Counter Attack: The 12-Year Kitchen

Han stone quartz countertop

The marbled white quartz from HanStone looks cool and clean against the green cabinets. But what a journey to get here! Now please, people, can someone help us pick a wall color?

We finally hit the milestone we’ve been waiting for: the countertop is in!

This was a big one—the finish line has been in sight, but unreachable, until now. Everything that needed to be done has been done, except for what depended on the counter. For the last two weeks, every conversation has included the phrase “but not until the countertop goes in.” We’re chomping at the bit, ready to roll, ticking off the days.

In retrospect it seems so easy. But it was a tough one–deciding on material, color, edge, size… it was difficult. Honestly, right now, I can’t believe it’s done.

We started out thinking we wanted a wood countertop. Our old butler’s pantry had a wooden countertop that was truly striking against the light-green cabinets. I was especially attached to it since it had taken me the entire summer of 2003 to strip 80 years’ worth of paint off the counter and those old cabinets—I thought it would be a nice homage to the old kitchen to pair that same wooden counter look with our pristine new (but still green) cabinets.

Rhenry Kitchen Remodeling Countertops and Cabinets Bob Vila

When the material you're going to cut is pricey quartz, you definitely want to measure carefully. Our fabricator used a lightweight circular saw and a hot-melt glue gun to build an exact template for each section of countertops.

Nice thought, but we hit two obstacles on wood:

• The maintenance required is not terrible, but we had to be honest about ourselves here—maintenance is not our thing. Even annual oiling and refinishing seemed a little daunting. Maintenance-free sounded much better.

• Margaret had her heart set on an undermount sink. Although the sink manufacturer told us that people installed undermounts in wood counters all the time, nobody would guarantee such an installation. The cast-iron, “weighs-a-ton” undermount we were ordering could have wound up proving too much for a wooden counter.

At one point Margaret actually suggested we go with laminate, keeping our cost low and leaving us the option of changing our mind in a few years if we didn’t end up liking it. I was incredulous—after all this, I was not getting laminate, and it had nothing to do with the freedom to change our minds. You see, Margaret’s parents remodeled their kitchen around 20 years ago, and the laminate counter was her mom’s one regret in the whole project. For years after that project, the words “kitchen remodel” would always provoke the same response: “I can’t believe I let Bob talk me into the laminate counters.” With the word laminate forever linked in my mind to regret, I knew we couldn’t go there.

We moved on to granite next. We liked the thought of using a natural material, and we both loved the way it looked. But one trip out to the slab yard induced massive decision fatigue—really, we were supposed to look at individual sheets of granite and pick our very own slab? I can’t even pick a lobster or a steak in a restaurant, and I’m supposed to pick a slab? Figure out where the seams would be, where the not-so-nice veins would cross, and come up with a great-looking counter? After all the other choices we’d made to this point, it seemed insurmountable.

Cutting a template for a countertop

Thin strips of wood, glued and marked up, formed a template for the counter fabricators. The markings show what edges are polished, where the corner should be rounded, and where the eased edge began and ended.

One look through the slabs in the yard, one look at each other, and we retreated to manufactured quartz, where the sample is about four inches square and the whole counter is pretty much guaranteed to look like the sample. For a control freak, this was the way to go.

Counter overhang

This is one of my favorite little corners of the kitchen. The wall cabinet on the right has a false front, hiding the bookshelf that opens to the side. We had the counter cut long for this section, overhanging the base by about six inches. A counter-height barstool will go there—excellent for a cook browsing recipes!

Color was another matter. Marg feels safer with light, neutral colors. After a decade of that in our house, I was itching for a stronger color statement. I lobbied hard for a dark green counter as a bold contrast against our light green cabinets.

Sadly for me, my sister strongly cautioned Margaret against a dark counter of any material. “It always looks dirty to me,” she said of her own new countertop. “I’m always wiping it off, always thinking it’s dirty, when it’s just dark.” With my sister’s real-world experience to back her up, Marg stood by her decision to go light.

Happily for me, though, we were able to make the counter decision in the tile store the same day we picked the bathroom floor. We’d started out with nothing in particular in mind for the floor—I had some vague idea that we’d go with beach colors in there, but I didn’t have any great vision for it. For the floor tile we assumed white or off-white… until I saw a fantastic wood-look floor tile that said “boardwalk” to me. Perfect for a beachy bath! So in classic couples style, we did our bargaining in front of the saleslady. Marg got her light countertop, I got my boardwalk floor tile.

And then it was done—the countertop was installed last Friday, and we are ready to roll. This week, the backsplash goes in, and right after that we’ll have outlets, light fixtures, and water hookups. We’ll be done!!!

Have you remodeled your kitchen?  If so, send us before and after images so that we can include in our Gallery of Kitchens, launching soon on Bobvila.com.  You can upload your images at the Bob Vila Facebook page here.

Next: Are You Smarter Than Your Refrigerator?


For more information on kitchen countertops and cabinets, check out the following Bob Vila videos:

Building a Template for a Kitchen Countertop

Installing a Granite Countertop and Kitchen Cabinets

Colonial Kitchen Tour in Nantucket