Project Doorknob

Since acquiring Boo Manor, the importance of door hardware – and installing the correct door hardware – has become something of a fetish for me. An odd fetish to be certain, and also not a cheap one.

Seren had done some research, and typically porcelain door knobs would have been used in a house of this era, which makes the motley collection of glass, brass and metal doorknobs oddly inappropriate. And I have already well-documented the quest for appropriate door hinges. My shopping trips through southern Ontario had yielded an impressive collection of porcelain-knob related door hardware from a variety of vintages, but there still remained the challenge of putting it all together and making it work.

Installation was complicated by the fact that we also had a variety of different door vintages to work with. Two of the doors off the dining room were modern, and had the usual two-inch hole for the door handle hardware to be mounted in. This left us with two choices: use modern door hardware, or replace the doors. Replacement was neither practical nor overly cost-effective, so newer door handles were the way to go here. The door to the basement and the outside (because yes, our dining room has an exterior door) are the same age of the house, and use the old-style iron bar through a much tinier door whole. And the door to my den didn’t even exist, which opened up our options on that front quite considerably.

I had, at Addison’s in Toronto, found porcelain doorknobs that looked older but weren’t. In fact, a minimal amount of internet research revealed that they were Australian, made by a company called Gainsborough, and brand new ones could in fact be bought at local hardware stores. The ones that I had purchased had been recovered from a house somewhere in Toronto, and had enough of a patina of age and use as to be plausible in the dining room. The downside was that they also had horribly gaudy fake-brass-rosettes (and Dianne is already planning for the eradication of all brass door hardware from Boo Manor) that certainly don’t count as period.

Painted rosettes and a new, used doorknob. If that makes any sense whatsoever.

The doorknobs from Addison’s were new enough, however, that they would work in the mounting holes of the newer doors. Assuming that I had the appropriate door hardware to finish the job. The tubular latch sets (the little pokey-slidey things that go in the side of the door, with the spring loaded doo-hickey that actually holds the door closed) that were there didn’t work with the new doorknobs. And I was a couple of screws short of a mounting solution for them (and no, I don’t need to hear your rude comments about this plight).

Why Gene has a stockpile of Gainsborough hardware I don’t know, but I’m desperately grateful that he does.

Fortunately, and coincidentally, Gene has in the past made extensive use of Gainsborough doorknobs, and has a box full of old parts, screws, mounting plates and latches (not to mention two brand new doorknob sets, if desperation truly set in) that he was happy to let me graze through. And for reasons that escape me, the box yielded up two tubular latch sets (still in their packaging) that were exactly what I needed to finish off the doors. The brass rosettes got a coat of Tremclad semi-gloss black paint (adding significantly to the fumes that were already wafting about courtesy of the floor refinishing) and I now had two sets of newer doorknobs that looked slightly used and should actually work in the doors.

The door to the basement. You’d never know the doorknob hadn’t always been there.

The doors to the basement and outside were easier to manage, on a relative scale. It had been recommended that the porcelain knob that would be outside be sealed, to help it resist weathering over time, but the installation was mostly straightforward. The basement door just required a replacement of knobs. The exterior door was a slightly different challenge, in that I needed a cross-bar long enough to make it through the door and the surface-mount lockset. By astounding coincidence, however, one of the cross-bars that I had picked up at Addison’s under the mistaken assumption that it would work with the Gainsborough doorknobs was the exact length I needed for the exterior door.

This doorknob used to be glass. And was completely unattached to the door. Talk about unhinged.

And so, the jigsaw puzzle that has been Project Doorknob has come to a successful conclusion, and we now have five doors in or near the dining room that all have period(ish) porcelain knobs. And I only lost a few brain cells from paint fumes and whatever it was that the floor refinishers were using. I’m calling that a win.

Knob and Tube and Angst No More…

As noted earlier in the process of buying Boo Manor, we had a slight issue regarding the presence of knob-and-tube wiring in the house. Not a lot, mind you, and not in any way a safety hazard, but our insurers chose not to see things the same way.

While the wiring for the kitchen was being done, however, we got a welcome surprise: the knob and tube in the dining room is no more. In its place is shiny new wiring, to its own dedicated circuit. And a lot of small holes in our ceiling.

I certainly understand why the knob-and-tube wiring still remained. While the rest of the house was completely rewired during an earlier renovation, including complete replacement of the panel, the dining room represents a bit of a challenge logistically. Three of its four walls were originally exterior; behind the plaster-and-lathe, there is rock. Thick rock. There is no elegant way to get into the walls (elegant, in the context, being code for ‘non-destructive’).

A tell-tale trail of holes where the knob-and-tube used to be.

The ceiling in the dining room, however, has gotten to the point in its life where it needs to be resurfaced. And the chandelier needs to be taken out back and put out of its misery. Both of these facts create an opportunity – if you are going to be refinishing the ceiling, then no one is going to notice a couple of temporary holes along the way.

The end result is that the scary exterior light is no more, and there is new, modern wiring to an actual, modern junction box above the exterior door. There is also now proper wiring to the ceiling fixture in the dining room. And, just because we could, we also have a switched exterior outlet that can be used for Christmas lights. Boo Manor is now 100% knob-and-tube free. But we’ve still switched insurance companies.

To Ikea or Not to Ikea? That Really Is A Question

So we’re building a kitchen. A very big kitchen. A very big kitchen with lots of cabinets.

Having already built a house once, Dianne and I both know full well that one of the largest expenses in a kitchen is cabinetry. Our previous kitchen was built from custom cabinetry, and the price tag was impressive. So we already had some idea of what we were getting into as we considered taking on a brand new kitchen project, especially one that will now require as much cabinetry as is now being planned.

Many people swear by custom cabinetry, of course. Partly that’s practical: when you are dealing with a design that needs to fit within pre-existing walls, especially walls that are not necessarily completely square, fitting perfectly uniform boxes can be extremely awkward. Custom means that the cabinet will be tailored to fit regardless of the realities of the room. At the same time, some people insist on custom cabinets for the simple reason that they can.

Others will tell you that going the custom cabinetry route is a waste, and that you can get perfectly viable options much more cost effectively. What is considered one of the highest quality options, at a much more affordable price, is Ikea. Yes, that Ikea. The home of flat pack, Swedish meatballs and do-it-yourself hernias.

Ikea – Home of flat-pack, meatballs and do-it-yourself hernias (Photo Credit: North America Retail Architects Inc.)

While frequently snubbed as down-market, many renovators and designers have positive things to say about the quality of Ikea kitchen materials. Extremely positive things. One designer and renovator provides a detailed deconstruction of their kitchen materials, and why he has used them in more than 20 renovations to date. Another designer extols her love of Ikea kitchens, and explains why they are her preferred go to option.

The points they make are significant. The quality of their boxes are good, and often as good as you will get from a semi-custom kitchen manufacturer. Go to an Ikea showroom and open one of their cabinets, and you are faced with extremely solid 5/8″ thick MDF. Their hardware is also (mostly) excellent, and on par with custom installs, right down to soft-close drawers and doors. Their options in terms of drawer and door designs aren’t stellar, but are certainly competent. And if you do it right, and particularly if you install it yourself, you can get the same quality kitchen for as much as half the price. All of which are compelling arguments in favour of Ikea.

Ikea kitchens can indeed be funky, well designed and appealing spaces (Photo Credit: Carol Reed Designs)

So, to Ikea or not to Ikea? That is the question. For us, there are some drawbacks, and they are worth taking into consideration. For starters, the door styles tend towards the more modern. Based upon their catalogue, we thought they had a more traditional bead-board styling, which is what we are looking for, but it turns out to be a high gloss door with two inch strips of laminate positioned closely together to suggest bead-board. In the catalogue, it looked promising; in real life, sadly, it looks cheap. Their drawers have also changed since the two articles above; they are now exclusively plastic frames inside. I have no idea what their wear will be, but I’m enough of a snob to want real wood in my drawers, thank you very much.

We thought Ikea did bead-board. Less bead, more board, and not liking the final result (Photo Credit: Ikea)

The largest argument against, however, has to do with the size of the boxes. They are only sold in standard widths, meaning that if you are running the full length between two walls, there is a very good likelihood of leaving gaps at the end. More importantly, however, the height of all their cabinet boxes are standard, and designed to result in a uniform 36″ cabinet height once a counter is added. For my height, a counter of at least 39″ is a minimum; any shorter, and I can’t work for more than a half-an-hour in the kitchen without massive lower back pain. Meaning that our out-of-the-box Ikea kitchen would need about 35 linear feet of custom footings to raise the standard boxes to an appropriate height. The possible savings quickly start to disappear.

If you are trying to save money on your renovation, and in particular if you are going for a more modern look and feel to your kitchen, Ikea is certainly going to save you some money without sacrificing too much on quality. When it comes time to renovate the kitchen in the condo (and that day is certainly out there somewhere in the future) we full expect that Ikea will be our source of supply. For Boo Manor, however, we’re going the custom route. It will cost us more, certainly, but we get exactly the cabinets we need, at exactly the height we need them at. That is an investment that will quickly pay off.