toggle navigation

Concrete Jungle

August 24, 2011

Our countertop in all its firey glory.

My husband and I are about to embark on another home improvement project. I wish I could put this in the same category as operation subway-tile-the-hell-out-of-the-shower, or slip-cover-the shite-out-of-the-sofa, but we’re biting off more than either of those combined. The big difference in this journey is that, well, there’s a gigantic margin of error, and in our case, this likely means we might truly make things worse than what we started with. Let’s back up.

When we bought our house, while we should’ve been scouring for structural damage and, say, trying to figure out why there were cracks in every wall likely associated with a shoddy foundation, instead we both peppered our realtor with questions about our kitchen countertops. They aren’t your run of the mill granite, marble, or tiled subjects. First, they are concrete, which we both happen to think makes us more incredibly hip and cool than we actually are, especially because our house is not a loft, but a 1940s bungalow. So, yes, it’s a juxtaposed look, which I’ve sort of come to terms with. Second, someone had the great idea to paint these suckers bright, flaming, tomato red. When we did the final walk-through I calculated in my head that besides every bedroom needing to be painted from the most depressing sage green I’d ever seen, those countertops should be added to my “blank canvas” list as well.

Then, we moved in. And here’s the weird thing—those countertops grew on us. They honestly worked for about three years of us living in the house (we’re now at year five). One day, in an über-popular move I’ve mastered called break-down-into-hysterics-over-something-minor, my husband came home from work to find me sobbing as I was cooking dinner with me dramatically pointing and crying, “I feel like they are yelling at me.” In my defense, if these countertops were a character in a play all they would do is let out blood-curdling screams. They really are that loud. And that doesn’t sit well with the muted tones that I so need in my life. Plus, they are chipping like crazy, and I for one don’t like eating paint sandwiches.

I’m not one of those people you see while watching reruns of MTV’s “Cribs” who has Sub Zero refrigerator’s stocked with Fiji water, Cristal, Gatorade, and Chinese takeaway cartons as far as the eye can see. I actually use my kitchen. Love to be in it, in fact. Adore hosting dinner parties where friends and family in the kitchen surround us. And our kitchen literally is at the center of our house (I think I can see every other room except the bathroom from the kitchen). So, there’s a gigantic reason for panic as it’s not like I can be all Mariah Carey about it and say, “Don’t mind the gaping hole from the acid wash I just tested on the concrete counter, let’s just use the guest house kitchen tonight, folks.”

The issue with concrete is this: while you’re pouring it, the options are endless. One can make patina-looking counters and almost replicate granite, or one can pour in a piece the shape of a kitchen sink so it appears continuous with no separate parts. It truly is stunning how much you can do with this inexpensive medium. But, in our case, the damage was already done, what’s poured is poured. I like projects like this. I like taking something that is so-so and making it something you love. I didn’t say I was good at this, I said I liked it. And perhaps only in theory because what I really like is calling someone to come do it for us.

Either of these outcomes would be a dream. Thanks for the images and

There’s one part to this project I wouldn’t dream of paying someone to do … I’ve been waiting for two years to be let loose wielding a paint scraper. Just go to town. So, that part, I’m pretty sure I’ll endlessly enjoy. What gets tricky with this project is what you seal it up with. Basically this isn’t a concrete floor that can be sealed with any old thing. This is something that needs a little bit of thought and care because well, there’s the small detail that we prepare food on it. And everything we’ve found is of course toxic. Some guy at our local hardware store told us about something called Top Secret, and believe you me, he acted like he was giving us the vault code for Ft. Knox. Speaking in whispers like he could really get in trouble for even mentioning this stuff to us, it was created by the military and all. Pretty sure an open burner flame around that stuff would set our kitchen on fire, so that’s a no. Then, we stumbled across Cheng, a guy out of Canada with incredibly entertaining videos that show him pouring his own sealer across and working like a mad man (but oddly very Zen about it) before it sets. Watching the wax on and off peaceful state is pretty hilarious, but seems totally over our heads (and the amount of beach towels we own).

Of course I’ve covered the market on DIY blog reading and I’m up to my elbows in Apartment Therapy advice. We’re slated to start the demo in the new few weeks. Here’s hoping we won’t be eating out for the next month to fix this mess we’ve made.