Project Concrete Countertops

I had epic plans for a kitchen makeover this year. You can see my wish list here, and my “timeline” here. HA HA! Why do I make lists?

Well we  have been getting some things done in the kitchen/dining room. The coffee bar got drawers, we made a new dining table and bench, bought a sink, and I have finally made some progress in my plans for a DIY concrete countertops.

Kitchen Pre-Move In
Kitchen Pre-Move In

As you can see from the photo above we have laminate counters. They look okay in the pic right? White-ish and nondescript? Yeah except they’re this flecked beige design (bleh), and during the move & renos they got two bashes in them, as well as the laminate started to peel up after I ran the self cleaning cycle on my oven. There’s also a seam that I’m not the biggest fan of.

Bashed corner of our peninsula countertop
Dent in corner of counter as well as the big evil seam
Dent in corner of counter as well as the seam

Awesome, right?

So DIY  concrete countertops are high on my want list. Now you may also know that I am a planner. I’m not just gonna head to the hardware store, fill up a rental van with bags of concrete and start making things. I have to research, and plan. Cause if you don’t, projects go astray, money gets wasted, things take way longer than they should, and you may end up with some really heavy junk.

So it was time to research, plan and make some lists.


Project Concrete Countertops TO DO LIST:

We  have started to prep and calculate, and get our proverbial sh$t together, and THIS WEEKEND is the big pour. I am excited and scared all at the same time. My kitchen is about to get a whole lot less cracked and busted, and a whole lot more grown up!

Don’t worry, we will do the whole process from start to finish with you including a planning guide, all the prep and template making, the mold fabrication, mixing and “pouring”, finishing, installing and sealing. I know its a complex project, so I think we’ll break out some video to help you re-create your own project at home.

In the meantime, make sure to check in on our progress on our Facebook and my Instagram, we will be posting some status update shots and outtakes until we have enough time to post everything here in detail.

A Step Up

I’m not a short girl. My Danish heritage has afforded a rather large frame of 5’10” however I am still completely unable to reach the top cabinet in our kitchen without standing on something. We have tall ceilings, and 39″ upper cabinets and those things are tall! For two years I have dragged over a kitchen chair, or straight up hopped up on the countertop to reach that top shelf.

I know what you’re thinking, why on earth have I not bought a kitchen step stool yet? You know those things MEANT for standing on to reach a cupboard?! Well, I just never thought about it when I was someplace that sold step stools.

That was until last week, when I was stuck at the Ikea kichen lineup, and noticed their basic Bekvam step stools situated behind the counter. For a whopping $16.99 I decided then and there that I would cure my inability to reach the top shelf! I wrote down the isle and bin number and when I (finally) reached the warehouse I added the stool to my cart, and was on my way to being able to reach whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it. (It’s the small things people.)

I brought home my new prize, named him Sultan* and assembled it.

Sultan the Stool

Hrm, its okay, but its a bit boring right?

So I got out the cabinet paint, and gave Sultan a couple coats of Thai Teal, then a couple coats of poly.

Teal Sultan
Teal Sultan

Isn’t he more handsome now?

Stool & Cabinet
Stool & Cabinet

He matches the cabinet backs, so he fits right in. For now I have made beside the coffee bar his new home, where he can quickly be accessed to reach a cookbook or a casserole dish.

Completed Stool
Completed Stool

Not bad for a $17 stool and a bit of sample paint, eh?

* For those of you who don’t get the Sultan reference, clearly you didn’t watch enough Beauty and the Beast in your childhood. Sultan is the pet pooch who was turned into a foot stool. Now I am off to watch Beauty and the Beast, and maybe a bit of Aladdin…

We have a sink!

Thanks everyone for your help in the great sink debate of 2013. We finally made up our minds, and headed out to Ikea to pick up our sink this past weekend. Or should I say we coerced a good friend to drive us to Ikea using Swedish meatballs as a bribe.

I have to say he should have been rewarded with more than meatballs, as braving Ikea on a Saturday is torture. As we shuffled past strollers, overflowing carts and bright blue bags, parents dragging children, and domestic arguments over duvets we managed to weave our way to the kitchen department and put our name on a list for help. While Ikea is essentialy self serve, that stops at the kitchen department. Each and every kitchen item from bases to doors, appliances to sinks needs to be ordered through an Ikea associate. They type in your item, and print you out an order form, that you take to the cash register and scan. You pay for your items, then head to (another line) to pick up your items from the warehouse. So for our single sink, we had to wait in the same line as the people ordering a whole kitchen. Surprisingly, it wasnt that bad.  For a month the sink  had been sold out at all GTA Ikea’s (Etobicoke, North York and Vaughan) and only (far away) Burlington had a few. In a twist of good fate, Etibicoke got 4 in on Friday, and we hustled to make one of them our sink. We got our precious order form, and waited through the lineups to finally procure our sink.


So which sink did we choose? Did we go for the farmhouse sink or the square stainless?

Drumroll please….


Ikea Domsjo Farmhouse Sink
Ikea Domsjo Farmhouse Sink

We ended up going with the farmhouse as we thought it would be the most appropriate in our home. We have strayed towards the traditional in our decor, with our moldings, styling and trim work. So we felt the more modern sink may be a smidge out of place. We heard some great comments from you wonderful readers, and the things that pushed us over the edge were that we did in fact already have a whole lotta stainless going on with our appliances, and the nice contrast that the sink would give with our (soon to be) dark grey counters. Your complete love of the farmhouse also made us feel a lot more comfortable with our decision.

We loaded the (very large) sink into the (small) hatchback of Chris’ car, and headed home. Now the sink is currently hanging out in the dining room, waiting install after our new counters are built!

sink trunk
An Ikea Domsjo sink will fit in the back of a Mazda 3

Speaking of counters, we’re hoping to get started work on them next weekend. We are super excited to get started, but a bit nervous as well. This project involves some kitchen demo, plumbing, and a lotta planning before we can even start.

I will speak a bit more next week about our planning and prep work, then expect quite a few posts as we work through the process from start to finish.


Countertop Inspiration

We are in the final stages of planning for our concrete countertop project. When speaking with friends and family about our project a lot of the questions we have been getting is “why concrete?”. Most of them haven’t seen concrete countertops before, and thought we were a bit mad for taking on this project. Others thought the concrete would be really rough and look like a sidewalk. I have been breaking out my iPhone to the skeptics and showing them some examples of concrete countertops, and they have been subsequently blown away. So I thought I would show you all some of my inspiration so you think I’m less cray cray and more awesome.

First up, why did we choose concrete?

  • It goes with our industrial meets traditional asthetic
  • It’s durable, and customizable
  • We can do it ourselves. It’s not like we can mix up some marble in the garage
  • It looks amazingly high end for a reasonable price

Possible cons:

  • If done incorrectly, or the wrong products are used it can crack, break and/or look terrible
  • If not properly sealed & waxed it can be stained (like stone)  by acids such as wine, vinegar and citrus fruit
  • It takes a bit more planning & prep to make molds and some muscle to pour, finish and install

Now, for some beauty shots!

Sink Hunting

I really want to get started on our DIY kitchen concrete counters (which by the way, I’ve been doing a ton of research on, and I think I found the most awesome product ever. More on that soon.) However, before we can even think of making the new countertops, we need to find a new sink.

This is the sink we own:

Ikea Boholmen 1 1/2 bowl inset sink with drainer
Ikea Boholmen 1 1/2 bowl inset sink with drainer
Our Kitchen
You can spy it to the right of the stove

I hate this sink. Yes, I know hate is a strong word, but this sink deserves it. I have a itty bitty kitchen, and this sink takes up a large amount of real estate for being such a tiny sink. The 1 1/2 bowl thing is useless. The small sink on the left is shallow and used solely for rinsing vegetables. The larger (and I say larger in relative terms) sink is okay, but still not large enough to wash a large pan or fill a stock pot.

The drainer, while useful for draining wet dishes, it always has a wet dish hanging out on it, cause why would you dry the dish and put it away if you could just leave it? It also takes up a lot of space on the counter.

To give perspective, here is our entire kitchen.

The Kitchen
Yep, that’s the whole kitchen. See how much counter space I have? See how much the tiny sinks + draining board take up?

So when the new counters get made, that sink is out. It’s headed to Craigslist, hopefully to find a new home where its owners actually love it. (Oh and don’t even get me started on that backsplash, it will be outta here not long after the sink & the counters.)

Time to shop for a new sink. We have an Ikea 24″ sink cabinet, which is small. A double bowl is really out of the question. For those of you aghast at that decision, read Carol Reed’s post about single vs double sinks. While you’re at it, read her post on the advantages to Ikea kitchens.

Having such a small Ikea sink cabinet  means buying an Ikea  sink made to fit into that cabinet would be the easiest choice. I have looked at all the big box stores, all the special order sinks online, but realistically I haven’t found anything that can beat my Ikea options. Have you priced out a farmhouse sink lately?! I love you Kohler, but you are not in my budget.

So Ikea it is.

I have narrowed it down to two sinks.

OPTION A.) Shiny McSinkerson

Bredskar Single-bowl inset sink $249
Ikea Bredskar Single-bowl inset sink $249

Modern looking Stainless sink. Simple design, nice price tag. Would like it better if it was undermount, but drop in isn’t that bad. (I have never owned an undermount sink, so I am used to the crumbs.) It also has the look of a square edge sink, but without the actual square edges, which from reading reviews online I’ve heard are the pits.


OPTION B.) Goin to the Farm

Ikea Domsjo Farmhouse Sink
Ikea Domsjo Farmhouse Sink $249

I love the look of a farmhouse sink mixed with a more contemporary and/or industrial looking kitchen. I love the apron front, and the single hole means we can re-use our current faucet until we can save up for a new one. It’s also made to fit our current sink cabinet, so install will be pretty easy. Oh, and did I mention the price? $249! Have you priced out a farmhouse sink lately? This ones gonna be hard to beat.

Shiny McSinkerson vs. Goin to the Farm

Whats your vote? El Granto loves the farmhouse sink all the way. I am still a bit torn. Not to mention, the farmhouse is sold out in every Ikea close to us, so getting it will mean a rental car trip to Ikea Burlington.

Do you have any experience with either of these sinks? I hear glasses/dishes can break really easily in the Farmhouse sink, and that it can also get scratches. Is it worth it?

Paintin Signs

When we bought the Storefront, it had essentially been eliminated of all its character. It had been in bad shape, and the owners before us had brought it back, and modernized it, but in doing so had removed everything of the past. Don’t get me wrong, I love our spray foam insulation and skylights, but I’m not the biggest fan of the white vinyl windows and the lack of original trim & doors.

So in our quest to add some character back to the Storefront, I want to add in a bit of it’s past. When the Storefront was originally built it housed a Grocer. Later it did a stint as a Barber Shop, and until the 60’s it was a Tailor & Cleaner.

I have been scouring flea markets and antique shops for anything Grocery, Barber or Tailor related and have yet to find ANYTHING awesome for the house. Barber pole? Nope. Grocery Store sign? Not a hope.

Resigned to my failure, I decided to make things related to the past for the house. I started with a Grocery sign for the kitchen. (Cause a grocery sign was a shade easier than a barber pole…)

I headed into the garage and found a couple spare pieces of 2×12’s that were 6 feet long. I distressed one with some stain & a blow torch, and the other I whitewashed with some watered down chalk paint.

I then laid out my type. I made each letter about the size of an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, and just freehanded the letters with a pencil until they looked OK.

freehand sign paintin
freehand sign paintin

I grabbed some paint, and filled in the lettering with a small foam brush, and let it dry.

Then I sanded everything to give it a worn look, and I had two (yes TWO) grocery signs ready to go.

Two (yes TWO) grocery signs
Two (yes TWO) grocery signs

I then made El Granto put each one up on the kitchen cabinets so I could decide which one I liked best.

This one won out.

Grocery Sign
Grocery Sign
The Kitchen
The Kitchen

And now the other one is still hanging out in the kitchen leaning against a wall cause I have NO IDEA WHAT TO DO WITH IT. I’m really knocking it out of the park lately.

Anyone want a Grocery sign?

Ikea As-Is Score

I went to Ikea in search of a plant. I left with kitchen cabinet drawers.

Every time I visit Ikea I take a look at the as-is section. Most of the time there’s nothing to be had, but sometimes, they might have the very thing you need.

Last you saw it, the coffee bar was still missing it’s drawer unit (bottom middle) as well as the upper glass doors. Why you ask? Cause that stuff was expensive… The drawer unit alone was $232 before hardware. Ouch.

Coffee Bar
Coffee Bar

That was until I walked into Ikea on a fateful Friday night, and spied this fellow happily sitting in the as-is department with an $85 price tag.

Why hello there sad little drawer unit without a kitchen to call home
Why hello there sad little drawer unit without a kitchen to call home

It was a complete drawer unit EXACTLY the size that we needed for the coffee bar. In perfect condition, fully assembled. I don’t know how poor little drawer unit got to the as-is, he clearly wasn’t a floor model as he didn’t have any handles, nor had the cabinet ever been attached another cabinet (as it didn’t have any holes drilled through it). I frantically texted El Granto at home confirming that yes that was the size we needed, and then I ran to the check out, having my own “Start the car!” moment.

When I got home, we tried to figure out how to get the drawers OUT of the cabinet, as I actually already had the exact same cabinet frame already installed in the kitchen, and just needed the drawers. However they just wouldn’t come out! After goggling it, I finally discovered that there are two little tabs (one on either side) of the bottom of the drawer. If you press both tabs simultaneously towards the sides of the drawer and lift up and out, your drawer will come unattached from the drawer slide.

drawers removed
Drawers removed

El Granto then removed the drawer slides from the cabinet frame and installed them in our coffee bar and slid the drawers back in place.

Using our cabinet handle template, El Granto attached matching handles, and our coffee bar was finally starting to look somewhat complete.

coffee bar
Look at those drawers!
Coffee Bar
Coffee Bar

With the new drawers, open wood shelving and filler panels all complete, its looking pretty good. Progress baby!

Have you ever scored anything amazing in the as-is section?

Concrete Countertop Test Run

I really want to build concrete countertops for my kitchen. My laminate counters suck, and the coffee bar is curremtly covered in a $20 wood shelf from Home Depot.

I had a bag of concrete hanging around the garage (don’t you?!) and decided it was high time to put all my researching to the test and pour some concrete. I decided to make a “cutting board” as my test run, and grabbed some spare melamine (I’m not a hoarder, I just have stuff in the garage…collecting dust…that might some day get used.) SO the melamine… I had El Granto rip down a few pieces into 2″ strips and then built a little form with some spare screws.

Building the mold (and making sure it's square
Building the mold (and making sure it’s square)

Next up, sealing the cracks in the form with silicone caulking. I conveniently had a new tube of silicone caulking. I inconveniently could not find my caulk gun. Cause it’s an easy thing to lose. You know, giant red tube thingy that looks like a weapon. Yep, missing. Hardware store? Closed. Dollar store? I may be able to find paint brushes, and tie downs, but a caulk gun was not to be had at Dollarama. My neighbours had been outside working on project as well, and we had passed an air compressor over the fence earlier in the day (true story) so I figured I’d ask if maybe they had one. BINGO! Caulk gun. Except theirs was contractor grade and made for big tubes of caulking, and my wee bitty tube of silicone was too small. So now what? I shoved a piece of wood into the bottom of the caulking tube and hoped for the best.

I started caulking, and I got silicone EVERYWHERE. All over me and the mold.

DIY TIP. Tape your mold or you’ll get silicone everywhere. After about 10 minutes I was covered and sticky and I had done the WORST job of caulking anything in my life. I threw in the towel (this was a test after all!) and left it to dry.

Mold Made (with crappy silicone job)
Mold Made (before crappy silicone job)

Next day we moved the mold outside on worktable covered in a plastic drop cloth, and I (with my girly muscles, a shovel and a piece of wood) mixed up a half bag of concrete. In hindsight, it could have used a bit more water, and I could have used a trowel (rather than a piece of wood) to get it well into the mold.

Pour area prepped. Drop cloth & screeding board ready
Pour area prepped. Drop cloth & screeding board ready
Filling the mold
Filling the mold. Don’t you just love my work outfit? Paint covered work shirt and track pants. I really should buy an attractive set of work clothes.

I then (smartly) took the sandpaper off my palm sander, and covered it in a bag, and vibrated the crap out of the mold.

Sander covered in a bag
Vibrating the mold
Vibrating the mold

Then we screeded the top (which also didn’t go so well, as it started pulling gravel out of the mold, but again I think my mix was too thick.)

Screeding the mold
Screeding the mold

Then I let it dry, covered with plastic for a day. I didn’t put a wire mesh in it, cause A.) it was a test and B.) I didn’t have any in my garage…

I un-molded, and voila.

Concrete cuttingboard
Concrete just after de-molding
Concrete cuttingboard
It worked!

Things I learned:

  • Concrete is heavy.
  • 2″ is too thick for our countertop. It just looked too big (that’s what she said). In all seriousness, 1 1/2″ is a much more reasonable size, 2″ was just overkill. Like a Hummer H2.
  • My mix needed a bit more water.
  • Counter sink the screws! Or else you can screed it very well.
  • I will not mix up all the countertops in a bucket. Concrete mixer rental is imperative.
  • I needed a better concrete mix than the $4 bag of all purpose. It was too rocky and rough. The top of my cutting board was great, but the sides showed too much aggregate.

Next up, I will be filling the holes, adding some feet to my “cutting board” test driving some concrete sealers and waxes, and then putting it to the test in my kitchen. Wish me luck!

Have you ever played with concrete? Any tips to pass on?

Kitchen Shelves

I cant believe I totally got off my butt and got some work done on the coffee bar. I know, amazing, isn’t it. I am a chronic project half finisher. Oh look at that new shiny project over there… Its not all my fault, money plays big into things, as do accessibility to materials.

SO we knocked the filler panels off our to do list, and got to tackling the open area between the upper cabinets.

Upper Cabinet After
Upper Cabinet Filler Panels
coffee bar progress
Coffee Bar

When designing the coffee bar, we left an open space between the upper cabinets for some open shelving. We thought it was a good place to mix things up a bit, and add a different colour/material.

We set out to finally add some shelves. They are short shelves, just under 2 feet wide. When deciding on materials we could have matched the cabinets, but the whole kitchen was feeling a bit matchy matchy. So we took a cue from our new dining table and bench, and went wood. We also wanted it to look a bit more modern, so we decided to forgo shelf brackets, and suspend the shelves between the upper cabinets.

Off we went to the happiest place on earth (AKA the lumber yard.)

Lumber Yard
Wood as far as the eye can see. Its like Disney Land for 30 somethings who like woodworking

We picked up a 6′ length of 2×12 kiln dried pine from Downtown Lumber, carried it home and cut it into three shelves.

Wood cut
Wood Cut. We also marked which side was the prettiest, and if it would face up or down (cause you’re looking up underneath the taller shelves)

Then we sanded, and sanded and sanded some more (as always). If I could outsource sanding, I would. The only saving grace with sanding is blasting some rocking music that gets you working faster (ever listened to Andrew WK while sanding? It’s like you are compelled to work FASTER!)

After I was happy with the sanding, I cleaned everything off, and set up the shelves on blocks and gave it a coat of wood conditioner (followed by two coats of stain to match the table, and 4 coats of polyurethane.) I took photos of this step, then deleted them. Cause I’m awesome like that. So close your eyes and visualize it, k? Good.

Shelves ready for stain
Shelves ready for stain

After everything was dried and purdy, we went inside to install. This went surprisingly well. A couple ladders, swear words, some screws and leveling, and the shelves were screwed through the cabinet into the shelf.

The only problem occurred was that I was TOO good at measuring, and the shelves were such a tight fit, that they left a few marks on the filler panels when we were shimmying them in place. No harm done, a bit of masking tape, and some touch up paint were all that was needed.

Marks on the cabinet covers
Marks on the cabinet covers

And ta-da, the shelves are done!

Shelves complete
Shelves complete
Shelves complete
Shelves complete
coffee bar
Open Shelving

My only problem is that I am HORRIBLE at styling shelves. Anyone wanna come to my house and style my shelves for me? That and I never seem to have any accessories of the right scale. Too big, too small, too weird. Check. So this kids is what it looks like when I throw together some shelving. Maybe I can get some of my photo stylist friends drunk and convince them to style my house for me.


2×12 kiln dried pine @ 6′ – Downtown Lumber
Stain – Varathane Chocolate
Polyurethane – Minwax Oil Modified in Satin

Tools Used:
Miter saw
Orbital sander
Measuring Tape
Finishing Supplies

Difficulty Level (on a scale of 1-5):

two out of five

Total Cost: $30 (for the new wood, we already owned the stain & poly)