Mind the Gap

How to Fix a Refrigerator Cabinet Gap after Removing a Sub-Zero Fridge

DISCLAIMER: This is not a blog about freelance copywriting, and has no useful copywriting tips or even graphic design tips. This is a blog about what to do when you remove an old Sub-Zero refrigerator, and don’t feel like shelling out ten to fifteen grand for a new one — but also don’t want to leave your kitchen looking like someone pulled a tooth and replaced it with a Chiclet. I'm posting it on the Rare Type website because, as a freelance copywriter, I know I need to have more blogs on my page... and this is what I feel like writing about right now. Hope you don't mind! :) I promise to share some more "professional" copywriting content with you in the future.

When Noel and I moved to Plano last year, we were excited to be in a larger home. Our new kitchen, with its granite countertops and Wolf range, was a major upgrade for us. It even had a built-in Sub-Zero fridge, which certainly sounded nice. The problem? The bulky behemoth was 30 years old, and starting to show its age. While it blended well with the cabinetry, it was only keeping our food luke-cold, a fact we discovered about a week after we moved in. Here’s what the kitchen looked like with the Sub-Zero refrigerator:

Noel was ready to kick the fridge to the curb — especially since we had a beautiful, brand-new stainless steel refrigerator sitting in the garage. We had bought it just a few months before deciding to move. For years, I had dreamed about having a stainless steel refrigerator with ice and water in the door, and now I finally had one...in the garage. But a Sub-Zero — wasn’t that even better? Even if it didn’t have ice and water in the door? I was torn.

Truth be told, I really liked the idea of having a built-in refrigerator, something I would never have bought on my own — and I wasn’t ready to pull the plug on it yet. Plus, I knew that it was not going to be easy to move or replace. So, we called in a Sub-Zero repairman for an estimate. Want to guess the cost to repair a refrigerator that is almost as old as yours truly? $2,500! Wow, that’s almost twice the cost of our last refrigerator. And even though the repair guy insisted the fridge would last another 30 years if we fixed it, he couldn’t make any promises about the freezer compartment. It could easily end up costing us another $2,500 or more down the line. Some quick Google searches confirmed that Sub-Zeros are notoriously expensive to repair, and they need repairs more often than you would think for a brand that bills itself as the best of the best.

Still, I didn’t want to downgrade my kitchen. What about a new Sub-Zero? This is where the real sticker shock set in. I could not believe it when I was told that new models cost between $10,000 and $15,000, plus installation.

Does $15,000 sound like a reasonable price for a refrigerator? It does not, to me. There is really only one thing I require a fridge to do, and that is to keep the food cold. Even Mamaw’s avocado-green refrigerator, which has been in operation since Nixon was President, continues to dispense frosty beverages, although the expiration dates on the drinks themselves have been called into question.

*Not Actually Mamaw

In my 36 years of life, I have only ever had crappy refrigerators (with the exception of our new stainless), and yet I have never had one fail, except when it comes to aesthetics. So I really question the value of these supposedly luxury refrigerators, which can’t even do the one thing a fridge is supposed to do. Plus, I could do a lot more with ten to fifteen grand. Make the house payment for seven months. Pay preschool costs for the children for eight months. Put a hefty down payment on a new car. Buy ten to fifteen normal refrigerators. The list goes on and on.

So, we told the repair guy that we weren’t going to do it. We were going to get rid of this expensive hunk of junk and move our new fridge in. He then tells me that it can’t be done. It would be impossible to remove the Sub-Zero. At which point, I gave him this look.

“Impossible?” I repeated. “Oh, I assure you, it’s possible. I will tear it out with a sledgehammer if I have to. This thing has got to go.” He then suggested that he might be able to assemble a team of men to complete this task for me, but that they would not do it for free. He also suggested that the old fridge would have no resale value, since it was in need of repair. I told him we didn’t care about reselling it, but there was no way Noel would pay to have it removed. A few days later, he and his team showed up to remove the fridge for free. It turns out they needed a new place to store their beer.

Of course, the problem with removing a Sub-Zero refrigerator and replacing it with a standard-sized version is the huge gap between the refrigerator and the cabinetry. Built-in refrigerators are not as deep as standard refrigerators, so they make up for the volume by being wider and taller. They also have large grills at the top, for air circulation. So, now we had a big refrigerator cabinet gap, with empty space on all sides — and a fridge that stuck out about a foot beyond the rest of the cabinetry. Yuck.

Yeah, so that looked awful. Now, my options were to redo ALL the cabinetry, or redo just this one chunk of the cabinetry, to make the fridge look built-in. Although I was told it would be difficult, if not impossible, to match the existing stain, I had a hunch it would be possible to get “close enough.” If I had an unlimited budget, I would have loved to have a painter refinish all the woodwork in the kitchen to a darker brown color — but I just can’t afford it right now. (Mortgage, childcare, new cars, 15 refrigerators, you get where I’m going with this.) There’s a lot of woodwork in our kitchen.

So, I mocked up what I wanted in Photoshop and had a carpenter estimate the cost to build a new cabinet: $2,500.00. Same as it would have been to repair the Sub-Zero, but I’m banking on this fridge to last at least 10 years… and when it kicks the bucket, I’ll just buy another one of the same size. Here was my vision:

I ordered a Subzero grill to mount above the refrigerator, so that we could keep the cabinets the same height, and achieve the look of a built-in. Here's the grill:

Well, this blog is getting long, and I bet you’re ready to see the “after” pics! But first I have to show you some “in-between” pics. Here's what the new cabinet looked like, before it was stained.

I liked it, but it was bugging me that the panel behind the grill was not the same height as the door next to it.
So, we had that fixed. Next, it was time to stain the wood. Does this look like a match?

No! It does not! In their defense, it's pretty challenging to match a 30-year-old stain. But impossible?

It took a couple of tries, but they were able to pull off most of the first stain, and get a near-perfect match. This is what I call “good enough.”

Not bad! Plus, I got these really cool drawers for storing canned goods and spices!

Let's do one more side-by-side comparison of "Before" and "After."

I was really happy with how the remodel turned out — and I hope this blog will be helpful to anyone who is looking for ideas to fix a refrigerator cabinet gap. Thanks for reading!