(Yesterday this post was sent out to email subscribers with a draft introduction. If you received that yesterday and were confused, blame me. You can see the post in its correct entirety here. Below is the introduction to the piece you didn’t receive.)
During the last four years, I’ve lost four members of my immediate family (mom, dad, stepfather, sister), most of them suddenly and unexpectedly. And if I’ve learned one thing from the experience, it’s this: Tell people who are important to you how you feel about them. Today. Don’t wait for a nice evening on the back porch.
As many of you know, Nancy Hiller is battling pancreatic cancer. Her treatment has its ups and (deep) downs. And while I am counting on her to be one of the long-term survivors of this horrible disease, I also didn’t want her to ever leave this earth without know how important she has been to me as a person, woodworker, writer and supremely ethical being.
I’m not alone. Kara Gebhart Uhl spent the last couple weeks talking to some of the people in and out of Nancy’s orbit. And below is what they had to say.
If you’ve read her books, been a student in one of her classes or been a customer of hers, you know that this only scratches the surface of a most impressive and lovely person.
If you had told me in 2007 that Lost Art Press was going to publish a book on kitchens, my 2007 self would have been skeptical. Kitchen books are usually put out by imprints that specialize in home and interior design. They require both a deep knowledge of the topic, plus a deep photographic well of example kitchens.
Plus these books encourage readers to be shamefully wasteful: Let’s rip out your five-year-old kitchen and put in a spectacular new one.
After talking to Nancy Hiller for a few minutes about her thoughts on a kitchen book, however, I was immediately sold. Nancy laid out a book that was in opposition to most kitchen design books on the market.
• She encourages you to explore clues in your house to create a kitchen that looks correct in your home’s historical context.
• She shows how you can work with existing floorplans, cabinets and materials to make your kitchen beautiful without sending hundreds of yards of waste to the landfill.
• And she provides professional and practical information on how you can do this work yourself.
“Kitchen Think” is the culmination of Hiller’s life as a professional furniture maker, cabinet maker and kitchen designer. It’s a sprawling, 369-page look at an important (and expensive) room in your house from a perspective that is rarely heard.
And readers have responded to Nancy’s voice. Though the book has been out since only June 2020, it has become one of our bestselling books of all time (see the list here).If you have been thinking about ripping out your entire kitchen, you might want to think again.
— Christopher Schwarz
The following is excerpted from “Kitchen Think,” by Nancy R. Hiller.
Hinges are more than a means of hanging doors. They contribute significantly to a kitchen’s look. In principle you can use any type of hinge for kitchen cabinet doors, but this section will focus on those that are most common.
Butt Hinges Doors on traditional kitchen cabinets were inset and typically hung on butt or butterfly hinges. Let’s start with the former. Butt hinges come in several varieties. There are extruded brass butts (known in Britain as solid drawn brass butts) with fixed pins and loose-pin butts that allow you to separate a door from its cabinet by simply removing the pin, leaving the hinge leaves in place. All traditional butt hinges are made to be mortised into the edge of the face frame (if there is one) and door, though in British cabinetry it is not uncommon to find them let only into the door; in these cases the cabinet leaf is simply screwed to the face frame stile.
Alternatively, you can use salvaged architectural hinges that were originally made for use with full-size house doors. Yes, they’re over-sized for most kitchen cabinets, but there are times when this kind of exaggerated scale packs a stylistic punch that no conventionally sized hardware can.
Another kind of butt is the adjustable, no-mortise hinge. This hinge is designed to resemble a traditional butt, with or without decorative finials, but is screwed to the surface of the door and face frame, the idea being that it is far quicker to install and requires fewer tools and lesser skill. The drawback, at least in my opinion, is that these hinges are a poor imitation of real butts; they look under-scaled. And to any craftsperson, they suggest an easy way out. That said, they do offer a relatively decent traditional butt hinge look and can make a set of cabinets significantly more affordable when the client or homeowner is on a tight budget.
Butterfly Hinges In the early 20th century, as companies turned out large numbers of cabinets, it became clear that inset doors came with their own built-in problems, the greatest being that they require a bit of skill to install well. On any cabinetry supplied with doors already hung – Hoosier cabinets are an ideal example – the tendency of doors to bind when cabinets were delivered to real-world locations became an even more pressing issue; the cabinets were sold with the claim that they were readily affordable and ready to use. So it was not surprising to me, as a cabinetmaker, to find in the course of my research on Hoosier cabinets that the largest manufacturer of these kitchen furnishings pretty quickly switched to half-inset (also known as half-overlay) doors. They marketed this as an improvement on the grounds that the resulting lip would keep dust from getting into the cabinet through the gaps in traditional inset doors.
Butterfly hinges have been used since the 19th century, if not before, and were widely used into the 1930s. Their popularity comes and goes with changes in decorating fashions. For a decade or so in the early 2000s there was a wide range of designs and finishes available, but ever since mid-century modern became the new “it girl” and gave “old-house” styles the boot, those of us who appreciate early 20th-century architecture have been reduced to choosing from a few reproduction designs offered by reputable manufacturers. One solution to this diminished variety is to look for antique hinges at salvage yards, antique shops and online.
A variant on the older-pattern butterfly hinge is the offset butterfly hinge, designed for use with half-inset doors. And there are other variants on this one, some Art Deco-inspired, others the fold-back hinges used on certain Hoosier-type cabinets.
3/8″ Inset Hinges From the mid- through late-20th century another type of hinge was widely used for kitchen doors. The “3/8″ inset” hinge came (and is still available) in a few patterns, the most distinctive being a sort-of bullet/streamline design. This type of hinge is available in free- or self-closing forms. It is extremely simple to install, with one caveat: You must allow enough space in the rabbet around the door’s perimeter to account for the distance by which the hinge will push the hinge stile away from the face frame. The only circumstances in which I would recommend using these hinges today are when replacing a broken hinge or adding new doors to an existing kitchen full of cabinets hung on them or, of course, if you are recreating a period-authentic kitchen in movie set or a house that originally had them.
European Hinges European hinges were designed for use with European-style cabinets, also known as frameless cabinets. Underlying this system of cabinet building and installation is a desire to maximize efficiency by standardizing components based on 32mm (approximately 1-3/8″) increments.
European hinges come in a vast variety, each designed to work in a different application. Even so, most consist of just two basic parts – a hinge and a mounting plate.
To make a simple matter slightly less so, European hinges also come in a variety specifically designed for use on cabinets with face frames; these have an integral mounting plate. But you don’t have to use this “face frame” hinge to use European hinges on cabinets with face frames; you can just as well use the two-part variety, provided that you choose the correct combination of hinge and mounting plate for your application.
Depending on which combination of hinge and mounting plate you use, these hinges can work with doors that are inset, half-inset or full overlay. And there are even more variations! A full-overlay door may overlay the cabinet face by 1/4″ or 1-1/4″, depending on the mounting plate you use. Doors can open 95° or as much as 165°. They can be free closing (these do not hold themselves closed but require a catch) or self-closing. Some are even available with a soft-close feature that shuts the door for you once you give it a gentle push. (Aside from their undeniable coolness, these are useful for keeping children from slamming their fingers in cabinets.)
Despite the huge variety, all of these hinges have the same pattern for drilling the hinge cup mortise in the door: a hole drilled to the depth of the cup (about 1/2″) with a 35mm Forstner bit. There are two good reasons to choose European hinges in select applications. First, being invisible when a door is closed, they offer a clean look. If not seeing the hinges is important to your design, these may be your guys. Second, they offer adjustability in three planes, which makes fitting any kind of door – inset, half-inset or full overlay – ridiculously simple compared to using traditional butt hinges.
Specialty Hinges If knife hinges are your thing, there’s no reason why you can’t use those or any other type of hinge less commonly used for kitchen cabinets. In some applications where none of the conventional options will work, you just have to go looking for a special hinge.
Every year, your spouse and friends ask us which books they should buy for you during the holidays. And if they aren’t sure which book you want, they ask us: “Well, which books are your best-sellers?”
Until today, I had only a gut feeling about it, but I’d never really looked at the statistics. After some ciphering, I came up with a list that had a few surprises.
10. Doormaking and Window Making by Anonymous. This was a shock. This small book is a reprint of two historical texts brought to our attention by joiner Richard Arnold. It found an audience among people who restore old buildings.
9. Campaign Furniture by Christopher Schwarz. This book is one of the few in print on this style of furniture, which my grandparents collected for many years. I’ve been told by readers that it is a nice text on classical casework.
8. Kitchen Think by Nancy Hiller. I was a little surprised by this one because it was released in the summer of 2020. It’s a fantastic book, as is everything Nancy writes. If you are interested in how to design (and build) a kitchen that is in context for your house, this is the book.
7. By Hand & Eye by Jim Tolpin and George Walker. This one is no surprise. Ever since this book was released, it has continually found new audiences who are interested in designing good-looking furniture using whole-number ratios.
6. The Anarchist’s Workbench by Christopher Schwarz. On the one hand, I am not surprised to see this book on the list. It is, after all, about workbenches (the birdhouses of the intermediate woodworker clan). But on the other hand, the book is free as a pdf. Free.
5. The Woodworker’s Pocket Book edited by Charles Hayward. I love this little book. I knew it would be a home run among woodworkers, and I was (for once) correct.
4. With the Grain by Christian Becksvoort. This book is immensely popular because it is incredibly practical and avoids the heavy science stuff, but it still tells you exactly what you need to know to use solid wood in furniture effectively.
3. The Essential Woodworker by Robert Wearing. This book is a classic and should be on the shelves of every woodworker who is curious about hand-tool woodworking. We fought hard to bring it back into print, and readers have been thrilled as well.
2. The Anarchist’s Design Book by Christopher Schwarz. I am so happy to see this book on this list. This book took so many years to write and get just right. I feel like it’s the right combination of practical construction advice and a screed about poorly made and overly ornate furniture.
1. The Anarchist’s Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz. This book helped us get this company on its feet and the capital to publish the works of other authors. Even after 10 years, this book still sells and sells – thanks to word of mouth.
On a last note, please remember that we are a small publisher (we recently graduated to “small publisher,” up from “microscopic publisher”). So none of these books would make a blip on the screens of a corporate publisher. And our annual revenue could easily be found between the couch cushions of the CEO of Penguin/Random House.
Maybe someday we’ll hit the Medium Time – with a book on birdhouses.
To everyone who contributed to the fundraiser Megan Fitzpatrick organized on my behalf last winter, sent kind comments, notes of support or handmade gifts, shared garden bounty, good wishes and prayers: Thank you.
After several months I thought it time to express my gratitude with an update. I still have Stage IV pancreatic cancer, per the original diagnosis. But if I hadn’t seen the scan images and read my doctors’ reports, I wouldn’t know it.
Six months of Folfirinox chemotherapy – not something I can recommend if you’re looking for a good time – shrank the primary tumor by two-thirds. Six weeks off chemo, starting at the end of June, gave me a chance to recover strength, energy (and my sense of taste, which was super-bleh due to Folfirinox). I started the alternate chemo regimen, Gemcitabine and Abraxane, in August and have had no side effects to speak of so far.
Most important, I feel better than I have in years. My diet is seriously wholesome, I haven’t been drinking alcohol, I exercise every day and am working with some excellent integrative healthcare practitioners.
Throughout most of this period I have continued to work. I started by writing “Shop Tails,” which is forthcoming from Lost Art Press, then built and installed the cabinetry for the kitchen of a 1920 bungalow (above). I’ve been blogging as usual for the Pros’ Corner at Fine Woodworking and the Little Acorns series of profiles here. Thanks to the success of “Kitchen Think,” I have also had a number of kitchen design commissions, among them a few rivals for Most Challenging Kitchen Layout of My Career. I do love a challenge. This week I will start prepping for a shoot with Anissa Kapsales of the plate rack article we’ve had under contract for longer than I can even remember, between the pandemic and various chemo-related delays on my end. I’m also working on some Voysey two-heart chairs.
I am feeling strong and optimistic. Please don’t ask about medical specifics – not because I am trying to keep any of this a secret (I’m not), but because I honestly feel so great that I’m done with seeing myself as a cancer patient. I am a healthy woodworker, design professional and writer who is living with cancer. Seeing myself this way does not equate to denial. There is no denial going on here. To the contrary, this has been and continues to be a transformative experience, and I wouldn’t want to deny any of it because it has taught me so much. If you’re interested in hearing more, there’s plenty in the first two chapters of “Shop Tails,” as well as in the conclusion.
The outpouring of love and generosity from Lost Art Press readers and editors has been one of the most moving experiences of my life. You have kept me company, shared cancer-related resources and made me laugh, in addition to providing invaluable help with medical expenses, which are significant even for those self-employed people who pay through the nose for the most affordable healthcare coverage. The best way I can show my gratitude is by continuing my efforts to recover from this disease that is widely considered incurable. So that’s what I’m doing.
Unlike most kitchen design books, “Kitchen Think” is a woodworker’s guide to designing and furnishing the kitchen, from a down-to-the-studs renovation to refacing existing cabinets. And she shows you how it can be done without spending a fortune or adding significantly to your local landfill.
Yes, there are hundreds of pretty full-color photos of well-designed kitchens, which are organized into 24 case studies throughout the book. They range from the sculptural (kitchens by Johnny Grey and Wharton Esherick) to kitchens of a more recognizable form.
But there’s also a heavy dose of practical instruction: how to build cabinets efficiently, how to make a basic kitchen island, how to build a wall-hung plate rack. Plus butt-saving advice that comes only from experience – like how to maximize space in inside corners, how to scribe cabinets and countertops into odd spaces and how to make sure you’ve left ample space for hardware.
All of this is built on a foundation of research into kitchens from the past. Hiller’s historical perspective on design might just change your mind about what makes a good kitchen.
Widths of door stiles & rails Bottom rails are almost always wider than top rails on old cabinet and furniture doors. Sometimes stiles are the same width as the top rail (before material is removed for fitting the doors), sometimes not – and sometimes they are dramatically different.
Dimensions of face frame stiles and rails (in addition to where they appear) For example, a true period look for cabinets predating the widespread use of mechanical drawer slides requires intermediate drawer rails. Even if you plan to mount your drawers on full-extension slides, you should incorporate rails between them to evoke the look of those that once supported web frames.
Hardware What kind of hinges were used, and how were they attached? If the doors were hung on butt hinges, were they mortised into the door and face frame, or only into the door? What is the length of the hinge? How wide are the leaves? Are the pins removable or fixed, and do they have finials? What is the finish?
Hardware position Note the distance of the top and bottom (and center, if applicable) hinges from the ends of the door. Note the position of drawer pulls, doorknobs or latches; door hardware was commonly installed approximately halfway or two-thirds to three-quarters of the way up on base cabinet doors and similarly spaced in the opposite direction for upper doors. They were not usually located in the upper or lower corner, as is typical of cabinet doors today.
Are doors and drawers inset, overlay or half inset? Drawer faces were sometimes half inset even though the doors in the same set of cabinets were fully inset.
Moulding profiles It should go without saying that moulding profiles are important. They can vary enormously and are one of the most distinctive and delightful details in a period kitchen. If you cannot replicate a profile yourself, you can usually have it done in the species of your choice by a millwork shop willing to custom-grind knives. Just be sure you order extra, as there will usually be a hefty set-up charge along with the grinding fee, and different batches can have dimensional variations invisible to the eye but great enough to cause headaches during installation.
Edge treatment of half inset drawer faces These may be eased, quarter-round, beveled or moulded.
Proportions of graduated drawers Along with the proportions of face frames and door components, one of the least-noticed and most critical aspects of historic kitchens is the proportions of drawer faces. Many cabinetmakers make the mistake of building all the drawer faces in a stack to the same size. Not only does this look terrible, because when viewed from above (i.e., from normal standing height), the bottom drawer will inevitably look smaller than the rest, and so, out of scale. It’s also not how drawers were traditionally sized. You can make as many adverse comparisons as you like between 19th-century cabinetmakers and the furniture made by those who worked in the golden zone of northeastern American states during the late 18th century, but even oft-maligned Victorians worked with a tradition grounded in classical proportions. This was one of the first and most important lessons I learned from Roy Griffiths in 1980.
Toe kicks Are they flush (i.e., does the bottom rail of the face frame go all the way to the floor) or recessed? If the toe kick is partially recessed – i.e., if the face frame stiles extend down to the floor with inset toe kicks between them – note the rhythm of this variation. In some cases the stiles are full-length only at the end of each cabinet run, with the kick recessed everywhere else. In others, the stiles may run down to the floor on each cabinet.