Question

Where can we find inexpensive cabinets for our hobby room?

Asked by Anne Osher, Houston, TX

The estimate to build our dream home is too high, so we are making compromises. No compromises on structural integrity and energy efficiency, but compromises on interior finishes. I want to think out of the box and attempt to come up with cheap materials that look good. Right now we need to find low-cost cabinetry for our hobby room—any ideas?

Answer

Kirsten Flynn

Answered by Kirsten Flynn

Palo Alto, CA

Sustainable Home

June 17, 2008

I love salvaged cabinets, and you are in a great position to use them as you are still in the design phase of your project. Sometimes you need to be flexible and make some adjustments in your layout to accommodate the pieces you can find; a creative design professional can help you with this.

Across the nation our habit of frequent remodeling means that there's a steady supply of gently used cabinets—try Craigslist, Freecycle, and your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. You shouldn't have to settle for less than high-quality cabinets that are in perfect structural shape. I would look for plywood cabinet boxes and solid wood doors. If you buy particleboard cabinets, check them over carefully for any areas that look like they have been discolored by water, especially if they are swelling or chipping at all.

A high-quality paint job (with zero-VOC paints, of course) is your best tool in reusing cabinets. The doors will come out better if you remove them and paint them on a flat surface. I also sometimes replace old hinges with new ones. There are so many beautiful knobs and pulls available to change the look of the cabinets. Check out the recycled glass from Spectra Décor or Aurora Glass.

Used cabinets do very little harm to the environment, as you are not consuming new raw materials. Also, these cabinets have already done some outgassing, which is good for the environment and for your family's health. Cabinets are usually made of particleboard or plywood that contains formaldehyde, an airway irritant and a probable carcinogen. Cabinets from a vintage home will outgas less than new cabinets; they might even be old enough that they were made out of a plywood that did not use formaldehyde glues.

If salvaged products do not meet your storage needs, consider Ikea cabinets. They are well-designed and inexpensive. Although they are not free of formaldehyde, they do meet the strict European E1 standard for very low formaldehyde content.

If you can afford it, custom cabinetry has the benefit of being the most efficient use of your storage space. There are custom cabinetmakers who work in many price ranges, and it might be worth getting a couple of quotes from shops, specifying cabinets built on a no-added-formaldehyde substrate with low-VOC glues and finishes. Some shops will have no idea how to do this, but more and more craftsmen have had this request and will know how to source the raw material.

A final word of advice about affordable interior finishes—you could leave some spaces inside your home unfinished until you can afford the beautiful green materials you want to use. Paint the walls, furnish the spaces minimally, and wait for your budget to recover from the building phase. Often you will know better how to finish a space once you have spent some time in it.

For more information:

For tips on working with a custom cabinetmaker, read GreenHomeGuide’s “Getting Great Green Results from a Cabinet Shop,” by George Mandala.

Tagged In: formaldehyde plywood, low voc paint, reuse, cabinets, architectural salvage

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