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MKR: The Countertop Edition

July 16, 2008

Yes I am still renovating. Yes, it’s true that the kitchen is still not finished. After halting all work for June (too much travel) I am gearing back up again for a renovation session this weekend with the family.

I believe I left you with a big pile of granite tile in my living room. Well, those tiles are now permanently residing as my countertops and that shiny Kohler sink is officially installed. The glass shades for the overhead pendant light fixture were also finally purchased. So things are starting to take a turn for the pretty.

The installation for the counter and sink took three days–one and a half that I was present for. Mad props to the family, they are amazing.

DAY 1 – We started on a Saturday, ripping out the old Formica counters and cutting the substrate to fit. This was tough because it was pouring outside which meant dear old Dad wanted to make the plywood cuts indoors. Circular saw + plywood + my dining room was going to equal a mother load of sawdust. And I am still battling sawdust from refinishing the freaking cabinets, so needless to say I was getting a little worried. Plus, I had to leave the install to go attend Buggie’s Graduation BBQ and who knows what fantastical things they might have decided to do in my absence. Fortunately, there was a break in the weather, so they were able to make the plywood and backer board cuts outside. Phew.

While brother and I headed of for the party, Mom, Dad, bother-in-law and little sis all stayed and cut and fit the plywood and backer board in. So for the next day, we started with this (look how big the space for the sink is!):

DAY 2 — We started by marking the cuts on the tiles. We would turn them over and run a pencil along the cut line and then tape off the section of tile that need to be cut away. The countertop opposite of the one in the picture above is almost a perfect square without any cutouts so we started there. My Dad cut all the tile himself, save for the pieces my brother did towards the end of the day (not that we didn’t TRY to have Home Depot make two tricky cuts for us, but they were, shall we say, not helpful in that area).

After all the cuts were made we dry fit the tiles into place to make sure everything was kosher and all nice and even. Most of the cuts were right on, just a few needed some shaving either on the tile saw Dad was manning outside, or the hacksaw my brother was using for the slimmest of cuts. Once we determined that everything was going to fit, it was time to mix the granite mortar mix. A project little bro and Mom left me and Dad to take care of. Looked simple enough, the instructions were in the form of a pictogram (which I should have taken a picture of, but didn’t). The pictogram showed a measured amount of water to be poured in a bucket and then the mortar mix to be added to the water, and then constant and vigorous stirring for a specified amount of time–thusly creating a type of cement. We measured the water and poured it in the bucket. Check. Dad lifted the 50lb bag of mortar mix and started pouring it into the water-filled bucket while I stirred in a very witch-cauldron-stew kind of way. Check check. Before Dad got half of the bag of mix in the bucket it became obvious that if we were to continue, stirring would immediately have to stop, for there was clearly not enough water to keep things liquidy and the cement, she was getting harder by the minute. We added some unprescribed water and continued our quest, only to hit another cement wall, literally. Dad and I silently determined the pictogram was bogus and we were officially going to do this off the cuff. I added more water.

Dad (yelling): What’s this stuff supposed to look like?

Mom (referencing her bank of HGTV knowledge): It’s supposed to have the consistency of peanut butter.

Dad (looking into the bucket as I am stirring): Chunky or Smooth?


Me: Giggle

It’s obvious that we are too loose for peanut butter, so we add a bit more mortar mix in, much to my chagrin because damn, this shit is hard to stir. And the prescribed stir time is something like twelve minutes so every time we tinker with the recipe we start the timer over.

I lift up the stir stick (we are using a broom handle) to test it’s consistency, and it’s a little drippy. Dad tells me to keep stirring while he adds a little more mix in and again restarts the timer.

Me (tiring fast and groaning): Dad, you stir. My abs hurt. (Seriously, you had to stir with your whole body)

Dad (taking the stick): Wuss

After a minute and a half Dad is sweating. He tests the consistency, it’s definitely thicker, but it’s still a little drippy. Dad wonders aloud if peanut butter would drip off the end of a knife. He then determines, aloud, the no, peanut butter should not drip.

Me: Not true! My natural peanut butter is very drippy.

Dad (yelling): Is it supposed to be like natural peanut butter or the regular kind?

Mom (yelling): What? How the hell should I know!

Me: Giggle

Dad’s stirring is slowing so I take over. It’s getting thicker. We start taking two-minute shifts. I try to entice my freakishly strong brother to come stir, he takes two turns around the bucket and hands us back the stick. This shit is hard. I mean have you ever mixed cement by hand? Heysoos. Here is the bane of our existence that day:

So we finally get to peanut butter stage. Now it’s sloppy time. Using a 1/4″ x 3/8″ x 1/4″ trowel we slap that stuff on the counters and start laying tile. That apparently is a large grooved trowel, good for getting a good grip on the tile, but hard to make adjustments once you’ve laid it down. So we spent the next hour pushing and wiggling to get our lines and corners straight.  Mortaring is oddly like frosting a cake. I like it. I take pride in making nice trowel lines.  Can you guess which picture shows my mortar job?

Oh my gosh, once we straightened everything out, it looked amazing! After all the tile was laid down we taped down the areas that might decide to move on their own…just so we didn’t run into any surprises as the cement dried overnight.

Day 3 — Now it’s Monday and I am at work, but the family is over at my house finishing the install. The tiles need to be grouted and the sink now needs to be installed. The grouting goes fine according to my mom’s play-by-play text messages. It’s the sink that causes a bit of a hullabaloo between the bro and the dad. Apparently it’s not the easiest thing in the world to go from a shallow-depth, single basin sink to a two basin version that is double the depth. Seems that new and confusing plumbing fixtures are needed. And as I was informed via screaming in the background when my mother called to confess their difficulties “[THEY] ARE NOT PLUMBERS!” Who knew?

Well they might not be plumbers, but they are geniuses and of course they figured it out and when I came home that Monday night, oh my god. It was amazing.

Here is a side by side of the before and after:

Next: This weekend that linoleum floor gets ripped up! More demolition, woo!

You can read up on My Kitchen Renovation (MKR) that has been slowly eking along by clicking here.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2008 5:51 pm

    Enough about this laying tile. Tell me whether anyone laid any pipe.

  2. July 16, 2008 9:40 pm


  3. Matt permalink
    July 17, 2008 12:58 pm

    They did an amazing job! Are there granite backsplash-tiles that will go against the adjacent walls, or is that going to be just regular ceramic tile, or . . . ?

  4. July 17, 2008 1:57 pm

    Matt – I know, right!

    I am going to do ceramic “broken tile” backsplashes…in a mosaic pattern. Think Italian bistro. They will go down all the way to the counters, no little granite half splash.

  5. July 18, 2008 8:05 am

    WOWWWWWWWW. Who knew the Banana family was so talented. Things really are looking fantastic!

  6. Buggie permalink
    July 21, 2008 12:30 am

    Wow! It looks fantastic!!! I am so excited for you.

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