Monday, April 14, 2014

Merry Christmas Counters to Us

December 2013

After the haze of the Thanksgiving cleared we went back to everyday cooking.  As December slipped away and we got closer to Christmas we spent more and more time in the nook. We soon learned the space had some problems. The worst offender was the existing wood counter.  First, it was too small, at only 18" deep it barely held anything, worse it left an awkward 6" gap between the range and the counter which was the perfect spot to drop just about everything on it's way to the pan. 

Second, the counter was disgusting.  I have this picture and I hesitate putting it on the internet for fear no one would ever eat at our house again.  The counter had split open in several places, the varnish had worn/chipped off in many other areas and the entire thing was just crying for something, anything. 

Not wanting to invest too much money or time Josh and I brainstormed solutions.  Completely remove the counter and buy a butcher block table or a credenza?  Have a professional build cabinets back there? Just replace the countertop?

Given some research and the thought in the back of our minds we might one day remodel the kitchen  we decided the cheapest solution would win out.  Our decision was to buy some IKEA butcher block counters.  These come highly lauded on the internet as cheap and good quality.  The problem?  After waiting a month our local IKEA never got the item in stock and had no estimated arrival date.  Frustrated, I priced other locations, but their butcher block was 4 times the cost.  Biting the bullet, I decided to buy it online and pay the crazy shipping price to have it sent.  In a last minute moment of insanity or clarity, I ordered two...  The shipping would be the same and if it was a good as everyone said we could always use it for something else, right?  A week later I was the owner and possessor of two countertops. 
We quickly removed the old counter and immediately banished it from the house. It became clear that the original supports were janky.  After a long conversation which included: how to make it right? did we want it right? How big is this project going to be? We decided to work with it rather then remove it and potentially add another weekend of work to our progress. I also took our moment of conversing to talk Josh into using the second countertop to add a shelf under the counter to allow us to have some additional storage.  Bonus!

So, we went to Lowes, picked up some 2x4's, some long lag screws, and some small quarter round and went about adding additional support to the upper counter (this new counter was much bigger and much heavier), and another set of supports for the lower shelf. After Josh cut and screwed them to wall I followed behind and painted them white in the hope this would help them fade away into the panelling.  If we had done this right, we would have removed the old, install a better ledger board and proper brackets, but honestly... this works and took one day.

Next, Josh cut the lower shelf and notched the ends to fit around the existing struts that came down. Now comes the part where we share the moment things stopped going our way. The counter weighed roughly 80 pounds and given the dimensions of our space and Josh's precise cuts you couldn't tip it into place.  You had to walk it directly in (without scratching the walls, without hitting our brand new range) and drop it down onto the struts.  I just about killed him when we put it in place only to decide the shelf should be narrower.  So it came out, went outside, was ripped down and had to be returned to the space.  Have I ever said how nice he is? The good news is we got better at the technique and the upper counter went in a lot easier.
We had decided that it would be best to stain and seal the lower shelf in place rather than somewhere else.  First, because moving it out and in again might be the end of us, and second because we were afraid of damaging the area.  This became my project so I stained the lower shelf  (both top and bottom, because I am perfectionist) and then stained the upper counter  in the basement.  This had me laying on the floor with stain dripping on me directly next to our radiator for 15 minutes, twice.  Christmas time in the Cabot house!  Cursing aside, it looked great.  We used two coats of Cabot Gunstock Stain (same as the floors) and then installed the upper counter and used 3 coats of Waterlox marine sealer on both (I only sealed the tops and edge). 
Each coat of sealer took 24 hours to dry so it was a week long process to apply the three coats. We then had another 7 days of hardening before we were allowed to put anything on it. So these pictures show it during the 7 day dry period.
Our last step would be to reinstall the window trim, install quarter round around the edges, caulk, silicone and do some touch up paint.  The process to date had taken about 10 days but we couldn't wait to start using our new HUGE counter and added storage. It was our little Christmas present to ourselves.

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