cottage renovation: falling hard for a slab of wood


Forgive me for not writing sooner with an update on our little house project by the Hudson! We’ve been plugging away, making decisions and slowly getting to a place that we will be able to enjoy soon. The floors are down and stained (but not yet revealed). The new radiators are in place and keeping it warm. The kitchen cabinets have been built and appliances have been ordered. I’ll do a detailed post on the whole kitchen once I can show it off properly, but this morning I wanted to brag about the beautiful slab wood countertop we have found.

We’ve been having a HUGE debate about countertops. As any of you who have done renovations know, they are pricey and every material seems to have its ups and downs. I love the look of wooden, butcher block counterops, but our contractor and others have warned us against using them — especially with a farmhouse sink. We’ll probably settle on a granite or granite-like composite for the “working area” of the kitchen, but Chad and I had a solution for our “peninsula” which will serve as a bar/table that separates the kitchen the from the living room. We are putting a wooden slab on that part of the counter. Sound strange? Hear us out.

We always love the look and feel of natural, organic wooden counters. We see them often in some of our favorite stores and cafes in Hudson, NY. We’ve been trying to figure out a way to have this look in our newly spruced up cottage and have come up with a solution. We visited a local wood supplier and found that they had gorgeous selection slabs of wood — which are essentially vertical slices of entire trees.

Browsing around the warehouse, we quickly learned that because of the size we needed that we had one decision to make before we started. Did we want just one piece of wood or would we be okay with gluing two or more pieces together. The only wood that came in one piece that was least 32″ inches wide — the width we needed for the peninsula countertop — was a pine slab. We weren’t thrilled with that choice for a couple of reasons. First, pine is a soft wood and we were worried about wear and tear. And secondly the “live edge” — which means the bark side of the tree — wasn’t very interesting.

There were so many choices of hard wood slabs that were gorgeous — walnut, curly maple, cherry. We ended up picking a white oak because we loved the bark line and the knotty grain lines within. We also learned that the “glue up” option was nothing to be afraid of. The guys at our shop Ghent Wood are so talented: They showed us examples of their work and the results were pretty seamless. We ended up purchasing two slabs at about $150 a each. They were glued together to make one huge, heavy piece that was 92 inches by 30 square feet, with a live edge on one side. Our plan is to have that live edge face the living room, where we’d also have stools so the you could sit at the counter and watch me cook!

We will be staining the wood but have not decided on the color yet. WATCO Danish Oil was recommended to us, which seals and protects the wood but doesn’t give it a super shallaced look.

Here are a few photos!

Isadora and I were exhausted by the wood slab choices, but these are the ones we decided on.

The blue tape line shows where we’ll be cutting.

Sawing in action, with some stain tests at the top.

See more about our cottage renovation here!

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Love it! I think this is a perfect and logical solution–more modern than butcher block, too. I used Danish Oil on the butcher block counters (ikea) in my old condo and loved it. It gives a nice hard finish without being shiny. You have to do 4-6 coats at first but then we barely managed to recoat once a year, if that, and all was fine. (For the record, we installed Ikea butcher block again on the island in the house I just renovated (quality has really fallen off since 2007 when I last used it. The first batch I used is still great 7 years later; the new ones have some splits four months after installing.)

For the stone counters, can I recommend soapstone? We used it for the non-island counters at the house, and I love love love it. Not as clattery as granite, and I like how varied the color is depending on whether I’d oiled it or not. It’s a dusty grey when dried out and shiny black when freshly oiled. The oil is purely for aesthetic purposes; Soapstone is so dense that the oil never penetrates more than about 3/8th of an inch. I have a quirky but truly excellent soapstone guy I can refer you to; he travels all over New England and I think the Hudson River Valley. He’s really weird and hard to pin down at first, but he was able to put my counters together out of remnants totally seamlessly, templated, fabricated and installed on-site on the same day, and everyone was blown away by his process. Soapstone is tricky because there are many types (just like granite) but non-specialists think it’s all the same and will install something too soft that will chip up.