Our kitchen updates that we started around a year ago are finally done! We started by painting the cabinets. Then when we realized that we probably weren't gonna spend the money for new countertops anytime in the immediate future, we decided to give Ardex Concrete Countertops a shot. Here was the reasoning behind my decision:
1. I love the look of concrete counters.
2. It's an inexpensive option (we spent less than $150 on materials and supplies)
3. We weren't attached to our laminate counters, so I didn't feel worried about messing them up.
I first decided I wanted to try it after seeing the folks at Young House Love give it a try. There are so many tutorials on applying concrete counters, but they always do such a good job with tutorials.
We started this process over a year ago with orange cabinets and beige walls. Those were not our glory days.
We made a MAJOR improvement last year by painting the cabinets cloud white by Benjamin Moore and adding hardware (see more details here).
Our countertops remained "faux stone" laminate. They weren't offensive. They could have been worse. But they also weren't doing our kitchen any favors.
Step 1: Prep
We started by collecting all of our supplies:
- Ardex Concrete (purchase here)
- Large drywall taping knife (like this one) and putty knife
- Orbital sander and sanding pads
- A plastic paint bucket for mixing concrete
- Something to stir the concrete (aka paint stir stick)
- Plastic dropcloths to section off our living room from the kitchen
- Dust masks
- 511 Impregnator Sealer
- Acrylaq Safecoat in Satin
As you can see in the above photo on the right, we hung a dropcloth from the ceiling (via thumbtacks) to try to protect our living area from the dust flying around once we started the sanding process. This project is nothing if not messy, so be prepared.
We then prepped the surface by sanding everything down with a medium grit sandpaper and our orbital sander...just to remove some of the shiny finish from the laminate. Then, we wiped them down to remove any dust.
Step 2: Layers of Concrete
We did three layers of Ardex concrete. You can find a lot more detailed descriptions of how to spread the concrete over at Young House Love (and lots of other places), but the moral of the story is this:
Mix the concrete according to instructions...in small batches to keep from drying out. Use a drywall knife to spread it over the large surfaces of the counters...as smooth as possible. Then use a smaller putty knife for edges, corners, and backsplash.
Let dry according to instructions (I think we waited about six hours between coats) and then apply another coat.
We did some light sanding between coats but waited for heavy sanding until the end.
Here is how it looked during the process:
After 3 coats of concrete, it was time to sand those surfaces down.
Step 3: Sand
This is where some of your personal preferences come in. John & Sherry from Young House love wanted their surfaces as smooth as possible, so they were much more particular about making everything perfect and even. We, on the other hand, wanted imperfection (which is a much easier goal to achieve).
I wanted the surfaces to look worn and rustic and a bit imperfect. We sanded it with that in mind. We wanted everything as level as possible, but I was ok with slight variations in color and texture.
We started by sanding with a heavy 60 grit. Then we moved our way to a 120 grit and a 220 grit to get it smooth and glasslike.
As soon as we finished this process, I was in love. I LOVED the matte finish and wished we didn't have to seal it at all, but alas.
As you can see, there is a lot of color variation in the surface. We loved that and wanted that. Also, we made kind of a mess of the top edges, but we were still planning on installing a backsplash, so we weren't as careful.
Before you seal, be prepared to clean up piles and piles of concrete dust. Our walls, floors, ceiling, light fixtures, and cabinets all needed a very thorough wipe down.
Step 4: Seal
Here comes the trickiest part of it all. There are SO MANY options for sealers, and after lots of research, we ended up, once again, following the Young House Love method (511 Impregnator Sealer followed by Acrylaq in Satin) for a couple of reasons.
1. Everything they used was food safe. Because these are counters, I really didn't want to use anything toxic.
2. They reported after a year that it was still going strong!
3. It was a fairly affordable option compared to what I saw other bloggers using which would have increased the cost of our countertops significantly.
But here is where I mainly went wrong. I didn't order anything in advance, and once we got to the end of the project, I ran to Home Depot for the 511 Impregnator Sealer, but I had to order the Acrylaq, and it took over a week to arrive. So for a week, we had to baby our counters because I learned quickly that concrete absorbs everything. Sealer is IMPERATIVE. Trust me on this one.
Because we waited a week, I then had to use muscle power to scrub out oil stains that bled into the concrete (even after applying the 511 sealer and despite us trying our best to cover the counters and be careful).
Honestly...I'm not certain that the 511 sealer did much of anything. That was a little discouraging. But then once the Acrylaq came in, we applied 3-4 coats according to instructions and then went on vacation for four days and let it cure completely!
We came back to FINISHED COUNTERS! *The crowd goes wild*
I will do another post at some point about our review of the sealer and the counters...and I will link to it then. We love the way they look, but we haven't been 100% happy with the durability already. I feel like I need to live with them a little longer, however, to fully form an opinion. And this post is already a mile long.
Step 5: Finishing Touches
In addition to the countertop update, we made a couple of other slight updates to our kitchen. We installed a shiplap backsplash (using the plywood method), and we finally got a rug for the sink area that I absolutely ADORE.
So, without further ado...the reveal!
The rug is from Rejuvenation, and I simply love it. These floors would not be my first choice for a kitchen, but both the countertops and the rug make the floors look more intentional. I love the subtle color that the woven rug adds.
And for a couple final before and afters...