Kitchen Post #5 - Countertops

Like most home improvement subjects, Dave & I had so much fun discussing countertop options. There are so many choices out there, and even more choices available to the DIY-er!

We considered DIY-ing concrete counters, like these, but decided that was too much of a personal preference for a house we were fixing to sell.

Another option we could have considered but did not know about at the time was IKEA butcher block counters.

Or DIY stained IKEA butcher block counters.

But, aside from the fact that we didn't know about them back then, neither of those options would have looked too great with cherry cabinets anyways.  And we really wanted granite. But we had a friend of a friend give us a quote for $4000 to install granite counters in our kitchen. And of course, that was WAY out of our budget. So we figured the only thing left was laminate.

I absolutely loved this laminate countertop option, on display at Lowe's.  

But it turns out that it was discontinued by the time we wanted to buy it. So...no luck there. I browsed through the cheapest laminate countertop color choices and nothing really impressed me. So, we continued brainstorming.

Finally one day I was at a friend's house watching HGTV when I saw this ingenius idea: using granite floor tiles on the countertop. And I thought, why don't we do that?

So we went to Lowe's and special ordered a ton of 12" x 12" granite floor tiles. They were about $10/sq ft, but we got them for 20% off on a sale. So, for a total of about $400 we bought all the materials to build our own granite counters. That's a lot better than our $4000 granite slab quote! Then came figuring out how we were actually going to do this. We weren't sure how we would finish the front edges. Or exactly how we'd arrange the tiles to make our 24" deep countertops. Dave spent a great deal of time google searching and youtube video watching.

We found the following photo (among others) online to help us with the tile layout:

And we saw that a lot of people used a wood panel across the front like this:

But we personally didn't care for it, and when have you known us to go the easy route anyways? So, we decided we would bullnose the top surface tile and polish it then put another flat strip of granite underneath (like shown here):

We found this helpful youtube video and also this video, among others, from Toolocity. And ended up ordering diamond cutting tools and polishing pads and grinders, hole saws, etc. from their website. Toolocity was extremely helpful. The owner talked to my husband for 30 minutes or more on the phone to help explain the process we needed to go thru. In the end, each tile on the front of our counter (and all the way around the undermount sink) was bullnosed and polished, at least 40 mins to an hour of work per tile!

So, once all the tiles were cut, it was time to glue them down. We built all our counters out of plywood like this:

Then we covered them all with 1/4" thick tile backer (ours was made of gypsum and was blue but we could have used concrete hardibacker). This step is necessary since these materials will not expand and contract like the wood resulting in less cracking of grout/tiles in the future.

Once the backer was glued and screwed to the plywood, we used tile mortar to glue down the tiles. Dave also used painters tape to help hold the tiles in place until the mortar had cured.

Once that was dry, it was time to grout the tiles. And then seal the tiles 3 times at least (so they don't absorb water or other liquids placed on them).

And once all our cabinets were in place, we merely screwed the counters on top from underneath. 

Easy enough, huh? If you can tile, I assure you, you can do this! The hardest (and most time consuming) part was grinding and polishing the front edges, but with a meticulous hubby like mine, that was not that bad.

We did have a couple of realizations once we got into this project, however. After purchasing the tools to grind and polish the granite, we realized that we could have just bought a remnant slab of granite and ground and polished the edges ourselves rather than dealing with cutting all the tiles and arranging them, etc, etc. One slab per counter would have been much faster I believe.

Another thing that we realized, is about 6 months after we purchased all our tiles, some companies started selling tiles sized perfectly for countertops so people wouldn't have to make 12" square tiles work. That would have been nice and would have reduced the number of grout lines. Although, the grout doesn't really bother me. I just try to keep it nice and clean.

So what do you think? Have any of you DIY-ed your countertops? What types of counters did you go with?

By the way, I'm linking this up to the Home Stories A2Z party this week as well as Serenity Now's

Weekend Bloggy Reading.


Kelly said...

Looks great! Just curious if you have to seal the granite / grout lines every so often? We currently have laminate but hope to upgrade or at least replace one day.

Katie said...

Kelly, yes, I believe about all natural stone tile (marble, granite, etc.) and associated grout lines need to be sealed about once a year (or whenever you start to notice that water no longer repels on the surface). Of course, definitely consult an expert or at least the tile people at your neighborhood home improvement store for your specific material, but that's been my experience.

Ellie said...

Those look great! I think tiles are an awesome way to get granite for a fraction of the price. Nice illustrated post too!

Amanda @ Serenity Now said...

Oh, wow!!! Your kitchen looks great. :) You did a wonderful job!!! FYI, I recognize at least one of those photos from another blog. When using a photo from another blogger's site, it's always best to leave a small link above/under each photo noting the source. :) To help me with that, if I save a photo from a site, I add the blog's name in the file name...and Pinterest, of course, will save the whole link for you. :)

Katie said...

Amanda, thanks for stopping by and for the compliments on our kitchen. I have since added the sources of the photos. Sorry for my laziness last week...I did not do a good job of recording sources when I drafted this post and didn't take the time to research and list them when I published it. It's done now. Have a great day!

Susan said...

Oh WOW!!! This looks great!!! I would have never thought of floor tile for the countertop and am so glad you posted this. It looks simply incredible. Kitchen re-do is on my list of DIY things to do.

How did you cut out for your sink? And was the granite harder to cut than ceramic tile?

Again - this looks incredible!!

Katie said...

Thank you Susan! We used a diamond bit on a grinder to freehand the radii (using a cardboard template we made from tracing the sink). My husband is the brains behind this. I can't even begin to understand the process he used. He's a genius. I was the one telling him it would be fine if we just installed a top mount sink. If you have more questions about it, feel free to email me and maybe he can respond. We also found some applicable youtube videos for instructions. The granite is about the same hardness as ceramic tile. We made straight cuts using a regular wet tile saw. And FYI, travertine and marble are softer than ceramic and granite, we've found. This results in easier chipping when cutting with the tile saw.

Susan said...

I think that you answered my question - I was wondering what you used. Your post is so informative and so helpful. Thanks so much for all the info.

Your entire kitchen just looks incredible!!

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