“Honey, I’d like you to meet the man who saved our marriage,” I say introducing DC to Tony.
DC extends his hand gratefully. “I’m indebted,” he says. “Can I get you a drink?”
Tony nods, wipes his brow and takes a long pull of ice water. A jovial fellow built like a barrel, Tony has heard it all before.
The three of us are standing on the covered terrace off our second story landing, where Tony is finishing the installation of our new, outdoor cabinets, a bank of white lower and upper cabinets, with a quartz counter, lining a nine-foot wall.
I am springing up and down on my toes with excitement. The cabinets, a new outdoor line by WeatherStrong made of marine-grade polymer, have been designed and tested to withstand almost anything Mother Nature can throw their way – from blistering sun and drenching downpours, in short, every day in Florida, as well as below-blizzard temperatures. What they cannot withstand is an incompetent installer.
Fortunately, thanks to Tony Daniels, a licensed contractor with 30 years’ experience installing cabinets, they look perfect. They are square and true. The drawers glide like Olympic ice skaters. The cupboard doors meet precisely, with just a prayer between them. I kind of want to kiss this guy, because I know, gorgeous as the cabinets are, with their sleek stainless steel (also marine-grade) hardware, they would look a lot less beautiful if DC and I had tried to tackle the install ourselves. I am not going to kid myself.
These days, thanks to all the pseudo-empowering home improvement shows, many homeowners believe they can be their own carpenter, plumber, mason, roofer and electrician.
Fortunately, my husband is not one of them.
The day I learned the cabinets were arriving, DC was swamped at work. Though he was game to try installing them, he wouldn’t be able to get to the project for several days. I was restless as a racehorse. We had nine family members coming to stay, and I wanted to outfit this upstairs porch to serve as a way station for the nearby guest rooms.
So when I heard Tony was available, I thought of all the aggravation, arguments, imperfections, wasted time and trips to the hardware store we would instantly avoid, and I pounced.
“I’ve got good news for you,” I told DC. “We’ve got a cabinet installer.”
“It’s my lucky day!” he said. No injured pride there.
As Tony worked, I plied him with ice water, homemade cookies and genuine compliments.
Though the custom, made-to-order cabinets arrive ready-to-install, if you don’t know how to put a square box in a slanted space, this is the kind of job that could test your patience and your relationship.
“If they’re not plumb, and they’re not level on the wall, even the nicest cabinets look like falling apart pieces of furniture,” he said.
If I have learned anything after 15 years of writing a home design column and tackling thousands of home improvement projects it is this – DIY is great, but professionals are worth every penny. Here’s why:
Cheap is expensive. No matter how good your base materials are, a job is only as good as its execution. Whether you’re hanging wallpaper, making draperies, installing tile, laying a wood floor, or hanging cabinets, you can get 90 percent of the job just right, but all eyes will find the flaw. If you’ve got the skills have at it. But if you don’t, get a pro, so you don’t spend the rest of your days looking at the missed spots, bad cuts, crooked lines, and poorly finished edges.
Consider it a tip. Tony’s installation fee was about 20 percent of the price for the very reasonable cabinets, and worth every penny.
Rooms aren’t perfect. Cabinets can be made perfectly right and true, as ours were, but rooms, walls and terraces are almost never perfectly square. For instance, terraces and patios, if made properly, aren’t level. They should slope 1/8-inch per foot, so water runs away from a house. Thus, on a nine-foot-deep terrace like ours, the floor dropped over an inch between the house and the railing. Tony shimmed, leveled, shaved, and smoothed over the fixes with a perfectly trimmed face plate.
They fix problems. Most DIYers can handle a project if all goes according to the YouTube tutorial. But when the project throws them a curve, the swearing starts. Because I had supplied the measurements, which were a teeny bit off, the custom-cut quartz countertop was a smidge too long. The options were: cut the countertop, which weighed as much as the truck that brought it; live with the fact that one cabinet would not close properly; or, the option Tony proposed, trim one end of the cabinet system 1/4-inch. This solution was well out of our skill set, but for Tony it was all in a day’s work.
On-the-job-training. If you don’t know how to do something, don’t learn on a job that matters. Ask the manufacturer, your local big box store, or your Next Door network, for referrals to top-tier contractors, check references, then hand over the job.
CAPTION: Hung to a T -- Even well-made cabinets, like these made for the outdoors from WeatherStrong, only look as good as the quality of their installation. Photo courtesy of Marni Jameson.