Kitchen happenings are afoot.

For years, in order to shuttle passengers between terminals, Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. had its own particular brand of ground transportation that I have yet to encounter anywhere else. Foregoing both the speed and efficiency of an underground train system and the decidedly proletariat alternative of standing-room-only buses I’ve found myself on so many times, Dulles bravely balked the trends. Instead, they forged ahead with something more civilized, a beautiful idea that they dubbed the “Mobile Lounge.” The size of a double-wide trailer and no faster than a golf cart, the Mobile Lounge saunters lazily around the airport grounds, raised about 15 feet in the air atop enormous wheels. Mostly due to its name, it recalls a bygone era of air travel, when people dressed up and small children could visit the cockpit without being tased by an air marshall disguised as just another friendly citizen. Going to the airport wasn’t a hassle, but an event, and the plane ride was half the fun of the vacation.

“Can I take your coat?” a Mobile Lounge attendant might ask gently, while slipping a cocktail into your hand. From there, you’d be led through smoke-filled air to a private table, where plush velvet-upholstered benches would be waiting to accommodate your buttocks. “Just let me know if you need anything,” she’d offer before slipping away to greet the next set of guests, her sporty little uniform disappearing into the crowd. A tinkling of jazz would emanate from the corner, while people chatted quietly at the bar on the starboard side. Ah, the Mobile Lounge, where the drinks flow like water from a natural spring and the music is always right. The message is clear. Take a load off, it says. Relax. Where the Mobile Lounge is concerned, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Of course, the Mobile Lounge bespeaks a kind of dignity and sophistication that is unambiguously betrayed by the lived experience of actually traveling on it. In reality, the people are packed in like sardines, only after which the driver enters and slowly makes his way through the length of the train to the front, tripping over carry-ons and strollers on the way. A promotional recording plays during the trip, cheerily informing you that the Mobile Lounge is not only innovative, but also comfortable and a fabulous opportunity to witness the advanced workings of a thriving international airport. This might be true, if you are lucky enough to have a view of the windows or are remotely interested in that sort of thing. But as it is, the announcement reads mostly as desperation. Like me, the Mobile Lounge cries. I’m really wonderful if you’d just give me a chance. 

I returned from Egypt on Sunday night and have since been drawing inspiration from the Dulles Airport Mobile Lounges with a little invention I like to call the Jet Lag Lounge. Catering to the extremely tired and erratic sleeper, a Jet Lag Lounge is, put simply, any place that looks comfortable enough to doze off for a short spell, regardless of location or time of day. Sleep on me, they call out. Just for a minute, nobody will notice. The living room sofa could be one such lounge, but why stop there, especially when the floor is calling? The shower is a perfectly acceptable place whether or not the water is running, and of course the toilet is always fair game. The real beauty of a Jet Lag Lounge is its ambiguity: anywhere can be a lounge if you squint hard enough. Communal tables at the coffee shop, movie theater seats, park benches—the options are virtually boundless.

Jet Lag never used to bother me, but it’s been several years since I did any sort of serious international travel, and the intervening years have brought me to my early 20s, rendering my body broken-down and fragile. My sleep schedule has never been a terribly reliable thing, much like that friend you had in college who you thought just liked to have fun and then turned out to be an alcoholic. If I’ve given the impression that all I’ve been doing for the last few days is sleeping, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s more an issue of when: the sudden and unpredictable onset of extreme fatigue, followed by the unavoidable nap, followed by intense, manic energy when I should be sleeping. If I didn’t know any better, I might think I was sick or losing my mind, but I’d prefer to just go with it. Ride out the trip. Let my body sort itself out. In the meantime, I think I’ll just go ahead and take advantage of my fucked up circadian rhythms and take care of some things.

The remainder of Sunday and Monday passed by in a complete haze, but roundabout 11 pm Monday night? Why, I think I’ll just start in on painting the kitchen! No better time than the present, really. Sleep a couple hours, and Home Depot and IKEA start calling my name on Tuesday. Don’t mind if I do! Then, crash. And so on.

By last night, we had gone from this:

To this:

One of the things I’m learning about living with Max is that we’re both totally crazy and obsessive in our own quaint little ways, which makes us a highly effective team if you’re into working until it feels like your bones might fall apart and you’re liable to die of starvation. I tend to worry endlessly about little things going awry over the course of a project, but Max just wants to get it done. I’ll admit, I like the process of making a project happen, whereas in Max’s world, the disorder that comes along with something like this is extraordinarily stressful.

The key, I’ve discovered, is taking advantage of his chaos-anxiety and channeling it into something productive, like assembling IKEA cabinets. And didn’t he do a wonderful job? I’m so proud of my boy.

So here’s how it all went down. It started with this advanced plan that I drew on graph paper and everything, the bulk of which was in my head because I can’t draw for shit. But you get the idea.

Basically, I wanted the bottom cabinets and the tall cabinet on the side to protrude from the wall about 16 inches, which is a little over three inches deeper than standard IKEA wall cabinets sit when hung flush with the wall.

I’m quite positive that there’s a better/smarter/more efficient way to go about this, but I’m not that smart and decided to just go ahead an build a platform for the cabinets to mount to, which is screwed into the studs in the wall. It’s not entirely glamorous, but it works. All it took was 2×4’s, my chop saw, some 2.5″ screws, and my drill. Pretty simple.

The bottom cabinets are IKEA  30″ x 30″ wall cabinets. The platform bumps them up 5.5 inches, so with the addition of the 1″ thick countertop, they sit at standard countertop height. That board lying on the ground is going to become the baseboard molding for the entire room, which will wrap perfectly over the base of the cabinets and hide the 2×4 ugliness. They’re just 1×6 pine boards (but the 6″ is actually 5.5″, because wood is weird.).

Now, you might recall that I already had a big PAX wardrobe from IKEA, which moved with me from my last apartment, was in the bedroom for a while here before I moved it to the kitchen, where it sat awkwardly next to the fridge, like so:

The PAX was about 2 feet deep, which was too deep for this, so I broke out my circular saw and got to work.

Totally chopped the thing in half. It was a little crazy and precarious and I wasn’t sure if it would work, but it’s totally fine!  I also chopped off the three or so inches that form the base on the bottom so that all the cabinets would look uniform and sit on the same level.

Here’s a process shot of building the little platform base for under the PAX, which I screwed into the other base for the bottom cabinets. Are you following? The PAX just sits on top of this, and I screwed the bottom of the PAX into this base and then attached it to the wall at the top with some small L-Brackets that I added to the inside to keep it from falling forward for any reason. It’s also screwed into all the cabinets, so it’s not going anywhere.

The next step was cutting the countertop. We chose the NUMERAR double-sided countertop, which is white laminate on one side and grey on the other, with an aluminum edging. Cutting was fairly straightforward—just draw a straight line and go to it with the circular saw. Easy-peesy. We’re not going to screw down the countertop, so if at some point the white side gets beaten up or we get bored of it, we can always just flip it over.

The next step was hanging the upper cabinets (30″x39″), which basically could not be easier. They hang off a steel suspension rail, so it’s important to make sure that’s VERY SECURE to the wall. I used about 8 big toggle anchors in addition to finding three studs, so the chances of these things falling are pretty slim. Max took this super flattering action shot of me, wherein I decided to dress like a lumberjack.

After cleaning for approximately forever, here’s where we stand! I’m pretty ridiculously happy with it. It holds a ton, gives us five (FIVE!!!) extra feet of counter space that we didn’t have before (we had been operating off four feet, which makes for some tricky cooking), and I think already looks pretty great despite the necessary finishing touches. By the way, that adorable clock on the wall was Max’s Christmas present to me. I LOVE it. I’ll take a better picture of it for the next post. It’s a sphere.

Anyway. Obviously this is a problem. IKEA sells cover panels for the sides of cabinets, so I need to go pick one up and cut it to the proper size. Soon! We also still have to:

1. Cut and install baseboards.
2. Install cabinet hardware.
3. Glue strip of aluminum trim to the cut side of the countertop.
4. Organize all my tools and fit them into the bottom cabinet on the right.
5. Paint the window molding (it’s primed in these photos, not painted).
6. Paint the other half of the ceiling.

You read that right. I painted half the ceiling. I actually basically just painted half the room. It’s sort of hilarious that this new fancy thing is sitting on one wall, and directly across from it, the room still looks like this.
Ugh. Disaster. Its time will come.
Getting phase 1 almost done is hugely motivational, though. My favorite thing? Two-way tie.

The microwave is concealed in a cabinet! I am so pleased that I don’t have to look at it. As you can see, we left the backs of the base cabinets open, which lets us take advantage of the added depth, run cords through it, and provide more than enough ventilation for the microwave to function without being a hazard. It’s not pretty, but who cares? Not me.

Mostly, I think I’m just thrilled that I have a proper, fancy coffee station. I even bought Illy to celebrate, which means I’m probably never buying inferior coffee ever again.

Phew. Kitchen. Things are finally moving. I’d love to talk longer, but my new countertop is looking like a mighty fine place for a nap right now.


83 Comments

  1. Damn, you are so GOOD! It looks great.

  2. WOW! I’m so impressed! It looks so nice and you both accomplished it so quickly! I’m a lot like Max, I don’t enjoy the process of renovation projects so much, I just want the end result but this gives me inspiration that I could accomplish more than I think I can myself.

  3. Damn! You never cease to amaze.

  4. Holy crap. You are my goddamn hero.

    But wait, I’m just a little fuzzy on one detail. You built the platform instead of using the standard ikea legs so that it would be more secure while being outset from the wall, right? ‘Cause I guess in theory you could have just used the standard ikea legs to raise it up and then just secured the back to the wall somehow… but I’m thinking that wouldn’t have been quite as secure. In any case – a-ma-zing.

    • Yeah, basically I was worried that the IKEA legs wouldn’t be sturdy enough and I couldn’t quite figure out how to then attach the cabinets to the wall rather than just float them out a few inches, which seemed like it would be too shoddy. I also wanted an easy surface to nail the baseboards to since they’ll wrap the whole room, and it just seemed easier to create a structure for that than fiddle with trying to attach them to legs and still make everything look super finished, ya know? I’m not saying that wouldn’t have worked, I just thought this seemed like a safer bet for how I want them to look and from a structural standpoint. This way everything is REALLY sturdy and feels super substantial.

      That said, I don’t really know anything! I just do what makes sense in my head!

      • Ok, brilliant, just wanted to see if I’m following your logic. And I’m pretty sure this whole “doing what makes sense in my head” technique is how pro builders do it, they just have more tricks up their sleeves. Er, I think.

  5. It’s looking awesome so far! Your landlord better love you boys.

    • He has no idea about any of this! But hopefully he loves us just because we’re, um, quiet and polite?

  6. I love it! We did a similar thing to the side of our kitchen that was empty. It definitely adds a ton of counter space.
    Also, I’ve been trying to convince my boyfriend to cut down an Ikea cabinet (Besta) in half – he was a bit hesitant, but I don’t think he will be anymore after I show him this!

  7. Wow, wow, wow. It looks fantastic, and I never would have thought to build a base like that! You’re an inspiration.

  8. You are awesome. Love you rocking the lumberjack look. Dulles Mobile Lounge, oh how I loathe thee–had me cracking up. And this body clock thing is a huge problem. I have been up every morning at 4AM on the dot. Then I go back to sleep for 1-3 hours and drag myself through the rest of the day. I need some serious solid sleep and maybe some illy coffee, but not together.

  9. Kudos on an excellent job! You’ve given me renewed hope that IKEA will actually have what I need for my (extremely narrow) kitchen remodel. A whole section of it is only 14 inches deep and when I asked an IKEA salesperson if they had any cabinets that depth, he just looked at me with glassy eyes and then turned away. Would you mind divulging the style/name of the cabinets you used? Or if I say “wall cabinets,” will someone know what I mean? Can’t wait to see the other side when it’s done, I’m confident it will be equally fabulous.

    • Oh, they’re just the Akurum kitchen wall cabinets (that’s what they’re called in the States, at least)! If you click the link, you can play with all the dimensions they come in, but the depth is 12.25 inches—probably perfect for what you need! You can use the legs they make for the base cabinets, too!

  10. My mind is a little blown right now. I love it all very much. The coffe station is proper. Love the Sunbeams. I work at CB2, so if you ever want anything at a discounted employee rate, hit me up. Again, amazing job.

    • Oh, Tanya, don’t tempt me!!! I can think of several things I want!

      Those mugs are the BEST. I own four and use them everyday.

  11. my eyes literally popped out of my head and i had to pick them back up and dust them off and pop them back in

  12. Wow. Love it! It really is a night and day improvement. So sleek and tidy looking and the hacked Pax looks so perfect there. Can’t wait until you tackle the other side and um, hopefully paint those cabinets. (If only so I can convince myself to do the same.)

  13. So perfectly tidy, I love it! I hope you weren’t busting out the circular saw at 3am though. Jet lag + power tools is a dangerous combo.

    • No, no! All sawing happened during the day!

      (honestly though, that was more for the neighbor’s sake. I am crazy, but not entirely inconsiderate!)

  14. I live in Italy and I’m surrounded with Illy but I’ve always wondered how justcoffee and bluebottle coffee are. http://www.justcoffee.coop/catalog/bsnyc (you can enter coupon “BSNYC” for %10 off your order) Nice job with half the kitchen!

  15. Wow, it looks AMAZING!! Great job!! This, and how you transformed your bed, are inspiration that I can make something like this happen, too!! …one day :)

  16. Oh my, looks fantastic. The extra space is wonderful. Not to pester you or anything (I realize you’re sleep deprived) but would you mind sharing what kind of coffee maker you have?

    • It’s a Kalorik brand! I didn’t put it in the post because I actually REALLY dislike it—the way the carafe/drip is designed makes it drip and leak and spill…it’s like a constant mess to clean up. Plus the whole thing just feels really cheap in person (I ordered from online). I’ve just been looking for a good replacement! It’s a shame, because the narrow size IS a great idea, just poorly executed.

      • Oh, shoot! It just looked like a good idea for my small kitchen. And my coffee pot just kicked the bucket this week. Thank you for letting me know, I’ll steer clear when I order a new one.

  17. Hey Dan….I never comment on blogs ( I’m way too cool? ) but just wanna say that was pretty much one of the best before/after scroll downs ever. Amazing transformation.

  18. speechless. ikea master!

  19. Write a book!

  20. Fabulous work! So nice and clean.
    We just put in IKEA cabinets too and I do NOT want to see a microwave. Thus, I must know where you got your little white microwave so that I may do the same. Please help!

    • Oh god, I have no idea…I’m sure it was just the cheapest thing on the shelf at a big box store. It’s actually technically not even mine, my old roommate brought it with her to college three years ago and I ended up with it! It’s actually a terrible microwave, but you can buy nice ones that are also small, probably anywhere that sells appliances.

      Oh, and just in case it wasn’t clear! The microwave wouldn’t normally fit in a standard wall cabinet, but these are deeper because they’re pushed out from the wall. You’d probably be hard-pressed to find one even smaller that would fit in a wall cabinet, but if you do, just make sure there’s enough room around it to ventilate!

  21. Well Done – your project brought back memories of my college years when I started to “handydan” kitchens (having a wall with a corner where cabinets, stove and fridge needed to be lined up). And we have cut kitchen cabinets (there are called FAKTUM in Europe ;-)) and Pax in pieces ever since ….
    The 3 threee first things my eyes caught were: 1. What a NICE coffee station! 2. Please paint the intercom (we did ours in every house we lived including painting the cables ;-))) 3. The table has moved a bit more towards the center – thank goodness – finally it will get some life of its own.
    Yes, and Illy is the best! Not only because of the sexy containers. ;-)))

  22. I literally said “Oooo” when I saw the new coffee station. It looks amazing – post more photos of the kitchen when you get the chance ^^

  23. Holy shit. You, sir, are a wizard.

  24. Imagining what you would do if you owned instead of rented is simultaneously terrifying and awesome.

  25. Um, WOW! It looks absolutely fantastic – what a major difference! Love that you built a base for them and cut down the PAX – way to be resourceful! :)

  26. HOORAY. Looks so good. Can I make a diet coke station?

    I need to get my lazy ass going and fix up our kitchen. Bought counters and everything. Please have Max rub off on Jeremy. (kinky)

  27. Amazing job! Love how you were able to do all this jet lagged, and I still can’t figure out a good way to hang up picture frames on my wall ;-)
    PS, Where did you get your clear (acrylic? lucite?) accessories? I’m in love with your tray and magazine holders.

    • All the lucite came from my grandparents’ home outside of Chicago! My grandma loved everything and anything lucite or acrylic, particularly for kitchen stuff!

  28. I installed an Ikea kitchen over 1.5 years ago and I STILL have not installed the toe kicks! Need to get on that, lol.

  29. dude. you are so awesome. it looks great!!

  30. weeping at the perfection. when i get my first apt., you inspire me to go buck wild with it but i’m a baby and worry about security deposits haha :(

  31. You’re a genius. I look up to you and will carefully plan & attempt a DIY thanks to your inspiring trailblazing ways.

  32. Dead set legend. Looks amazing!

  33. Looks amazing. Perhaps that narrow space between the back of the cabinet and the wall could be fitted up somehow to store skinny things like cookie sheets?? <3

  34. Ditto. You inspire me, D.

  35. Hi Daniel-first time poster long time reader! This looks awsome; and I get cutting down the too-deep Pax; but am wondering why you didn’t just use the regular Akurum base cabinets…assuming that your space is too small to accomodate another row of base cabinets?

    Will have to keep this in mind when we redo our bathroom; I’ve heard that you can Ikea-hack kitchen cabinets to be bathroom-counter depth….

    • Yes, exactly—our kitchen is just too small for another row of full depth base cabinets. It’s smaller than it looks in pictures, I swear!

  36. wow worth waiting for! you continually amaze and inspire!

    great job and love all the “process” photos.

    always check to see what you have done lately and this was well worth the wait!

  37. My appetite is whetted for the next half of the kitchen makeover. Really inspiring. What pray tell will you do with the old cabinets? Stay tuned.

  38. Amazing, Daniel!! What a change! Hrmmm…did you paint the walls white again? Have you ever thought of parlaying this into a career? Carpentry/design/blogging? I think it’s great to make these kinds of “investments” in rentals -it gives me courage to take risks in our condo (which we’re hoping to unload sooner than later). You should slap some paint on that nasty buzzer -we have the same one -it’s uglying up your beautiful kitchen. The concealed microwave is key.

    I was trying to decide who your writing style reminds me of, and having just finished Naked, it’s David Sedaris. It’s a compliment.

    • Yep, same white walls as the rest of the apartment (except for the living room), BM White Dove.

      Thank you for the kind words! Yes, that certainly is a compliment!

  39. Wow- What is superman conpared to you? He can retire right now…

    I wish I could have a tiny bit of your bountless energy. I would also like to ask you if you ever considered taking up a creative writing class at univeristy. I love your writing as much as I love your diys and I would love to read even more from you.

  40. I was at my friend’s studio in Brooklyn Heights yesterday, she’s subletting it from her boyfriend’s cousin for a few months and I could. not. stop. thinking about what you would do with it if were your apartment. I was definitely thinking about PAX wardrobes and painting things unapproved by the landlord.

  41. Amazeballs! It looks so sleek and stylish. Well done!

  42. Hi Daniel! I introduced myself on Twitter but went ignored. Perhaps it was my SN. You may have thought I was a hooker or spambot (mrstrophywife1). I am neither, but I won’t take offense.

    Anyway, I adore your blog. Adore what you do. Thought I should give a proper introduction.

    Carry on!

    • Gah! Hi!!! I’m sorry, I’m a horrible Twitter user (as with most things techy), but thank you!!

  43. Now this is the Daniel I know and love. And this is the MOTHER of all posts – a story AND a step-by-almost-step DIY project. I know no more attractive trait in a man than the ability to make a gal laugh…sigh.
    I LOVE the new installation, very swish, very sleek, very nobodyelsehasgotonequitelikethis!
    Love :
    -the clock
    -the lumberjack look
    -the graphic black and white dropcloth-cum-curtain (is Max standing behind that holding it up for the duration of the shoot?)
    -the microwave in the cupboard with extra free space.

    Please paint the window trim black.
    Thanks for the entertaining and inspiring post.
    PPPLLLLEEEEEAAAASE write more often…

    • Haha, thank you Janet! No, that drop cloth curtain was just our attempt to keep the dust out of the rest of the apartment while we were sawing! (you can go ahead and guess how well that worked…)

  44. INSANE.

    i had to de lurk to say, your reward for this kitchen triumph can’t be illy. please. no. go to joe or ninth street and get you a bag of Really. Good. Shit. this deserves more than illy.

  45. You could have used that cut-off piece from the tall cabinet to become trim board that matched the cabinets. Trim it to he correct length and width careful to make the trim edge the keeper piece. Just keep the edge that has trim on it as the front edge and put the cut side on the wall. Use 1/4 round painted white to trim the wall from top to bottom. Paint the bottom of the base with black oil or acrylic paint.

    • I’m not *totally* sure I’m following what you’re suggesting, but the cut-off piece from the PAX didn’t have any finished edges left and would have been too narrow to cover the whole side of the cabinet…it would have covered that open strip at the back, but that’s about it. IKEA sells cover panels specifically for this purpose, so I’m going to pick up one of those and it’ll look super finished. Trust, this isn’t done!!

  46. I LOVE flush cabinets! hoping cabinet hardware is minimal, it sure isn’t practical but gosh it’s pretty :)

  47. I dont remember how i found my way to your blog – but you are AMAZING!!! I wish my man was as handy as your Max – but his cooking skills will suffice.

    I love your kitchen…..i love how you have made your home…

    you have inspired me to start again!!

    thank you

    ps – those little critters you found in your travels were indeed cute!!!

  48. You are AMAZING!

  49. GeeWizz! You dudes are amazing. I don’t know how many times you’ve been to IKEA but I’ve been once since I moved to Brooklyn and It’s not really something I wan’t to do very often – I commend your motivation. Going, purchasing and bring materials back to my apartment is always the hardest part for me. Your kitchen is looking great!

    • Yes, IKEA is a PAIN. Sometimes we use Zipcar to get there and back, sometimes it’s easiest to just take a car service from there. The bus is fine if you’re not buying a lot…but how often does THAT happen?

      All part of the exciting Brooklyn living experience!

  50. I love the Eastern States poster! It won’t get splattered, will it?

  51. Daniel, actually not that far off on the mobile lounges. Back in the day, Dulles was just the main terminal building. The backside of which, where you know go through security and get lounges, was where the actual gates were. They ere basically just doorways and the waiting areas were the lounges. When it was departure time, the lounges would then “whisk” you directly to your plane. All very jet age.
    Here is a good picture. http://www.virtualtravelog.net/wp/wp-content/gallery/cache/221__500x_2003-02-PlaneMate.jpg

    In fact, the area where you can go down the steps to take the new trams used to be a restaurant/ bar/ observation area. Can you tell I used to work the travelers aid desk there? Love your blog!

  52. Ohmygoodness, I’ve been on the mobile lounge at Dulles, Washington. On our way home from Johanesburg. Soo funny, that’s exactly how you described it. The weirdest innovation yet for an airport esp. if you are one of the 1st passengers off the plane but have to wait for all the other passengers because they like to pack ‘em in like sardines…. so funny. Thanks again for another great post. Your kitchen looks great btw. :).

  53. You are a miracle worker. Maybe jet lag isn’t such a bad thing.

  54. How are you *real*? The most I get done during a bout of jet lag is to read the entire Guardian culture section. I am e-mailing PBS and/or the DIY Network to give you a home improvement show right NOW.

    /fairly long-time reader, first time commenter, etc.

  55. Thank goodness for ikea? :-)

  56. For the moment, why don’t you just paint the wood cabinetry white?

    • That *might* be an option, but I think only if/how many of the cabinets we decide we’re keeping for a long time. I’m not really a big fan of doing half-measures if they don’t really contribute to the long-term solution. It’s just extra money and time and effort. I’m really okay with just living with the current situation for a little while, until we can save up and do something closer to what we want (which probably looks more like a few new cabinets and some open shelves, since these cabinets are the WORST).

  57. this is amazing. you make it look so easy!

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