Coffee with Mimi; Finally tackling the Hoosier

Published 11:36 am Monday, February 5, 2018


Defying my usual personal policy, I made New Year’s resolutions this year and recorded them in this very space for witnesses to hold over my head in any future conversation.

I am happy to report that, one month into the calendar, I have been 100 percent successful.

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The most incredible result of this little adventure has been the completion of a project at least 40 years in the making.  It has haunted me daily, reminding me of my failings in project completion over and over. The object in question is an antique kitchen cabinet, a Hoosier cabinet.  

I purchased the cabinet from an antique store in Louisville and somehow got it home. As this was the era of the little Volkswagen Fastback, I’m not sure who was cajoled into the transport, but the job was managed. If you are familiar with the item, you know it comes in three parts — a base with a door and drawers, a pull out work surface and a top with drawers and doors with glass inserts.

All parts were intact, but it was painted and the paint was in pretty rough shape. Normally, I am a penny pincher and determined to do myself what other normal people would find a professional to handle. However, in this case, I had acquired the cabinet at a very reasonable price and justified the expenditure for a professional refinisher to strip off the layers and layers of paint.

The reality that I lived in an apartment with no cross ventilation and the chemicals used in the stripping process were quite noxious sealed the decision. Again, I don’t remember how the cabinet made it to the shop, but it was delivered and the job was completed and the bare, clean surface piece was returned to me.    

On advice, I had decided to finish the cabinet with a product called Danish Oil. The fumes would be minimal, not dangerous, and the drying time would be not likely more than 24 hours. I purchased the material, fine steel wool …

That is exactly where the project sat for 40 years. Oh, it has been used in every home we have lived in. We even arranged and installed the new cabinets in our current home’s kitchen update to accommodate the size and shape of the cabinet.

A key to my New Year’s resolution is that I will break projects down into steps and go at them one at a time. Instead of looking at a project as the finished job, which can seem so long term and insurmountable, thus too much for the moment, I will bite off a piece at a time and be patient.

So, on analysis, the cabinet job required just three steps if you don’t include the unloading of the contents and the reloading when the job is complete. First, a light scraping of some loose paint in the inside parts. I had decided from the very beginning that these sections would be left in the shabby chic state. Second, a complete wash down with an all purpose wood cleaner allowing a good period for the wood to dry thoroughly. Finally, application of the Danish oil, allowing it to dry before placing the dishes in a newly refurbished home.

The day was allotted last weekend to begin the process. The beauty of this, at this time in my life, is that if it takes a few days, the inconvenience is minimal. Just two of us live at home now and if the dishes need to sit out, we can work around them, eat out or call some place.

I unloaded and scraped. That took maybe an hour total. The day is young. I washed and washed. That wasn’t bad at all.  

This is the point where in the past I would embark on another project leaving open the very real possibility that I would become so distracted that the clean, dry surface would be forgotten and the next day with spare time would be so far in the future that the washing and drying would need to be repeated.

It’s a new year. Not this time. Sure, I found some task to occupy me. But, I frequently stopped to test the surface of the clean cabinet to detect any moisture. In really no time at all, it was dry, and plenty early enough to apply the Danish oil ensuring the 24 hour curing period would be up quite early the next day and the kitchen could be returned to normal.  After 40 years, the cabinet would be finished in under one work day.

There was a moment of panic when I couldn’t open the can of oil. It had been sitting around and moved around for so long, the top was rusted in place. Remain calm. I have a pair of pliers and even know where they are. This will not derail me when I have come so far. Sure enough, with several good tugs and a smack or two, the cap twisted off. I did get a good chuckle when I noticed the price label was from a hardware store which no longer exists.

As I poured some oil out into a bowl, I wondered whether it perhaps might be so old it would no longer be good. It didn’t smell rancid and looked like finish oil. I guess there is some benefit to being thoroughly sealed up for so many years. So, I decided I was forging ahead with the plan. After all, what could go wrong? I felt this was a project destined to be a success.  

I followed the directions and applied the oil with fine steel wool — we had some and I knew where it was. I rubbed and smoothed, making sure there were no puddles standing or drips dripping. The surface, being so clean and dry, was covering very nicely. The color was a warm, honey tone, just what I had envisioned all these years. A few places on the lower doors appeared less even in color than the rest of the surfaces. But, it is an old piece and I think it deserves a few blemishes.  

Out of curiosity, I checked out similar cabinets on the internet. The closest example recently sold for $1,800.00. I think mine is nicer as that piece had no glass in the doors and mine has perfect etched glass inserts and an additional drawer in the base. Mine also still has the flour and sugar dispensers intact.

As they say on the antiques shows, I wouldn’t sell it for anything. I put it off all these years and now it really is mine, finished.

What’s next?