When last we left off on our upstate cottage renovation, we had just purchased two pieces of slab wood to use as a counter in the kitchen. A lot has happened since then! The kitchen is complete and we have much to show off. But first, here’s the tale of how to turn a slab of wood into a countertop that will last and last, by Chad.
One of the reasons I didn’t want to do a butcher block countertop, even though we loved the look of them, is because of a conversation I had with our contractor. When I told him we were thinking about going that route he looked and me and said; “I’ll do whatever you want but I recommend you don’t do a butcher block countertop.” He went on to explain that although it looks great when first installed, time will not be kind to a wood countertop. He said he is constantly called upon to fix water damage around sink and facets.
With that in mind we decided to compromise and do only the peninsula in wood.
After picking out a gorgeous piece of wood and having it cut to size (making sure the “live edge” was preserved), I did a lot of tests with different stains on a scrap piece.
The stains I tried really brought out the natural wood grain, but the wood itself is loaded with natural cracks, grooves and knots. All of those details looked interesting, but I wondered about the practicality of it as a kitchen surface. I was also worried that a matte wood surface might not flow with the slick granite countertop beside it.
“I’d epoxy it,” our contractor Eric said.
My only experience with epoxied wood tables is what I’ve seen in theme restaurants — you know the kind: a bottle cap collection embedded in the thick clear coating on a tabletop like bugs trapped under an inch of amber. Coating it with epoxy was a hard sell; all of the stains I tried were so beautiful but the fact was that this piece of wood was going to be a kitchen surface. One coffee ring or spilled glass of wine and our beautiful planned wood would be ruined.
After watching a few YouTube videos on how to epoxy tables I became convinced this was a project I could handle.
You can pick it up epoxy at Home Depot or Lowes in the paint department . It is sold in a box which contains two bottles, one is the hardener and one is the resin. There are detailed instructions on how much to use depending on the square footage of your table. Ours is roughly 3ft x 6ft and the directions called for about 3-4 quarts.
Step One: Prepare The Wood: The first step is prepare the wood for application. I had to flip it over and work on the underside of the countertop. I filled all the cracks and anything that looked like a hole with Bondo brand Body Filler. This sealed anything that would have caused the epoxy from simply dripping through the countertop in spots. I was surprised at how many cracks there were. Once it was dry and sanded, the counter top was ready to be flipped again.
Luckily, our floors are still covered in paper and thin plywood to keep them protected during construction, but as an added measure I also covered the entire working space on the floor with plastic. I placed the wood on two saw horses and leveled it. This is important because epoxy is self leveling as it dries. If the countertop is not level the epoxy would not be a consistent thickness.
Step Two: Mix The Epoxy The next, step is mixing the epoxy, and it is the most important part of the project. Improper mixing will cause soft or tacky spots in the surface. First, I separated the containers of hardener and resin, so I would not confuse the two. Be sure to wear safety glasses and rubber gloves. This stuff is hard to wash off and you don’t want to accidentally get any in your eyes. Make sure you are wearing shoes that you don’t care about because it will drip.
Take a look at the instructions and see how long they recommend to mix the two parts before you start pouring. Mine recommended 12 minutes. After putting on my safety glasses and gloves I poured three bottles of Resin into a new, clean pail. Then I poured all three Resin containers in and began to stir with a clean painting stir stick for 12 minutes.
Step Three: Pour The Mix Onto The Surface Next, I poured the epoxy onto the table right down the middle. It has the consistency of maple syrup and stinks. You want to make sure the room temperature is at least 75 degrees so it will set up and cure properly. Using a paint brush I smoothed it out over the table and it dripped naturally over the sides. (Make sure you don’t use a cheap brush that will lose hair fibers in the epoxy.)
Step Four: Get Rid of Air Bubbles What surprised me at this point were how many bubbles there were in the maple syrup like epoxy, not just from stirring but also bubbles that were rising up from air pockets in the hundreds of tiny cracks in the wood.
To get rid of them I used a straw to blow directly on the bubble and pop it. The epoxy around it fills it in and I moved on to look another bubble. It took about an hour for the epoxy to set up to the point that blowing on a bubble would cause a dent on the countertop. So I left it to cure.
Step Five: Let It Cure The directions say to let it cure for 12 hours before applying another coat. At this point I wasn’t sure what to do about the bubbles and air craters that appeared from overnight. I took an orbital sander and sanded it smooth with 400 grit sandpaper. Wiping it clean with acetate and a clean rag.
Step Six: Apply Second Coat Now the table was pit marked with craters and also had a foggy appearance to it from the sanding which I didn’t like because I couldn’t see the wood grain clearly. I decided to do another coat of epoxy. This time I would be more diligent about finding bubbles with my straw. I walked around the table for about an hour as it set up. and I couldn’t see any bubbles. But the next day there were 3 small ones right in the middle. Those bubbles would wreak havoc with my OCD if I left them so I decided to do one more coat. This time if was perfect, like a smooth sheet of ice once it set up.
Step Seven: Clean The Edges After this was all done, there were a ton of stalactite drips that had formed on the underside of the counter. I used an orbital sander to remove those, but was careful not to sand the top
Step Eight: Wait To Marvel At Your Work It will not be fully cured for 14 days, so be sure not leave objects on the surface until then.
The end results, as you can see from the photos above, are pretty gorgeous. The grain shines through and the wood is smooth to touch, and safe for coffee cups and wine glasses alike. Phew!
What is it about circle rugs that are so appealing? I’ve been a fan of them since my early renter days. Currently we have a pretty genius Ikea hack in our upstairs landing, featuring one rug made up of lots of dots. Chilewich’s new indoor-outdoor dot rugs have just the kind of playful whimsy we’ve been looking for. They come in bright, popping colors of the season that is almost here (melt snow, melt!). I think they’d be groovy in place of a runner in a long hall, or in a kitchen where orange, citron and green are always welcome. About $100/each at Armara.
A bathroom renovation has been on the agenda since the day escrow closed on our house. We’ve been doing what we can to fix our eyesore of a bath without any demolition: notably converting a traditional door into a mini french door to open up the space and swapping out a rickety towel rod for rope cleats that function as towel hooks. We’re itching to rip out the too-big toilet and cultured marble vanity — and yes, that is a sheet vinyl shower surround.
Finding the right fixtures has been a big hold up on our renovation process. We want something modern, but not TOO much so, as our house is mid-century — and the footprint needs to be small, as our bathroom is a tiny closet of sadness and despair. I know that finding a combination of size, look, and god-forbid functionality is a tall order from a bath fixture, but I’ve found all of these showers by Mira Showers. I’m absolutely swooning for the clean lines of the Mira Miniluxe ER. The exposed riser is a nod to the classic exposed plumbing often found in vintage homes, but with a decidedly more modern vibe. I’m torn between the Miniluxe and the minimalist luxury of the Mira Agile which would have the added bonus of a second hand-held shower head. Not only are both these choices visually attractive, but the showers from Mira Showers have a patented Magni-flo technology which will ensure a full deluge even at low pressure. And this lazy housekeeper won’t have to worry about limescale either, since the nozzles are designed to just rub clean.
We’ve already purchased the sink — after I wrote about it here way back in 2009. We just can’t pull the trigger on the darn faucet. I want a sturdy fixture that is 100% brass — but those can cost a hefty sum. I actually found a few options I like here and here — at Overstock, of all places. As for the toilet, after hours of measuring and internet review reading, I think we’re going with the Ariel Platinum Anna toilet, which has the smallest dimensions I’ve found. And in our lil’ loo, every inch matters.
What would you do with this little bathroom? We’re thinking white walls and subway tile, dark grout, and glossy black or dark gray floors. Clean, classic with a touch of modern — our goal is to open the space up and add some luxury to our modest bath!
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The moment everyone’s been waiting for is here! The reveal of the final rooms in the Re-Energized by Design Competition is live, in a super-sized two parter. This time, the two remaining teams have TWICE the budget, a room full of LED lighting from GE Lighting, and a full range of gorgeous and energy efficient appliances from Frigidaire to pimp their room. We are REALLY going to see some major transformations happening here.
The GE LED lighting is available in many different “temperatures” of color, something that can dramatically affect in how things look in your kitchen. I experienced this first hand after I painted my own kitchen recently. I loved the paint color in daylight, but at night, the color looked awful. I switched out to a softer LED bulb (3000K) and it made ALL THE DIFFERENCE. And I won’t be needing to change the bulb (or the wall color, thankfully) for 25 years!
I really wish our team, the Bedford family, had made it to this final round. They could have really benefitted from those new Frigidare Gallery appliances — the ultra efficient induction range alone is a huge safety boost for families with young children (less burning risk). There’s no need to replace existing cookware, either — if a magnet sticks to the pan, it will work with induction. And a convection oven is a must-have for those of us who love to bake.
The Sayers, of course, did not disappoint in this challenge by using some unconventional materials to maximize their budget — and because they are obviously just cool like that. I loved their use of the salvaged steel chalkboard as a backsplash; and that mirror in the kitchen (though I wouldn’t want to be the one cleaning it) reminds me of my days as a culinary instructor, where we taught with a huge mirror over the butcher block. All this and surprisingly below budget!
The Reilly family has consistently been more traditional in their design choices, though I’ll admit I really liked what they did in the kitchen. Nothing wrong with the combination of white subway tile and dark grout, I always say. And the paint treatment on the cabinets? Spot On. No matter what team wins the grand prize, both these families have beautiful new kitchens to enjoy for years and years to come.
What do you think of the final room? Is it the Sayers family’s funky loft or the Reilly’s clean classic kitchen that should earn the $5000 grand prize? Watch and see who takes home the giant check below!
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Even though our team is no longer in the running, it’s still fun to keep up with what’s going on in the Re-Energized By Design competition. This week, the remaining three teams made over their laundry rooms.
In addition to $500 and energy efficient lighting from GE, the homeowners each received an brand new set of Frigidaire Affinity laundry equipment. These are not your average high-efficiency washers & dryers — this is serious technology in action here. The Affinity dryer will dry a full load in less than 30 minutes, and the washer features allergen reduction and sanitizing features along with having the highest energy star rating. And aesthetically they please, too (though I have to wonder why no one picked the red option).
Love what those scrappy Sayers did in their space with that upcycled laundry drum light fixture. Their creative approach is always surprising, and will be tough to beat in the final round. In the end, the Mendes family’s pastel laundry room didn’t make the cut — that leaves the Sayers and the Reillys to duke it out in the kitchen challenge! who do you think will win?!
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It’s that time again — time for the next challenge in the Re-Energized by Design competition! This week, the remaining four teams are making over the living room. The Bedford’s room is dramatic, with vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows (with some broken panes). I found the space overwhelmed by the arc lamp and the red brick fireplace, but not in a good way. Also — there was not a lot of lighting options. Reading was impossible on the couch unless it was daytime, and entertaining? Dim lights might be fine for a nightclub, but for a family-friendly party? Not so much. The stairs were just exposed plywood splattered with paint. Not much on the walls in regards to art, either. Their furniture was good though — a nice neutral modern sectional, and an heirloom mid-century lounge chair and dresser.
Rather than using bold bright colors on the walls, we went dark — Dark gray on that red brick fireplace. Instead of painting everything one color, we only painted two walls in the dark gray; and used a lighter gray on an accent wall and staircase, leaving the rest of the room white, allowing the space to feel more intimate and cozy without overwhelming the space with such a dark color. And next to the fireplace, Slade put in some nice open shelving painted to blend into the wall, styled with art and objects from around the house. We also broke up their sectional and reconfigured it, and flipped over their old rug for a more industrial look. Kristen also repainted their coffee table glossy black.
Kristen made some colorful decoupage art; and I (along with my uber-talented seamstress pal Suzanne) got to work on some accent pillows, a floor pouf, and the reupholstering of the mid-century lounger with a colorful new fabric. I thought the chair turned out gorgeous, going from something you barely noticed to something that can anchor a space on its own. If you know me, you know I had to work in some of my signature vintage orange velvet, too. But I’m honestly proudest of that pouf: my first sewing project in 4 years, made entirely by myself, with NO PATTERN. The boys instantly gravitated toward it. Liam declaring it “his dice”, proceeded to toss it around the room and jump all over it.
In the energy improvement category, the Bedfords did a lot as well to improve their usage. Slade installed (from scratch) a LED track lighting system that we hid behind the beam, so we could add light around the room on the bookcases, on the couch, and on the new art. We also swapped out LED bulbs for incandescent in the other lamps around the room, adding significantly more light to the space while reducing the wattage in half. Slade caulked all the windows and beams, helping to reduce heat loss. They also put their stereo and charging docks on a smart powerstrip, so they can reduce that energy loss when not in use. And if that wasn’t enough, they reduced their thermostat 3 degrees to produce a significant savings in energy usage.
Alas, it wasn’t enough for the judges, sadly. I loved our room — basically, I think it all came down to a matter of points. I wish we had more time on this room, we could have done so much more. My project checklist had about 10 more to-do’s left unchecked, believe it or not. Our fatal error was when our plans to make fabric roman shades for the windows became impossible; rather than the shade choice made, I wish we could have thrown up some cute no-sew curtains on tension rods. I think that could have made enough of a difference to get us into the next round. Twenty-twenty hindsight, I guess. Honestly, I’m proud we made it this far; a lot of which I should credit to the valiant efforts of Kristen and Slade. Our rooms were up against some pretty stiff competition from professional architects and designers, so our rag-tag team of DIY’ers made a good show!
Stick around for next week’s post, where
I bitterly tear apart the remaining contestant’s rooms with derisive judgements we see how the competition proceeds with the laundry room challenge! Who will get the chop next?
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The second elimination challenge in the Re-Energized by Design competition is here! This time, each team had the option to makeover either the garage or an office. My team, The Bedfords, decided to makeover an office.
This space serves as a multi-purpose room for the Bedfords: an office for Slade, a guest room, and a napping space for the youngest member of the family, Theo. I was overwhelmed by the dark window coverings, multiple desks, and overall cluttered feel of the room. Something struck me immediately though — the giant, vintage pull-down school map of the United States. SO COOL! I decided to let that be the focal point of the space, and pulled all of the room’s inspiration from the color palate and theme. The color, Overjoy by Sherwin Williams, is a nice, warm golden yellow. It’s a perfect counterpoint to grey Seattle skies, and also complements the yellow and golden hues in the map without looking to pastel. This is a man’s office after all, so I wanted an air of distinguished masculinity to permeate the room. That being said, Slade wasn’t too convinced of my bold color choice at first.
Not having tons of money ($500), we scrapped plans for new furniture and instead focused on organizing and styling the space. We got rid of one of the two heavy dark wood desks, immediately making the room feel more open. I took the yellow-brass drawer pulls from the desk and antiqued them, making it look more expensive and more like an actual antique than the 1990’s repro it actually is. We purchased some dark wood shelving, a new set of Nate Berkus curtains from Target, and some nice dark wood blinds to help block out the light when little Theo is taking a siesta. Bonus — those window treatments will help reduce energy costs by blocking out the brutal summer sun through those west facing windows.
Instead of buying a brand new light fixture, we found a vintage one at our local buliding salvage for a song. We paired it with a dimmer switch to allow maximum flexibility for the multi-functioning room. The brassy 70’s feel of the fixture helped tie some of the pre-existing furniture into the new design. In fact, our motto for this room became “embrace the brass” — Kristen scored a few vintage hand-me-down brass lamps that really added some warmth and more focused light around the room. We outfitted everything with new GE LED bulbs, modernizing the vintage fixtures and adding an abundance of more functional light while simultaneously reducing the overall wattage.
Once again, the room was styled mostly with items from the Bedford’s home: an emerald green ceramic stool from the backyard added a touch of the orient, a vintage beer barrel from the basement served as a unique side table, and memorabilia from previous travels became art. My favorite little touch? Those three inexpensive matching clocks echoing the travel vibe. So fun.
I couldn’t be more pleased with how this room turned out. Slade, despite his reservations at first, loves it as well. And most importantly, the judges loved it! They gave me high praise for my color selection this week. Let’s see if this momentum keeps up — the living room challenge is next week!
As we finish up the heavy lifting on the cottage renovation, it’s time to start thinking about the fun stuff — decorating! Though our depleted budget will mean that the we’ll be opting for more creative ways of recycling yard sale finds and upcycling Ikea with clever hacks, there is one thing that we are going to splurge on: Lighting fixtures. We are looking for a couple of lights that will go in the kitchen area: One for over the sink and another for the bar that divides the living room from the kitchen space. The mode we’re going for is modern industrial Swedish farmhouse. Does that make any sense? That means that we want some Edison bulbs with simple fixtures that aren’t too sleek or modern.
Our quest has sent to an old favorite, Schoolhouse Electric, which upon rediscovery, we love more than ever. Beautifully made in Portland, Oregan, the company began by finding old milk glass lighting fixtures and reproducing them for modern spaces. Now the company has expanded to include furniture, tableware and even jewelry — all with the same beautiful lines and clean design. But the core of the company remains its beautiful lighting. One new gorgeous design is the Ion C- Series, a playful tabletop light that would bright a splash of color to any office. For our dining area, we’re looking at the City Chandelier, which features 7 Edison bulbs hanging from sturdy chords. Like many of Schoolhouse Electric’s designs, you decide the bulb shape and the finish on the chord and hardware, allowing for amazing customization.
Need more inspiration? Watch the video below and take a tour of the factory.
Winter is really starting to kick in. After seven or so days of below freezing temperatures, my body starts to notice it. My shoulders are tense from the way I hurriedly rush outside, my hands need constant moisturizing, and of course our house feels dryer than a used a chalkboard. Last year we invested in a hefty humidifier from Stradler Form, and I love it. It purrs along through the night and helps keep us breathing clear — not to mention prevents our skin from scaling off. But after spotting this cute little number, I’m attempted to trade in dull Oskar. Meet Fred, the cutest, Jetson-esque humidifier I’ve ever seen. It’d be dreamy in a kid’s bedroom but is chic enough to hold its own in your main living spaces. More than a humidifier, Fred is a vaporizer. Add a scent and it will lift your spirits as well as your moisture levels. Fred at Stradler Form, $150.
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!
Sawing in action, with some stain tests at the top.
See more about our cottage renovation here!