It's so gross!
July 15, 2006 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Please help me figure out how to replace this nightmare of a (rental) counter! See

My husband and I recently moved into (and renovated) an old apartment. We've done a lot of the nastiest jobs, but figuring out how to cheaply and easily replace the gross old countertops is becoming a thorn in our side. I found some good ideas in this mefi thread, but I was hoping for some advice that was a little more specific to our problem. The main issue is that the countertop piece is absolutely not standard size in any way. See exact dimensions here. The diagonal part is actually a curve, which you can see in photos below.

Originally, I believe the counter had a formica insert in a stainless steel frame. They've covered it over with plain, cheap, vinyl tile that has long since past its prime. Not only that, it's totally nasty in between the grooves, and has lots of stains. See photos here and here. Our first idea was simply to buy a standard size of laminate countertop from the hardware store, cut the end, and mount it on. Because of the size difference and the curve, this proved somewhat impossible. I tried peeling up a bit of the vinyl tile to see what was underneath, and there was some old, nasty, wood stuff. See here. We're desperately seeking a cheap and easy solution to this problem. We're renting, so we don't want to pay a fortune and get something really nice, but we do want a liveable countertop as we plan to live here at least the next couple of years.

Ideas we've thought of:

1. Cutting and finishing a piece of butcher block to cover the counter. This is possibly too expensive, and I'm not sure who would cut it to those exact specifications for cheap.

2. Removing the counter and laying a piece of plywood. Cheap (i mean cheap!) tile over the plywood. Not sure how durable this would be, and also requires that we rent a tile cutter and put in lots more work.

3. Using a heat gun (?) or some kind of scraper to get that old nasty vinyl out and laying tile in the empty part, but this may be difficult because the tile won't necessarily be flush with the stainless steel.

We've also considered looking at those big, thin, cheap pieces of laminate they sell next to the standard countertop pieces in the Lowes. I'm not sure if we could have a piece of that cut to size and glue it down inside the frame?

Obviously, we're totally lost about which direction to go in. We'd really appreciate some experienced advise about the easiest and cheapest way to do this. TIA, guys.
posted by theantikitty to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
theantikitty, I couldn't open any of your links. I'm using Safari on a Mac.
posted by jvilter at 2:47 PM on July 15, 2006

I think you'll find that the best compromise between time and money is going to be a composite laminate counter top. These things come in standard lengths of about 10 feet, can be cut and worked with standard wood working tools and techniques, and are usually offered with ready made corner pieces and endcaps. At about $9 per linear foot, they are pretty affordable, and dead easy to install. The disadvantages are that you generally have limited color selections, and that they are, after all, inexpensive laminate surfaces, which can be easily damaged by heated implements or knives. But as I say, as a compromise between cost, ease of installation, and utility, they are hard to beat.

Trying to work with what you've got there, particularly with the stainless steel edge, is possible, but will probably require a bunch of time and considerable skill, to make everything come out looking reasonable. It's hard to rework materials, and you've no way of knowing what you've got to work with until you've already invested considerable time in salvage efforts. Then, you've still got to get to a fairly decent state of surface preparation for any adhesive attached laminate solution to really work. And you have the stink and mess of dealing with contact adhesive. Finally, although your range of color choices in laminate would be greater, and you could in fact choose tiles or other covering materials, there's no guarantee that you'll ever get the existing stainless steel edge trim to line up where it isn't a cleaning problem and a maintenance issue.
posted by paulsc at 2:47 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for your answer Paulsc. I initially purchased a laminate countertop like the one in your link. It's still sitting in our living room, in fact. It was a standard 6 foot piece. However, the problem is the depth of the counter does not match up with the depth of any standard laminate piece we have found. Even if we got the piece trimmed length-wise, and got the curved piece it has on the outer edge trimmed off, it would still be way too long for the counter. It hangs out much farther than our cabinets actually go. We were told we basically couldnt use the piece, and needed to have one custom made for the space. Am I missing something in the way these pieces work?
posted by theantikitty at 3:05 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: PS: Is anyone else having problems with the links? they still open OK for me.
posted by theantikitty at 3:06 PM on July 15, 2006

I'm also getting a bad DNS for, which is where your links seem to be re-directed to.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 3:21 PM on July 15, 2006

I can't open the links. Slimbrowser/PC
posted by necessitas at 3:21 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: Ok. Updated links:





hope that helps
posted by theantikitty at 3:29 PM on July 15, 2006

If you've got very non-standard depth cabinets, then yes, stock sizes of composite counter-tops may not work. You can still have a custom size made up, perhaps in a laminate color of your choice, for in the range of $11 to $15 per linear foot, depending on how much finish work you need. Any custom kitchen shop in your area can easily do this for you. Prices vary mainly according to the cost of the laminate you select, and the labor rate of the shop, or you can order custom sizes through retail distributors like Lowes, if you're willing to wait a while for delivery.

Since your cabinets are so narrow, you could also look at having the backsplash section of the molded countertop you've already bought cut off (any shop with a rip saw can do this, with a little scrap under the countertop to make up for the waterfall edge), and then tack on the salvaged backsplash piece to the wall. You'd have a seam at the junction of the wall and countertop, that you'd use silicone caulk to seal with a simple radius bead, but that's not too much of a negative.

You could, perhaps, consider shimming out the existing cabinets from the wall, to make them seem more like cabinets of standard depth. The advantages of this are that you'd be able to use standard countertop sections, and have more counterspace when you are done. The disadvantages are that its a much bigger project, and you'd lose the corresponding amount of floor space.
posted by paulsc at 3:35 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: It's a good suggestion paul, and we have thought about doing something like your first idea, but we had a few concerns:

1. Would the laminate cut evenly? I know the wood underneath will cut smoothly, but my father thought that the laminate piece on top of the wood may chip or cut totally unevenly. Do you have any experience with this?

2. How would we deal with the part of the counter that's next to the sink? That part is actually deeper than the part on the other side of the curved bit, meaning we must somehow make that part longer than the rest of the counter. Plus, we'd need to find a way to shear off the existing "lip" that is on the existing laminate piece? Do you see what I mean?
posted by theantikitty at 3:48 PM on July 15, 2006

The usual way of treating your 25.5 inch leg, would be to view it as counter itself, with a depth of something like 32 inches, if you see what I mean, and then make a mitered corner joint of it. So, where your angled piece is, you'd have the mitered corner, more or less. You score or cut the laminate before cutting with a fine crosscut blade, or use a router.

But look, there's nothing stopping you from taking your sketch to a custom kitchen shop, and just having a laminate top made to dimensions and edges, as a direct replacement for what you have. That's dead simple, you'd have separate backsplash pieces as noted above, and you'd have a finished squared (not waterfall edge). Probably a bit more cost than what I've mentioned, due to the labor for edge finish and trim, but still under $200 cash and carry.
posted by paulsc at 4:02 PM on July 15, 2006

Won't the owner give some kind of credit for work/material bought for their property?
posted by Jazz Hands at 7:25 PM on July 15, 2006

Corian or another solid product can be cut to fit.

IAAL (I Am A Landlord) and if I had tenants with those crappy cupboards, who were willing to do some work, I'd totally spring for better cabinets from Ikea or another affordable place. New tops on crummy cabinets isn't a great bargain. Sorry to diss your kitchen, but see if the landlord will buy you new cabinets.
posted by theora55 at 8:15 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: Actually, I love the cabinets. They're metal, but we painted them, and they're not too bad right now. Very 50's, but lots of room. Put some liner down over the paint. The owner did give us some money -- 60 bucks. She said the kitchen was "beautiful as is." She's a crazy old greek lady, and she is MAJORLY cheap. But the rest of the place is HUGE with lots of character, the rent is great, the neighborhood is awesome, and she took our menagerie of pets with no deposit, so we were willing to do a lot of work on it. We put down a new floor and painted the walls and cabinets and it's 100% better -- except the counter. Because everything else ran over budget in the place, the counter, at this point, is pretty much on us. I think Corian is probably out of our price range, given that it's not actually our place....but I like those counters!

Paul -- thanks for your updated answer. I do see what you mean about treating the extra space by the sink "as counter," but i'm not sure how we could translate that to a standard size piece. I think what I'm hearing is that, basically, for laminate, you need to have it custom made for that space. This is possible to do, and i'll have to price it more extensively, but I was hoping for something really cheap and DIY.

Are there any creative ways of covering this over that won't look totally insane? Could the tile idea be cheaper, even though it's much more work. I know lowe's has 4 x 4 tiles for like 14 cents, or we could go with a bigger tile to minimize the work...? This is like the project that just won't go away, but it's just too gross to leave it.

Thanks to everyone so far. Any more input?
posted by theantikitty at 10:43 PM on July 15, 2006

The success of a tile job depends greatly on the condition of the substrate. If you can get your countertop cleaned up, flat, and if it doesn't flex or have weak spots, and if mastic will adhere to it uniformly, then you can tile. I think you're still going to have issues with how the tile is going to meet the metal edge of counter, and how that's going to work in terms of cleanup, water, etc., but that's up to you. If water can find its way under tile, or through grout, it will wet the countertop, which is usually plywood or chipboard, and that will quickly ruin both the countertop and the tile job. A latex additive in the grout can seal it against water, but generally, the fewer grout lines, the better, meaning bigger tile is generally preferred. Then again, you aren't doing this for the ages...:-)

If you're looking for something cheap and durable, as an alternative to tile or broken masonry, you might check out making your own concrete countertop. I've seen concrete countertops, and one very interesting countertop made of tiny rounded river pebbles in concrete, that are both very practical, and pleasing to the eye. For something that is quickly effective, you might consider getting a piece of Wonderboard to use as a substrate for your tile, if your countertop can't easily be made smooth. Wonderboard itself is porous to water, but unaffected by it, so it won't help you control soak through situations, but it's a stable base for mastic, and it cuts pretty easily with nothing more than cheap jigsaw blades.

I've also seen people use tempered, frosted glass in 1/4 and 3/8 inch thickness as countertop material in high style kitchens. The problems with glass are scratches and cracking of the glass due to having things dropped on it, but glass itself is fairly cheap, and not utterly impractical if you take care of it. Frosting on the underside could make your beaten up counter a non-issue. A final point in favor of glass for your purpose, is that it can be had inexpensively in a beveled or rounded edge treatment, to meet more smoothly with your metal edge strip.
posted by paulsc at 11:54 PM on July 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Since you like the cabinets, and the metal edges looks cool, I'd try to dig out the vinyl tiles and probably rotted crap beneath them and try the crazy-paving option. You'll have to figure out how to make a good substrate when you find out what's under there.

Don't use crockery - it's all different thickness and hard to get a good surface. Buy big cheap tiles, wrap in newspaper or rags (minimizes flying shards) and smash them up a bit with a hammer. You could just tile, but it's going to be hard to get a good install, so I'd go funky. I did crazy-paving in my bathroom, and really like it.

That frosted glass would be awesome in a bathroom where there's less wear & tear. And tinted concrete would look fantastic and be do-able, but probably more difficult. Paul, need a vacation in Maine? I have these kitchen counters....
posted by theora55 at 8:19 AM on July 16, 2006

Bamboo flooring is really cheap and all you would need is a hand saw to trim the edges. I'm not a handy guy, so I don't know if this is a practical suggestion, but I was just looking at some bamboo samples yesterday and admiring how good-looking and cheap it was. They make cutting boards out of bamboo too, so I don't see why it wouldn't make a good countertop. Not sure how you would attach it to the crap tiles though--maybe some silicone?
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 5:08 PM on July 16, 2006

Response by poster: Paul, need a vacation in Maine? I have these kitchen counters....

Ha! Seriously. Paul seems like the countertop expert. See guys? Nightmare countertop. I see what you mean about the tiles not lining up flush to the stainless steel, but what about yanking the whole top off and screwing in some plywood. I could tile evenly over that, right? Bamboo is a really interesting suggestion that I haven't looked into at all. I don't know if they'd carry the right grade at home depot/lowe's? I like the mosaic idea, but I wonder if it would be a durable long term counter? I have no experience with that and haven't seen it in kitchens before. I do like mosaic tops a lot, though. Also, do you think that kind of top would be neutral enough for a rental situation? Thanks guys, this has all been really helpful so far.
posted by theantikitty at 7:12 PM on July 16, 2006

I hope you post a follow-up--I'd like to see how the project turns out. Good luck!
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 11:02 AM on July 18, 2006

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