Laurel Street Blog

Archive for January 2009

So, I made a small cosmetic change to the kitchen, that had big impact with new hardware –  one small step toward making it more modern.

But the appliances, they were all black.The refrigerator was just a 2001: A Space Odyssey-level hulking black monolith that just anchored the whole kitchen. You couldn’t see the room, that thing was so distracting. But, it was a brand new refrigerator (everybody in New Orleans got a new one in late 2005).


The kitchen, under old management (previous owners).

I wanted a contemporary stainless steel appliances, but in a few years, when we do the big kitchen renovation there’s no guarantee that stainless will still be the trend. In fact, I think it’s already waning. So even a short term replacement was out of the question. I’d have to live with the dishwasher, refrigerator and compactor for the next few years.

And of course the white formica countertops are a problem too. That is actually what turned me down the “appliance makeover” path. I wanted to change the look of the countertops, not replace them. And yes, I was doing some very creative Googling on the topic. “Can I paint them?” The Google-verse said “yes” with definate caveats. Some folks had painted their formica countertop with a stainless steel finish. Wha?

And so I found it. Stainless steel paint.

I would like to preface what I say next with the following: I am a creative director in real life. I am very, very discriminating. I work each and every day at my job to make things that live online as beautiful and well designed as I possibly can. I fuss over the details of my home, and would not ever want to live with something tacky.  I was completely skeptical of “stainless steel paint.”

But at less than $60 I could afford to give it the benefit of the doubt, and give it a test.


Yes, stainless steel paint.

Dishwasher and compactor, updated.

Dishwasher and compactor, updated. Pay no attention to the floors, please. 150 years old (original) they're on my list when we renovate the whole shebang.

Let me say that ‘refinishing the appliances’ was something I snuck past Richard in passing, oh, so very lightly, that it barely registered on him. But I put it out there. The paint arrived, unmarked, unremarked upon. And the next Saturday morning I was off to the races, while he was doing dictation on the computer.  I chose to do only the compactor (because we said we would get rid of it anyway when we tear out the old island). I followed the instructions to a T and I was meticulous with my masking tape. He came out for a coffee, rolled his eyes and shook his head. Now there was a skeptic. But when the compacter was finished, he was completely won over. It looked amazing. And so I was approved to paint the dishwasher, and the big black refrigerator.

Again: If I could afford to just go out any buy real stainless steel appliances with no concern for how long I would have them, I would’ve done that. But, $60 vs. $6000, well, you see where I’m coming from!

Caution: YMMV (Your Milage May Vary). The paint is not magic! The paint basically changes the color and value of your appliances. I probably would not recommend it if you have white appliances.

So here they are. I am very happy. The appliances are not big black eye magnets anymore, but basically complement the bland gray cabinets in their value. The paint merely changes the refrigerator’s color. You can still see some texture through it, even thought I primed with two coats of Zinser’s to knock the texture back a bit. But I never, ever think about it since I finished the job. The color and looks so good (for what it is), I simply never even notice.

It’s like my friend at the wine store recommending an inexpensive bottle: “It’s very good for the money.”

P.S. As you can see from this photo, Richard is happy with them, too.

Yes, stainless steel paint.

Yes, stainless steel paint.

When we bought the house, the paint color was really a… non-color. The previous owners left us a note that it had been a custom blend, but frankly I couldn’t see the point. It was the color of dust, with a touch of purple dashed in. It was mouse-y and oxidized with chalky white trim. After the new roof and gutters went up in 2006, this was our ‘major project’ of 2007 (in between countless minor projects in-between).


The house's original color. I think I was overcompensating with rather exuberant gardening at that time to distract folks from the rough paint job.

Richard and talked about color choices and did some research. We hopped on our bikes and rode all through the New Orleans Garden District to our north, across Louisiana Boulevard. I was thinking ‘Dove Gray’ but we saw some pinks and greens we liked as well. I took a few photos and we went to various paint stores to collect a variety of small sample paints. We applied about 8 different colors to a scrap of wood and waited expectantly while they dried. We didn’t like any of them and we disagreed on all the basics.  I mentioned my dilemma in passing to my boss (who has wonderful taste and lives in a Garden District house worthy of the pages of Southern Accents magazine). Sandy turned the whole project around for me in an instant.

“Call Louis Aubert! He designs paint colors for Benjamin Moore and he’s always helped my pick my colors. Let’s call him right now!”

Louis Aubert is a designer right here in New Orleans who will consult with you and give a complete painting plan so you have every detail in writing, waiting for the painters. Louis is a charming story teller, plus having an objective third party made agreeing on the final colors much easier.  

Louis met with me, took a tour of the house, then sat down and asked a hundred questions, then whipped out three main options from his sample books in an instant and trim colors as well. His instructions were to have quarts mixed up of each, and go and paint two coats of each on the front porch, then call him back to make revisions. 

I’ve said it before, I’m a creative director in real life and I make color decisions in graphic design on a daily basis. But that doesn’t translate to paint and I didn’t want to make an expensive mistake. Louis as a mediator and a guide was a godsend. 

The house exterior with test colors applied: yellow, sage and pink. Louis also picked coordinating shutter colors and trim colors at the same time.

The house exterior with test colors applied: yellow, sage and pink. Louis also picked coordinating shutter colors and trim colors at the same time.


Louis returned, helped us make some tweaks, pointed specific paint treatments for the historical details (such as the corner quoins), then picked out an enamel color for the iron fence (if we should we paint it later), a color for the understory of the front porch (currently whitewashed), a color for the staining the wooden fence in the back yard, and made some completely spot on and objective observations about other details of the house that could be improves with paint. Richard and I were both so glad to have an expert on the case. We received a lot of added value from working with a pro. 

The house on Laurel Street, fresh with yellow paint and cream trim.

The house on Laurel Street, fresh with yellow paint and cream trim.

A few things he suggested: on the back of the house, paint the ‘birdcage’ of pressure treated lumber and the steel doors to the storage room (accessed from the deck, finished in a factory white) the same basecoat yellow as the rest of the house. The steel doors will disappear and the ‘birdcage’ will feel more part of the house. Louis was right on. These things would’ve never occurred to me alone. 

I even mentioned that I was looking for a natural covering for the ‘birdcage.’ I had seen in a magazine some brise-soleil made from reed or bamboo, but was having trouble sourcing them. Louis found me a local source on the spot. 

The 'birdcage' on the back of the house. Formerly old gray wood, it looked tacked on. Painting it the yellow base color of the house helped to unify it. I added the natural reed brise-soleil after the painters had cleared out. I've also added a weatherproof ceiling fan to cool the chairs below since then. We spend time out here every night in the summer now.

The 'birdcage' on the back of the house. Formerly old gray wood, it looked tacked on. Painting it the yellow base color of the house helped to unify it. I added the natural reed brise-soleil after the painters had cleared out. I've also added a weatherproof ceiling fan to cool the chairs below since then. We spend time out here every night in the summer now.

Right after we closed on the house, we were determined to gut the kitchen and start over. Our timing could not have been worse. Due to the near total reconstruction going on all over New Orleans, kitchen designers and products were in high demand. In February, we called a very tony kitchen place on Magazine Street that was “under-employed” (their words not mine) and could only see us in April. Our realtor recommended a planner that worked out of Lowes, but when I called him his first appointment was not available until, get this, May. However, I managed to score an appointment with a kitchen design outfit way out in Metairie,  had one meeting, and we turned over a copy of the house plans. Follow up calls were never returned. These places were just too swamped to keep up with all their customers.

The Kitchen Cabinets, before

The Kitchen Cabinets, before


The most egregious problem in the kitchen was the stove. Once prized in the early part of this century, our O’Keefe & Merrit stove dated to the 80’s and is at best, temperamental and imprecise, and at worst, barely functional. And oh so ugly. 

Richard is kind of an all or nothing person. He wanted a specific professional range installed, wider than the current freestanding unit, so that meant new cabinets. Since we couldn’t get new cabinets, no new stove. We’re still stuck with the stove, but I cook on it every single night and have come to terms with it.

And Richard is coming to terms with my idea that we can make small updates to the kitchen, biding our time until we do the entire renovation. I kind of snuck this up on him. 


Plastic, 1980's era kitchen hardware.

Plastic, 1980's era kitchen hardware.

The grey formica cabinet boxes were in good shape, and blandly modern. If I were gutting the kitchen now, obviously a modern kitchen would not be my first choice for this historic house. 

The hardware was stuck in the 1980’s, however. One night, I was paging through one of my Van Dyke’s Restoraters catalogs and they had pages and pages of traditional, historic cabinet hardware. But I saw one modern stainless steel style handle in all that and thought: “That’s it. Why fight what’s there? Let the kitchen be modern for a few years until we do the big renovation.”

A simple alteration of the hardware could change the entire look of the cabinets, but Van Dykes was asking $10.00 per handle. I checked at Lowes and Home Depot, and their prices were about the same. Just making this little change would cost me $400.00 plus change. It was hard to spend that, knowing that in a few years, we’d be ditching the cabinets for another style. 

So I stewed over this for a few days… and then quite randomly checked eBay. And lo, and behold… the hardware I wanted was available in quantities for $1.88 a piece!

Needless to say, “SOLD!” For a $84.00 and shipping, I could do small update that would completely change the look of the kitchen.


An Easy (and Inexpensive Fix)

Modern Stainless Hardware: An Easy (and inexpensive fix)

Laurel Street Blog

Nate and Louis

Well, hey there. I'm Nathan and this is the Laurel Street Blog. It's a place for talking about design, decor and DIY (with small amounts of snarkery snuck in). I'm a pretty restless guy who loves house projects and lives in a 150+ year old cottage on Laurel Street in New Orleans. Since the house always has something going on with it (or falling off of it) I'm subsequently blessed with a never-ending supply of Web content to share. Oh - and you can drop me a line anytime Enjoy!

Can I get a tweet up in here? Follow along @LaurelStreet

The Laurel Street Cottage

January 2009