Installing a Soapstone Kitchen Counter

Project: Bob's Shingle Style Home, Episode 21, Part 1

In the kitchen, soapstone countertops, the kitchen sink, and a new Moen faucet get installed. Outside, planting is underway, as the landscapers plant a tree in the bluestone terrace. Bob takes us on a trip to the Burpee Seeds trial gardens in Pennsylvania.

Part 1: Installing a Soapstone Kitchen Counter
Bob discusses installation and care of the new kitchen soapstone countertop with Todd Allen, who has done the work. John easily installs the Moen faucet. Bob also tours the kitchen, showing the cabinetry, storage, future mudroom, and small office.
Part 2: Touring the Burpee Trial Gardens
Part 3: Planting a Tree in the Patio
This project centers around the remodel of Bob Vila's own gracious Shingle Style home in Cambridge, MA. It's a house with a lot of history and beautiful architectural details, many of which were obliterated in remodels of the 50s and the 70s. On the centennial of the house's construction, Bob gets together the best talents in the business to recreate and renew it to its former glory, making some important modifications along the way that will transform this into a dream house for today.

Also from Bob's Shingle Style Home

Hi, I'm Bob Vila. Welcome home again.

It's a beautiful day in Cambridge and today we are doing some outside work.

We're installing a beautiful plum tree in the back yard and also giving you a look at the completed terrace.

Then we're taking you on a tour of the Burpee trial gardens in Ambler, Pennsylvania to look at some really gorgeous plant specimens.

And inside the house, well, we're still working on our kitchen.

We are installing installing our kitchen counters. They are made of soap stone and putting in a new kitchen faucet.

Stick around, its good to have you Home Again.

Bob Vila's Home Again.

This is actually our dining room but we've set it up as staging area for all the carpentry that's going on in the kitchen.

The risers and tread stock are here. We've got a staircase being assembled really and Jimmy is just working on the first step here.

You'll notice the round design of that first riser.

This kind of matches the main staircase just in the main hall there and the way we've done it is to put all these kerf cuts in the back like that a plywood, all the way to the veneer practically. But then the way it's all glued together with the gorilla glue, it really becomes a very sturdy element. We've got all of these to do. Probably two more day's worth of carpentry there.

But all of these cabinets are in place, and now we're getting to the stage of setting in the counter tops. And we're using a product that's a very New England product. It's soapstone. This is something that was used extensively in the nineteenth century.

It's a sedimentary stone millions of years old, and it's very soft. That's why it's called soapstone. You can work it with power tools right here on site. Cut it, shape it, do anything you want to it, and it's really beautiful.

It is like recess.

Yeah. It's really beautiful when you have to oil it, which is what will be happening here, because it takes on this kind of grey green look and this of course will dry in a minute. But, the way we're installing it, you can look here on the island portion it sits on top of a layer of this plastic material which is called Sintra and right now they're not permanently installed, we're just doing the fitting stages but we've got that to create a reveal here. But let's talk with Todd Allen, who's done all this beautiful work in here. And you've already shaped all of this, right Todd?

That's correct.

And how do you cut the material when you're creating a hole for a sink?

You actually can cut it with a saber saw and as you had mentioned standard power tools. And then you just clean it up with a belt sander.


And now we're getting ready to install our Moen kitchen faucet and let's watch you cut with that saw because you drill right through it with the whole saw.

That's correct.

Got it?

Now Todd, how come the plumber won't cut..? The hole in here.

But generally the plumber doesn't want to deal with the finished product.

Right, doesn't want to take the responsibility.

I don't blame him.

This stuff is about 50 dollars a foot.

Now you have, I noticed, got a seam there and another one here, why haven't you finished the routing here?

What we do is we wait till after it is epoxied to give it the final edge and then once it's in place and set...

OK, because you're epoxying where these two butt together.


And then at the last minute, you'll make a pass with a router so that you get a nice, even surface.


I got you.

OK, I'll let you go back to work.

I see John's coming here to get started with our faucet.

Hi John.

How are you doing?

Do you like these?

Yeah. Real nice faucet, yeah.

They're easy to install, I believe.

Oh, yeah.

What's the first step?

Well, the first step is put this chrome excursion on .

Then the rubber gasket.

Then underneath the counter, this goes up, push through here, like that.

And that's how it attaches to the bottom of the substrate?



And you just tighten up the nut.
Well, let me put it through here and I will hold it well.
Yeah. Could you, please?

I got it .

OK, Hold it firmly for me.

Yeah, Now the second hold we put here is for soap dispatcher.

Okay, John. Can we test it?

Yeah, go ahead bob, test it.

Not bad .Yeah, What I like is this feature, you can pull this out.

And you can push that, and get a nice shower.

And it works very nicely.

Right next to it, we've got another little gadget that's a soap dispenser.

We'll put liquid dishwashing soap in there.

Notice where we're getting this wet, and let me explain this.

This is a very absorbent stump, and this is more less what is going to look like, when it's treated with mineral oil, and that's the key. You don't wanna put any kind of harmful oil, like a linseed oil or anything like that, on a kitchen counter that's gonna take food products around it.

But, when this finished and properly maintained every few months with the mineral oils, it will always have this kind of look. But it's so absorbent, I mean, I just did this here a minute ago, it is already dried out.

There is some back splash sections still to be put in here, which will be used using three-quarter inch stone.

But, let's go over towards this end of the kitchen. We haven't been here in a while.

OK, this is the kitchen entrance to the house the way we'll be coming in and out all the time, and there's a funny story here.

When we started the project, we ordered a custom door. A replica of the door that had originally been here but in a smaller size. It's been delivered by the millwork Not once, not twice, but three times and each time they've gotten a size wrong.

But, the real reason why we haven't able to complete the work here
is that the deck that is to be built here is designed to go all the way to the edge of the property line which is, I think about 5 or 6 feet.

In order to do that, you have to have a variance from the zoning board of appeals. And because the zoning board of appeals is an agency that's composed of volunteers ah, you know, members of the community, we haven't been able to get a hearing because, for the last three months, they haven't been able to get a quorum, enough people to show up to do it.

So, anyway we are hoping tonight's the hearing. We're hoping we'll have a kitchen door and a deck out here in a week or so.

But let's take a look at the function of this space, because you walk in here, and we have, right in front of us, we have cabinets. We'll have more of that soapstone around here.

We'll have little drawers for everybody to have their gloves and their keys or whatever, and above we got more storage and some nice old fashioned rounded corner storage.
And then in this section here, we have the equivalent of a mudroom. We'll be building a bench here with a drop lid on it, and inside we'll have a bin for dog food.

And you can sit there, take off your boots, and then along the top we'll put in a nice shaker peg for hanging jackets and the like.

But this is the area that we really call the main pantry for the kitchen, because all these cabinets will provide storage space for the staples, the daily staples that we'll use. And then in this area, we'll have the little kitchen office.

But anyway, we've got to break for some messages. Stick around. When we're back, we'll be visiting the Burpee Seed Company.

We're in Ambler Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, visiting the Burpee Company's trial gardens, and let's meet president of Burpee, George Bob.

Hi George. Good morning.

Good morning Bob.

How are you?

Fine thank you and welcome.

What is a trial garden?

Well its a Burpee catalog in living form.

Both the present catalog and the future catalogs to come.


So everything in here is kind of, in a way, experimental right?

Yeah, exactly its both the confirmation as well as future stuff.

Yeah. So here we are Sharron Kazan [sp?], my chief gardner Bob.

Hi how are you?.

Nice to know you.

Nice to meet you.

What are you creating here Sharron? We're testing some new varieties and some old variety standards, trying different ways with pots and containers.

These looks suspiciously like flu liners.

They are. We are using them because we wanted to give a different height variation and when we do design something one of the trials wanted to see how the plants do growing in them.

Keeps the plants, from invasive plants, from getting out of hand.

That's a mint that you have there, and boy I know how How invasive that can be.

That can take over your whole flower bed.

This is one way to grow it without a problem.


Plus get the hay.

OK, and what are some of the colorful things that we see here like this little yellow.

This is a sunflower that Burpee is very proud of this year.

Its called Elk and everybody can grow a sunflower.

But usually it get six feet tall.

Does this get very tall?


This is what it will be in a pot.

Exactly what your seeing.

Everybody can enjoy it.

And what is this little vignette on the ground in front of me?

We have a lot of plants we're trialing that are very dainty and tiny and we wanted to just show them in a form that's dainty and tiny.

Certainly is. This is cute.

This is a great project to do with your kids I guess.

Exactly, we call this the dollhouse.

Yeah, its very neat.

It gets very full and a child can sit in there and a little girl could play with all her dolls out here.

Now, George, my understanding of Burpee is that they really are a seed company and that they pioneered.

Yeah, seeds and plants.

We brought seeds over from Europe a hundred and twenty years ago, and Europe is like The cave, it's cool, it's dark and it's damp, and America is really sunny, very sunny and very hot.

So when the immigrants came over, we took their seeds and planted them in these test gardens, like you see here, and starting many years ago, and we created a race if you will or generation of American vegetables and American flowers that could take the high heat and the high humidity and the extremities of...

What kind of peppers are these?

This is a paprika.

Paprika, so is it a Hungarian?

Hungarian and those are Hungarian sweets over there.
The Hungarians love the really white skin on those Hungarian types, it's a very favorite thing.

Well, I'll tell you, we can talk about vegetables all day, because I love them, but we are really here to learn a little bit about flowering material.

The flowers. Sure, yeah, let's go over here and talk about the new flowers.

Now this is just cosmos right?

Yes, this is experimental variety that we're testing.
It blooms much earlier than your standard type and it doesn't get as floppy.

Now, does it have a name yet?

It's still experimental variety.

These came over from India on a routes to central Europe, and they're wonderful carpet-like colors and that's why the Germans and Poles really love them.


Now, next to it, I am familiar with this, it's a Marguerite, right?

Marguerite daisy, it's a chrysanthemum, an annual chrysanthemum, it has that lush buttery flower. It looks like the sun is shining.


It also has wonderful foliage for the garden which looks fresh.

And next year, hopefully you'll be able to find these in your garden center?

Absolutely, yeah. We're looking at the future here.

What's this?

This is the cockscomb. It's a tall cockscomb celosia cristata, a very tall form and it looks very exotic almost like alien and you want to use it as an accent plant. Very dramatic. Does very beautifully, has a rich color, and very tall. People like height nowadays.

Can you use this as a cut flower and bring it inside?

And you can also dry it, yes.

Neat. Now these are all annuals and I really want to learn more about perennials.

Let's go to our perfect perennial garden.

This is extraordinary.

Yeah, what you want in a perennial garden is a lot of space. So we got two borders facing each other, sort of mirroring in a classic border style. tile. English, Italian, American blend.

So, the size is one of the key things.

The size is the key thing here, Bob, because what you want height in a perennial garden. You want to mix it with some annuals. You want to sort of have variation in both time and space so you always have a show of color.

It's such a joy to walk through all these flowers that are quite this tall. There's something right here that catches my eye.

This is the coceana .


This is the verbena bonariensis. The beautiful tall Verbena.

What do you call this?

This is a rubrum lily, which is in the lilium family, and it consists of a bulb.

So it's a bulb that you plant, but it keeps coming back every year?

Yes .

And it's so fragrant.


Now, that's what I like about these things, they keep coming back every year, you don't have to buy more plants.

Right and a lot of texture as well as color. This one of the giants of the perennial garden.

What do you call this?

This is echinacea purpurea magnus and it's named after the fellow who bred it, although it is very large, it's a rich purple cone flower with a beautiful head and a wonderful intense petals and it was bred Island off Sweden in the 1960's.

So the common name is coneflower?

Purple coneflower, yes.

Fabulous, fabulous. And then over here you've got more of it and...


The way you balance the colors with the darker...


What is the plant with the dark red?

That's coleus, and although it's an annual, it does add a punch of color to the other perennials.

Yeah, nice rich color and texture. Here you don't you have a flower blooming, you have the foliage, in a sense, blooming and pouring out.


The rich, rich color with that...


Hot pink stripe down the middle of it.

An undervalued crop, that coleus crop.

Now what's on the other side of the hedge?

Let's take a look at some of our native plants.

So all of these plans are native to Pennsylvania?

To North America.

This is blinding. What is it?

This is rudbeckia gold storm. Black eyed Susan.


Gold storm. And it was taken from North America to Germany and cultivated, made in to this gold storm, and then brought back and introduced. So it's sort of the opposite of what burpee normally does.

But can you start this from seed?


Neat. That's really terrific. And everything in here Looks vaguely familiar.

Well this looks just like the, what was it?

That's the Echinacea White Swan. This is the white cone flower.

It's very unusual. It's not quite as popular as the deep purple one.

And over there, we have the Joe Pye Weed. That's a real popular item.

Wow, that's very tall. Now, what is it called, Joe Pye?

Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium.

And is that again a perennial, something you can start from seed?

Absolutely, so tall and it comes out from, no, this would come from plant, and this is so tall and it comes, it's great for insects.

You know, one of the the great things about natives that the insects love them so much and you get this glorious display in that you get height. You know, you're not always looking down, you're looking up.

Spectacular idea. Sharon great meeting you.

Thank you for the tour.

Nice to meet you.

George, thanks so much.


Happy gardening.

Alright and thank you.

Stick around. We'll be right back after these messages. Well, now were going to talk about some of the large plant material, and Mark Marini is with me.

This is called a what?

It's a Chamaecyparis.

And specifically, it's a hinoki cypress, right?

Hinoki cypres.

Its the..

The Latin term.

The Latin term, OK. I love these.

This is a good eight foot tall specimen. How tall will they get?

This'll get to be about 15 feet.


Well that's a good size.

So we've got two of these here now, but there's some more.

We have to decide whether we want to add some more in here and actually create a grouping, right?

Right. We might end up putting some more down through here.

I'm going put a call into our landscape architect, Nancy Lamb, and see if she can help us decide.

What's some of this other material that's in here.

Well, we have some azalea over here.


And rhododendrons.


And then those are viburnums in the back, with the red berries, right?

That's right.

And the idea here was to have a lot of show in the spring time and in the fall but not much in the summer.

That's right.

And I know that, we've got a lot of under planting here, right?

There will be ground cover and then perennials in through this area after.

The bulbs and the like.


But right now, oh look these are in here too. OK. We got more of these viburnums back here which, these get pretty tall also, right?

These will get up to about 12, 13 feet.

And don't they bloom in the spring?

They will also bloom in the spring.

Yeah. wonderful, wonderful.

Okay, now. The main thing that we are about to do is what we were preparing for last week. This is how deep this pit that we've left here.

It's about 18 inches down from the finished paving.

But, below that you supplied another 2 and a half feet of.

There's plenty of loam in there.

Of loam in there.

Where's its a paved area, you want to leave a lot of.

This specimen is coming in right now.

What do you call this again? It's a plum. But what kind of plum?

It's a thundercloud plum.


OK and that probably weighs 400 pounds or there about?

Well, a little better than that.

These two fellows are accustomed to dealing with this. So it's just a question of rolling and pivoting and getting it to come into the hole without too much damage the roof ball.

OK. Roll it in to the hole and you're easy with the tree. Manny's holding on to the top of the tree so it doesn't bang into anything on the way into the hole.

You got it Manny?



Yeah, they have done that before.

Yes they have.


And now the idea is to center it in the hole.

Right, you want a tree exactly in the center of the opening.

How tall is this going to grow?

Again, this will be about fifteen feet at maturity too.

OK, and so one would expect it, when it is mature in another five years or so.

No. You're gonna
We going for another 15 years before.

Is that height?

It hits that height.

Before it hits that height?

So, Wwen it is an old tree and I'm an old man the the shade in this whole area of the terrace should be very very nice.

Yes, you see the upright habit of the tree, you will be able to walk underneath it and its going to give up on a shade for the whole area.

It looks a little droopy to me, right now when it was put into a ball.

Well, this ball and burlap four days ago. We have been watering this everyday it is going to be happier in the home.

Yes and of course this is October that were putting this in. And so it's the best time in the year just before it goes to tournament, right

That's right.

When you have got the ball like that you get all tied up do you open it up untie it or
what do you do?

We are going to on time, remove all the Burlap on the top of the tree.

Man he's just back.

Going around it with the planting mix to straighten it up for now.

What is the planting mix?

Its top soil, its five part top soil, one part P mass and we add in some Decompose cow manure.

So its pretty rich stuff?

It is.

What we're doing is, we're removing all the twine from the top of root ball,
were going to remove all that burlap on top of the root ball.

We can fold down some of the burlap on the sides. It is biodegradable and it will decay in about a year or so.

But isn't there a danger of wicking if you keep a lot of this stuff?

There is.

If you lose the moisture to the tree?

Only if it's expose to the air. If you fold down the burlap deep enough you'd have no wicking.


Well, that's a pretty site.

Yeah, it's all done.

Now, what kind of care do we have to give this little tree it?

Well you just have to water it the same way Manny is watering it now. You want to soak it very well, everyday for about a week or so.

Oh , everyday?


For the first week.

Even though it's already October and its cooler? It still wants the water.


So it has to set itself up for the winter.


Now, according the landscape plan we're going to under plant this with a heather.

Can that be done in the fall, now? Or do we have to to wait?

No, we can do it now.


We'll mulch this and then we can plant the heather.


Well, that'll take a couple of weeks and we are short on time.

We've got to break for messages don't go away.

Well, its going to be a beautiful tree. We're running out of time.

Come home again. Next time we'll show you how to restore an antique light fixture and install it.

Also, a brand new set of dimmers.

Also, Riley will be aboard. He's helping us put the finishing touches on restoring part of the staircase and balustrade.

Until then, I'm Bob Vila. It's good to have you home again.



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