Concrete Counter Tops – Part One

I really can’t remember when we decided that we wanted to go with concrete counter tops in the sun room.  Obviously its an option alot of folks are considering these days for many reasons.  For us we thought that the look would compliment the barn board and the overall indoor/outdoor feel of the sun room.  We also liked that the cost would be reasonable since we’ve tried not to splurge too much on materials and we already went kinda big on the flooring and the club chairs.

A while back Mark started researching how-to articles and videos online and came across the series of posts on Imperfectly Polished.  They referenced the apparent Godfather of domestic concrete applications Fu-Tung Cheng.  His website offers so much information on the process and possibilities for concrete items in your home, whether you are looking to do it yourself or hire a professional.  For the DIY-er, he has several fantastic how-to videos that we, and many others, watched again and again to get a good idea of how the process works.

The first step of the process was to make a template of the area where we wanted the counter tops to sit.  This is important because it allows you to create a exact replica of the space, rather than just relying on measurements.  To make the templates Mark used 1×4 pieces of pine wood (because they are “straight and cheap” he says).

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We knew that we would have to have two pieces of counter top because we would never be able to install one long piece as it would be way too heavy.  So the first step to creating the templates was determining where we wanted the seam to be.  We decided that it would look best to put the seam in the middle of the two middle cabinets.  This would also distribute the weight of the counters most evenly.

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Visually the seam may appear to be exactly half of the length of the cabinets but if you look closely you’ll see that the cabinet on the far right in the picture above is wider than the cabinet on the far left, so one side of the counter top will be slightly longer than the other.

Once the templates are made, Mark traced the shape onto the melamine board, which is basically plastic coated particle board.  This is ideal for the molds because the plastic coat helps prohibit the concrete from sticking to the mold as well as preventing wood grain from stenciling the hardened concrete.  When tracing the template onto the melamine it’s important to remember to turn the template upside down because the bottom of the mold is actually the top of the counter, like when you make a cake in cake pan.  *Warning – this will be the first of several baking analogies I will use to describe this process.*

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Once the templates have been traced upside down onto the melamine board, it’s time to cut the board and then create the sides.  Because A: the template is not a perfect retangle and B: we don’t own a table saw, Mark used his circular saw for this process.  To make sure he stayed on his line, he clamped a straight edge to the board to keep the saw from deviating from his trace line.

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To create the sides, Mark cut 2 3/4″ strips of the melamine board and screwed them to the bottom/top with decking screws.  In order to keep the melamine board from splitting when he screwed the sides in, he pre-drilled holes every six inches and then went back with the screws.  The height of the sides is important because it dictates the thickness of your counters.  We wanted 2″ thick slabs, which is about as thick as our IKEA cabinets can safely hold, so we add 2″ + 3/4″ (the thickness of the melamine board) to give us molds that were 2″ deep.  (By the way, not all cabinets can support the weight of concrete counter tops so it’s important to determine that ahead of time.  Luckily, the Internet was able to confirm that IKEA’s cabinets are strong enough to hold them.)

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Once the molds are made, the next step is to tape the top edge where the particle board is exposed so that moisture cannot seep in and cause the boards to swell.  Then we ran a line of tape about 1/8″ from the seam where each board comes together.  This was so that we could then run a fairly straight line of caulk on each of the seams.

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Once the caulk was in place, we removed the tape right away.  Another pro tip we learned in our research is that using black caulk (instead of white or clear, which is what most people have laying around) will ensure that you don’t miss any spaces and create a airtight mold.

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All of the steps above were completed about a week before we actually poured the concrete.  In the next post we will cover how that process went.  It was not without its ups and downs, and I promise there will be more baking analogies as well!

Bar Cabinet Details

We poured the concrete countertops this weekend you guys.  But before we jump into a “how-to” series regarding our process, I have a little bit more info to share with you about our cabinets.

I mentioned in our last post how we decided what size and configuration of cabinets we wanted, but I didn’t cover our door choice, hardware, etc. So here are those details.

Choosing a cabinet door style was a one of the decisions that held this project back for awhile.  Are you surprised that I had a hard time making a decision?  I am such a commitment-phob!  Ikea has lots of great door styles in their collection and companies like Semi-Handmade provide even more options.  At first  I was drawn these this grey option.

Lidingo Grey

This the IKEA Lidingo door in grey.  I thought it would help bring out the grey tones in the barn board.  Here’s a photoshopped idea of what that would look like.

Grey cabinets

But since I have matching issues, I was concerned that I wouldn’t like the look of the grey concrete countertops with the grey cabinets.  (Full disclosure: as I am typing this and looking at the photo above, I am completely questioning that logic and wishing I had thought it through more because maybe that would have looked amazing.  Sigh!)

Anyway, we nixed the grey cabinets and next considered the Ramsjo, which is a shaker style door in a semi-white-wash finish.

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We liked the shaker style since that’s what we think we would like in the kitchen eventually and the white wash finish tied nicely with both the floors and the barn board.  Se we went for it.  Here is what they look like all installed.

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Don’t worry about the red stripes on the sides, that’s just the flooring underlayment that is exposed temporarily while the base boards are removed so we could install the cabinets.

For hardware, we knew we wanted oil rubbed bronze since that’s what the rest of the fixtures in the room are.  Some oil rubbed bronze hardware, such as this example below, have a brushed look to them.  I didn’t want that.

Knob

I wanted something that was almost black and I didn’t want to have to buy a hundred of them.  Many of the cheaper options I found were only sold in sets of 10 or 20.  So I ultimately decided check out Restoration Hardware since I knew they you could order custom amounts.  We ultimately decided on these 4″ cup pulls and these 1 1/4″ knobs (total cost about $100).

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Sorry this is such a crappy, low light photo, but you get it idea with the hardware.

We have moved some stuff into the cabinets and I am love with all the space.  We had to get some smaller containers but the dog’s food fits nicely into the cabinet on the left.  In the drawer above we are going to get a container that will house their supplement powder that is currently sitting on top of the cabinets so that will be tucked away eventually as well.  I will share a photo of them all open once I get a few more organizers in place.

To share a little bit about the countertop process, I will tell you this, it was exciting and not without itss ups and downs.  I promise to fill you in next week!