24 January 2012

DIY: kitchen countertop installation: being choosy

More than once, I’ve mentioned here that Mr. P and I replaced the countertops in our kitchen. It’s been most of a year (whaaaat?) with our new countertops, so it’s high time that I told you about that little adventure, eh? And boy. ADVENTURE IT WAS. A multi-part adventure, in fact!

Originally our countertops were builder-grade white laminate that, as far as I know, were original to the house, which meant they were over twenty years old. Considering that, they’d held up pretty well. There were some scratches and a few very, very faint stains thanks to Mr. P’s fondness for juice and raspberry jello, but on the whole, they looked okay.

There was just one problem. Our cabinets really needed re-painting because they apparently weren’t primed (FAIL) and they were chipping. My paint color of choice would be white, but I thought white cabinets could make our old white countertops look dingy. No bueno. And I wasn’t very interested in painting them another color, but I also wasn’t sure about shelling out the cash for new countertops when the ones we had were okay.

Then Mr. P and his friend installed a new dishwasher (a white one, to replace that black one up there that mostly just splashed water on the dishes and called it done). In the process, they chipped off a big chunk of the front laminate edge. Dilemma solved! Just like when I wanted a new rug for the living room and Mr. P accidentally destroyed the one we had with the vacuum cleaner! That’s right, ladies. My husband installs plumbing, vacuums, and destroys things I’d like to replace. He’s the best.

So: New countertops for meeee! But... what kind? Well, sorry to disappoint everyone, but we were simply not installing granite countertops in our kitchen. First of all: it’s expensive, and this is – say it with me now – NOT OUR FOREVER HOME. From browsing the real estate offerings around us, we already have one of the most-updated homes in the neighborhood. Considering how much the market blows, installing granite countertops or anything similarly priced in a starter home seemed a little dumb. And anyway, our home is split-level with the kitchen on the second floor, over the [big, open, not a lot of support walls] garage. Pretty sure that installing heavy countertops that subsequently destroy the floor supports is a bad investment.

But that’s okay, because you guys, laminate is super-swanky nowadays! Check out these Wilsonart laminate designs:

Madura Gold

Luna Night

Luna Winter

Beautiful, right? And it’s laminate! True, you can’t put hot pots on it, but other than that, it is so much easier to care for than other countertops. And it costs so, so much less.

I was fortunate to know about how nice laminate could be thanks to my mom’s new countertops they installed a few years ago, which look remarkably similar to the first one of those three. And I came very, very close to just getting what she had. But true to form, I instead started hoarding countertop samples, not unlike my paint chip hoarding. I picked up some samples at my local big-box stores, but I also ordered them online. Only a dollar in shipping for as many free samples as you want, and the samples are larger than the ones in the store (one free sample was 6x8 inches!)

For the record, I checked out Formica and Wilsonart, but on the whole I liked Wilsonart’s patterns better. However, the finish, I think, is what makes all the difference. Wilsonart has this HD laminate, which is supposed to mimic rougher stone, I think. You can see the texture best on the black counters in the middle photo above. It’s more expensive... but I think the rough texture looks weird and fake (sorry, Wilsonart). But I ADORED their super-high-gloss smooth finishes! Bonus: not as expensive as HD! There were only a handful of patterns available in the high-gloss finish, most of which I didn’t care for. But lucky for me, they came out with this gorgeous, basic neutral-with-green-undertones pattern, available in high gloss, JUST before we wanted to order:

Girona Beach

Gahhh I love it! Oh, Girona Beach. You are the best. If you are in the market for a laminate that looks identical to a polished stone, THAT IS IT. It helps that I also changed my mind about countertop edge. Originally, in copying my mom, I wanted the “ogee” edge (the top one, in that set of three) but I switched to a beveled edge, just like in the above photo.

However, while I was so glad they came out with this pattern just in time for us to order, it was too new to be reviewed anywhere. As an online review junkie, the idea of buying something without any reviews made me get the vapors. So, I took out my anxiety with a butcher knife on the sample, to see if I could scratch the gorgeous high-gloss finish. AND I COULD NOT. Booyah. Girona Beach, you’re our man.

So, we visited the nice countertop design lady twice: once to find out how to measure our kitchen and to get a rough quote, and once to actually order it. It was a bit nerve-wracking to write a big check for something sight-unseen, especially since I did the measuring, not to mention that I had no idea how to install countertops. For the counters with that edge (29 square feet, 11 linear feet), a miter kit for the corner, an edge piece for the wall, color-matched caulk, and tax? Just under $500.


And we still had to install them. Oh, and remove our old ones. With no experience, just the internet to teach us how. Tomorrow I’ll show you how we did it (spoiler alert: trial and error, baby)!