You may have noticed that I haven’t posted as much in the last couple of months.
This is due in large part to the fact that I just bought a house.
Not just any house–but a quirky, enormous, fabulous, and needs-some-loving house. In short–it’s the house of my dreams. It just also happened to be pretty ugly when I found it.
Within an hour and a half of signing my life away, my three best friends and I were dressed in our grungiest, scrubbing and painting everything in sight.
One of first challenges I faced was the kitchen.
Cabinets the color of a Penske truck.
Ugly stained white laminate counters.
The bones of the room were great–the cabinets were solid heart pine, the tile work was in good shape, and there was ample storage, including some unusual features we didn’t discover until after I’d closed.
But it was all just annoyingly and blindingly ugly.
So after I painted the cabinets white–no small feat–I looked at my budget and realized there wasn’t a whole lot I could do with the countertops.
That is, until I read an article in This Old House about using thin-set, quick-set concrete to skim your existing laminate counters rather than pouring concrete for virtually the same look.
I read and re-read the article until I’d memorized it. Then I started calling places around town to try to find the right supplies. I ended up at a local flooring company called Cannon Carpet One, and after they got done looking at me like I was crazy, they jumped right in and helped me gather the correct information and supplies.
I needed up going rogue–I barely did anything the TOH article recommended, preferring to blaze my own path like the Daniel Boone of kitchen renovations (…with the help of the experienced flooring professionals at Cannon).
And y’a’ll–it worked great.
And the best part–it wasn’t too difficult (I managed to do it alone) and it ended up costing less than $100.
Oh, and did I mention I did my fireplace, too?
The first thing I did–after picking the brains of some people who looked like they knew what they were talking about–was scrub my counters and the fugly brick fireplace.
Then I channeled Dexter Morgan and draped everything in my kitchen with plastic sheeting and taped all of the edges.
Once everything was clean and protected, I used the primer that the Cannon installers recommended.
Thankfully I live in a place where people are still kind and trusting. The super helpful people at Cannon not only recommended a primer that would let me not have to sand my laminate, but they lent me the jug and told me to bring back what I didn’t use. Which was wonderful, because I only used about a cup.
So I primed the counters and the fireplace on a Friday night, and let it dry overnight.
The primer went on white but dried clear, so you couldn’t see it at all on the counters during any step.
The next morning, I took a deep breath and hauled out the bag of Ardex.
Ardex is typically used as a leveling compound to smooth out subfloors before the flooring is installed.
I mixed some of the Ardex powder with water in a paint pail and smeared it on the counter.
I quickly realized that I had made it too thick, and added some water.
It really didn’t make it any less scary.
It was about this time that I started questioning everything in my life. My sanity, my common sense, my aesthetic, my ability to not destroy my first home.
It was about this time, too, that I realized that I was past the point of no return. It was forward or nothing.
So I persevered and kept smearing on concrete paste, and tried not to think about what this might actually cost when I had to renovate my entire kitchen to make it look less like a pig had wallowed on everything.
I put the first coat on the fireplace as well, and was a little more encouraged. At least this didn’t look entirely tragic.
I let both areas dry, then used my trusty sanding block to make everything as smooth as possible.
It took the first coats about 2 hours to dry. The counters dried more quickly, as they had a thinner layer.
So I girded up my metaphorical loins and slathered on a second layer of concrete onto the counters.
And it started to look good.
It went on dark, but within a couple of hours dried to a nice light grey.
The same went for the fireplace.
So I waited until it was completely dry, then sanded again.
At this point, I was wondering if I could get away with only two coats. After all, I was careful. Especially around the corners. I precisely achieved 90 degree corners by careful (and face it…skillful) putty knife work (just kidding about the skillful…I was totally faking it the whole time).
But after the second coat dried, I realized that there were some bare/thin patches I had missed. And if I didn’t put on a third coat, it would look amateur and awful.
So it was third coat time.
The pressure was on–after all, whatever shape it dried in was basically the shape it would stay in permanently.
The third coat looked pretty much like the second coat.
Same for the fireplace. So much so that I didn’t actually record it photographically.
(okay, that was because I forgot to. But it really did look just like the second coat.)
After sanding the third coat–Ardex sands really well–I let the both the counters and the fireplace cure for 24 hours before applying stain sealer.
The sealer was easy to apply–just spray and rub in.
I let the sealer dry for an hour and then sprayed on another layer.
Then I started waxing the counters. I chose to use pure Brazilian carnauba wax as the sealer versus a chemical sealer to keep everything food safe.
You just apply the wax to the counter, then come back and rub it off.
I’ll be totally honest–I’m extremely happy with the concrete counters. But I’m not very happy with the wax as a sealant. I’m currently exploring alternative methods for sealing the counters and will post an update when I’ve made and executed a decision. Feel free to send any ideas you may have, as well!
Overall, I love my counters, and it was easier than I thought it would be.
If you choose to concrete something at your home, you’ll need the following supplies:
- primer or a sander–something to give the substrate some tooth so that the concrete can adhere
- paint brush, if using primer
- Ardex Feather Finish–I used one bag for both my counters and the fireplace
- paint pail, for mixing Ardex and water
- pail liners–I can’t say enough about pail liners. The concrete in the pail dries between coats, and the pail liners made it easy to take care of
- putty knife, for the more delicate, small, and precise areas of work–corners, edges, etc.
- 10″ wide drywall taping knife, for the board flat areas
- sanding block–way easier to use than sand paper
- tape for edges
- plastic sheeting for protecting everything else
- concrete stain sealer
- wax or other sealant
- microfiber cloth for applying sealant
I think the end result ended up being fabulous.
It completely changed the aesthetics of both rooms.
I love my kitchen now.
suck it, martha.