Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Here are the "counters" we have been living with for the last few months since we installed the cabinets. Yes, that's just plywood. Being a foodie who loves to entertain, this was definitely a challenge to keep clean on a daily basis. If you look closely enough you can probably see oil drippings and wine stains.

Sub-counter plywood 3/4"

In customary Harpole fashion we absolutely refused to spend anything anywhere near the $50-95/sq ft price tag for countertops. Our solution? A whopping $300 total for supplies for concrete  countertops! But! There is good news and there is bad news, friends. Good news was that we had an outstanding favor for Bryce doing taxes for our concrete artist friend, so we traded for his artistry. Bad news was that there were HOURS AND HOURS of Bryce-labor and a really big mess. Thank God IKEA sends out their cabinet doors with a protective film on the door fronts. We are keeping them on until we're done with the heavy lifting ... oh, probably in 2015.

Most people do a project like this before they install the lovely sink, but we are living in this kitchen as we build, and we had to have water.

Even with all this wrapping we still got concrete everywhere. And Bryce really liked to use my lovely stovetop (UNCOVERED) as a place to set his tools!

Here's a breakdown of our process.

Metal lath

Atop the plywood goes metal lath. It's basically mesh. It can be found in any hardware store; we went local as always. This strengthens the concrete poured over it.

Layer of Portland cement + playground sand mixture

Then Bryce pulled his first all-nighter of about 9 in a row and poured basic Portland cement mixed with playground sand. This builds a substructure for the finer cement. Let me insert a very important fact pounded into my head by my dear old dad - cement is merely powder. It is not the hard stuff you walk and drive on every day. Concrete, on the other hand, is the hardened substance of cement mixed with water. Get it straight or my dad with correct you!

Cement sub layer

This was probably taken at 3 AM. My husband works so hard!

First layer of fine white cement
Our lovely artist friend with whom we traded services came over for a Saturday and worked his magic with finer cement, a little silica, and some very fine sand that had gorgeous sparkles. When the sun hits the counter like it does every day for hours, you can see the sparkles. Lovely! Charlie (artist friend) pasted this miracle mixture all over Bryce's first slab of concrete (see, now it's concrete because his cement mixture hardened over night).

Close-up of texture and very faint sparkles
Round undermount openings are tricky for hand-troweling cement countertops

 Much to Charlie's dismay, we installed a rounded undermount sink instead of a straight square opening. Harpole's wouldn't have it any other way than working with the most challenging angles! But he filled in the sections beautifully.

Close-up of building up the edge
Close-up of Charlie's handiwork on the rounded corners

Detail of the trickiness of building the edge
Here is the countertop today. Bryce just about killed us with pulling another all-nighter pouring poly-urethane every two hours for EIGHT LAYERS! This almost fumigated us out of the house! He couldn't keep the windows open too wide to air because he didn't want the night bugs flying into the light and dropping. Screens were installed last weekend. 

Counters to date
We still have to sand this layer to rough up the high sheen and then add one more chemical who's name I can't remember, and we will be done! We had to stop at this point because I had a house full of family and I couldn't deny my foodie fam from cooking! Sorry for the poly-urethane nightmare headaches, Sis!

Stay tuned for final countertop photos! I am on the search for lovely backsplash ideas, so please post any suggestions!

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