Thoughts on Soapstone Counters

Fifty one weeks ago, I shared our thought process and decision on soapstone countertops for our kitchen.

Kitchen-Soap-Stone-Counters-Detail

To be completely honest, the owner of the stone yard didn’t do much to upsell the product.  In fact, in a way, he made us somewhat apprehensive about soapstone saying it’s soft, easy to scratch and chip.  They only sell a few kinds locally, and he said a few customers have returned to share they hated that they had to be careful so as not to damage their new, expensive counters.  But at $100 for everything we needed, it was a low risk situation to try something different.  If we really hated it, neither of us would have felt too bad replacing it.  After a year of living with the counters, we can safely say we’re big fans of this dense, but soft stone.

Soapstone-Counter-Left-Side

In addition to the amazing price, we love that it is non pourus, can handle direct heat from pots and pans, can’t stain, and doesn’t require sealing.  All great points, especially if you’re a germaphobe.  Every few months I apply light coat of mineral oil, even so that’s strictly because I like the darker look.

Soapstone-Counter-Toward-Ovens

It’s true that it is softer, much softer, than granite.  Our old brown granite counters didn’t have a single chip, but we have a few small ones in these.  Near the sink there’s a chip about the size of a pencil eraser in diameter.

Soapstone-Small-Chip-by-Sink

If the stone had a glossy sheen, it might be more noticeable, but thanks to the matte finish, it’s hard to find unless looking for it.  Can you spot it in the photo below?

Soapstone-Counter-Left-Detail

No?  I’ve circled it now to show where it is.

Soapstone-Counter-Left-Detail

Comparing the soapstone to the old granite, it’s no more work to maintain, and we aren’t any more or less carfeul working on these.

Soapstone-Counter-Sink-Edge

Occasionally sealing granite can be annoying simply because the counters can’t be used while the sealer cures.  When I apply the oil to darken and enhance the soap stone, it’s quick.  I wash the counters as usual, then pour on a little mineral and spread with an old cotton cloth before rubbing off the extra with a different one.  As I mentioned before, this step is unnecessary, but I like the look of the darker stone.  Here’s how it looks without:

Soapstone-Counter-Unoiled

And the difference a light rub of oil makes:

Soapstone-Counter-Half-Oiled

If a kitchen or bath remodel are in your future, and solid surface counters are on your list, I’d highly recomment checking into soapstone options.  In fact, my cousin asked my opinion and that’s what spurred this post.  One hundred plus years ago, soapstone was common in homes, either as countertops and/or sinks.  More recently, granite has become popular, but I’ve never been a big fan of the glossy finish.  For us, and perhaps for you, soapstone was the perfect choice.

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Built in Hutch

If we hop into the way back machine, it shows a kitchen closed off by a wall of dark oak cabinetry.  Ignore the boxes, this was right around moving in.

Kitchen-Pantry-After-Move-In-April-30

Not only did those cabinets make the kitchen feel isolated, it made a fun game of ring around the island to get anything ready to cook.  When we remodeled the kitchen, we pulled those out.

Kitchen-Pantry-Cabinets-Out

To open the kitchen to the dining and living rooms on the other side, we knocked down most of that wall, leaving us with the glorious open floor plan we love.

Kitchen-to-Dining-Wide-Opening-Frame-Removal

Across from the breakfast table, there’s about six feet of wall to work with.  Initially, we considered hanging art or a tv above a base cabinet, like so:

Kitchen-to-Dining-Blank-Wall-Cabinet-Sizing

The base cabinet became our bar area, which has quickly expanded from a few bottles to a variety.

Kitchen-Bar-Cabinet

To accommodate bottles, bar ware, extra serving platters, and dishes, we agreed a built-in hutch above the base cabinet was the best use of space.

Built-in-Hutch-Plan

My plan included one open shelf for easy access for drinks in addition to three shelves closed off by glass doors.  Ben surprised me by including under cabinet lights to illuminate the glasses.

Built-in-Hutch-Building-Sides

To easily store serving platters, dishes, and anything else, we wanted adjustable shelves.  Tucking the tracks between 1/4 inch thick MDF gives a smooth inside.

Built-in-Hutch-Recessed-Track

And here it is, done.

Built-in-Hutch-Building-Upper

Kidding, only the building was complete there.  Primer and paint to the rescue!

Built-in-Hutch-Overall

This was after paint, but before shelves went in, but take a look at the way the lights make the glasses sparkle.

Built-in-Hutch-Upper-Section

I’m sure the placement of everything inside will change many times, but I’m calling the hutch complete.

Built-in-Hutch-Finished

On the counter, the bottles are super easy to get to, along with glasses right within reach.

Built-in-Hutch-Bar-Area

Glass front cabinets are one of my favorite elements in kitchens, striking the perfect balance between solid doors and open shelving.

Built-in-Hutch-Upper-Storage

Built-in-Hutch-Right-Side

Taking the cabinet sides down to the counter grounds the upper cabinet, making it one piece and gives this small side definition.

Built-in-Hutch-Sdie-Toward-Hall

Platters, large bowls, and other special smaller pieces are safely on display in the above cabinet, but can easily be pulled out to use.

Built-in-Hutch-Upper-Section

Before, those pantries took over that side of the kitchen.

Family-Room-from-Kitchen-Two-Years-Later

Wow, that feels like a million miles ago, but a year ago, we had that view.  Now, it’s bright and open, while still making that corner functional.

Built-in-Hutch-Before-and-After

Wrapping up small projects is on the list before we gut the basement, and it feels amazing to cross this off the list.  Using it is pretty great, and having a drink station came in so handy on Thanksgiving.

Nuts for Walnut

In the master bath, the room looked cold before adding the dark walnut vanity.  After, the room came to life, and contrasted against the darker elements.

Seeing the result, and the combo with the slate tile, we knew we wanted a similar look in the kitchen.  Essentially, several elements from the bathroom were a trial run for the kitchen remodel; slate floors, tongue and groove planks, and walnut cabinetry.  The slate has held up beautifully, and we love the subtle texture the tongue and groove adds.  Just recently, we added the walnut to the kitchen scene.  It’s so amazing how different wood looks unfinished versus unfinished.

Walnut-Drawer-Half-Oiled

Bland, gray-ish sanded wood transforms to bold and beautiful.  Not to be confused with The Bold and the Beautiful soap opera.  The change isn’t nearly as dramatic.  Nothing dead coming back to life twenty years later.

One drawer stack oiled, the other waiting to get attention:

Walnut-Drawers-Oiled-vs-Not

The left side below the cooktop is actually two fronts attached to the single trash drawer.  Super sneaky ninja move right there.

Walnut-Drawers-Trash-Bin

Getting all the drawer fronts attached and oiled made a world of difference, but the lack of toe kick needed attention.  I pestered Ben a few times, trying to get out of the 90-95% finished rut.

Walnut-Drawers-on-Island

Voila, the magic of the internet.  Toe kicks instantly appear.

Walnut-Island-Drawer-Fronts-Finished-Overall

To skip the awkward leaning on the floor, applying oil while avoiding getting it on the floor, shoulder cramps that’ll surely follow routine, I applied water based poly before install.   That way it’s a one and done deal.  The rest is sealed with teak oil.

So far, I’ve got three coats on everything.  Lightly sanding between coats makes the finish ultra smooth, leaving a subtle sheen.

Walnut-Island-Drawer-Fronts-from-Pantry

We chose teak oil because it’s easy to reapply as necessary.  Either as a rejuvenating/refresher coat or if there’s a damaged area in need of sanding.  On this side of the kitchen, we have to finish the last 5% by closing off the sink cabinet.

Walnut-Island-Drawer-Fronts-Finished-Toward-Pantry

And grout the tile behind the cooktop.

Marble-Backsplash-on-Island

Sometimes, as we work on things, plans change.  In our original plan, the walnut also covered the back of the bar area.  For a few reasons, we had to change gears and go in a different direction.  Nine foot, clear (no knot holes completely through) boards are seemingly impossible to get right now.  We also couldn’t secure the boards without visible nails or screws marring the faces.  Which kind of defeated the purpose of attaching a pretty wood to the back.  A line of nails would bug the crap out of me.  Plywood only comes in 8 foot lengths, leaving a seam somewhere along the back.  Again, it would drive me nuts.

Island-Walnut-Finished

Ben suggested tiling the back to match the backsplash, but I thought it’d look too busy.  Instead, we attached 1/2 inch MDF, with casement covering the seam and divided the back into four areas.  Once we get four stools, each will have a designated area.  Not our first plan, but the white looks fresh against the maple.

Now I have to finish the wall smoothing and we’ll be able to build the cabinet across from the breakfast nook.  I’m really pushing to become a 100% finisher.  Any lingering projects you’re finishing up?

New Knife on the Block

One thing I’ve always wanted in an organized kitchen was an in drawer knife block.  We often have several fruit bowls on the counters, but I prefer minimal clutter.  With the drawers finished, I got in a mood to organize, including a knife block.  Target carries an option, but I didn’t need as many small knife slots.  Instead, I put my thinking cap on to create a contained block, with a compartment for loose steak knives.  I started with a left over maple section from the countertops.  Before cutting, I measured our countertop knife block spacing.  Each slot is 1/8 inch wide and 3/4 of an inch apart, so I marked it on the top.

Knife-Block-Spacing

When I decided I liked the size and spacing, I used a square to transfer the marks to the leading edge.  At 2 inches thick, the board has enough depth to house knives.  Ben set the blade of the table saw blade to 1 1/2 inches and ran the board through each line.  I followed up with 120 grit, sanding every surface smooth and rounding the front and back edges.

In-Drawer-Knife-Block-Wood-Detail

To make a contained compartment, we used 1/4 inch MDF scraps to build a frame.  Supporting the knife handles is important in keeping the blades safely stowed.

In-Drawer-Knife-Block-Finished

Attaching a strip 3 1/2 inches from the block edge holds the handles.

In-Drawer-Knife-Block-Rest

In-Drawer-Knife-Block-Detail

For easier removal, I left 3 inches between the support and the steak knife divider.

In-Drawer-Knife-Block

With the knives stored out of sight, I’m planning dividers for the rest of the drawer contents.

In-Drawer-Knife-Block-in-Drawer

For such a simple project, I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get it done.  One less thing to clean around and look at.

Doors and Knobs

Almost exactly three months ago, we started tearing out kitchen cabinets and knocking down walls.  Since then, we fully gutted the room and are slowly building a new room.  Each step is stupidly exciting, as we get new function or a more complete kitchen.  You know what’s really great about cabinets?  The storage they offer.

Kitchen-with-Drawer-Fronts-from-Table

What’s better than storage?  Hidden storage.  Such a novel idea.

Upper-Cabinets-Overall

Because these doors are simple and quick to build, we decided to make an interim set for the dish cabinet.

Upper-Cabinet-Doors-Oven-Side

Eventually, we can build glass frames.  That didn’t stop me from arranging the interior as though it is open.  A fake succulent fills an open area.

Upper-Cabinet-Dish-Storage

Soft close hinges are the coolest thing since sliced bread.  The smarties at Blum sure know what they’re doing.  To prevent the doors from hitting the cabinetry, they make tiny metal pieces that clip into the hinge, limiting the opening to 86 degrees.  Hiding junk above the fridge, like the food dehydrator, is fantastic.

Upper-Cabinet-Above-Fridge

It’s amazing how much bigger, brighter, and more finished the kitchen feels with that addition.  Also, sneak peek of the walnut island drawer fronts.

Upper-Cabinet-Doors-and-Window

After holding up the silver handles, and not liking the look, I began a search for simple pulls.  Nothing that draws too much attention.  Then I remembered I had these glass bubble knobs.  Totally perfect.  Basic, functional, but almost blend in with the cabinets.

Upper-Cabinet-Glass-Knobs

Fewer and fewer items are on the to do list, most minor.  Some trim.  Finish the cabinet under the sink.  Install a vent hood.  Strengthen my forearm muscles while smoothing out the uneven old pantry wall.

Kitchen-to-Dining-Blank-Wall

Once I finish skim coating, we can straighten out the cabinet configuration.  Then, we just might have a finished kitchen.  Light at the end of the tunnel.  And just in time to start summer work on the exterior of the house.