Updating white cabinets with oak trim

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"I'm not sure what I was thinking," Aaron says now, with a laugh.

"But with every house I remodeled, I saw the price of semicustom kitchen cabinets get 20 percent more expensive and the quality get worse.

"The key is having a number of large, strong friends who can help you turn the mold over and carry the countertop into place," he says.

The house was a hard-luck fixer-upper: Previous owners had chopped up the layout in order to rent rooms to college students.

Shown: The 1916 Craftsman's facade has its original cedar shingles, which had been preserved under aluminum siding, on the upper story.

A wild thought took hold: To compensate for the cost of the two-story addition—a pro job that in California would involve adhering to earthquake code—he'd make all the cabinetry himself.

Shown: All the trim, door and window casings, wainscoting, and half-height built-in bookcases—which form partitions from foyer to living room to dining room—were repaired and refinished with white paint, which adds to the fresh, updated feel of the spaces.

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