The “light”, or Phase 1 as we like to call it, kitchen renovation is almost complete. We are doing a fair amount of cosmetic updates to bring the kitchen out of the 80s (you can get up to speed by reading this post here). One of the updates we wanted to try was applying a concrete finish over our existing laminate counters.
Our counters were not terrible in terms of style or color, but they were stained and one of the seams had gotten water in it and became raised.
(this was after sanding the raised area to smooth it out)
We knew our options were to either a) replace ($$$) or b) try a temporary fix like concrete counters or painting the laminate counters until we decide to do a full kitchen gut and reconfiguration down the road.
We decided to go with what I like to call the “faux-crete” counter method. Instead of the usual concrete counters that are poured into place these “faux-crete” counters are skim coated on top of your existing counters, in our case the laminate counters.
I came across this idea on Young House Love’s blog post a year or two ago and knew this could be a good (and inexpensive solution) for us in the short term.
I will only do a high level overview of our process because the Young House Love post is very detailed and we followed it almost exactly. There were a few things we didn’t do correctly and definitely regret it so I’ll point those out below in this process. We did this project about 4 months ago so I’ll also tell you how they’ve been holding up for us!
Below is a list of supplies you’ll need for this project:
2 measuring buckets (1 for water & 1 for the mix) and 1 bucket to combine the mixture
A metal putty knife (we used a 3”)
Drywall taping knife/trowel (we used a 10”)
Sandpaper (both course and fine grits)
Ardex Feather Finish (we used 2 bags for roughly 50sqft of counters)
Sealer (we used Miracle Sealants 511 Sealer)
SafeCoat Acrylaq (to make the counters shiny and food safe)
First, you want tarp off anything that you don’t want the Ardex Feather finish to get on.
This project is VERY dusty so if the rest of your house is not a construction zone like ours was you probably want to tarp off any doorways and lay contractors paper on the floor for good measure because the dust will get EVERYWHERE.
Next, rough up the counters with course grit sandpaper to make sure the concrete finish adheres to the existing counters nicely. We used our handy SHOP VAC to clean up our mess as we went, we found that really helped control the dust. Also, make sure to wipe the counters down with a damp rag after the sanding is finished.
After the counters are clean and dry you can start your first application of the Ardex Feather Finish. At first, we mixed to the consistency on the bag (2 parts powder to 1 part mix). Nathan spread the mixture on the counter using the trowel while I used the smaller putty knife to do the edges. We tried to get a fairly flat and level finish, but found the 2:1 ratio was a tad to thick for us and ended up leaving a very un-level and bumpy first coat.
Once the first coat was dry we really realized our error in mixing it to thick, the counters had noticeable bumps and were clearly not level. So we sanded, and sanded, and sanded, using both our small electric hand sander and sanding blocks with a mixture of course and fine grit sandpaper.
Here is where we learned our second lesson: don’t sand too much or the high parts/bumps will become very dark and shiny… which really surprised. This was about when we started regretting tackling this project.
(after sanding 1st coat: dark/patchy spots from sanding the high areas too much, plus the visibly wavy counter)
So we continued on with our 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, AND 6th coats! 6 coats! We sanded between each coat using a coarse grit for coats 2-5 and a fine grit for the 6th and final coat to get a nice smooth finish. We also applied the coats in a much thinner consistency (think very running pancake batter instead of the recommended toothpaste consistency). This consistency worked so much better for us, to the point where we didn’t even have to measure the mixture, we just added water to the powder until it looked like runny pancake batter. In between coats when the coat was still slightly damp I also used the small putty knife to scrape the edges along the bottom of the counters and any noticeable smaller bumps on the surface of the counter, this really helped cut down on the sanding we had to do and made coats 2-6 much faster than the first (along with mixing it much thinner).
(I think this was coat 5 or 6, looking much better!)
The reason we applied so many more coats was because we had already purchased 2 bags in the beginning just in case so we knew we had enough of the mix, plus the more coats we applied the more we were able to smooth out the large bumps more like rolling hills in the counter and really treat it like we were skimcoating drywall, rather than slapping concrete on. Plus both of us have slight perfectionism tendencies so we couldn’t stand the counters to look wavy.
All of the extra coats took forever. Each coat takes days about a day to dry so our kitchen was out of commission for over a week (if you include the extra days to seal it). We read many tutorials online of how to apply the Ardex Feather Finish, but we clearly missed the tidbit on making sure you don’t mix it too thick. Lesson learned. Hopefully you can learn from our mistake too if you decide to try this project!
Even with the final coat we left imperfections in the concrete because well, it’s concrete, and it’s not meant to be perfect. We embraced the imperfections with the mindset that we knew we weren’t going to baby the countertops so hopefully the imperfections would help minimize the impact of our guaranteed future blemishes.
We used the sealants and application methods that Young House Love recommended in this post for the Miracle Sealants 511 Sealer and SafeCoat Acrylaq. First you brush on the Miracle Sealants (we did 3 coats), then you finish by brushing on the SafeCoat Acrylaq (we did 3 coats). We also lightly “wiped” the final coat of the SafeCoat Acrylaq with an old T-shirt to smooth out brush marks in the final coat because we had very obvious brush marks in coats 1 and 2. This is not the “recommended” way of applying it so use caution if you try it, but it seems to have worked for us.
(applying the Miracle Sealant 511 Sealer)
(after the last cost of the SafeCoat Acrylaq was appied)
So, 4 months later, how are they holding up?
They still look pretty nice! We get a lot of compliments on them, but there’s always the select few people who thing they are strange, but we don’t mind because we really like them. Especially considering we spent roughly $130 for all of the materials I would say they are a major upgrade over our old laminate counters!
Food stains – We do have a number of small dark stains in the area where we do most of our food prep, we think they are from a combination of citrus and oil. They both seep through (somehow?) and leave dark stains. They do seem to eventually fade.
Heat – If you leave something piping hot, like a cup of tea, on the counter it will make a mark on the counter, but in my opinion these marks a much less noticeable than the food stains.
Other than the food or heat marks, we haven’t noticed any scratches or other marks on the counter. We definitely do not treat them nicely (other than using cutting boards to chop food) so we really think they’ve held up great! We will probably do another coat of the SafeCoat Acrylaq in the next few months to try to prevent any more food staining, but other than that they have been maintenance free!
I would definitely recommend trying “faux-crete” counters if you have older counters that you want to get rid of and are looking for a inexpensive way to upgrade them!