Covering countertops
December 26, 2003 12:17 AM   Subscribe

My wife hates the countertops in our kitchen. Short of buying and installing new countertops, does anyone have any other solutions for making them look different? Coverings, paint, anything?
posted by davidmsc to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
we've just been planning our kitchen. one option we considered was tiles. you could maybe add tiles on top of what you have - you need to add a border round the edge (thin piece of wood) then fill in with tiles. it would be quite a job and the price would depend on the tiles (which vary in price hugely). get tiles for floors rather than walls, as they are stronger.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:36 AM on December 26, 2003

Along the same lines, I covered a really hideous linoleum with dark grey floor slates plus one area where we trimmed a big piece of butcher block cutting board. The tiles were about $100, the tile trimmer rental was around $50, the caulking cost about $50 and the butcher block was another $50. Turned out great, if I do say so myself.
posted by JollyWanker at 6:00 AM on December 26, 2003

Two very interesting ideas so far...very much obliged for the advice!
posted by davidmsc at 6:17 AM on December 26, 2003

I once covered a nasty looking counter top with sheet rubber. It was a piece of rubber roofing leftover from a job site.

I had read an article recently (probably Fine Homebuilding) about applying a thin-coat concrete surface directly upon a plastic laminate counter top. Unfortunately, I can not find it on line.

The system consisted of creating a form around the edge (that may or may not remain as part of the finished counter), nailing or screwing metal lath to the existing counter top and then troweling-in a top-coat of concrete.

The concrete mix was likely something specific, so I would advise you find the article unless you have a lot of experience with concrete or have a place to practice the technique before trying it in your kitchen. (Note that concrete behaves differently with changes in temperature and humidity if you are doing tests in your garage.)

Finding the article is your best choice -- I would look in my back issues but we are not on the same continent at this time.
posted by Dick Paris at 6:23 AM on December 26, 2003

the concrete is another thing we considered - our architect(*) thinks it's wonderful. as far as i know, it's "normal" concrete (with the steel bars inside etc), but you polish it afterwards (while it's still kind of wet, i think). you can die it different colours too.

what put me off was seeing a floor where she'd done this, which had cracked in one place, and her saying that concrete is not that stable (she compared it to wood).

(*) it sounds odd having an architect to change a kitchen, i know. but this is chile, where labour is cheap, i'm a colonial gringo, and paying someone else to shout, cajole and generally pester people into doing some work is a great investment (there's also several walls to come down).
posted by andrew cooke at 7:35 AM on December 26, 2003

FWIW, I looked at concrete before using the floor slates. It's very, very cool looking and I really wanted to use it - but I discovered that once stained, it's virtually impossible to remove the marks. It's particularly sensitive with hot liquids - black coffee, say - that seep down through the air holes. It's possible to seal it, but I was told you'd have to "strip" it and re-seal it very regularly (at least annually, preferably more) and even then it wasn't entirely stainproof.

(Then again, if you want to go for an industrial look that says, "It's not just a beautiful kitchen, I work in here goddamnit," I suppose the stains could be seen as marks of honor... or something...)

Dick Paris, would rubber roofing be available at a super home center kind of place (Home Depot, Lowe's, etc) or would I need to go to a roofing supply place? I've been looking for something cool to use around the sinks in a bathroom...
posted by JollyWanker at 9:42 AM on December 26, 2003

My wiff and I are planning to tile our counters. Has anyone had success at that? I've tiled floors and loved both the work experience and the results.

I laid down cheap laminate "wood" flooring this summer, of the "clic-and-lock" variety. It was a dead-easy task, and the only two bits of advice I can offer are: (1) cut it as close as you can to the walls without actually touching the walls; (2) be very gentle in clicking them together; hammering will raise a seam.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:44 AM on December 26, 2003

We tiled our countertops, backsplashes, and part of the wall itself with cheap tiles bought at Home Depot interspersed with some really great hand-painted Italian ones individually picked out. You can get a lot of bang for your buck by mixing cheap with dear, and your kitchen gets personality in the bargain. We set aside one large chunk of counter space to lay in a 2 inch thick piece of butcher block for carving and chopping, everything else is tile - easy to clean, easy to replace (if one should crack you just jimmy it out and put a new one in its place) and great to look at. Overall, cheaper than replacing the counters.

I also like the linoleum idea. Cheap, seamless, and easy to clean.
posted by iconomy at 11:26 AM on December 26, 2003

iconomy - I saw those tiles, the hand-painted Italian ones. They're very nice. I was too cheap at the time.

I third, fourth - or whatever - the tile idea. Cheap, easy enough, and quite stunning.

Of course, you could just spray your counters with a catalyzed two-part industrial grade enamel epoxy. Kind of boring though. Tiles.
posted by troutfishing at 11:34 AM on December 26, 2003

Cool. Tile it is.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:58 AM on December 26, 2003

i wasn't going to mention this, because i thought it was expensive, but i just translated the price JollyWanker gave for tiles and was surprised. i don't know what area you're talking about, but we're getting polished, sealed slate at around $60 per square metre (2cm thick). maybe that's s. american prices, but if you're looking at spending $200 for tiles it might make sense, and looks pretty good. you can get it cheaper at 1cm thick which might go straight on top of what you have.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:20 PM on December 26, 2003

Pay close attention to how the tile will be adhered and get lots of assurances about durability and waterproofing. The tile in my kitchen had to be replaced (despite my desire to the contrary) as a condition of purchase since there was some minor damage in the counter's structure.

The guy who did the replacement work replaced the very attractive, colorful original tiles with cheap beige Home Depot crap, slapped on some bits that purport to be decorative, and wandered away. Three years later, several tiles are falling off and there are major gaps (filled with a mildewy black goop) between the tiles around the edge of the sink. I think he also decided to skip repairing the damage that called for the replacement counter in the first place, but that's neither here nor there.

I don't know much about tile installation, but I now know there is at least one way to do it which decidedly will not stand up to moisture and everyday countertop use.
posted by majick at 12:42 PM on December 26, 2003

It's important that the grout be sealed properly in counter tiles. I know Home Depot gives free tiling classes if you're not comfortable with the idea of doing it yourself.
posted by rushmc at 4:18 PM on December 26, 2003

Re-doing countertops isn't really that hard once you get thing unscrewed from the cabinets and plumbing. If the local plastic supply place that sells laminate will cut the strips for the sides, you can do the rest yourself with some contact cement, a few long sticks, a putty knife, a squeeze bottle full of lacquer thinner and a rented router, belt sander and laminate roller. If you are interested, email me and I'll type up a full procedure list. Cabinet shops that do this type of work have a more ridiculous markup than framing stores.
posted by machaus at 7:19 PM on December 26, 2003 [1 favorite]

Why would the counter need to be unscrewed from the cabinets? I was imagining I'd just lay the tile right down over the existing laminate. (The counter height increase will be okay; I installed laminate wood flooring this summer, so the counters are now lower than standard height.)

Ditto for laying new laminate, for that matter. Would have to remove the sink, but I can't see why anything else would have to move.

(Given that Revy/Home Depot sell prefab counters for about the same price as the raw laminate itself, maybe redoing a counter isn't at all a wise way of refinishing a counter.)
posted by five fresh fish at 11:43 PM on December 26, 2003 [1 favorite]

JollyWanker: I don't know if rubber roofing has found its way down to the level of Lowes or Home Depot. Sometimes rubber roofing is required for only very small portions of a construction site but in general it is a high volume product. I would suggest, if you are really interested, to find a construction site where the building is due for a flat roof and ask at the site office if they will have any scraps.

On staining concrete... slate stains as readily as concrete, so be certain your slates are sealed (if the slates were ready-made floor tiles they may indeed have some kind of industrial sealer which -- might not be food safe -- please check).

Concrete can also be tinted or stained as part of the installation. This can be done during the mixing or applied after curing. (We used India ink on a countertop in a small apartment in Paris. Funny: looks like slate.) You then do need to seal the surface -- mineral oil and walnut oils are food safe and do not go rancid.

Still, the surface will stain -- I personally always looked at this as creating a patina and character for the countertop.

Tile makes for maybe the most user friendly DIY over-laminate solution (that is not another piece of laminate). It gives the advantages of being able to place hot things upon it and it does not scratch. Me, I don't care for it because of the joints and tiles without square edges yield a counter top which lakes a certain smooth-flat quality that I do not care for. But many people love the look.

If I really wanted a tile countertop I would look for painted concrete tiles of the type seen in France and Belgium. They are expensive though.

Whatever you do, keep in mind that certain choices of surface begin to raise the height of the counter. A 1/4" may not seem like much but each 1/4" beyond that will make its presence felt. (I'm 5'-9" and have found over the years that I prefer a counter height of less than standard. Standard is 36" -- I like 34.5". My wife is the same height and she prefers the same. We discovered this when we moved to another apartment in Paris and the counters with lower counters.)

Andrew: it is not uncommon to hire architects to redesign kitchens, especially in places where, like you suggest, labor is cheap and, as it sounds like in Chile, there is a gap in the construction trade. That gap is the lack of general contractors to do small work. While the US has a strong presence of such tradesmen, they are lacking in europe -- maybe in Chili as well -- and the task of coordinating and pushing the work to completion falls solely to the architect. Still, many small architectural practices in the US are involved in kitchen renovations when the job is a complete makeover and the budget runs into $35,000 and beyond.

PS: I have a lead on that article about concrete over laminate. My sister (a librarian) put one of the research librarians on the task at her local library. I will check today if it is the correct one. If anyone wants that information, email me.
posted by Dick Paris at 4:45 AM on December 27, 2003

Why would the counter need to be unscrewed from the cabinets?

Unless your countertop is on a kitchen island, the walls will be in the way of using power tools on the corners.
posted by machaus at 7:18 AM on December 27, 2003

Would have to remove the sink, but I can't see why anything else would have to move.

Tiling a counter top; the sink's lip rests on the top of the counter now. Suggestions: would you: (a)tile then lay the sink over the tile, (b) tile lipping the tile edge over the sinks edge (would have to remove tile if you replaced the sink) or (c) tile near the sink's edge with grout in between? Note: like sink's edge lower than counter as less liquids would gain access to the counter top and thinking of installing a new sink too.

Why would the counter need to be unscrewed from the cabinets? I was imagining I'd just lay the tile right down over the existing laminate.
Cabinets touching a counter top? Mine are above hanging on the wall. Also, besides a tile cutter what other power tool would I be using?
posted by thomcatspike at 2:24 PM on December 30, 2003

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