DIY Blackboard Kitchen Countertops: An Update

Remember wayyyy back, like over a year now, when I introduced our grand plan to DIY our kitchen countertops? Well, that is still the plan and I am THRILLED to report that we are actually now working on that project.

The house remodel scope significantly morphed, and ended up going far past the kitchen and dining room, so we decided to finish up those other spaces (keeping our kitchen usable) and finally ending with it’s demo…and the long awaited counters!

If you don’t know the story of how we came to choose salvaged solid slate blackboards as our countertops, you can check that out here. These beauties (or rather, diamonds in the rough) have been leaning against our house for the past year, patiently waiting for their turn.

While they have been waiting, so have we. We always a knew that they would work as counters, but were still just assuming that we could successfully get off the old 1940s adhesive that is awkwardly stuck all over the slabs. If we could not get it off cleanly, we were going to have to come up with Plan B for counters…and that was NOT the goal.

After a super rainy start to spring, this week blessed us with some sunshine, and an opening to get outdoors, set up the sawhorses and get to glue removal. I need to keep baby away from all construction fumes, so this is a solo job for my sweet handy husband.

He set out with two main approached: a heat gun (borrowed from our local tool library) and Jasco Premium Paint and Epoxy Remover. Much to our excitement, the heat gun worked like a charm to pull off big blobs of glue and then the residue remaining dissolved with the chemicals…and a significant amount of elbow grease. We are planning to use the “natural” more textured side of these slabs and it is stunning to see them really clean. It is a huge weight off our shoulders to know that we have a solution that works!

Two down, maybe 6 more to go? We have roughly 35 slabs to work with (!) but only need 6 for the kitchen. Extras will be practice for cutting, other projects or maybe passing them along to other inspired DIYers.

The forecast promises more rain this week, but then we hope to get back to our lovely counters, finish glue removal, demo the kitchen and then cut the new counters to fit!

10 Week Countdown

Today we hit 30 weeks in our pregnancy with Grain. My belly is a basketball and Matt is constantly cracking good hearted jokes about me being a turtle with my shell on backwards.

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Matt is cranking away on the remodel…we are going to need every last day to get this thing done. What is left? A lot:

-finish building/installing kitchen cabinets

-clean blackboard slate (old glue from when they were installed in a school)

-demo existing counters and backsplash

-install new counters and backsplash

-refinish hardwood floors

-install crown/baseboard and other molding

-paint kitchen cabinets, pantry and new fireplace builtins (this may be a post baby project)

Ambitious? Yes, but it is what we need to do. We scheduled the crowning piece for the final week in June: refinishing the hardwood floors! Two weeks before my due date could be an issue, but we have a place to stay nearby, with backup plans if baby has decided to come early. People keep asking about the nursery and I just have to laugh…not till the upstairs is done!

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We decided to put open bookshelves for cookbooks etc on the end of our new cabinet section. When all trimmed out and painted white, this kitchen is going to look SO GOOD!

Spring is still taking it’s time in arriving in the PNW. We still have not hit 60 more than a few times! The garden is so far behind and it has been so wet that there has not been much motivation to do anything. We have some tomatoes and squash started in the house, so when it does warm up we will get them outside (and free up space!).

Living in a remodel has been not comfortable, but we are managing it pretty darn well. Luckily our master bedroom is still an untouched retreat where we can have some sense of normalcy in our house. I have been doing a lot of sleeping, resting, taking baths…Matt has been fabulous at just letting me be however I need to be to grow little Grain. It is exhausting!

Since I do not have a direct role in the remodel physically, I am supporting with a constant stream of supplies, research, food and project management (ha!). Getting bids on hardwood floors was a focus last month and we are thrilled with the team we found. I need to order backsplash tile soon, and measure for crown and baseboard molding (I misplaced my list of lengths many months ago…ugh!)

Wish us luck in this last stretch! It is slightly intimidating, but we can see the light at the end of this long long tunnel. And there will be a baby to snuggle when we get there!

Pantry Progress 

When we bought our house, the sizeable pantry was a total selling point. Directly across the hall from this pantry was the door for the guest room. It was always an awkward entrance, making its own little hallway, and the light switch was behind the door when it opened.

As we started rethinking our new floorplan, and the guest room was being turned into a dining room, we knew this little extra empty space was a diamond in the rough. After nixing the idea of a walk through butler’s pantry (swoon…but it was just not enough space) we came up with a double sided pantry/china closet that stole our hearts.

It used every square inch of the awkward space, added TONS of storage, and will add a critical detail for any craftsman: the built ins. Matt designed the pantry to coordinate with the living room bookcase builtins to make the whole space flow together. It is still too cold to open all the windows, so priming and painting all these cabinets is on hold until Spring really rolls around. But the structure is built and they look fantastic. Not to mention sturdy and will hold all the canned goods we can stuff into it. The china closet side will have glass doors and will feature our extra serving dishes etc, while the pantry side will contain removable shelves and be covered with solid doors. He also added a double deep cabinet with hooks on the far right side to hold 4 folding chairs!

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Wood Floor Inlay & Garden Planning

While the rest of the country is running straight to summer, our little corner of the PNW is having a much colder winter than usual. Cold and wet to be more specific. Even this morning I saw snowflakes as I was waiting for the bus. I want to get out in the garden but it is just not quite the season here yet.

This weekend Matt finished laying the wood floor inlay around the fireplace and built ins…such an accomplishment and it looks A-MAY-ZING! We can now move on to the next area of the house, and will come back for final painting of the mantle and trim when it is warm enough to open windows. And for good measure, a cute photo of me and the baby bump checking on daddy’s progress.

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I spent my weekend dreaming of the garden and working on a crop rotation plan. We are starting to hone in on the crops we like to grow that we actually use…which is not always obvious when you start. Spinach for example? We did not reach for it. Bush beans were prolific but we preferred the climbing romano beans so bush beans are out. Matt does not like beets. All the learning that goes into a maturing garden! This year we are focusing more on sweet corn, tomatoes, squash, kale and beans. Those are our staples and I want to optimize our soil and production with lessons from crop rotation.

I am still refining this model in Excel, but here is the basic idea that I am working from. First box is last year’s garden, with the second box one option for this year. For some scale, our garden is 45×60 feet and has been divided roughly into quadrants.

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DIY Project Profile: Brick Hearth and Built-In Cabinets

When we bought our house nearly 4 years ago, there was a small free-standing natural gas stove in the northwest corner of the living room. It was nice, and produced good heat, and gave us the ambiance of having a fireplace. But it was never quite right. It sat directly on the hardwood floor, and was tucked off in an awkward corner right next to an exterior door. As Matt would say, you could not really curl up around it.

Upon embarking on our massive remodel, the fireplace was never really in the scope. However, after taking down some walls, and deciding that we would refinish all the hardwood floors, we knew we needed to address the fireplace. It was a now or never kind of project.

The south wall of our living room actually used to have a large fireplace. Probably brick, but we will never know. The house was built in 1925, then barged to the island and re-erected in 1978. Our best guess is that this heavy, crubly fireplace did not make the move, and was just wiped from the house. The siding is cut in a way that showed us where this historical fireplace footprint was, and the flooring did not match the rest of the room. Opportunity to restore some old vintage charm!

It was last July (agh!) when we starting blocking out a vision for a new hearth and mantle to surround our little gas stove. We started with blue painters tape to determine scale and size, which was a great way to tweak little measurements until it “fit” correctly in the room. There are some odd considerations to take into account (as typically comes with remodeling an old house) like the unevenly spaced windows and the fact that the old fireplace was not actually centered in the room. We would later realize that the windows are not even the same HEIGHT from the floor (agh!) but that was a recent development.

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Matt built a frame for the new hearth and mantle, and then the project sat idle for a while when we were traveling and focused on exterior projects.

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Finally, in December he was back to some nitty gritty details like running the new gas line and chimney. Thankfully our stove was compatible with a direct vent system so we could go straight out the back rather than have a big pipe in the living room. Win! I found some very helpful chimney supply places online that allowed us to cobble together all the right pieces that are no longer made. Hooray for not having to buy a whole new stove.

Once the gas and chimney were in, we stated on the hearth again. We had considered reclaimed sliced brick, but in the end went with a thin brick veneer (real brick, just thin and can be worked with similar to tile) that we found at Home Depot. We over ordered and mixed the boxes together (very important to mix color batches!!!) and Matt started designing. We got a mix of flat and corner pieces to mirror a true full-size brick look as much as possible. We also planned ahead and added custom forged cast iron hooks anchored behind the backerboard so they would be secure and poke through the finished brick. The brick was attached with the Old Mill Brick adhesive.

The end result is stunning. We choose to grout with a sanded grout in a medium grey shade (Dolorean Gray) and it looks great paired with the slightly grayish hued brick we selected (Castle Gate mix). Since we over ordered we were able to return a full box of each flat bricks and corners, allowing us to pick the ones that we really wanted. I was very impressed that only 1-2 bricks of the whole order were broken upon arrival!

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While the brick cures in prep for sealing, Matt has stared on building our built in bookcases. Old houses have built ins and we desperately wanted to add them back to ours. There was never a clear place until this fireplace remodel came about! Win win!

We are building these bookcases using another new tool and technique, a pocket hole jig! With so many cabinet building projects on the horizon it was worth it to learn the stronger holding cabinet technique. And it looks great! Paired with the new compound miter saw Matt is far more efficient in assembling these designs. The bookcases will have beadboard backs and more trim on the front to build up their profiles.

Once the bookcases are built we will move them out of the way and finish laying the hardwood floors, paint the cabinets and install them. The fireplace is coming together!

 

Prepping for Baby

January came and went, and we made a whole lot of progress! Matt has nearly finished the brick fireplace and hearth…and it looks AMAZING! It has added an incredible amount of detail back into our little home, and looks like it was meant to be. Now we can start tackling the next step of project: built in book shelves!

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We are adding built ins next to our fireplace under two very plain windows. Book shelves will be solid wood lined with beadboard, all painted white. This will be Matt’s first real cabinet making and he is excited to try out some new tools and skills. If his track record with our prior projects are any indication this will look really awesome in the end. Working on the book shelves is the perfect lead in to the next major project: finishing the pantry and building new lower kitchen cabinets!

I am interested in taking on a little side project of my own to tackle those boring windows. (Isn’t this cool!??)

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There are still quite a few things on the to-do list (and some are pretty major…like demoing the kitchen counters and backsplash and refinishing the hardwood floors!) before baby comes in July. We are focused though and chipping away at it one day at a time.

While Matt is focused on these projects I have spent my energy researching and doing the “paperwork” side of the house. Business taxes were wrapped up by the end of January, and I am (im)patiently waiting for our personal documents to arrive so we can file ours. I have been working on buying life insurance and air lift insurance (hello living on an island!). And then there is all the research on baby registry (nearly done!) and the world of cloth diapering and babywearing. I enjoy geeking out on those last two.

February is a short month so we are buckling down and getting stuff done. Wish us luck! Baby deadline is quickly approaching!

December Goals

The end of the year is quickly approaching! Where does the time go?!

Matt and I are in the whirlwind winter months of home remodel. It is quite a different tone than summertime. Doors could be left open, material storage and sawing outdoors…no longer! Everything is crammed into our living space and things are just a bit harder to work with.

Our current focus is finishing our new fireplace. Well, to be fair, relocating the old freestanding natural gas stove to it’s new home in a brick hearth with mantle and built in bookcases. The old gas piping and chimney have been removed and drywall repaired. Last night an hour after dark Matt put the finishing touches on the new chimney. Only one piece of new gas line to go and we are ready to start building up the hearth!

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In addition to all the remodel work, we are also prepping for hosting Christmas at our house! My family is renting a house for two night on the island and we will be hosting a Christmas Eve Feast of Seven Fishes. Time to get these tools cleaned up and the house decorated with a little Christmas cheer!

December Goals:

  1. Mail Christmas cards
  2. See the Nutcracker (local community production)
  3. Put up a Christmas tree
  4. Bake our favorite cookies
  5. Store away sea glass
  6. Finish the brick on the fireplace
  7. Winterize garden
  8. Check the oil in my car
  9. Finish 2016 travel photo books
  10. Backup photos onto hard drive