Painting the bathroom (They say the tortoise wins in the end, right?)

Hello world!  Happy new year!  With this delay, you probably thought that all of my tile fell off the wall and I completely gave up on the bathroom, not to mention the many other projects that await me.  In fact, the bathroom has been basically done since October, with the last pieces (shelves) taken care of in November.  I also did some landscaping and undertook yet another furniture refinishing project, but I digress.  Today’s topic is painting the bathroom, which took it from construction zone to almost-done.

The tiling was finished in early August, and Mark the contractor kindly came back and installed the shower fixtures in the nick of time for our friends from NYC to come and visit.  They got to use a freshly tiled shower in a completely hideous bathroom (imagine it with fixtures):

…at least there was a wall hanging…

Not as good as where this post is going:

photo 1

Paint’s done! Yay!  Curtain is from West Elm.

 

But still, that’s better than this original bathroom from last January:

unnamed

The next most ghastly thing to do, after installing a shower where there was none, was to paint the bathroom.  Masking off my fresh tile and the counter and the toilet without having plastic flapping around proved to be a pain in the butt.  Such a pain in the butt that I apparently did not take a picture.

Figuring that my tiling would be a bit rustic and I had a wooden countertop, I decided to theme this bathroom after a vintage Yosemite poster and even pick an object from which to pick a paint color.  Yosemite is quite possibly my favorite place on earth and appears in many places in our house.  This is the poster I liked, found at art.com:

yosemite poster

An aside on what this poster means: Camp Curry was (and is) basically a village in the park at the back of the valley with tons of campsites and tent cabins.  When the park opened, if you weren’t rich enough to stay in the luxurious Ahwahnee Hotel, you stayed in Camp Curry (named after the Curries, the couple who managed it).  The cliff you see behind it in the poster is Glacier Point, where there was another mountain house you could stay in (ironically: has since burned down).  In 1872, the keeper of that joint would put out his evening fire by kicking it over the edge of a cliff, right into a giant pine forest.  The campers below starting viewing it as an attraction to watch the fire fall off the cliff, and it remained a Yosemite practice until 1968 when the National Park Service put its hiking boot down and said no more.  (Read more.)

So, I admit a little scary that fire safety was that questionable, but it’s a cool piece of history.  I decided to paint the bathroom light blue (this was the last bucket of paint I bought before I got interested in whole house color schemes, like this method or this method), but I had a feeling that a dark green bathroom would be out of place and a bright orange bathroom would just be absurd – so I went for the blue of “Camp Curry”.  Our greenish wedding towels would also fit in well I thought.

Lesson #1: Yes, I frikkin’ learned it again: test the paint on the wall before you buy!  You see, this time I thought I had it figured out since I was just matching a poster.  I decided to try out Sherwin-Williams paint in Liquid Blue since they advertise mold/mildew-deterring paints and our old house didn’t come with bathroom fans (and I didn’t want to pay to add one in a guest bathroom).  I sprung for a quart of eggshell Emerald paint (answer to BM’s Aura) for the ceiling, this time going a shade lighter than the walls (instead of bright white) to test out this effect.  For the walls, I originally choose their Duration line because it was much cheaper. (Read the next lines really fast while I turn pink with embarrassment that no one but myself has caused….I’m choosing not to lie to give you, the reader, more confidence – you can’t possibly second guess yourself as much as I did!) Then I started putting it on the wall and it looked a whole shade lighter when wet.  I panicked.  The guy at the store offered to darken the paint a shade for free, so I took him up on the offer.  I put it on the wall.  I panicked again.  It was way-too-dark-neon-blue and the bathroom was claustrophobic.  I didn’t take a picture because I loathed the thought of revealing this publicly.  (At least I didn’t paint my garage doors pink, right, Dad?)  I crawled over to Home Depot in shame and bought Liquid Blue again (HD has all the famous brands’ colors in their computers) and slapped that on the walls, giving us this:

photo 1

This is pretty true to color on the left side of the photo.  You can also see our lovely Moen Caudwell fixtures.  The tile looks a little pinker than reality.

So, the color’s pretty cheerful (sky blue – like waking up in your Yosemite tent), but I think if I did it again (and I am not doing it again for a long while) I would’ve gone a little more teal to stay with the whole house color scheme or a little lighter so as not to shock sleepy guests!

 It may be ok to pick a color off of a thing to match the room to, but the house can end up looking like an easter egg if you tend to like very colorful things!  Fortunately, I can keep this in mind when I eventually repaint our hazelnut cream hallway and red office…oops.

Lesson#2: Of course, paintbrushes do not fit behind a toilet.  I am sure there is more than one way to deal with this, but I found that using an edger (which I did not like for actual edging) worked well.

edger

An edger from Home Depot. There’s a little fuzzy, washable pad that snaps into the other side.

 

Start at the bottom and work your way up, moving the edger back and forth behind the toilet by sliding it from hand to hand.  This way you don’t cover your arm in paint.  Probably a paint stick duct-taped to the back would do the trick nicely too.

Lesson #3: Painting your bathroom at night is a great reason to consider green energy.  The guest bathroom was the one room we hadn’t changed out the incandescent lightbulbs for LEDs or CFLs yet, and the plastic that I wrapped the fixture in sort of melted around the heat of the bulbs.  You’d think it wouldn’t take more than a PhD to figure this out, but apparently it does…  In case we forgot, that’s an awful lot of electrical energy getting wasted as heat.  I have since replaced the electricity-and-plastic-burning bulbs with CFLs.

I actually bought CFLs enclosed in globes, like these, which look just like regular lightbulbs (instead of funny curled up fluorescents).  These look great in the fixture, but do take 30-60 seconds to warm up completely to have full light.  I was surprised because this is the first time I have seen such significant delay.  My dad loved it when he visited: he said that when he got up in the dark to go to the bathroom it was great because it gave his eyes time to warm up to the light.  I find it minorly annoying since I’m impatient, but then I again, I’m also one of those people who type 33 seconds into the microwave because it’s faster than typing 3-0.  Anyway, once the bulb warms up, it looks great.

Lesson #4: I had more trouble with the SW Durable paint leaching under blue painters tape than Behr or Ben Moore Regal paint.  This paint seemed a bit thinner than these others.  Maybe this same property made it a bit more mold resistant?  Personal preference.  I’m not anti-SW though: The SW paint store has better hours, discounts, better brushes and a little sprayer thingy you can load any kind of paint into (not used for this project).

To check in after the paint job, we went from this:

No way around it.

To this:

photo 3

still more to go…

 

The vanity does not belong, the mirror is just in place so our guests could see themselves while I bought a new mirror and I ended up adding a few more features for convenience.  Stay tuned (or rather, tune back in):

Want to catch up?

Tiling: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Bathroom countertop and the dud

 

Advertisements

Our kitchen!

Drum roll please….

The last update I gave on the kitchen was shortly after the backplash was put in.  At that point, the kitchen looked like this:

photo 4

Our appliances were in, but they didn’t all work yet and we had no faucet or plumbing.  The lights were installed the day after the tile.  The window sill is still missing in the back.

As of three weeks ago, we were moved back in and functioning, but still getting construction dust.  As of last Thursday, the city inspector came for the final inspection…and he will be back after we had to sign a form promising that our water fixtures are low flow.  Ah, California.

We started planning the process in mid-November.  We ordered cabinets 4 days before Christmas.  Our kitchen was torn apart January 22.  We moved our stuff back in March 20.  We started cooking later that week.  After that, a few odds and ends have had to be cleaned up (like the missing vent cover in the photo below or a non-functioning electrical outlet). And our final inspection was April 3.  4 months total, but two months out of commission.

So here we are, the before:

2014-01-22 08.26.42

You can’t tell below, but we got a new door too.  The opening was a door door, which is against local code.

2013-12-23 08.23.45

And the after!

photo 5

photo 4 photo 3

And with lights:

photo 1

The kitchen is lighter, brighter and more airy!  It is also much more functional.  The contractor that we hired, Mark aka JMB Builders, did a really wonderful job.  Here are our top favorite features.

1. We can hear each other when in the living room vs. the kitchen.

2. We bought an induction stove (but didn’t pay MSRP). And it is awesome.  It now takes literally 2 minutes to boil a pot of water.  It is like Formula 1 compared to Toyota Camry.  This watched pot DOES boil and like crazy!  It also stir fries, scrambles eggs and everything else in record time.  Cooking a full dinner can be done in 20 minutes now.

3. Not cleaning teeny-tiny food items or spilled out of grouted tile is excellent.

4. Fitting everything into logically-laid-out cabinets is a far cry over shoveling our modern-day appliances into 1950s cupboards that don’t seem to make any sense.

5.Tilley has not figured out how to open the trash and it has been 3 weeks!  As we now actually have a kitchen trash IN the kitchen (as opposed to the porch or the garage, where it was safe before), this alone has been worth the pain spent in the remodel phase. 😀 😀

6. Our oven fits stuff!  Now we need to try thanksgiving again and this time, the bird will actually fit!

7. Having a non-corroded, pull-out faucet with a huge, deep sink is also convenient for doing dishes.  The under-mount sink is a great invention!

8. We love having lights!  The overhead lighting makes the whole area feel like a living space rather than a sleeping space or MAYBE a knitting or watching TV space.  We can actually enjoy being awake at night here.  The kitchen no longer feels like a school hallway either since the color of the LED lights is more natural.

9. We have a pull out pantry of sorts – that’s the tall cabinet next to the window.  It just makes more sense to us to have one place that the food should be in (although the oil is above the stove).

10. The glass cabinet doors are great – no one has to ask where the glasses are anymore and you can see our dishes (thanks, Aunt Cherie!)

11. The new dishwasher is peaceful and effective.  I’m wondering how long it will take our extremely hard water to form a bunch of rockage in it, but as of now, I’ve never seen such clean dishes.

12. Our cabinets have pull out drawers so we can can easily access appliances.  This is much better than having everything sit out taking up precious countertop space.

13. Those tiles really look cool!

And, since I can’t do anything without second guessing, here are the couple very minor points that maybe I would do differently:

1. Opening a door handle can be done with 1 finger.  A knob requires two fingers.  This is annoying if you are in the middle of cooking and your hands are messy, but is not a show stopper.

2. The counter is shallower by 2 inches or so than the old tiled counter.  Tilley can reach her little dog nose two inches deeper, which is a minor nuisance resolvable by pushing dishes back to the back of the counter space.  I wish we had seen this coming and had them made just a liiiiittle bit deeper.

Not too bad for a major project though!  And the middle of the road issues:

1. I’m still not passionate one way or the other about refrigerators, although the water dispenser and the storage space on this one is better than the old side-by-side one.  We definitely weren’t using all of the freezer space and pre-made casseroles didn’t fit well in that version either.

2. I like that the microwave doesn’t take up counter space.  We do use the microwave for re-heating things, but not really seriously enough that it warranted kicking the thing around all the time.  I do confess that the microwave hood fan is a little less powerful than I expected – despite having been told this by multiple sources.  This is probably because the induction stove is also more powerful than any other stove I’ve had.  Even if we had know this, however, we still would’ve opted for the microwave hood.  The kitchen space in our house is tight, no doubt about it, so maximizing and double-purposing spaces is very important.

I still haven’t posted on all of the specifics, especially appliance choices, the floors or the lighting, so those are yet to come.  One more time, old vs. New, FTW:

2014-01-22 08.26.42 photo 5

Chalk one up for repurposing.

This is the story of how I made my own chalk paint, painted a (free, re-purposed) nightstand, learned a great secret for stenciling and finished it all up with wax.

It is not necessary to justify an end table purchase, but the piece of crud that showed up in our house deserves some explanation.  Our dearth of furniture became obvious after we moved into our house last November.  We actually had never owned an end table because our couches could both access the coffee table and since we moved literally every year for 7 years, end tables (especially those grad students could afford) were pretty much dead weight.  However, our new house has a rather long living room so only one couch can use the coffee table conveniently.  Plus, I have spent way too much time looking at blogs and I see that end tables help make a house feel homey.  And Tilley seems to chew the furniture less*.

Anyway, time to buy an end table.  I tried to take one step up from Ikea and bought this little number from a fairly large store online:

l08048

Lesson #1: Cheap furniture not from Ikea can actually be much, much worse than that form Ikea.  It doesn’t look so bad in the store’s photo does it?  [Because I’m not saying very nice things about this store I don’t want to name names.]  However, when it actually showed up, the white part was yellowish, creamy MDF and the top was veneer that was about 1/16″ thick.  The whole thing smelled worse than cheap Ikea furniture and wasn’t easy to assemble.  But, the worst part was that there was a 2 inch chip out of the front of the veneer and the stain was splattered all over the top.  I do not have a picture of this tragedy since I didn’t really expect much to be come of it.

Fortunately, the large store has a phone line that is manned 7 days a week and has an excellent return policy.  Phone call #1 basically went as follows:

Me: My thing arrived.  It’s messed up, as in blah blah blah.

Customer rep: Can you fix it or would you like another one?

Me: No, definitely not.  I don’t know how to fix veneer.  I don’t really need another one since this has been disheartening. [Read: because it is a piece of crud.]

Customer rep: Ok, that’s a bummer.  We will give you a full refund and send you a USPS label so you can send it back.  Just package it all back in the original box, then schedule a pick-up when you have the label.

Me: Great, thanks.

I guess they must do this a lot.  Anyway, after about 10 days, the label hadn’t arrived so I called the store back and asked.  It turns out they had already refunded my credit card and weren’t going to pay for me to ship it back.  The lady this time said, “Just donate it.”  Ok then.  So, to donate it, I had to put the thing together.  Next time I want to assemble furniture, I am going to Ikea.  It was much more logical and the crummy pressed wood doesn’t completely fall apart.  Eventually I got it together and queued up to donate, but then, I remembered that I knew someone who needed a nightstand.   And a car-themed gag nightstand would be a great gift for this person…but you can’t buy those so what better way to use this stupid thing than for a gag gift?!  I filled the gap in the veneer with wood filler, let it dry a day and evened it out with a sanding block.  This removed the as-received hill-billy styling of the piece after I got some paint on it.

I decided to try out chalk paint on it because I like flat finishes, as I learned from my last furniture painting attempt.  I understand that chalk paint can typically be used without sanding or priming, but since this was sketchy, smelly Chinese MDF, I opted to prime before painting.  Sanding wasn’t an option for this finish.  Off came the hardware and I primed the now-nightstand with Zinsser BIN primer, which I have been assured is an excellent odor blocker by a Kelly-Moore rep that I met in Home Depot.  A Benjamin Moore store employee also told me that it is a good bonding primer, meaning that it should stick to shiney stuff.  It is shellac based, so it needs special brush cleaner (or disposable brushes).  Truthfully, I haven’t seen anyone else on the internet use this stuff – they all seem to prefer the oil based.  I have yet to find out why since this seems pretty stuck when I tried rubbing or scratching or sanding it off.  I already had a can on hand and it also cleaned off my hands without mineral spirits, so that was appealing for me.

ZIN_PR_BIN_L

Painting the end table with primer was already a step up.  Again, no photos, but just imagine the ugly thin in the photo up there all white.  I primed everywhere, including the inside of the drawer.

Since this is a low-budget project, I refused to buy full-priced, hard to find chalk paint and decided to make my own after cruising the internet.  I found my favorite list of recipes here and went with a calcium carbonate option, but created my own recipe.  I had no trouble finding this on Amazon.  This site used a 2:1 Paint: Calcium: Carbonate, which I assume is by volume.  I never follow recipes and this seemed a little thick to me.  I opted for about 8 tablespoons of the calcium carbonate, then added just enough water to stir into a paste.  The total volume of this mixture was roughly 4 oz.  I then poured in 16 oz of Behr Premium Plus Flat Enamel in Polar Bear White and stirred with a mixer that attached to my drill – probably meant for cement.  This type of paint said acrylic, not latex, on the can which may be useful for making homemade chalk paint.  The paint was a nice consistency, fairly close to what actually came out of the can.  All in all, I was very pleased with this recipe.  It went on smooth, did not dry with brush strokes and covered the primer with a single coat.  I did opt for two coats on the top for durability.  After it dried, the paint felt chalky, but not loose.  I was not interested in sanding the edges.  Now picture a white nightstand.  The photo is coming below.

I was interested in putting a stencil on top of this car-themed nightstand.  This is the emblem found on first-generation Pontiac Firebirds:

firebird

Whether or not it is politically-correct today is NOT the point of this post.  Let it suffice to say that the recipient of this nightstand is a fan of the first-gen Firebird, so I had an appropriate stencil made here on Etsy.  I was using previously-owned Martha Stewart metallic paint in Thundercloud, which may or may not be good paint for stenciling.

Lesson #2 (very important): Not all sponges for stenciling are created equal.  Typically one dunks the sponge in the paint, then blots off the excess paint until the sponge is basically dry.  I first tried a piece of just a plain old sponge, but couldn’t get it dry enough to not leave bubbles without making it so dry that it would not leave paint at all!  So, I drove over to Michaels and bought something like these.  These worked just as badly as the plain ol’ sponge!  But, I decided to plow ahead with too much paint on my brush…and got this mess:

photo 1

All of the bumps are because of the bubbles that formed in the brush.  The edges were also pretty far from clean since the paint leaked over.  I still had to do two coats to eliminate actual holes form the bubbles and so the whole Firebird logo was raised off of the nightstand.  Technically, it got the job done, but it bugged me.  Surely, there is a better way to do this!

I used my trusty friend the electric sander again and erased the Firebird from the top.  Then I put 2 coats of chalk paint back on.  The paint has kept perfectly for 2 weeks now in a plastic container with tight-fitting light (think large yogurt container).

Lesson #3: Makeup sponges make EXCELLENT stenciling applicators, especially when there is a lot of fine detail.  I actually learned that from here.  These are phenomenal and far and way better than anything else I tested.  Fortunately, I have a package of these for the foundation that I never wear.  The holes are so fine that the paint doesn’t bubble up and I could blot off the paint until they were dry, but still stencil paint with clean lines and no bubbles!  I end up going over the pattern 3 times to get the color to my liking.  Here she is:

photo 2

Lesson #4: Bleed through can be sort of cleaned up.  For those areas where I was impatient and didn’t blot of enough paint, there was still bleed through.  This was a particularly persnickety stencil since it had a lot of connected pieces, as you can tell.  It slipped around a lot and I was nervous about adhesive over my chalk paint.  If I did it again, I really now understand the importance of blotting FULLY EACH TIME no matter how annoying it is.

I used paste wax to seal the paint.  I used CeCe Caldwell‘s wax since it is all natural and I had to drive someplace special to get either this or Annie Sloan on the day that I wanted it.  I didn’t really want to pay for this for this project, but I have another project queued up that will benefit as well.

Lesson #5: Minwax paste wax in “natural” is not acceptable for white furniture.  I’m not the first to say this and I won’t be the last.  Fortunately, I tested it on the bottom just to see what would happen.  1) It was hard and didn’t blend well and 2) it was orange.  It is much much cheaper though, so I still would use it on a darker furniture item.

I painted the handle (spray Zinsser BIN and the Martha Stewart paint again) and screwed it back on.  Here is the whole thing in a room:

photo(2)

Yikes, iPhone photos are not good for decorating photos.  Note my clever off-set positioning of the stencil so the lamp wasn’t smack in the middle of the stencil.

Fortunately, I already owned a lot of the supplies (and those which I did not are mostly reusable for other projects), otherwise this would have been quite expensive to dress up a free nightstand.

Anyway, the project was fun, the recipient is happy and I learned that homemade chalk paint is great and there are some tricks to stenciling.  The end table shall have a lovely new life as a nightstand!

———————————————————————————————————

  photo(3)

*This totally looks like a sane dog who doesn’t chew furniture, right?

Concrete bathroom countertop FAIL

Update:  I think that the Feather Finish is softer than it needs to be in order to withstand daily wear and tear.  The Feather Finish was SUPER sandable.  Cement used for floors (like a garage at least) is NOT sandable with a little hand sander.  I proved this when we were trying to clean gross carpet glue off our garage floor (the previous owners had glued carpet squares to the whole garage to use it as a lounge…ah, California).  To sand that cement (and the glue with it), we had to use a diamond-tipped grinder and it just barely touched the cement.  While the feather finish was easy to use and looked good, I’m really skeptical that it is durable enough for counter tops – at least how I use them

Update #2: see Sarah’s outcome on her Ardex countertops.  While they look great in her house, she also notes that they get dinged up.

Update #3: Charlie the contractor kindly wrote in below and mentioned that too much water can make concrete softer when it cures, although easier to spread.  So, if using feather finish, try to stick closer to the ratio described on your bag rather than in tutorials.  Thanks, Charlie!

Remember that this blog is about the good, the bad and the ugly?  Yeah, this is the ugly – fortunately we’re just talking about the countertop.  If you read nothing else: not all concrete is created equal.  This particular concrete may have coated my plywood countertop nicely, but dented and chipped easily.  It also just flat out did not look good.  So, if you do this, don’t do it my way….

Our house has two bathrooms, one closet-sized bathroom off of our bedroom and one that is much more comfortable off of the hallway which is the subject of this post.  Here is what it looks like today:

unnamed2 unnamed

The tile is actually a yellowish brown, despite my phone’s rather sad attempt at a photo.  Aesthetics aside, this bathtub is a waste of space to us because it 1) does not have a shower and 2) the water handles do not work properly.  Furthermore, the sink faucet doesn’t turn off properly, the pipes and sink are suspicious-looking, the window ledge is wrong for a shower and the tile does not go high enough up the tub wall to support a shower.

Since our house is full of contractors already, we decided that this would be a good time to have them tap into the water and install a shower, as well as fix up that window frame so that we don’t end up with a mold problem.  Having been a student and living in rentals for 9 years, I have met my fair share of bathroom mold and I don’t want to run any risks of this in our own house (although mold is by far not my best bathroom story, but that is a whole entry in itself).  We have signed up to try tiling it ourselves to save a bit of money.

Tthe countertop is also going to go because 1) it houses the sketchy undermount sink and 2) general de-beige-ing of the bathroom.  We simply refused to spend more money on another cabinet after buying all new kitchen cabinets, so we are going to try and salvage the vanity cabinet itself with some paint and hardware.  In fact, I should really get on painting that!  So, our choices are:

  1. Buy new vanity top from Home Depot or Lowes or similar ($150-350)
  2. Get a chunk of our kitchen granite cut for $900 and installed at additional cost
  3. Buy granite or marble remnant for $70 and have it cut for $900
  4. Make our own

Salvaging a crummy 60 year old cabinet is hardly worth it if we spent $1000 on just the countertop, so we ruled this out pretty quick.  There’s also a chance that I will botch the paint job on the cabinet and have to start all over anyway, so didn’t want to pay a lot for a countertop.  After shopping around for vanity tops, I realized I would have to hunt one down in exactly the size I wanted and I would have to like it.  I didn’t find that the readily available off-the-shelf countertops appealed to me, so that left my rather fussy self with option 4.  I thought concrete would be a good option since it’s durable, easy to seal (and reseal) and would be low up-front cost for supplies.

Plus, I found this great tutorial on how to make a concrete countertop by Kara and Tim Paslay.  Concrete countertops look awesome in all of their posts, and it didn’t look very difficult to execute.  I will certainly say that their blog is one of my favorites – very inspirational in life and in design.  This being said, I’m sorry to say that the tutorial didn’t work out so well for me…

First lesson: if you are going to change a recipe, try it out first.  Thankfully, all I botched was a piece of plywood.

Since the old countertop is tiled and for an undermount sink, it will just be outright demoed.  Therefore, I had Home Depot cut a piece of 3/4″ plywood to size, 32″x22″.  I sprayed the bottom with Kilz wood sealer that I had from an outside project, then flipped it over.  I wood glued and screwed two pieces of 2×1 pine board to hide the edges of the plywood on the two exposure sides of the countertop and used wood filler to make everything nice and flat.  My patient husband used our neighbor’s jigsaw to cut a hole in the middle after I measured it out using the template that came with the sink.

edged

Look how clever – I took that picture so that you can barely see the edge!

Second lesson:  A reciprocating saw may look like the right-sized blade, but it was totally inferior to the jigsaw.  Next Christmas, when you are buying a drill, do not be tempted by the free reciprocating saw.  I cannot imagine what we will use this thing for…

This is what Tilley thought of all of this from inside the house:

tilley napping

Turns out she had the right idea.

Anyway, I figured once I had the plywood template I would be back in the Paslay tutorial – I now had a countertop that I could coat with ARDEX Feather Finish.  I couldn’t find a place that sold this in our area (although ARDEX themselves did email me back the name of a distributor later), so I bought a bag of it on Amazon.  I also wanted a lighter countertop since I’m dreaming of a dark bathroom wall (I just didn’t learn, did I?) to go with the yet-to-be-revealed theme (hint: check out the one piece of decor in the bathroom).  To accomplish this, I bought TiO2 pigment from here.  Using a drill attachment and a bucket (gifted to Tilley full of dog toys), I mixed up my first batch of concrete:

ardex

I used roughly 5:1 parts Feather Finish to pigment.  This powder was super fine and flies all over so I definitely recommend a mask throughout this whole project.  So far so good.  I then spread it all over the plywood with a nice, flat trowel.  It is possible that the pigment messed up this project, but I used dramatically less in the last coat and still had chipping problems.

Third lesson: When Kara says to let it flash set, she means it.  Coat number three I mixed up and waited 5 minutes but then added water.  Oh man, that hardened in like 5 minutes.  In the bucket even.  Disaster.

Fourth: You really have to commit to the pigment first and mix it completely with the water.  Adding ‘just a little more’ after the Feather Finish itself resulted in clumps of white, sort of like if you add corn starch to hot liquid without mixing it into cold water first.

Fifth lesson: I used far more water, at least 2x, than the ARDEX bag recommended.  Either this was very bad or very good.  I was trying to get something nice and spreadable (“thin pancake batter”) per Kara’s instructions.  My mix looked roughly like theirs, just lighter.

Sixth lesson: Not all trowelers are created equal.  My heavily-dyed concrete didn’t have the same sweeping trowel marks, but I was also trying (probably way too hard) to get it even.  I think I over-troweled the cement.

Ok, so here’s what I found the next day:

coated

Now it was time to sand.  THIS WAS HORRIBLY MESSY.  If your surface can be moved, DO THIS OUTSIDE!  And look like this:

memask

You can apparently also go rob a bank if you want to just finance a good counter.  This was way messier and nastier than any wood I have sanded.  I used pathetic little electric sander to speed things up, and it did smooth stuff out, but EW.  The dust was also basically feather finish+pigment dust, so when I would wipe it up with a wet sponge it turned back into gray liquid that would require additional cleanup.  Beware.

Seventh lesson: I had a hard time deciding when I had sanded enough.  I found that I sanded through the edges of the concrete before I was satisfied with the overall flatness.

I repeated this twice and still wasn’t satisfied.  I figured it was my fault for over-sanding so I said, ok just one more coat.  Then I accidentally dropped the putty knife on the countertop.  And it dented.  And I said “WHA?  Concrete shouldn’t dent!”  It’s concrete.  Maybe chip, or stain but dent?  I mean, we park cars on it.

Eighth lesson: Not all concrete is created equal.  This is probably why people who have lots of degrees but actually do practical things do a lot of research on it.

So for the last coat, I heavily reduced the amount of white pigment in case that was softening the concrete.  I also failed to let it flash set, which meant I got a nice, thick ugly rough coat.  Which I tried to sand anyway.  Here’s what we had:

end disaster

Note the giant gash in the upper left.  That was bad spreading on my part.  The hole at about 2 o’clock maybe 4″ off of the circle though?  That’s a dent!  I could even dent it with my fingernail.

So, my concrete countertop wasn’t sleek.  It was ugly.  That last uneven coat didn’t help it.  But most importantly, it wasn’t durable, which isn’t acceptable for something to install in my house.  And this particular dented concrete project didn’t have character, unless you’re looking for something that inspires old garage floor.  And finally, I have to admit that regardless of poor execution, this countertop was going to look silly in our rather cottage-styled, definitely-not-industrial, home.

Ninth lesson: if you’ve lost the game, just lose the game and leave it behind.  You can still go on to win the set and the match.  For ~$50 in supplies, I have to admit I have created a monster that I don’t want in the house.  Rather than wasting more time and money on this one, I will put it behind me and try again. I have some new supplies and a new plan, and I firmly believe that we shall still have a bathroom countertop before long.  And, I think I will still beat the price point of the crummiest countertops at Home Depot.

I know it must be possible to make this well, since Kara and Tim can do it.  But, if you try, don’t do it my way.  And please, do let me know if you have better luck with Feather Finish durability.  It was a nice product to work with, considering I hadn’t ever used concrete before.  I am curious if the pigment made the concrete softer, although the directcolors.com sales rep didn’t think the pigment would have any issues with the feather finish.  In the meantime, I will still be reading the Paslay’s website to learn more about decorating!

Catch up on the bathroom saga:

Tiling: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5