A Unique Kitchen Island

Cleaned up and repurposed, an old French dental-tools cabinet is nifty and functional in the kitchen.

The refinished cabinet is the centerpiece of a Greenwich Village kitchen outfitted with stainless-steel appliances.

Dan Mayers

Having bought a historic apartment in New York City’s Greenwich Village, owners Alex Carl and Peter Campbell wanted to make it family-friendly yet preserve its vintage elements. The kitchen has up-to-date appliances set against very appropriate subway tiles, but both storage capacity and countertops were limited. The couple found a vintage dentist’s cabinet when they were traveling in France, and immediately saw potential. The rotating top would be another prep surface; banks of drawers were perfect for cutlery; casters meant the table could double as a movable bar or buffet.

Now Thanksgiving turkey is carved at the Girator, which became the kitchen centerpiece and a conversation starter.

The Kitchen Island Transformation

1. Dismantled & Stripped
The antiques dealer in France had begun restoration of the cabinet by taking it apart to methodically strip away a century’s worth of dirty white paint from aluminum fronts and drawers. Cast-iron legs were stripped as well, and the entire piece cleaned with a mild detergent (e.g., Oxi Clean) and polished with auto rubbing compound (by Meguiar’s, or 3M), using a lamb’s-wool polishing pad.

2. Cleaned & Shined
When the cabinet arrived in New York, it needed more work. Homeowner Peter removed packing-tape residue on metal and glass surfaces with Goo Gone (let it sit 15 minutes, then gently scrub with soapy water and a soft brush). Non-abrasive Bar Keeper’s Friend renewed the aluminum and cast iron without damage. The original gold-tone drawer knobs were carefully removed, cleaned, and polished one by one until they sparkled.

3. Upgraded for Function
Peter cushioned the glass and metal drawers with plain cork liners, which cut down the banging and clanging as utensils are stowed. To replace the old rotating marble top that had gone missing, Peter chose ebony-color wenge wood, quarter-sawn for a tight grain to make it water-resistant and useful for chopping. A shallow groove at the perimeter catches runoff.

Restoration started at the dealer’s shop.

Courtesy 1stdibs.com

Dental Cabinets
The very practical Girator Rotating Dental Cabinet kept tools at hand while allowing the dentist to circumnavigate the patient. But you need not go to France to find a dental cabinet.

Dealer Doug Schmitt specializes in vintage American dental cabinets. He explains that most were specialty furniture pieces, made of oak and very expensive at the time. Many were tall. With numerous rotating drawers, they make great storage cabinets for any room. Shorter, economical metal cabinets became popular after WWI; these are great when repurposed for kitchen or bathroom.


Tags: DIY projects kitchen Kitchen Island OHJ April 2018 restoration

By Brian D. Coleman

Brian D. Coleman, M.D., is the Editor-at-large for Arts and Crafts Homes and Old House Journal magazines and has written numerous articles on home design. His work has appeared in magazines ranging from Old House Journal to Period Living in the U.K. 

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