Monthly Archive: October 2011

Contractor 3

We met with a third contractor this morning.  This one’s style is more holistic and goal-oriented. Part of the time we felt like we were being interviewed to make sure we weren’t the pain-in-the-ass type of client.  His wife is evidently the designer & detail person in the company. Their process is a little different, and they’ll come in a couple weeks to do a detailed evaluation of the space before giving us a rough estimate.

We haven’t heard from either of the other contractors yet.  We think we scared the first guy away (project maybe bigger than they’re used to), and we’re just on the edge of when the second one told us to expect something.

Home Depot trip

Lis and I took a trip up to Home Depot today to look at materials and finishes. I suspect Lowes would have had a more extensive showroom, but our other errands took us north today. We did learn a lot about what we each do and don’t like.

montagna.jpgWe looked at flooring first.  We seem to be pretty much in agreement on what we want: porcelain tile that looks like stone, something in the cream/red/brown family, dark enough to look rich and not show dirt easily. Something like what’s on the left would be fine.  We both agree that we’d want to do something other than a boring grid — maybe a running bond or diagonal pattern (like we have now), maybe with a border in strategic locations, or some accent inset tiles. Porcelain tile is a much better choice than actual stone in a kitchen, mostly because it won’t stain.

We then spent some time looking at cabinet door wood species and styles. We’re just looking for general preferences here, not even close to making an actual decision. The most interesting conclusion we came to is that even stained to a very similar color, maple is nowhere near as beautiful a wood as cherry. This difference is much more evident in person than in any photo I have seen. I think it’s very likely we will wind up with cherry cabinets in a light to medium stain. Also, we want to see the wood grain — finishes like glazes or burnishing detract from the wood. That these finishes are generally extra cost is just a bonus for us.

For door styles, neither of us likes a slab door — way too modern for our tastes. Lis also does not like a plain Shaker-style door (plain rail & stile with no ornamentation); I do like these, but not for this house. Neither do I like a raised panel that is too fancy — particularly since the end grain of these panels tends to take the stain differently than the rest of the door, which IMHO looks sloppy. I have a slight preference for rail & stile doors (as opposed to mitered), and a slight preference for a flat (rather than raised) center panel. I’m sure we’ll find something we both like from whatever manufacturer we wind up with.

P1010323.JPGWe saw a backsplash we both really quite liked. This is travertine tile in a harlequin pattern, and although the pewter inset tiles need to go, the border on the bottom is also quite nice. I think we might want to do something different in the stove area to help set it off — especially since I’m concerned about oil & dirt from the stove on natural stone. What that design might be, I have no idea at this point.  Also worth noting is that, with a tile wall behind the range, there is a shorter backguard available to allow more tile to be visible, and allow slightly more room for pots & pans on the back burners.

The final surprise for me was countertops.  You’ve seen my post about soapstone; while I do think it’s a great material, I agree it’s probably too dark for the look we’re going for. So we looked at quartz & granite countertops today.  I was pleasantly surprised at how nice some of the quartz counters look.

The major advantage of granite — besides looks — is that it’s very heat resistant. The major drawback is that it can stain from colored liquids and also from oils.  The darker granites are more resistant to staining, but we’ve already established that we want a lighter counter.

Quartz is a manmade product. The manufacturer takes quartz (and other) rocks, crushes them to specified sizes, and packs them along with resin (epoxy) and colorants to form a slab. Because it’s a manufactured product, it’s more consistent in appearance than granite — which is good because it’s easier to work with and match, and bad because it lacks the variations and wild patterns that make natural stone slabs special.  Quartz is impervious to staining by common household liquids, but can be damaged by high heat (the resin part, not the stone). 

P1010325.JPGThe early quartz counters used very fine particles — essentially sand — and looked very artificial and modern. Over the last few years, though, there are some more natural and striking patterns, like the one I’ve posted here. (Yes, this particular example does not really go with the other material photos in this entry, but there are other similar ones in different color families.)

Paying attention to my own cooking over the last several months, I’ve observed many more instances of spilling some colored liquid or oil on a counter than wanting to put a hot pan on one. Given this, and the recent advances in quartz’s appearance, I suspect we will wind up with quartz counters on the perimeter of the kitchen, with a different countertop material — maybe soapstone, maybe wood — on the peninsula / bar area.


Minor updates & temporary kitchen thoughts

Yesterday I built a raised temporary garden bed out of cheap lumber and store-bought topsoil, and today Lis and I transplanted the plants from around the deck that we’d like to keep into it. Construction is sure to destroy the current beds, and we fear the plants wouldn’t be far enough along at the start of construction to be able to transplant them.

I ran one of the soapstone samples through the dishwasher, and sure enough it removed all traces of oil, as predicted. I then sealed it with three different stone sealing products — one water-based, one solvent-based, and one “enhancing” sealer. Only the water-based sealer provided effective protection against darkening from oil. The other two provided decent protection against water.

We’ve started to give some thought to our temporary kitchen, and generally how to survive food-wise during the remodel. The logical place for a temporary kitchen seems to be the basement.

We’re planning to have a laundry tub installed in the basement at the beginning of the project. This will require a waste pump because of the elevation of the main sewer pipe, but is well worth the expense because we’ll find use for it long-term, if for nothing else than washing out paintbrushes.

The current fridge will also find a permanent home in the basement; after the remodel, it will be off most of the time but provide valuable backup storage and a temperature-controlled fermentation chamber for brewing.

I’ll probably clean off one of my two small workbenches for counter space and storage, and perhaps grab some of the existing countertop. I doubt any of the kitchen cabinets will survive de-installation, unfortunately, so I doubt we’ll be able to re-purpose any of those.  We do have a few nice wire shelves in the basement already, and we may try to find room for one more.

Coincidentally, friends of ours are in the market for an over-the-range microwave. Once construction starts, we will trade ours for their countertop model, which we’ll be able to use in the basement.  Our toaster oven is a nice large one with a convection feature, so that will also be useful. I think we’ll put the crock pot to good use too.

I have a cheap-ass electric hotplate, which I’ll probably supplement with an $80 induction hotplate. There’s no ventilation in the basement, of course, so it’s not like I am going to be stir-frying. But for a pot of pasta and some sauce, those two will suffice.

We hope, of course, that our primary cooking will be on the grill, as it tends to be in summertime anyway. And we can always break out the Coleman stove.

Lis made a suggestion that I think is a good one: we should take advantage of our chest freezer and cook ahead a supply of reheatable meals — primarily for lunches, but also a big help when we’ve got some project-related task we need to get done.

Soapstone update

We remain undecided whether soapstone is aesthetically a proper choice for our new kitchen. We are, however, continuing with materials tests in case that decision is positive.  We’re also continuing because, of course, we’re both big enough science geeks to find such things interesting.

We partially oiled some of the samples (a stripe along one edge) with mineral oil.  It’s interesting how the effects of this oiling are disappearing faster from some varieties than others.  It’s also interesting how the darkening effect of oil is different than that of water, and how the degree to which they differ also varies across varieties. Where there’s a difference, though, the oil darkens the stone more than does water.

Lis tried to stain all the samples with her powdered drink mix, a substance that requires Soft Scrub or a Magic Eraser to get off of our current (worn Formica) counters (red wine behaves about the same). For all the varieties, it was possible to get the red color off with just a sponge and water, though it was easier on some than on others.

We tried to scratch or take a divot out of the different varieties with various materials — fingernail, copper penny, titanium spoon, steel pocketknife blade. The hardness varies significantly, but seems to be correlated to color — the darker stones, in general, are harder.  This is an issue because Lis prefers the lighter tones, but hardness is a desirable property for durability.

I took one of the definite-no samples (too green) to work where I’ll keep my ceramic coffee cup on it for the next few months to see what kind of damage it does.  This isn’t quite a fair test, because as it turns out this is one of the harder varieties (only minor damage from titanium) which probably means it’s probably (mineralogically speaking) not actually soapstone. But it’s definitely softer than ceramic so we’ll see.

This weekend I want to treat a few of the samples with a non-enhancing stone sealer to see how that affects darkening due to oil and water.

Contractor 2

We met with another contractor this morning. Both Lis and I were favorably impressed. He did not spot any new major sticking points over and above what the first contractor noted, other than that significantly enlarging the kitchen window opening would likely be cost prohibitive.

One thing I found interesting: when we mentioned an anteroom between the foyer & kitchen, he noted that he’s worked on several houses that have a feature like this. He says these tended to have originally been niches with benches, cubbies, etc. and have generally been converted to coat closets as we’re considering doing from the start.

This contractor is a slightly larger company than the first one, and does more types of work in-house than the previous one, including design/architect services and a custom cabinet shop. The person from whom we heard of this contractor warned us they’re not inexpensive, but we’re fully aware this is not going to be a cheap project.  Both contractors so far have said the right words about project stages, one-job-at-a-time, fitting into their schedule, etc. We have one more contractor coming for an initial consult; once we get rough estimates from all three we’ll be able to make a decision and move forward.

Soapstone samples

I have read a lot about soapstone as a countertop material.  Soapstone has several attributes that make it attractive for a working (as opposed to showplace) kitchen: it won’t stain or etch from any kitchen or household material, even without sealing; extreme heat or cold won’t damage it; and its lower gloss than granite or marble means it’s easier to keep looking clean. Its smoothness and high thermal mass make it ideal for rolling out dough.

There are a couple of drawbacks: Oil or water will darken the surface at least temporarily, so a common practice is to periodically treat the surface with oil or wax. It’s also much softer than granite or even marble, so it can get scratched or dinged with use. The softness also means, however, that such damage can be sanded out with normal sandpaper.

The biggest issue, though, is that it comes only in dark colors, mostly grey to black (and some greens that I can’t see).  Depending on the variety, there are often prominent white or greenish veins. It’s a striking stone and definitely makes a statement. We need to decide if it’s a statement we want to make.

I ordered a sample pack of offcuts from a soapstone counter supplier to help us decide whether this material is for us.  We do have plenty of time to make up our minds, and of course we’ll ask opinions of everyone who comes to visit.

Below are the 14 varieties currently on offer from this one supplier.  I’ve oiled the right-hand side of each.

Contractor 1

We met with our first contractor last night. He had a few interesting things to say.

The foyer – kitchen wall is also load bearing in all likelihood.  We could move it as I proposed, but there’s no place to hide a beam since the foyer ceiling is full-height.  Widening the door is fine. A few ideas for how to resolve the closet situation:

  1. Stealth closet. Install pantry cabinets at the foyer end of the kitchen, one of which has a hanging rod in it.
  2. Install pantry cabinets at the foyer end of the kitchen, instead of in the current pantry location. Build a closet in the current pantry.
  3. Go ahead and move the wall. Live with the fact that the foyer ceiling looks funny.
  4. Leave the current wall in place and build a 2nd one, to form an anteroom between foyer and kitchen. Install closets — perhaps built in place, perhaps prebuilt cabinets — in this space.

The issue with #1 is it seems cheesy: if we were moving into a building and used this as a solution, fine, but to build it this way seems wrong.

#2 gives a nice big closet, but is far from the front door.  This is Lis’s initial preference.

Nobody really likes #3.

#4 is my initial preference but may feel constricted going into the kitchen.

I will play around with these options over the next few days and see what I can come up with.

This contractor uses an in-house kitchen designer and cabinets that they resell.  The kitchen designer will also want to have a look, then they will get back to us with a proposal.