By Gretchen McKay

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Old hospital cabinets play integral role in revamped kitchen

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Salvaged cabinets once held supplies in a hospital. Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette

 

 

 

One-of-a-kind homes often have gathering spaces that turn heads. And indeed, until very recently, Kevin and Alana Kulesa did a double take every time they stepped into the kitchen of the house they bought in Ross 10 years ago.

Actually, “winced” might be more like it.

Remodeled on the cheap by a previous owner sometime in the 1980s, the kitchen was ugly and not very functional when the couple came up with a plan to completely reimagine it last year.

“When we cooked, smoke would come down the hall to the bedrooms,” recalls Mr. Kulesa, a graphic designer with Production Masters Inc.

Today, the only thing that’s smokin’ is the kitchen’s red-hot design.

Built — literally — around a baker’s dozen of vintage laboratory cabinets, the project is so visually appealing that it was chosen as the winner of the 2011-12 Renovation Inspiration Contest, small category (less than $50,000).

Now in its sixth year, the competition co-sponsored by the Post-Gazette and Community Design Center of Pittsburgh is judged on a variety of criteria, including appropriateness of construction and materials, functionality and imagination.

That Mr. Kulesa would incorporate repurposed materials into the yearlong project isn’t so unusual; not only was the budget tight (the entire project cost less than $20,000) but also he and his wife were determined to make sure the updates fit the home’s modern personality and style, along with the era it was built in. Builder Don Owens, who studied at Taliesin and was a Frank Lloyd Wright disciple, designed the house with a mock cantilever in 1962.

Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette

What’s surprising is the amount of work it took to fit the metal cabinets, salvaged from a hospital in Aliquippa, into the new design, which included a pantry and an office area, new floors and a hand-painted backsplash.

The cabinets were cheap enough — none cost more than $75 at Construction Junction — as well as heavy and durable. Yet they also were a bit taller and more shallow than standard kitchen cupboards. “So we had to work everything around them,” says Mr. Kulesa.

And by “everything,” he means … everything.

Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette

During construction, walls, electrical lines, plumbing and ductwork had to be moved to accommodate the odd-size cabinets; the walls that remained had to be stripped to the studs and resurfaced with thinner materials. The cabinets themselves, blue and battered when he hauled them home from Point Breeze, took nine months to make over into the sleek cream-colored ones that wow visitors today.

Shuffling the heavy steel boxes to and from his friendBeppo’s auto body shop in Bridgeville was the easy part: the men sanded, primed, painted and clear-coated the equivalent of three cars by the time they had finished. “And he never asked for anything in return,” says Mr. Kulesa.

All the hinges and handles also had to be buffed clean, and a few of the cabinets required welding. Two had to be cut to fit the stainless-steel double wall ovens and refrigerator, which they bought at bargain prices at various stages of the project, along with the Bosch stovetop and hood, from various scratch-and-dent stores across the country.

“We knew what we wanted and waited for them to become available,” he says.

One cabinet found its way into a small office area the couple designed off the pantry. Outfitted with new glass doors, it hangs above a desk crafted from a half-inch-thick piece of “floating” tempered glass. A 30-inch piece of stainless-steel magnetic wallboard mounted underneath allows for easy tacking up of important desk items.

The menu board in the Kulesa kitchen. Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette

Sheets of steel from Frank Custom Stainless in Etna also found their way onto the top and sides of the new center island — chosen because it’s impenetrable to shoes and boots and easy to keep clean — as well as onto the bottom of the cabinets in the form of kick plates. A pair of retro LEM Piston swivel stools, a gift from Mrs. Kulesa’s mother, adjust from bar to counter height with the push of a lever.

pair of retro LEM Piston swivel stools adjust from bar to counter height with the push of a lever. Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette

Gorgeous as the cabinets were with their new car shine, the kitchen needed a few splashes of color to bring it alive. Hence, the simple but oh-so-beautiful deep-red backsplash over the cooking area.

Colored glass tile is one of the most sought-after looks in today’s kitchens, but it’s also expensive. So Mr. Kulesa took big pieces of glass he got from H.B. Reynolds on Babcock Boulveard in McCandless, hand-painted them on the underside and thin-set them right up against the studs.

“I actually called PPG to ask, ‘What kind of paint sticks to glass?’ ” says Mr. Kulesa. The answer was enamel, and so that’s Rustoleum he rolled on the backs of the tile.

Other design elements that help bring the room to life are Eco by Consentino counter tops, made from recycled glass, under-cabinet LED lighting and 24-inch Yura porcelain floor tiles from Architectural Clay Products on the North Side, which he laid on top of the old asbestos floor so he wouldn’t have the headache of removing it. A domed skylight over the island floods the room with natural light, and there are a half-dozen box lights built into the open rafters.

Mr. Kulesa also is quick to point out the many electric outlets that allow the couple to plug in what and whenever they want: 24 above the counters alone.

“Every time we opened a wall, we added insulation and outlets,” he says.

Most every renovation project goes down to the wire, and this winning entry is no exception: Mr. Kulesa says he literally finished putting on the final touches 15 minutes before the judges showed up at his door last month.

“I’m surprised that no one smelled the paint.”