it up this weekend and that might be the last time I would be using power tools in the kitchen. I hope…


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