Friday, May 4, 2012

Platonism and Home Improvement

Yesterday Cal and I started refinishing the kitchen cabinets. (I had no idea how ridiculously time consuming it would be. I hope I can finish by Christmas time.) At any rate, we stripped the blond stain and lacquer off the first set of double cupboards. Yes, they were blond. Our house is old, build in the 40s. And the last time the kitchen was updated was the seventies. Before we stripped, I had to pull off orange, green, and yellow contact paper off the shelves—it had become one with the wood. Ugh.

Given the cupboards age and slightly worn condition, the only finish that made sense was a distressed finish. So we decided to pickle/whitewash the cabinets and seal them with polyurethane. We purchased the required chemicals—no thanks to the completely ignorant salesman at Home Depot, who didn’t seem to know the difference between oil-based and water-based. (Next time, we’ll try Lowes.)

We distressed the cabinets. Basically, we painted the cabinets with white stain and then scrubbed off the excess before it dried. It sounds easy. It wasn’t. The wood didn’t absorb the stain equally. And it didn’t dry at an even rate. Imagine white blobs and peeling stain—I’m not sure how stain can peel. But then, I only had one semester of general chemistry in college.

After some experimentation, we discovered a way to make it work. And when we finished staining, it didn’t look bad. Cal says it will look good when it’s polyurethaned.

But I’m a little disappointed. Calvin says it’s because I’m a perfectionist. And maybe that’s the reason I don’t like it. I can pick out all the little flaws. After all, I haven’t liked most home improvement projects I’ve completed—like retiling the bathroom floor and refinishing the bathroom door—until later.

However, I’d prefer not to have my reactions categorized in pop psychology terms. So I’ve decided it’s not perfectionism at all. Instead, it’s Platonism. The ideal distressed cabinet door exists only in my mind (or in the shop of a really skilled craftsman whose services we can’t afford), the reality can only be an approximation of that ideal. Thus, the door is not the only one that is distressed. Eventually, I’ll come to terms with the lack of ideal cabinet-ness and appreciate it for what is it… Yeah, okay, maybe this isn’t exactly what Plato meant. But I’ve got to do something with that year of philosophy/critical theory I took in college. You should see what I can do with Kant. 


  1. Pictures will be forthcoming. Right now we're polyurethaning. When that's done and the doors are rehung, I'll post photos.

  2. You will always be more picky because you're a perfectionist and you know what went into redoing those cabinets. I'll bet visitors will think it looks pretty great.

  3. I know this isn't really a part of the big picture... but always go with lowes.

    I work with a guy who used to work at Home Depot.His response to every question asked of him (re: where can I find x) was "Aisle 16 half way down on your left. You can't miss it."

    I'm sure some people who work there are compitent, but my guess is the ratio is a bit underwhelming.

  4. I know what you mean, if I do something for myself, I always pick out little faults until they're huge in my mind.

    The only exception: sometimes when I write. :-)

  5. But where are the pictures? :)

    The bright side is that you don't let your perfectionism get in the way of doing the thing in the first place! I get tripped up on that sometimes, but I'm only a perfectionist when it comes to SOME things.

  6. From what I've heard of Kant, I'm surprised anyone can do anything with him.

  7. I really do feel bad for you because I helped a friend redo her kitchen on a budget and in complete honesty--it looks like crap.

    She had some ugly brown cabinets with the contact paper stuff and we stained them a really dark brown and put in new shelf liners.

    They actually looked decent stained, but then we went to put on the finishing coat and things turned nasty.

    The spray on stuff was terrible, so we went to a paint on coating and that wasn't any better.

    Here's hoping you have better results.