Make your own shower – planning for tiling

This post is about some special discussion tile choices and how tile fit into our layout.  Many people pick their tiles based on design or decorating skill.  But when you are re-tiling your shower, chances are it is easier to redo just about any other part of the bathroom to match your tiles.  Therefore, one can pick pretty AND practical tiles.  I got lucky.

First, there is measurement to consider.  For some, the area of the shower and the size of the tile are totally independent; after all tile can be cut.  However, if one can nudge their shower to be a couple inches bigger or smaller to avoid cutting tiles, why not plan accordingly?

First lesson: The back of your shower is predetermined.  The sides are flexible and cane be chosen based on the width of your chosen tile – but once the backerboard is up, the size is determined.  When planning for the sides, we should not have forgotten about our corner grout line.  The tiles ended up kind of weirdly overlapping and our carefully-measured shower sides were just ~1/2″ too short since that corner grout line took up more space than I expected (and I sawed 1/2″ off of the 2×17 tiles that spanned the height of the shower).  For our 3/16″ tile, the corner line is ~3/16″ + thicknesses of the field tile because of how they line up.  Thank goodness for the power tile saw and caulk – but save yourself the grief.

crowded corner.  bad planning.

Crowded corner. The tiles on the right actually overlap those on the left.

Since the tiles on the left are too far over, it was also annoying because I ended up with a super skinny tile on the righthand side (which were also a pain to cut):

Thin tile set with thinset.

Thin tile set with thinset.

So, since the actual tile being used should influence some backerboard specifics for the measuring-inclined, here are some of my thoughts about which tile to use.  I relayed a lot about picking tiles here.  Then note that I had bought these particular tiles before I knew what Fireclay tile was.  For the shower, we picked a 4.25″ ceramic field tile called “Pepper White” by Dal (which you cannot see the speckles on in any pictures) because:

  1. We liked it.
  2. It had matching quarter rounds.  Many tiles, especially those made out of weird materials don’t have matching quarter rounds.  We needed quarter rounds for the window and all around the edges due to how our backerboard was not flush with the wall.  I didn’t want to have any alignment errors stand out because of a sudden color change.  Unusual tile materials and mosaics are less likely to have matching quarter rounds.  Also, the quarter rounds for this project cost basically as much as the field tile (~$150 for the quarter rounds)!  So, if you know you need ~90 quarter rounds, keep it mind that they charge by the piece for these special shapes.
  3. It was >35% recycled.  But I can do better next time this way.
  4. It was made in the USA.  Those freaking quarter rounds were not though.
  5. It wasn’t a solid white – I figured the freckles would distract from any of my alignment errors.  Judge for yourself
  6. It was cheap.  (And it’s clear why.  The Fireclay tile in our kitchen make these Dal tiles feel badly about themselves.)
  7. It fit well with the house – it’s not a modern tile in a not-so-modern house.  I like these stripy contemporary, wood-look-alike tiles, but it would look weird here with all of our real wood.
  8. It fit well with my wooden bathroom counter top – we are going for a sort of rustic look here.  At least that’s how I’m going to explain these grout lines!
  9. The tiles are still whitish so they should match nearly everything for a long time – what is the 2014 equivalent of pink tile anyway?

Here are the unexpected benefits.

  1. The 4.25″ tile plus our 3/16″ grout lines spanned the height of the shower perfectly, even when I had to consider the measurements of the silly window.  This was luck.  The height of our shower was chosen to be exactly 1 field tile + 2 grout lines + 2 quarter rounds.
    Tile around the window

    Tile around the window

    I don’t really want to spoil this, but it makes more sense with the picture.  I didn’t want an awkward half-height tile above the window, hence the choice of the total height.

  2. Stray thinset that dries on these glazed ceramic tiles scrapes off quite easily with a putty knife.  Remember that bit about learning from my mistakes?  This is not true for all pricier materials.  And with the quarter rounds, some of the thinset was not wipable while wet since I had to tape the quarter rounds into place.
  3. The tiles don’t scratch with sanded grout.
  4. The tiles cut easily with our power tile saw…which it was $80 to buy or $26/day from home depot to rent.  This project spanned at least 4 weeks so buying the saw was the right call!
  5. The tiles were sturdy enough were you can pry them off if, after the thinset dried, you determined rearrangement was necessary…

The next step of the process was mixing thinset and actual sticking these carefully-chosen tiles to our carefully-measured backerboard!

Did you miss out on part one on how to put up backerboard?

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Physics in the kitchen – our induction stove and other appliances

Our kitchen is finished.  And it’s awesome.  And a lot of that awesome is our induction range!

Before and after:

2014-01-22 08.26.42 photo 5

Yes, it looks much cooler, but it is also way more practical.  A big part of that is the appliances that we bought.  We actually had to buy these before the cabinets.  Although we ordered fairly standard-sized appliances anyway, the cabinets have to fit around them.  Our priorities were:

  1. Saving energy (more of that whole I-lived-in Berkeley)
  2. Increasing cooking speed (we weren’t sure this was actually possible with appliances.  Spoiler: it is.)
  3. Fitting a turkey in the oven come Thanksgiving.
  4. Supporting American companies when possible.

Our most exciting appliance purchase was our GE induction range.  In fact, if it wasn’t for the range, this post would be a waste of time.  Induction cooking is really fun: instead of applying thermal energy (aka heat), the stove has AC current in a coil below a ferromagnetic (think iron, steel NOT copper) pot.  Through induction, the magnetic pot begins to have eddy (or swirling) currents within the sides, which heat up the pot.  The stove itself only heats up because it is in contact with the pot.  While I like physics, equations have never been my thing so we will stop here before the math…sorry Maxwell.  Induction stoves used to be very expensive but have gotten much cheaper over the last few years.

photo 4There she is – right in the middle!  Note that a glass top electric range looks pretty much the same from this angle.

This induction stove means FAST cooking – this I can say firsthand.  It now takes us literally 2 minutes to boil a dutch oven full of water for pasta.  This cuts off at least 10 minutes from dinner if we are boiling anything!  In terms of energy efficiency, induction stoves are even more responsive than gas, but over twice as energy efficient (government’s evaluation here) coming in at 84% vs. 40% for gas.  I have had no problems getting high enough heat for stir frying.   It was also convenient that we didn’t have to plumb gas into our kitchen (previously an electric stove).

It is much more difficult to burn hands on the stove since the surface itself barely gets hot.  I actually moved a boiling pot off of the surface to see how hot is is.  I can actually touch the surface quickly without burning myself within 5 seconds of moving the pot.  That said, I still wouldn’t want to sit on it or anything at this point.

All of our pots worked except for one cheap saucepan and two Calphalon non-stick frying pans.  We didn’t have any copper, aluminum or ceramic pots.  Most interestingly though was that a cheap $20 stockpot from Target in 2007 works just fine.  All-clad and Rachel Ray non-stick pans (and likely others, but these are the replacements we bought) work great with the stove.  The trick is to look for heavy stainless steel bottoms.  Cast iron is maybe the best choice of all, but I cannot tell a difference in heating rates between all of these pots.

Finally there is space for three racks inside of the range oven – plenty of room for a turkey and side dishes!  Our range fulfilled all 4 conditions of appliance shopping.

After picking the range, we kind of went with the flow (GE profile series) for the rest of the appliances.   I report about them here, but we were pretty ambivalent in comparison to the range.  Like I mentioned before, the microwave range hood power is a little low (although I think all microwave hoods are), but we would buy it again because our kitchen is so small.  The refrigerator is counter depth, again because of our tiny kitchen.  French doors with freezer below seem to be all the rage these days…so far so good.  The ice dispenser seems very sophisticated.  The previous side-by-side fridge was annoying since we couldn’t fit a casserole dish in it very well.  Our dishwasher is a Bosch because the nice lady at the local appliance store said it was less likely to break…  This sounded like a good reason to change up brands.  It’s actually so quiet that it has a little red light to prove that it is a running.

photo 3

Faucet, sink and dishwasher.  The sink seems twice as deep as the old 1950’s sink!  That banana hook is pretty cool too.  And yes, we have a vent cover now.

We also needed a faucet and a sink.  My father (hi dad), who has replaced more than his fair share of faucets, recommends Moen or Delta.  There are a ton of faucet options, but Moen, Groehe and Hans Groehe were the recommended faucet brands by the fancy faucet store that our contractor sent us to (in the end, we bought from Amazon).  Of these three, Moen is made in the US – there is a nice list of American-made faucets here.  Interestingly, Moen and some other brands seems to have big-box store models and order-only models.  Sometimes the big box store models are made in China and sometimes they aren’t – just something to consider.  After our rather sketchy experience with Delta, we opted for a Moen kitchen faucet as well, namely the pull-out Moen Arbor.  We like the pull out feature for easy rinsing.  In CA, it is actually law that new faucets must be low flow – without the sprayer head, I don’t think we could actually get enough water flowing to rinse off dishes.  With the sprayer head, it seems to work great.

The sink is a Franke sink, which we did buy from the fancy faucet store.  We learned that cheap sinks kind of echo when you hit them, but this sink sounds nice and sturdy.  Shopping for sinks is similar to shopping for watermelons but it seems that a good sink sounds like an underripe melon.  We like having a big, deep, under counter sink to fit everything  (no more holding baking pans at weird angles to clean them off!).  We also got a sink that holds a wire shelf.  I like to use it to set the pasta strainer on it.

Buy induction!  It’s awesome.  For the first time in our kitchen, watched pots do boil.

Tile tie-up

Our kitchen tile backsplash moved in the day after the countertop install.  Selecting the backsplash proved to be one of the most difficult parts of the process for me/us, which I’ll explain below, including the results of my extensive searching for made-in-the-USA and sustainably-resourced tile.  To back up a step, we went from here:

photo 1

to here:

photo 4

Here is a close-up of the backsplash underneath the pass-through:

photo 5

The 3×6 white tile is Frost by Fireclay and the blue accent is an AlysEdwards tile called Gigi’s Groovy Glass in Nocturnal Sea.  While I now find myself just staring at the pretty backsplash, it was definitely not a pretty process to get here.  [And in case you don’t make it to the end of this post, please note that design was not exactly my creation.]

Lesson #1: I was not passionate about tile.  Bryan was not passionate about tile either.

Lesson #2: I am happiest with decisions where I can consider a number of options that meet certain criteria and lock quickly onto one as my clear preferred option.  This is what happened for the countertop, for example.  It is also how we got our dog and our house and how I chose my job and picked my undergraduate school and graduate school, but I digress….  The problem is that since I had no passion in this area (Lesson #1), it was very difficult for me (since Bryan checked out of this decision..see Lesson #1) to apply my usual (if not un-restrained) criteria.

Lesson #3: There is a HUGE selection of tile out there.  It is like choosing bratwurst in Bavaria or snowflakes at the north pole or pizza in Chicago.

For lack of other options, we started trying to narrow things down with our two themes: made in the U.S.A. and environmentally sound.  Our white cabinets + black counter can go with almost anything, so since we weren’t passionate about anything, there was no obvious choice for design right off.

Below are the brands of tile made in the U.S.A. I found that are (or are partly) made in the states (Lesson #4).  There are surely more companies out there, but I just didn’t find them via internet or phone.

tile-pat

  1. Fireclay Tile (which is actually locally handmade in San Jose, just a couple miles from my office.  You can order everything online, by phone, in person or at some distributors.)
  2. Florida Tile (guess where…this is a large company that works through distributors)
  3. Crossville Tile (Tennessee; ditto as far as size)
  4. Sonoma Tile (handcrafted in California, many distributors.)
  5. Dal Tile (actually a huge company that has products everywhere, but has a nice list here of which lines are made in the U.S.A.)
  6. Stonepeak Ceramics (didn’t feel quite right for our humble kitchen)
  7. Heath Ceramics (Also in CA, kind of the same idea as Fireclay, but I think it costs more so I didn’t explore – plus Fireclay already proved to be very helpful)
  8. Check this list, which has a couple brands that I didn’t explore,
  9. Modwalls sells a US made line that is actually made by Clayhaus in Oregon.  You can buy directly from Clayhaus (Modwall’s recycled materials are made in China apparently.)

I also explored how to get tile that is heavily recycled.  Ceramics and porcelain are extremely durable, which is great while they are in your house.  But, once tiles, toilets, tubs and trivets get thrown out, they do not decompose in landfills.  Once I thought about this, I realized that using recycled tile is an easy way to make a big impact.  It turns out that many brands have lines that are made of some fraction of recycled material and some companies actively try to have sustainable manufacturing processes (like recycling plant water for example).

green tile2*

Lesson #5: Recycled tiles can be from “pre-consumer” or “post-consumer” waste material.  “Pre-consumer” waste is easier for manufacturers to use and is typically scrap from within their own factories.  “Post-consumer” waste is much preferred, since this is stuff that is getting directly diverted from land fills.  However, it is much less common to find any and especially large amounts of this material in tiles.  And, the catch for the consumer is, of course, that harder to make + less common = more expensive.  In the end, more recycled content of any kind is better than no recycled content.

Lesson #6: Tile stores/showrooms/distributors have no idea if their tile is recycled or not.  Even in Northern CA, I kept feeling like I was the first person who had ever asked that question.  Here’s what I found out via phone & internet.

  1. Fireclay Tile – their Debris Series used over 70% recycled content, with over 50% from post-consumer materials.  This is far and away the best I found on the internet (although, if you find something better, let me know). I will continue to praise them below.  They also have a recycled glass tile line that uses 100% locally-sourced recycled glass.
  2. Florida Tile has at least 40% recycled content, but it seems to be pre-consumer.  They also monitor their resource usage in manufacturing.
  3. Crossville Tile has a variety of 5-50% pre-consumer content lines, but some lines have no recycled content.
  4. Dal Tile has a drop down menu where you can look up which lines have what type of and how much recycled content.  Note that when you do this (at least in Firefox), none of the links that pop up work, but if you open a separate tab you can search for the line and get function links.
  5. There are a few interesting links on this website, although the only one not listed here is 5-15% Ultraglas and the all-recycled, hand-made glass tiles from Bedrock in Seattle.
  6. Oceanside Glass Tile is made from up to 80% recycled glass content – it looks like this is post-consumer materials.  An informed source let me know that they manufacture in Mexico.
  7. Clayhaus‘s modern ceramic tiles are handcrafted in Oregon by a husband wife team (second generation ceramists).

This is all I have been able to find, although my suspicion is that many manufacturers do have recycled lines, but do not post the information prominently.

Lesson #7: The most sustainable tile was also handmade.  Are small companies more environmentally conscious?  Is it just easier for them to change materials?  Is it too expensive to recycle for mass production?  I just don’t know why bigger companies aren’t pushing the envelope for post-consumer ceramic recycling.

The good news for me was that the first list and the second list do overlap.  Most of the recycled tile that I list is made in the U.S.A., with the exception of some lines from Dal.  There are likely European tile companies with recycled content, but I haven’t had success in finding them.

Lesson #8: Fireclay Tile is far and away the most sustainable option and is made locally (or at least in the USA if you don’t happen to live in the bay area).  They were also very easy to work with and used to being accommodating since most of their customers do not live 5 miles away.  They offered to customize glazes for me.  If you aren’t local, they will send 5 free samples direct to your home!  Finally, while it is not the cheapest tile on the market, their prices for their high-quality, handmade field tile starts lower than some low-end (not to mention high-end) unsustainable mosaic tiles.  I found that, while I didn’t start out aesthetically-motivated, I actually can be pretty excited about tile.  (And no, they don’t have any idea that I’m writing this.)

Once I realized that we would still have to specify tile style from one of these lines, I started looked at tile in other people’s kitchens.  Both in person and on Houzz.com, I kept finding examples where it looked like a beautiful countertop was selected totally independently of a beautiful backsplash and the two rights make a wrong.  I won’t post examples here because that is insulting, but to each our own, the result of an over-zealous backsplash+counter is distracting and sloppy.

I found that the backsplash/granite combinations that I liked were simple like Centsational Girl’s white on white or House Beautiful’s accent colors or, better yet, the backsplash tied different parts of the kitchen together like Kelly’s slate.  My choices of white cabinets and black countertops made any creams or earthtones pretty much a no go.  It was looking like the only timeless backsplash left to me would be some form of white.

A little more Houzz surfing and, after all of my tile-sourcing research, the design decision was, once again, made in a split second.  Epiphany Kitchens had cleverly tied the blue accents in a blue-in-the-night granite countertop in with the backsplash while preserving timelessness of a white kitchen and adding a little interest to the wall.  So, Epiphany Kitchens, because you are far away in Michigan, I hope you don’t mind that I reused your design out here in California.

Lesson #9: Typically, tiles with high quantities of recycled content are not made in white since recycled materials are not necessarily white.  Fireclay has solved this problem.  Their recycled tile bodies are actually brown but they change the colors of their tiles by using different glazes –  the white tile in the photos is actually a brown ceramic!  I can’t even tell up close.  [And to pick that particular shade of white, I polled my office of engineers – a very discerning crowd of gentlemen it turns out.]

The decision was final: our kitchen backsplash would be made with Fireclay.  I won’t lie that I first had to come to terms with paying good money for the backsplash knowing all the while that cheap, porcelain-tree-killing, unpatriotic tile would have been less.  The blue mosaic accent in the picture cost 1.5 times the amount as the white tile, and if you stare at it too long, looks cheaper and less elegant than the 3×6 Fireclay tile.  (Plus, AlysEdwards tile is made un-sustainably in China.)

Each Fireclay Frost tile has just a little bit of it’s own character (see my goofy cartoons above for a close-up).  Although I never thought I would say this about white tile, the Fireclay tiles are beautiful, even more elegant and exciting in their simplicity than many far more expensive backsplashes I have seen.  My phone photos do not do it justice.

photo 5

(And this is from the girl who started out not caring about tiles…)

By the way, you’ll also have to pick grout type and color.  If you install it yourself, you will also have to pick a brand, which I can’t speak to as of yet.  But if you make it that far in the tile selection process, I don’t expect that decision to be an issue.

Update: a special thank you to the Fireclay team for reading my post and helping out with research on locally-grown, sustainable tile.  While the research was entirely my own before they saw it, they were able to contribute additional facts which I added.  The views presented here are entirely my own.

*Kermit the Frog and the Muppets were, of course, behind this observation

Enter the cabinets

When we left off, our kitchen looked like this:

2014-02-18 12.12.16

It’s painted in the areas that actually had textured drywall, but it was still looking a little naked.  We are pleased that we took the time to paint before the cabinets though because we did not want to spill paint on our lovely new cabinets.  After two days, our cabinets are installed and now the kitchen is really looking like a kitchen:

photo 2

Here’s the side with the pass through.  We sprung for some glass cabinet doors.  We had a crummier version of these in our last house and I really liked them.  We can show off our Fiestaware while still having the dishes contained in a cabinet this way.

photo 1

And here is where the stove and refrigerator will go.  The door is just to the right.

We are now waiting for our granite countertops to show up.  After cabinet installation, the cabinet fellow measured out plywood in the shape of our counter.  This is where you get to think about how the edges will look.

When we (ok, let’s be honest: when I picked the cabinets), I found that I had to consider a number of factors I’d never though of in rentals before.

First lesson: Think about your storage style and what cabinet layout best suits it.  I knew I wanted:

  • Pot/pan storage easily accessible near the stove
  • Pull-out trash (our Aussie can defeat any trashcan that an be knocked over.  Honestly, I’m kind of expecting her to be able to pull this out with her paws eventually)
  • A tall cabinet for food (that’s on the far end near the window)
  • Pan storage
  • Glass fronts on some cabinets (for colorful dish display and variety)
  • Spice drawer near the stove

Second lesson (timing): Even though the cabinets will have the longest lead time of any part of a kitchen remodel (8 weeks for us, which is not long actually), you actually do not want to order them until you have picked all of the appliances.  Obviously, the cabinets need to fit around the appliances and neither the cabinets nor the appliances can be adjusted after the fact (unless you want a hole in your kitchen somewhere – there is a saw for every purpose under heaven).  This is one reason kitchen remodels are cited to take a long time from the onset of the process to the point when you’re eating in your new kitchen again.  There are a number of intertwined decisions that one should not pull triggers on entirely serially…although measuring once and cutting twice is ALWAYS tempting to me.

Third lesson (picking a brand): There are several different ‘levels’ of cabinets one can buy and there is some overlap between levels.  It is difficult to truly compare prices within levels because the cost depends highly on the style, number and design of the cabinets that you select.  For example, semi-custom (or custom) cabinets are laid out for each space.  Since a lot of cabinet shopping includes a design fee (since it is actual work for someone to undertake the design), there is often a non-zero fee for shopping around.  This is a similar problem when choosing a contractor – different contractors may report slightly different scopes of work.  A cursory glance at the cliqstudios link above and chatting with my cousins (who went the Home Depot route) suggests that the prices for similar criteria aren’t all that different for smallish kitchens, probably within $1-2K for what is usually a $10K project.  I don’t know for sure that this is a fact, mind you, but it is what I have seen in my first hand experiences.  Furthermore, even within semi-custom brands there are tiers of prices depending on the final look (finish, carving, glass, wood type etc) that you choose.

OK, so, the least expensive level of cabinets (1) are probably those pre-made at a big box store.  There’s no reason why these should or shouldn’t fit your space – think typical prom dress from Marshall Fields.  Cabinet installers can and do use spacers to make the space look filled but these are difficult to customize. Honestly, I didn’t shop them so I can’t comment on pricing, but there doesn’t seem to be as many features available.

The next level up (2) is something called “semi-custom”, which seems to be a common choice for many folks.  As far as I can tell, this is sort of a wedding dress of cabinets.  In both cases, the cabinet (or dress) comes in pre-fixed sizes, but you order the ones that fit and then the cabinet tailor makes the exact set you need.  In some sense, this is custom for your needs.  Generally, it seems to be assumed that if you buy these cabinets you won’t be installing them yourselves.

Within this level, there are different brands and places/ways to buy them.  Home Depot sells a variety of semi-custom cabinets.  In that case, you walk into Home Depot and shop cabinets, then Home Depot measures and installs them.  There are also many, many kitchen design companies that work with various cabinet makers to produce semi-custom cabinets.  Ours are from the Brookhaven line which is made by a larger company, Woodmode.  We choose this brand because our contractor often works with a kitchen designer who is a dealer of this brand.  Because we were actually removing part of a wall, we wanted to make sure that the wall measurements and the cabinet measurements were done by effectively the same entity.  This way, I figured it wasn’t our problem if someone measured wrong.  Julie took care of laying out cabinets and we simply gave inputs as to what we wanted.  We had several iterations of designs that she laid out using the cabinet software, although know there are places you can do this online yourself and still have some interaction with real people.  She actually didn’t take a fee, just the commission of the cabinet sale but was super helpful and friendly.  She also made sure we didn’t do something that was stupid for our space, which is important if one is justifying their kitchen remodel as adding resale value to the house.  The downside is that, well, it may (or may not) have been a little cheaper if we had invested our own time to design rather than a professional’s time.

The third level of cabinet pricing is truly custom cabinets.  This is like a one-of-a-kind wedding dress designed especially for you.  I did not shop this end of the spectrum either, but the idea is not unlike the semi-custom idea.  The only difference is that instead of mixing and matching a huge variety of predefined cabinet sizes, each and every cabinet is laid out exactly for your space.  I think these would be a bigger benefit for a house with a larger, custom-laid-out kitchen than for a small galley kitchen like ours.  Plus, the kitchen project with the semi-custom cabinets brought so many decisions that I can’t imagine wanting any more!  I had never considered what type of design on like on the front of cabinet doors until I was forced to pick one (and I picked the cheapest one 🙂  ).

Fourth lesson (materials): Another interesting consideration is that the cabinets are made differently from different materials.  Cabinetry is an interesting business because it can range from truly an art to something that can be entirely at home to anywhere in between.  It is important to me that our large purchases are made in the USA (and preferably locally) and are sustainable when possible.  Many cabinet companies (and big box store brands) are able to lower their prices by having the cabinets made in China, which did not fit well with my criteria.  Brookhaven cabinets are made in Pennsylvania, but the sustainability question came into play –  I have no idea what they used on the finish of our lovely white cabinets.

During this process, I learned that many (although definitely not all) cabinet makers actually do not make cabinets in California, even if they deal primarily in California.  Why you ask, is California experiencing a cabinet drought?  It turns out that the finishes on cabinets are very specialized and chemicals in the paint/stains/varnishes, perhaps combined with the desired application methods are not legal in California, which is has higher restrictions on VOCs and general toxicity than most states.  Going into this process again, I would’ve taken the time to investigate this and decide if the inconvenience of choosing our own cabinet company that used known low-VOC finishes was low enough to veer away from the kitchen designer who had a portfolio with our contractor.  I’ll be posting more on this topic later…

Finally, cabinets are made out of a variety of wood types.  Our cabinets are painted white but are actually made of maple not MDF.  Maple is pretty typical, but one can always spend more to get a variety of woods.  One advantage of hardwood over MDF is that hard wood can refinished by sanding and staining down the line.  MDF, aka, medium density fiberboard, is wood fiber mixed with resin, wax and who knows what.  Although sturdy, it looks ridiculous without paint.  Also, cabinets will come with different hardware styles – ours came with luxurious soft-close drawers and cabinets (although, as a friend pointed out, there’s no fun in slamming any doors shut if you’re angry).  Even the door knob hardware can be purchase separately from a huge variety of stores and ranges dramatically in price!

One more look at the old cabinets vs the new.

Before:

2013-12-23 08.23.45

After:

photo 3

Although these photos were taken 2 months apart and at different times of day, they are both during the day AND the before photo has the kitchen light on.  Despite this, even in crummy photos taken with my phone, there is a definite brightness/cheeriness in the after photo.  This will likely be somewhat reduced once our (black) countertop, dark walnut stained floors and stainless steel appliances show up, but it is definitely looking a lot lighter in there!