A Tale of a Kitchen Sink from Two Tea Lovers

Buying a house that was built in the early 20th century presents challenges but also a bit of history. In the case of our kitchen sink, it was very much both. The tale of the kitchen sink is one worth noting, was a part of our love for fine loose leaf teas, and might help you deal with a similar situation, whether your house is older or younger than ours. But first things first: grab yourself a tasty cuppa tea. We recommend some strong Assam black tea, like what Little Yellow Teapot steeped for us here. You’re gonna need it to face the photos ahead!

Tea_Blog-EM-AssmTGFOP-E1aBuying the House

Selling one house and buying another is tricky business. We’ve done it several times. And this time, we decided once again to buy a house based on the info the realtor provided us instead of actually making a long trip to go house hunting. It had worked pretty well once before, so we took that chance again. And since we were moving halfway across the continent, a house hunting trip would have taken at least a week of valuable time that we sorely needed for packing.

The realtor we worked with was obliging enough to view houses for us and send us lots of photos – admittedly not the best photos, but for the most part good enough to tell us what we needed to know (we won’t mention that partially blocked doorway to the bedroom for now – maybe in a later article). She had her two adorable munchkins with her and somehow managed to get more shots of them than of the rooms, but we could still tell that the kitchen sink was quite an eye-catcher and harkened back to some “good ol’ days” era. (No, this was not the deciding factor in buying the house, thank goodness – you will soon see why we say that.)

The usual house buying process ensued: offer presented, offer accepted, inspection done, repairs requested, etc. We arrived in town a couple of days before closing, did our final walk-thru, questioned some things, got lame answers, but with a truckload of household goods on the way and nowhere to put them, we kept the process moving forward (although I was tempted to emulate Donald Trump and walk away from what seemed like a bad deal at the time). The closing was handled a bit oddly and questionably (again, a story for another article) but we schlogged through it, with the prize of our “new” home (built in 1930) ahead of us. Keys and ownership papers in hand, we headed over to walk through that front door as the new owners.

This is where the story of that kitchen sink truly begins.

319 W Morgan St 90 IntKit 100_0542A
The realtor’s cute munchkins were a bit of a distraction from the job of taking photos for us

The History and Challenge of the Kitchen Sink

As previously mentioned, the realtor’s photo taking wasn’t that great nor that thorough. She also didn’t bother to open the doors of the sink cabinet to take a look. So this was an area we explored during the final walk-thru, recovered from the shock of what we saw, and then added it to our list of items the house needed to have fixed.

Sink_Old004A
The realtor totally missed showing us this

First, we found a plumber who recognized the sink and could tell us the maker: Crane Plumbing. Then, we researched the company and fixtures.

The Crane Plumbing Company was famous for high-end faucets and fixtures, with dozens of stylish and innovative designs, most with non-standard features. Ours was their cast iron enamel coated double sink and double sideboard model with a metal base cabinet (we found more info on it here). Most likely it was part of their 1950s line when kitchens were transitioning to a more modern almost space-age styling – gleaming, clean, efficient, and freeing up housewives for more fun things.

Our model featured an “oddball” faucet on 11-1/2” centers on a 45 degree angle. There was no sprayer either. The metal cabinet had probably been green originally, but the previous home owners had painted it a dull gray (sort of like in a lot of submarines) with a bit of the green showing through where paint had chipped off or not even been initially applied. Despite the paint cover up attempt, it still revealed the rust and deterioration due to lack of proper care. The worst was in the area directly under the sink. It was so bad that the metal could be broken off by hand in chunks.

We considered the two logical options:

  • Renovate – reglaze over the white enamel coating on the cast iron sink, strip all the paint off the metal base cabinet, cut out rusted parts and weld in new metal, and repaint it all with Rust-Oleum® paint to prevent further such damage.
  • Replace – remove the cabinet and sink and install new ones, find someone who would buy the old sink and cabinet as a way to recoup this unexpected expense.

The challenge was deciding which was more cost effective and would fit the bungalow style of the house. Time to consider which would be the best balance of history, necessity, and modern convenience, with a bit of aesthetic appeal thrown in for good measure. (Who likes to cook in an ugly kitchen? Not us!)

Balancing History with Necessity and Modern Convenience

After checking with several local tradesmen, we soon realized that renovating our Crane sink and cabinet would have been a rather costly and ineffective solution. First, Crane was bought out in the 1970’s, and the new owner discontinued all parts, including their faucets, so folks like us would have to really scrounge online to find them. We found one source here. That meant that we’d have to purchase an entirely new faucet and all parts at a cost of around $300. Re-enameling was about the same. Plumber cost would have been about $300 also. And the cabinet repair was about $1,000 with us doing the painting ourselves. Second, the replacement faucet would probably need adjustment and repair every year or so to keep it from dripping due to the damaging qualities in the local tap water. Third, although we don’t want or need a dishwasher, if we wanted at some future time to sell the house, it is highly likely that other buyers would want this labor saving device, so a space for adding a dishwasher was needed. But it was still a tough decision to do a “full Monty” (strip and replace).

What we liked about the sink/cabinet:

  • Historic character from an era when the world was full of great possibilities through ever advancing technology.
  • Double sideboard style that was great for our two teapot steeping method for preparing loose leaf teas.
1953-crane-kitchen-cabinets-and-sinks-retro-renovation-2011-1953036-5
An architect’s mock-up drawing of that sleek, modern kitchen of the 1950s

We finally determined to let go of that historic element and work out another way to steep our tea.

The Renovation

Sadly, despite diligent efforts over six months online searching for someone who would buy the sink and cabinet, we got nowhere. Most companies who were carrying these old items didn’t even bother to answer our inquiry, even though they had statements on their site saying that they would come and pick up worthwhile pieces (most of them soon after posted a notice on their site that they were no longer buying and were overstocked). And the Craigslist posting got no response at all. That meant we needed to work out a very economical solution. Very economical.

Things we considered:

  • Stock cabinets from Lowe’s Home Improvement – the quality turned out to be a bit below what we had expected, plus the “designer” at their store was less than enthused about the project (a bit too small for her taste, probably, and she could no doubt tell that we were not the sort to be talked into spending more than we could afford).
  • Stock cabinets ordered online from sites like these – no way to tell quality, and playing a guessing game with style, size, and fit.

Then we took a gamble and contacted a local custom cabinet maker who had done the new cabinets in the local library. Going the custom route hadn’t seemed possible with our tight budget, but, hey, if they could do a bang-up and affordable job for the library…

sandstar-brown-logo-smSandstar Custom Cabinets turned out to be the right solution. Tom Rutherford is the manager, running things for his parents, who had founded the company. He stopped by to meet with us, discuss the project, take measurements, etc. We had already purchased the new Franke granite sink and super Moen faucet, feeling pretty positive about and committed to this course of action. (Our thanks to Matt and Daniel in the plumbing department at Lowe’s for their assistance and expert advice.) Tom was able to scan the code on the sink box with his cell phone and pull up the specs – very useful. He took measurements, examined the area under the sink to assess some of the possible difficulties with installing the new cabinet, and then assured us he’d be back with plans in a few days. Plans were received, choices made, including what style of Wilsonart countertop we wanted, and we sat back to wait for the finished products to arrive, feeling even more confident.

One issue remained: what to do with the old sink/cabinet. Selling it seemed unlikely. Folks around here either could not afford it, expected it handed to them (we have a large percentage of government handout recipients here), or had the money to spend on high-end replicas that also offered modern convenience. So we contacted someone who had helped in the past by taking away some other items from the property and putting them to good use at his home. He accepted and was there on installation day to help with removal. We felt a bit uplifted that the sink would be in a new location being used, not in a landfill or crushed into some block of old metal.

Keeping to a Tight Budget

We saved a bundle by going with a Wilsonart counter top over granite or pricier materials and by having the cabinets unfinished and painting them ourselves (which we preferred anyway). We also found a plumber who could do the disconnect of the old faucet and garbage disposal and installation of the new faucet/sink (no garbage disposal here anymore) without adding in a lot of extra time and materials. Steering clear of the “designer” at Lowe’s and examining various options really paid off. We are in kitchen sink heaven!

As for the tea steeping, we just bought a large cookie sheet, put some stick-on feet on the back of it, and have the perfect set-up for our two teapot steeping (and yes, that’s also for a future article).

We wonder if 70 years from now someone just buying the house will say, “Why did they ever get rid of that great Crane sink?” It’s just a fleeting thought, though, as we cheerfully wash and rinse those dishes in that spacious sink. (And by the way, the cabinets mounted on the wall above the sink were some of the first things to go – we got tired of bumping our heads on them.)

The bathroom remodel story will be coming up soon. What’s good tea without a nice tub and pleasant spa-like bathroom setup.

© 2016-2020 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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