Mother Earth Living

Try This: Projects for the Kitchen

A guide to simple, affordable do-it-yourself projects for the kitchen.
By Susan Wasinger
September/October 2003
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Photo By Susan Wasinger
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Use less, get more...Changing the cabinets has a dramatic effect on the look of a kitchen. But new cabinets are expensive and often made of questionable materials—glues and preservatives and plastics that can impact the environment and your health. They’re resource-intensive, too—forests of hardwoods fall each year to keep up with the American appetite for the new and different.

Fitting new doors to existing cabinets is an old idea with new relevance. Frame-style doors use relatively little wood and give you the opportunity to recycle materials creatively to put your own stylish stamp on your kitchen. Here are four different materials that easily insert into new or existing door frames for a custom kitchen on your own terms.

Old wavy glass

Recycled glass, once used in a bank for privacy, gives new life to these simple wood-frame cabinet doors. Old glass comes in lots of styles—remember wire grid safety glass or that frosty, bumpy glass on the principal’s door at school? Check in the phone book under “Building Materials—Used” or try architectural salvage yards to begin your search for the perfect glass. Have the glass cut to size at a glass shop. The panels are best fitted in the frames using silicone caulk.

Wire screen

For a clean-lined kitchen, the combination of plain light wood and metal has a contemporary feel. Wire screen, often used in manufacturing, comes in a variety of materials, grid styles, and sizes. Most hardware stores carry a surprising array, or try a metal wire manufacturer (check the yellow pages under “wire cloth” or “wire products”).

Hammered tin

Many turn-of-the-last-century buildings had ceilings of intricately patterned pressed, stamped, or hammered tin. As those buildings have come tumbling down, these beautiful panels have become regulars on the junk store/salvage yard circuit. Here cabinet frames are painted white and antiqued to match the panel’s worn finish.

4) Livestock fence
For a really down-to-earth kitchen, try rabbit fence or chicken wire painted to match the cabinet frames. Not an uncommon sight in old kitchen armoires in the South of France, this low-tech solution may be the perfect recipe for a highly individual kitchen.

Keep in mind...These cabinets have more than their fair share of character. If you have a long wall full of cabinets, you may need to reface just a few prominent ones to make a dramatic impact.

Pulling power

Pull with a past...and a future. Take another look at those baskets of seemingly useless stuff that abound at junk stores: old spindles, Chinese coins, long-forgotten house keys, or even errant skate keys. With the right bolt and the proper nut, they can be made into cabinet knobs and pulls that wouldn’t be caught dead in the big chain discount hardware store. Here are some ideas to get your imagination going—but get your real inspiration directly from the “junk” itself.

(Check out our image gallery for more information on pulls.)

Light duty

An unassuming porcelain fixture and an exposed bulb sound like a recipe for something tacky and charmless. But here is a stylish light made from those simple elements plus an inexpensive piece of metal used in heating duct work. Because the light bulb isn’t obscured with a cover or glass, every watt and lumen goes toward lighting your space. It takes seconds to assemble and has a fresh retro feel that is at home in any kitchen.

(Check out our image gallery for more information on how to create this lightbulb wall sconce.)

Got you covered

Put a lid on wasted energy. Putting a lid on the pan while bringing water to a boil can significantly reduce the energy required and speed up the process.

Here is a way to keep your lids close at hand while making better use of cramped cabinet space. This lid rack uses inexpensive metal plates that attach to a cabinet door with four screws. Small, short bungee cords stretch between them to create taut, secure, easy-access holders. The elastic grip of the cords virtually eliminates rattle, and works with various knobs or handles atop the lids.

Buy pieces of drilled steel called “welding plate” at the hardware store. It is sold in various styles and lengths, so measure your cabinet doors beforehand to determine what length to buy, or use a hack saw and lots of elbow grease to cut the pieces to fit.

Attach the bars to the cabinet doors with wood screws. Be sure to buy screws with heads slightly larger than the holes in the metal bars. You will need 5 to 7 washers for each screw to offset the bars from the door face. Buy screws long enough to go through the bar, the washers, and at least 1/4-inch of the wood.

The metal bars need to sit about 1/4-inch off of the cabinet doors so that the bungee cord hooks have clearance to go through the holes.

When attaching the bar closest to the door hinges, leave enough clearance for the hinges to operate freely.

There are some very dapper bungee cords available at hardware stores and mountaineering shops. Or buy the elastic cord and metal hook ends and make them yourself. Small ones work best. You will have to shorten and re-knot one end to get a taut fit.

(Check out our image gallery for pictures of a completed lid holder.)

Here’s the rub

Here’s a great way to get rid of dirty-dish crud and do a bit of creative recycling. Collect a few of those ubiquitous plastic net bags that are used to package produce at the market. Cut off all tags, seams, metal tabs, and knots, leaving flat open-ended tubes. Stack three or four on top of each other and fold them lengthwise, accordian style. Once you have a tight stack of folds, use a rubber band or fishing line to tie them in the middle. Open up the folds to make a fluffy but hard-working scrubber.

(Check out our image gallery for more information on how to create this recycled scrubber.)


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