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Kitchen Renovation - DIY Applied Concrete Countertops


So when we bought our house eight years ago, we figured *someday* we'd get around to updating the kitchen. Well it finally happened. To let you know what we started with, here is a shot of the hunter green "marble" formica countertops. They make you shudder just like I did, right?


Budget was lean for this DIY project, but we had some objectives we really wanted to hit:

  • Update countertops
  • Add backsplash
  • Paint cabinets
  • Add crown moulding
  • Paint Walls
So pretty much this could be a few hundred dollars to get into the thousands. This is where I started doing my homework on alternatives to the pricey upgrades of glass tile back splashes and granite countertops.

I came across this great blog post from Kara Paslay Designs. She explains how they took a wet bar area of her home and added an applied concrete right onto the existing laminate countertop. We changed up how we used it a bit, but here is what we did to get a pretty cool final product:

Gather materials:
  • Bucket for mixing
  • ARDEX Feather Finish Concrete (purchased on amazon.com for $20 per bag, and we used 2 bags to complete our counters)
  • Small towel for mixing and applying the concrete
  • Drywall knife for smoothing corners and edges
Using the ARDEX instead of another form of concrete mix is important because of the finishing weight. The ARDEX should be just fine on the average countertop, where another concrete mix may be heavier and can compromise the structure of your cabinets.

Preparing the surface:

We used a mouse sander with a medium grit paper to rough up the surface and sides of the laminate a bit, then wiped everything down with a solution of half rubbing alcohol and half water. It gathered up any dust and the alcohol let it all dry a bit faster.

Mixing the concrete:

In the mixing bucket, we mixed 1 bag of the ARDEX Feather Finish Concrete with the amount of water indicated on the package. You can use a mixer attachment for a drill, but the trowel was just easier for me, so that's what I used. It may seem a little runny, but that's ok -- allow it to sit for 5 minutes to flash set, then stir it for another minute and start applying.

Once the concrete is mixed well, begin applying in sections, working from the back of countertop forward, finishing with applying it to the front/sides of the laminate.

You don't need to put on too thick of a layer, as we'll use the 2nd bag to put another coat on in a couple of days. I believe this first layer was just about a 1/4" or less in thickness. I liked how the look of a sweeping, circular motion looked as I applied the concrete. The other tutorial that I'd found online used more long, straight sweeps for their application and it garnered a different final look.

I used the drywall knife to get up against the edges, into corners, and around the sink. This was easier to use than the trowel in those areas. While the concrete is still wet, you can also use an old, wet rag to tidy up behind yourself.

If you have any exposed edges after the first application, it's ok because we'll catch them on the 2nd coat. If you feel like you've put too much on the edges, that's ok too, because in sanding down the counters, it'll finish nicely.

Allow to dry per package (we let it set overnight). Once there are no wet or soft spots to the touch, grab your sander again with the medium grit paper on it and get to work. We worked from back to front, in circular motions, to get a smooth finish to the concrete. I really wanted to keep some texture to the concrete, but you can sand down further if you want it smoother to the touch.

Don't forget, we're going to apply a second coat, so this sanding doesn't have to be perfect.

We wiped down the whole counter again with the alcohol and water mixture. The water will cause the unsealed concrete to get dark when you wipe it down. Don't panic! As the counter dries overnight, the dark will turn light again.

For the second coat, start back over at the top of these instructions by mixing the 2nd bag of ARDEX, flash set, apply, and sand. Once you've sanded it all down with the medium grit sandpaper, go back with a fine grit 220 sandpaper on the sander and get it pretty smooth to the touch. 

Give it a nice wipe down with the alcohol and water mixture, and allow to dry thoroughly.

Now it's time to seal it.

Sealing the countertop:

We grabbed this high gloss concrete sealer from Home Depot for $24 for the gallon: http://www.homedepot.com/p/Sikagard-1-Gal-High-Gloss-Sealer-107698/202529383

It's a super-easy application with a big sponge and a paint tray. Over the course of the day, we applied about 10 coats of the sealer. This will protect the concrete from moisture damage and give the counters a smooth, glossy finish. The sealant will give the counters a darker finish than when they were unsealed. We love the rich, gray color the concrete produces, but before sealing, you can stain the counters with another ARDEX stain product if you'd like.

Note: About 6 months in, we started to notice a couple of dark spots when the counter would get wet. That means it's time for more sealer! When that happened, we just cleared off the counters and applied about 5-6 coats over the course of a day. Allow to dry for 24 hours, then you can put things back on your countertops.

Here are some photos of the finished countertops!! We could not be happier for them, and with materials, the whole project cost us less than $100.

Stay tuned for a follow up post how we completed the entire kitchen renovation for only $284. Yep. No commas. $284.






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