Here's the before picture:
Here's the after picture, which I'm disappointed in because the lighting makes the finish look a little uneven and it's not--I haven't figured out the new camera. (Ignore the orange splotch--it's a light from another room reflecting):
I've decided that I like the way the cabinet turned out. Of course, now we'll have to do all the rest of the cabinets. And the walls, which looked hideous before, now look worse. I know paint will help. But the problem is that previous owners took the easy way out. The kitchen walls were originally plaster and tile. The plaster remains. The tile doesn't. Only the grout lines are left. Then, an early owner--perhaps the one who put 70s contact paper everywhere--put cheap paneling over the ripped out tile. (We all know how attractive cheap paneling is.) The last owner (realizing that old paneling, put up with the wrong kind of nails--drywall nails, did not make for a quick sale) decided to paint the paneling. Without properly sealing it. Now the paint is yellowing as wood oil leaches through. And the paint is beginning to peel. I won't mention the kitchen flooring that wasn't properly glued down or the counters that were installed unevenly.
At any rate, I realize now that my Platonic disappointment wasn't so much a disappointment with what we did, but the realization that before the kitchen looks "good," we've got years of work ahead.
But that's okay--my "contractor/laborer/stripping associate/polyurethaning buddy" and I have been together for 24 years, so we're in it for the long haul. And he's already got plans for the walls.