26 January 2012

DIY: kitchen countertop installation: the finishing touches

After the drama of getting the countertop pieces in place, the last thing I wanted to do was continue to work on the countertops. Seriously. I was relieved but at this point it had been over a week of oh-no-what-have-I-done with the countertops, and I really, really just wanted it to be all over.

But there was so much left to do! While this was a huge accomplishment...

...in our attempts to actually put the countertops there, we did this to the corner of the wall in the process:


Plus, you can see all the dremel-dust on the shiny countertops in the first photo (unseen: on every surface in the kitchen), the dining room was still a disastrous hodge-podge of our kitchen stuff, the counters weren’t caulked to the wall, and importantly: STILL NO KITCHEN SINK.

So, the destroyed wall and dust and insane mess would have to wait until we tackled the more functional items on the list. First: the sink. Oh goodness, how I missed my sink.

Before re-installing, I scraped all the old caulk off the underside of the sink. Then, I re-applied new caulk to the sink and sink-hole (?), and Mr. P dropped it into place. After that it was a matter of figuring out exactly what these clips were supposed to do to hold the sink in place and hooking all the plumbing back up. And yeah, I have no idea how that went down because Mr. P was the one under the hood. I think it was mostly twisting this and wiggling that until it seemed like it was re-connected. My job was to wire the garbage disposal back in (somehow, I’ve become the family electrician) and spend the rest of the time holding the flashlight and biting my lip. There were leaks and plumber’s tape and time spent staring at each other with deer-in-headlight-eyes mixed with frustration, but eventually, we had a functional sink again! Huzzah!

Then it was time to caulk the countertops where they met the walls with the pricey color-matched caulk. I’ve talked here and here about how caulking is easy and rather relaxing (it’s essentially finger-painting!), but it was slightly nerve-wracking this time because I had never caulked anything before. Fortunately, it was fairly easy, EXCEPT...

Remember how our walls weren’t perfectly square? Of course you do, it was the whole reason we couldn’t get the countertops in place in the first place FOR A WEEK. Well, because the walls had a slight curve or wave in some places, there were sections along the wall with huge gaps between the backsplash and the wall, even though the countertops were flush in the corners:

It’s hard to see the gap, but it’s large enough that I could stick the end of my pinky in it. And that ALL had to be filled with caulk. Giant blobs of caulk. It took a long, long time and a lot of caulk to fill it all in, but eventually I got there:

(Yes, that’s after-after because I wasn’t documenting this step-by-step for a blog back then, but you get the idea!)

So I guess the moral of this story is: if you measure very carefully and provide super-accurate measurements, you are rewarded with countertops that you can’t actually install, and you still have to do a ton of caulking anyway.

Speaking of that, how’s that wall looking where I ended up doing all the dremeling on the edge?

You’d never know about our week of formaldehyde-dust-everywhere-with-dead-dremel-battery misery! The backsplash “end piece” (attached to the wall with caulk) covers any wonky edges from where I dremeled down the side. And, I was careful enough on the backsplash and front edge that no one would be the wiser that I removed a full eighth of an inch (doesn’t sound like that much, but YOU try sanding 1/8” off a countertop with a teeny dremel bit). I didn’t make any mistakes that couldn’t be covered with caulk, at least. Caulk’s the best like that.

As for the busted corner on the wall above that (shown above, second photo), here it is today:

Spackle is ALSO the best! If you look very, very carefully, you can tell that I wasn’t able to totally recreate part of the corner with spackle, but on the whole it looks fine. The texture of the rag-rolled paint that COULD NOT BE SANDED DOWN FOR THE LIFE OF ME is far more distracting (not that I am bitter or anything... but please, don’t rag-roll paint your walls).

After caulking, we were finally DONE! At least, done with the countertop installation... I still had to paint the cabinets and the walls, which I tackled few weeks later.

So! How’d we do as amateur installers? Well, in the end we had new countertops, so in that sense we were successful! But if I’m being super-picky, they’re not perfect. For one thing, we didn’t perfectly miter-bolt the counters together, so the seam is a bit noticeable:

I took the most obvious high-contrast picture I could to show you what I was talking about, but in real life it’s not that obvious, and it’s definitely less obvious than the dark icky seam that the previous white counters had. I mentioned in the last post that if I were to do this all over again, I might have sawed out the sides of the corner cabinets to be able to access the corner where the miter bolt goes, and then fastened the two big pieces together in place. Chances are, this would have been more seamless if we’d done it that way (though repairing the inside wall of the cabinets wouldn’t exactly have been trivial).

The other imperfection is one I’m reluctant to show you, because it made me cry (I mean sob) and feel like I was going to puke for a long, long time. It was something that happened early in this whole DIY countertop business and really cast a pall over my attitude for it. It’s fine now... but it’s taken me almost a year to feel that way.

Here it is. Notice anything odd in this picture? (Aside from the clutter on the countertops, I mean.)

How about now?

That darker-looking spot on the edge of the countertop? That’s caulk. Because Mr. P and I chipped our new counters while loading them into the car IN THE PARKING LOT OF THE STORE.

Oh, how I cried. I cried and heaved and wailed and sniffed because if you’ll recall, we just spent $500 on these counters BECAUSE WE CHIPPED THE LAST ONES. Mr. P went back into the store right we saw the chip (he wasn’t convinced we’d done it), and they were nice and followed-up on the phone about it, but it came down to that they couldn’t do anything about it without re-fabricating the whole giant piece which we could purchase at a discount.

Did I mention that I cried?

So, now you know why I may have seemed overly anxious about this installation – we’d already seen how easy it was to screw up. Once it was all in place, I filled in the chip with caulk and realized... it’s actually not that noticeable. Honestly. Scroll up and see for yourself. I’ve never pointed it out to anyone and no one has ever noticed. Even I forget it’s there, and I was pretty traumatized by the whole event.

So, all’s well that ends well, I suppose! And now for all the good news and glory: our countertops are freaking gorgeous. They gleam in the daytime:

And at night? Oh, they are beautiful at night:

Even all the clutter looks pretty when reflected in high-gloss!

Which, by the way, is just as durable as when I took the butcher knife to the sample. I have exactly ZERO scratches in that high-gloss finish (well, aside from our giant boo-boo up there, but that’s a chip, not a scratch). No stains or weirdness, either. And I’m not exactly easy on our countertops; I slide appliances all over them. So BRAVO, Wilsonart. These countertops are amazingly durable.

A few more photos to enjoy the view of Girona Beach, eh?

So that was our countertop installation adventure! It was totally worth it, I learned a lot, and I wouldn’t exactly mind doing it again... but I’m also glad that ordeal is done.

And with that, I do believe you have seen every major update in our kitchen! Money well-spent, you think? Please just say yes.


The Misadventuress said...

You and Mr. P, my dear, are fearless!!! All of your remodels are stunning, but this takes the cake! Bravo!

Anonymous said...

I am considering Girona Beach for my new kitchen counter.I think the high gloss looks beautiful, but I am concerned it might scratch easily.
How is the finish holding up?

Sarah said...

@Anonymous - it held up beautifully, at least while we were there! Granted I always used a cutting board when slicing things, but it never scratched with normal everyday use in the year that we had it.