The Countertops

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 Corner of the built in buffet with the bread box that was my color inspiration.

As was mentioned in the previous posts, what I disliked most about my kitchen were the countertops. Granite is ok, but they were granite tile which meant that food would collect in the grout. They was dark, and since my cabinets were a dark color, it made the recesses seem cave-like.  Worst offense, poorly installed. They were glued onto the previous avocado green formica. The front tiles started falling off a few years in and no amount of gorilla glue could keep them on.

When we redid Meg’s kitchen 3(!) years ago, we did the counters in concrete. I loved them and HAD to have some, too. It took some time, but we made it happen. Having concrete counters done is one of the most expensive solid surfaces, but doing them yourself makes them about the cheapest counters you can get. And they are sexy. All you need are a couple of bags of concrete, something to reinforce with (we used rebar but some people us chicken wire) and material for the forms. We already have a mixer and someone who can measure reeeeeaal good. Not me.  The measuring is the most important part so I leave that to the expert, Kenny. Concrete is labor intensive and has to be exact. A little bit off in the wrong place, and you will find yourself starting over. The means adding weeks onto the job, not hours.

Some people pour their countertops in place, but Kenny does ours in frames and then installs them. After measuring what we need, frames are built in the exact size using melamine and 2x4s. The smoother the frame surfaces, the smoother the counter surface. He also caulks in the joints where the boards meet so there isn’t any seepage which would result in sharp edges. If you have a set in sink or need any other openings, you would put them in place now.Concrete is mixed and poured into the frames (we chose not to color ours, but it can be tinted at this point).  The reinforcing steel is put in and covered, being sure that it’s not too deep. Then you shake it. And shake it more. Still more. I can’t stress how important this step it. If all the bubbles aren’t brought to the top (which is really the bottom), you’ll end up with lots of craters and divots in your surface. A hand sander is used to vibrate the bejeebers out of it. After a few days, the tops are unframed and then left to cure for at least 3 weeks. Some people keep the concrete wet and do other things to it, but we keep it simple and it’s worked for us so far.

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Out of the forms and curing in the driveway. The wood in the middle will be the hole for the sink.

After curing, Kenny takes the sander to it again, this time to smooth it out. Using water, he goes over it several times till it’s smmmmooooth. Then comes the moment of truth. We carry it in and make sure it fits. STRESSFUL, and heavy.

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 My job is to hold it up with the board while he puts the adhesive down..in my pajamas.

When it was all in place, and a perfect fit I might add, my job starts. I do all the sealing and I agonize over it. We used the Chen system with Meg’s and although we were happy with the outcome, I felt like I needed more durability. In the few years since we did hers, sealers had come a long way. I finally decided on the TK6 Nanocoat topical sealer (I love that name, don’t you?). It was less than $40 and supposedly protects the counter top from oil and acids for up to 24 hours. I don’t plan on testing that, but it is reassuring since I cook so much. Here is a link to the product

https://concretecounter.infusionsoft.com/app/storeFront/showProductDetail?productId=244

It was easy to apply and I’ve been really happy with the results. I chose a low gloss finish. I didn’t want it to be shiny, but I was told by their Customer Service guy that the matte would just look like a concrete sidewalk. Not the look I was going for.  After a few days of sealing and letting it set, I caulked the seams.

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All pics are before I applied the sealer.

Originally, we thought about doing the built in the same way, but decided that a more “furniture” look is what would look best. I love this feature in the kitchen, and I wanted to showcase it a little more. We left it white, put bead board on the back and put in a butcher block counter top. We ordered it from Lumber Liquidators and I think we got the grade that wasn’t their top of the line. I liked the imperfections. Kenny had to cut it down to fit, sanded it and then attached it. It was that easy. I then sealed it with a food grade mineral oil. I saturated an old cut up cotton t-shirt and just wiped it on. I did this 2 times the first and second days, waiting for it to soak in before starting the next. It didn’t take too long with the first several coats. I then put on a coat at bedtime and let it set overnight. By the morning after the 4th night, there were some shiny spots left  and that’s when I stopped. After wiping up the left over oil and giving it a buff, I was done. It’s been 4 months and it still looks great. I’m careful about wiping up spills and not leaving a lot of wet things sitting on it, but we’ve had lots of guests and parties and it looks as good as it did when we installed it.

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Gutted and ready to be dolled up.

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installed

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wiping down with mineral oil

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Fabulous, right?

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