Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The new counter tops

Remember the old kitchen counter top? The counters in our tenants' kitchen was usable--people had been living with it for years before we moved in. In fact, the owner of this house lived on the second floor before we bought it. But whenever we showed someone the kitchen in person the counters were the first thing they commented on. It was old, beat-up laminate in a wood grain pattern. The miter corner was not joined at all and there was a little piece of molding resting in the wide crack instead. It looked bad and interrupted the function of what limited counter space there was.

We spent a couple of days dragging the kids around Home Depot and Ikea exploring options. We actually really liked several of the options at Ikea. They had a few laminate patterns that were fairly nice and also a sealed butcher block counter. And the price was right! We could have gotten all the counter we needed for less than $100. But there was one big problem with the Ikea counters: no backplash. I'm not a huge backsplash fan myself but the old counters had a 4" integrated backsplash that rose to meet that faux tile sheet of plastic with the stick on green leaves. As you may have intuited by now, I think that wall treatment is pretty horrendous (and it's even worse in person: all chipped and spotted). We talked it over and I, in my usual burst of pre-project optimism said, "I don't think tiling is that hard. Maybe we should just put in a tiled backsplash." And Eric, in an extremely uncharacteristic burst of co-optimism said, "Okay, sure."

So that was our plan: Ikea counters, new tile backsplash. We headed into Home Depot with this plan in mind. We confirmed that the laminate counters available for special order there were a lot more expensive than at Ikea and we browsed some tile. Then, purely by chance, we wandered past the section of in-stock, post form laminate countertop. They sure don't advertise this option! There are three or four pattern options and it is sold with both straight and mitered ends in a variety of lengths. And it has an integrated 4" backsplash. And it was pricing out to less than $200. We considered for a few minutes and realized that we had no idea what we'd find under that sheet of faux-tile plastic. And we realized that we'd probably be biting off more than we could chew adding yet another brand new project to our list.

That was a wise move. We tore up the kitchen the next day and we could see behind the old backsplash that we'd be dealing with at least two layers of old tile. As much as I hate the plastic backsplash, we decided to just go with it for now.

We were able to transport the countertop sections home in our van fairly easily. I wasn't able to convince the guys at Home Depot to load the ten foot section in the car for me. They were pretty well convinced that a section of laminate countertop firmly wedged between seats the entire length of the car could defy all laws of physics and somehow attack my baby on the way back home. They insisted on loading it onto the roof rack instead.

The countertop sections in stock at Home Depot come in several standard lengths. We bought a ten-foot section and a four-foot section, both of which had one end already mitered to meet in the corner. We just needed to cut the four-foot end down to the size we needed, cut the sink hole, and join the corner. Simple, right? Sort of. We suspected that the previous countertop corner had not been joined because either 1) the previous owner liked to take short cuts and 2) the corner wasn't square. We were right on both counts. We were able to determine fairly quickly that the corner wasn't square. But how to work with that situation?

If we could have dry fit both counter sections at the same time, it would have been obvious what to do, I think. But we had to cut the shorter end down to get it to fit at all. We thought and talked and thought some more. Eric measured, I cut.

I'm more scared of power tools than he is which makes me more careful which makes me more precise in my cuts. We put the piece in place and it looked promising.

Then we put the long section up and we had a gap just like the old counters had had. We weren't worried because we planned to actually install the miter bolts underneath that help join up and seal that seam. Eric was the hero to crawl under the counter and have at it while I stood up (holding Gregory at this point, I think) telling him how things were lining up.

In the end . . . it didn't exactly work.

The mitered corner was almost, but not quite, perfectly flush. And the whole section was almost a half inch short where it met the cabinets.

This is the one point in the whole project where we honestly knew the "right" way to do something and we just chose not to. If I could go back and do one thing over it would be to first level the base cabinets in the kitchen. I think that one step would have fixed a lot of the "square" problems and helped that seam quite a bit. But it was a vast improvement over the previous situation.

And as for the half inch short situation, we fixed it:

We primed a piece of scrap plywood and jammed it into the gap. Then I ran a bead of caulk on either side of it, let it dry, and painted the whole thing. It looks pretty darn good.

Once the counters were in place we cut the sink hole. We read lots and lots of online tutorials about how to do this and several articles said it could be done after the counter is installed. This method might work on new, standard cabinets. But it didn't work for us. And the counter was already glued in place. If you ever install a countertop--cut the sink hole first!

I won't go into all the details but it involved lots and lots of Eric measuring things, breaking jigsaw blades (not the saw itself which I may never let him touch again!), and unconventional use of 1" drill bits. We definitely didn't use a recommended approach. But the sink got back in and Eric successfully reconnected all the plumbing and installed a dishwasher.

This, all told, took much of two days though there was also a good deal of painting going on at the same time. By the end of this project we both felt a bit mentally exhausted from the sheer volume of large tasks we'd just done for the first time (I had made exactly two-and-a-half circular saw cuts prior to cutting into an expensive piece of countertop).

But the end result was completely worth it. We went from this:

To this:

I think it's an improvement. I didn't have time to nicely "stage" the space (ugly crooked curtains!) because I think I took this picture about one minute before the new tenants were due to arrive. We did not replace the green floor or paint the paneling but we may do the floor next time we turn over the apartment or down the road if our current tenants end up staying for a few years.


Robyn said...

Susan! This looks great! I love the cabinets, have a whole new appreciation for cabinet hardware and the counter looks SO MUCH BETTER! Hooray!

You left the green leaves! ;) Are they stuck on permanently? For some reason I thought they were just little stickers or something.

Susan said...

They are stickers but they pull the backsplash down with it exposing the fact that the current backsplash is just plastic-coated cardboard. I decided the green leaves were actually better than that so we left them up.

Emily said...

so much prettier white!!! Yay!

Rene said...

Susan, looks great!! Very impressed! Bob has no faith in me to do any DIY (no matter how many times I remind him where and how I grew up...)...still working on him. But the floors and kitchen look wonderful! Love seeing your new house, maybe someday I can see it in person...and meet Gregory! Miss you guys, hope you are doing well!