Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kitchen Countertop Project: Reveal & Review

If you haven't been following along with our Granite Tile Kitchen Countertop Project, you can catch up on Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 here.

What can I say? We tackled this granite-tile countertop project and dived into it headfirst as pretty much complete amateurs who weren't afraid to try their hand at something new. We did things we had never done before, learned some new things (sometimes the hard way!), and in the end built something we love the correct way, that should stand the test of time and will hopefully last for many years to come.

Okay, time for the big BEFORE and even bigger AFTER.

Are you guys ready? Let's go back in our hot tub time machine here, to what the kitchen looked like the day we bought it, less than 1 year ago:

And here's what it looks like NOW:

Did I mention that the countertop is beautiful? Because it totally is!

The point is, we did it 90% on our own (we did have a little help a couple of times), saved bundles of moolah and gained confidence in our own amateur DIY abilities.

We also had a bit of trouble at times, but what home improvement project doesn't have hitches? And if we don't make mistakes, how would we learn?

The Obstacles:

1) Part 2 Demo - During the demo phase, we had problems getting the old sink out of the hole, and ended up having to cut through the laminate countertop to rip out the counter from around the sink - and of course the sink fell, even though it was propped up by a jack-and-bucket contraption. Yeahh, don't ask.

2) Part 2 Demo - Also unmentioned, we had originally intended to use our Dremel tool (scored it on clearance at Tarjay for 25 buckaroos - it's an 80$ tool) to polish down the edges of the granite tiles for the edges. The dremel tool malfunctioned and broke, and we called Dremel and they graciously sent us a new one. Which, in the end, we didn't use to polish the tiles, anyways, but that's not the point.

3) Part 3 The Base - During the plywood-base construction, we ran into problems where the plywood sheets met and weren't supported by the cabinet bases underneath. Our solution: build support beams. Problem solved.

4) Part 4 Second Base - When we were cutting the cement backerboard to lay on top of the plywood (for a super-secure base so the tiles wouldn't move when the plywood expanded/contracted), we had lots of problems cutting the cement boards. Finally, we invested in a circular saw and someone informed us that we needed to lower the carbide-tipped blade down as far as it would go. Then those babies cut like butter.

5) Part 4 Second Base - Unmentioned on the blog, while we were applying the cement mortar in between the plywood and cement backerboard, some of the edge pieces started cracking when we pressed them onto the mortar. What happened? Well, us math-whizzes didn't add enough water when we mixed the cement mortar, causing it dry quicker and the thin edge pieces to crack when we screwed them in. We remedied this on our second batch of mortar.

6) Part 5 Cutting the Tiles - We had a tough time here when we were set on doing mitered edges ourselves. After a couple of weeks and countless attempts, we decided it was time to call in the pros on this one. We took the tiles to the only shop in town willing to polish them for us, and are we are so happy we did. We are more than pleased with the smooth, polished, rounded edges they made for us.

7) Part 8 Grouting - The grouting went pretty smoothly, but once things started to dry the grout was lighter than the box indicated, more of a dark-gray color than jet-black. After some research, we suspect that we used too much water when wiping off the grout with our sponges, thereby taking out some of the color off the top. We aren't too worried about this, because the grout still looks great, but in the future we will invest in a little black grout stain to get that jet-black invisible look we were aiming for.

A few little bumps, but in the end everything worked out.

Now it's time to reveal the budget, and let the numbers speak for themselves. Keep in mind that we priced the lowest, cheapest laminate at 350$ total, and around 450$ for medium quality/fancier laminate.

The Breakdown:

Plywood: 80$
Cement backerboard: 60$
Cement Mortar: 50$
Granite Tiles: 180$
Grout: 10$
Stone Sealer: 40$
Total:  420$

Tile Wet Saw: 150$
Circular Saw: 40$
Cement Board Blade: 16$
Bucket, screws, etc: 20$
Total: 226$


Hiring Pros to Polish the Granite Edges: 100$ Total

Total Cost (without Tools): 520$

Not too bad! Yup, we got granite on a laminate budget. Score!

And now the million dollar question: Would We Do It Again?

Yes. We would definitely do it again - although we would have to wait a couple years from now to recuperate beforehand! It was definitely a lot of work, but now we are so happy and proud of the new countertops we've built - yes, us amateurs, with our own hands, blood, sweat and tears! - that if we end up moving in the future (who knows what the future holds?), we wouldn't hesitate to do it all over again. We love the result that much. And hopefully, if we were to do it over again, we would be able to look back on these blog entries and avoid all our previous mishaps and mistakes. Or at least try to. Either way, despite our amateur-ness, the countertops look Grade-A Professional. Seriously. We still can't believe that we, of all people, made them. Whoa.

We are so happy with our work, and, besides all the other pluses to installing a new countertop, we are able to rest easier knowing that all our plumbing will be correctly connected and that the new countertops were built correctly. Why? When we went to disconnect the old sink plumbing before demo-ing the old countertop, we realized that the pipes actually weren't connected at all in one place - talk about scary! When Tom accidentally brushed it with his hand, the pipes fell apart! Add that to the sagging countertop, and you've got a recipe for a kitchen disaster there. We sleep better at night now knowing that our construction (and soon-to-be-rebuilt/reconnected plumbing) is all (and will be) correctly installed and that there will be no surprise disasters resulting from shoddy workmanship (hopefully, anyways!). Ahh, the upsides of DIY.

We love how the granite reflects everything, including the light, making the kitchen seem bigger and brighter, even though the granite itself is black. And we love setting things on the new countertop, because of the way the granite shows off reflections. It really showcases objects beautifully and bounces off the natural light from the window around the kitchen.

And one more after shot:

So how about it guys? Are you impressed with the results? Are you ready to start tearing down your own countertops? Is there something you would've done differently? Or maybe you would've opted for a different material - stainless steel, butcher's block, cement? We'd love to know what you think!

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  1. Chelsea...wow! I'm so impressed with your work (and budget!!). It is absolutely gorgeous all around and looks high end! You added so much value to your house too. Good going girl!!!!


  2. Heather -

    Thanks so much! :) We love them so much, haha! Since we still don't have a sink yet, but we just can't wait until we can actually cook on them. Then the next big thing will be adding the backsplash - because I think right now that nasty drywall sort of subtracts from the glory of the new countertop, haha! The granite kind of reflects it... ew... :) Anyways, thanks for stopping by and commenting!


  3. Wow! What a great improvement! We are getting ready to redo our kitchen counters as well and are looking at granite tiles since we can't afford the slab kind either. After seeing your progress I'm excited to try it! Thanks for the inspiration. Keep up the good work!

  4. Ok, you had me at hello with the reveal, but you REALLY had me at the budget! Wowzers, way to get your moola worth and more!

    It really looks amazing! Thanks for sharing the process, I will definitely be checking back when I finally convince my man to do the same in our kitchen! And when I show him your space, I don't think I will need to do nearly as much begging and pleading on the amazing transformation you can make on such a limited budget!

    Well done!


  5. WOW!!! that is soooo amazing! that is so inspiring...we also have an outdated kitchen! it's stuck in the 70's! great job! i'm a new follower too! :)

  6. Woohoo! It turned out fabulous! Everything flows so nice together. Those floors look great. Love the cabinets painted white. And of course, the counter tops put the icing on the cake! I love it! It is not only satisfying to see it made over, but the budget is so great that it makes it that much better. It feels good to get a great deal on things right :)

  7. Thanks so much, guys!

    Gosh, I can't stop grinning at all these wonderful comments. Thanks for all the encouragement along the way, too - even when we were in a tough spot. It's all worth it, though! Now we just gotta figure out how to install that darn sink... :)

    Thanks again for dropping in and leaving a comment everyone! They really make my day!


  8. Amanda -

    There is hope for your kitchen - good luck with it! Thanks for dropping by and welcome to the blog!

    Thanks for being our newest follower,


  9. It looks incredible - I can't believe it's the same kitchen! You are inspiring me to do some DIY work and I don't even own a house. I better not start painting or demoing my apartment!

  10. i love every.single.thing about your kitchen! it looks so amazing and so much more expensive than what you spent. great job!!!

  11. It absolutely TOTALLY is fantastic. Great way to get a gorgeous rich look at a much better price. Your kitchen is lovely!

  12. So impressed!! - I too priced out all the options for countertop (we have white laminate right now that I absolutely abhor...) and the cheapest was granite tile or butcher block and although I like the country look of butcher block - if I can't have my farmhouse sink, then I just don't think I could swallow having butcher block. So I've pretty much decided on granite tile, but everyone keeps telling me it looks bad, but I think it looks amazing and at at least 1/3 of the cost of a slab I think its an amazing solution. Your countertops look gorgeous and I'm going to save this post so when it comes time to convince the hubby I have a gorgeous example to show him. Thanks for sharing!

  13. I'm with Micah, I love everything about your kitchen and can't believe how much you spent!

    Always looking for good home reno blogs, so glad I've found yours!
    -Ann Marie

  14. Well that's just nothing short of amazing, and you must be so proud of how gorgeous it is. Thanks for the budget breakdown too. Now I can start plotting.

    Have you sent this to YoungHouseLove yet?

  15. Thanks for all the wonderful comments, guys! They really do make my day. :)

    @astarterhouse: It really is quite affordable if you want to put in the time and effort to get something a bit nicer than laminate (although I'm not dissing you laminate folks out there!). Butcher block countertops are lovely, too - we went with granite tiles because I just love the colors in the stone (and ours sparkles!) and I thought wood countertop + wood flooring would be a bit much wood in our kitchen. Good luck with your countertop adventure!

    @Sunny: I am definitely planning on sending the kitchen remodel over to the youngsters at Young House Love, but I figure I should probably wait until we get the backsplash up and the little bits and pieces all done and put-together. But yes - it will definitely happen sooner or later! And then we'll just hope that YHL decides to feature us. How exciting would that be?! Okay, deep breaths, we still need to finish the kitchen first... :)

    Ann Marie, thanks for following, and everyone else - thanks so much for dropping by!


  16. It looks sososo great! I love that you refused to go with laminate on your 'laminate budget' and came up with a super expensive look!

  17. Wow, what an amazing job! You guys put in a ton of hard work and it shows! Thanks for linking up to Be Inspired today.


  18. Thank you, Kasey and Chelsea! :)


  19. What a great transformation! It looks amazing! I can definitely sympathize with all your headaches and frustrations from doing such a big project on your own. It's very difficult and stressful! Can I ask how you managed to still use the kitchen while you worked on the reno? That must have been impossible!

  20. Lisa -

    Thanks for dropping by! And that is a very valid question, haha! We moved our dining set out into the living room, and setup a couple of folding tables full of essentials: coffee pot, knives, cutting boards, toaster, and most importantly paper plates, napkins and plastic silverware, among some other things. Luckily we were able to continue to use our fridge and microwave, but unfortunately we couldn't use the stove/oven. We fared pretty well by keeping food simple (frozen dinners, sandwiches, etc) and eating out often. I admit - our waistlines have totally suffered! :) But now that the kitchen is getting put back together (fingers crossed that we can install the sink soon!) we can begin to get back into our healthy lifestyle and eating habits. All in all though - it was worth it. :)

    Thanks again for stopping by!


  21. You guys hit gold with this remodel, the counters are worth it all! I have to go back into your archives to find out how you demoed those soffits, since we will be doing that shortly.

  22. Wow - really! It all turned out so beautifully!!! :) It's so pretty, Chelsea. You guys did a fabulous job. All of that hard work was totally worth it!


  23. Beautiful!!! Absolutely love them. You guys did an awesome job. So bummed it took me so long to get to this post...can you tell I'm playing bloggy catch up??

  24. Thanks for all the wonderful compliments, guys!

    Sara - Go for it! Rip those old soffits out and I guarantee you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner. It really opens up the space!

    Here's the link to our soffit-removal adventure: http://thisfreshfossil.blogspot.com/2009/12/kitchen-remodel-part-ii.html


  25. Which is better? Granite or bamboo countertop? I am looking for a countertop that will last longer


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