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The Old Tenant House

Michael Hillman

Read Part 8 - It was a cold and windy night...

Part 9: The Kitchen Cabinets

With the addition to the Tenant House now weather tight, it was time to move to the kitchen and start on Audrey's Christmas present - the kitchen cabinets.

Probably one of the biggest ticket items in kitchen renovations is cabinetry. In order to cut this expense to a bare minimum, many chose to purchase their kitchen cabinets from stores like Lowes and Home Depot. I will freely admit that while we fully intended to have Brian and Vince Reaver of Reaver's Woodworking do our cabinets, my wife and I took a trip to Frederick to check out what the big stores had to offer - simply put, not much.

Vince & Brain Reaver

All the department store cabinets looked the same. This would be OK if every kitchen had the same dimensions and was painted white. God forbid you want stain grade cabinetry. Even if you could afford the cost, you had to accept their stain selections. Forget custom stains! Well that's not exactly true. We did find some unpainted cabinets that we could custom stain, but the quality of the cabinets was so deplorable that their only use to me would have been as kindling for a fire.

So with that itch scratched, we turned the kitchen cabinets over to Brian and Vince knowing they would exceed our wildest quality expectations. Now truth be told, this was not our first time having the Reaver Brothers do cabinetry work for us. Years ago they built us an entertainment consul that has always drawn complements from visitors.

If you've never meet Vince or Brian, I think it fair to say you're missing out. Not only are they two of the most kind and thoughtful people in the area, but two of the finest cabinet makers this area has ever known (save their father of course!).

Prior to the new addition, the space of the old kitchen was about 16 by 16 feet, or 256 square feet. But once you took into account three doors, two windows, and room for a kitchen table, the actual space for cabinets and countertops was limited - one wall to be exact. In order to make the space functional, careful planning was necessary.

With functionality her priority, Audrey spent months researching exactly how she wanted the kitchen laid out. And with the extra space the addition provided, she had the full 256 square feet to work with - or as its knowing in the cooking world - 'her cooking triangle'. Once she had settled on her design, it was up to Brian and Vince to take it from a drawing to a reality.

Brian listened patiently as Audrey explained what she wanted. He occasionally offered suggestions based on his years of experience which she readily accepted. They planned to lay the new counters and cabinets out in a 'U' shape.

The first element of the 'U' would be a bar top countertop, overlooking the sink. On both sides of the sink would be floor level cabinets for pot and pans. Guests set on chairs on the outside of the bar countertop looking into the cooking triangle, while the cook gets to look towards the new walls of windows and the panoramic view of the Catoctin they afford.

The 'bottom' of the 'U' would house the stove and microwave. The microwave would be sandwiched above the stove between cabinets for spices and glasses.

The final element of the 'U' would provide additional counter space and offer more cabinets for storage.

But Brian and Vince's work didn't stop there. Audrey's design included a pantry adjoining the kitchen, much like Kitchens of yester year. Both the cabinets and the countertop extended into this pantry.

On its opposite wall of the pantry there was a closet with internal sliding doors that allowed double the storage of food stocks. The Kitchen's far was continued a custom-made desk where one could sit and talk on the phone and an enclosure for the refrigerator.

I'll be the first to admit, it was an impressive design and something that could only be accomplished with custom cabinets. Brian and Vince didn't blink once as Audrey explained what she wanted. Their only question was "when?"

"Christmas" was her reply.

"Christmas it will be," they rejoined.

For me at least, one of the nicer aspects of having Brian and Vince do our cabinetry was the ability to drop by their shop and watch them take boards and shape them into cabinets. It was not only a great learning experience for me, but a reaffirmation of what quality craftsmanship is all about. No detail of the cabinets, whether an inside support or an angle brace, was not too small to be done to perfection.

As the cabinets were going to be stained, it was important for all joints to be exact. Many store brand cabinets are built with sloppy workmanship which leads to gaps in joints that are filled with caulk that falls out over the years. But, the Reaver's cabinets are so well constructed that caulk is never needed! Unlike store brand cabinets where doors might or might not hang correctly and open evenly, the doors on the Reaver's cabinets fit like a glove.

Another aspect of Reaver's Cabinetry is how 'green' they are. No, I don't mean the color! Brian and Vince go to great lengths to minimize waste and recycle scraps when they can. Their shop is filled an assortment of scrap, including old fence post and board. When plained down this wood is stunningly beautiful.

As I tend to look at every piece of old wood in the house as part of the house's history, I'm forever handing boards 'rescued' from the walls over to Vince and Brian for them to recycle and incorporate into their next masterpiece for us. Everywhere you look in the house, the old is mixed with the new creating a richness that will bring smiles to Audrey's and my face for years to come.

Once the cabinets were completed, they were stained with a concoction combining three different stains. Audrey had spent weeks in perfecting this mixture which resulted in light brown honey color cabinets.

Given that over the years the kitchen had settled and didn't contain a single straight wall or surface, I held my breath when the time came to install the cabinets. But the Reaver Brothers took it all in stride. A shim here and a shim there and before we knew it, the first wall of cabinets were up.

Watching the cabinets go up was like looking through one of those old time hand-held photo-flipping machines that give the illusion of movement. One minute Vince would be carrying in a cabinet and before you knew it, it was in place and the next cabinet we coming in the door.

Unlike big production shops, once the cabinets were in place, Brian and Vince took their time to make sure all the doors opened correctly and all drawers slid without binding. Only when they got Audrey's final OK did they call it a day.

As expected, the quality of the workmanship of the cabinets exceeded our wildest expectations. It's impossible to walk into the house and not be wowed by the cabinets. While the cabinets were Audrey's Christmas present, the Reaver's bill was my Christmas present! The final cost of custom made Reaver Brother's cabinets was less than the projected cost of store bought cabinets let alone installation fees! We got better quality at a lower price by going with the Reaver's Woodworking.

While this article is focused on the kitchen cabinets, the Reaver Brothers do much more then kitchen cabinets - as their name implies, they do custom woodworking.

Whether you're looking for a custom made night table to fit that tight spot next to your bed, a mantle for your fireplace, a coffee table, or a desk, Vince and Brian can make your idea a reality.

As a case in point, in the time it's taken me to pull together this issue of the paper, Vince and Brian created a custom made bathroom vanity with two sinks, two wall medicine cabinets, and a custom made closet door. To be honest, I actually wanted to build them myself, but the reality is the Reavers could build them faster, cheaper, and far better than I could have. The best part was, once again, the final bill was a fraction of what Home Depot or Lowes would charge.

So if you're looking for that perfect Christmas present for that special person this year, consider some custom cabinets or furniture - you'll never regret it. Reaver Woodworking dispels the myth that high quality custom cabinetry and furniture is expensive. They take pride in the fact that they build for any budget and any design.

Reaver's Woodworking - furniture and friendship that lasts a life time.

Read Part 10:  Refinishing the Floors

Read other humor stories by Michael Hillman