Kitchen reno, part 3: the countertop and backsplash

Coming into our on-the-cheap reno story a bit late? You might want to first check our our Julia Child pegboard pot rack, or the window and open shelves that put the fung back into my kitchen schway.


From day one, I didn’t like the countertops in our kitchen. I remember when we were looking at the house, the day I fell in love with the kitchen sink, the owner telling us that they chose them because they “looked just like granite” and were “so cheap.” The thing is, they don’t like granite, they look like dark-brown formica (exactly what they are). And I’m not even wild about granite, so the perceived similarity was wasted on me.

But when it came time to do our reno, we just didn’t have the budget to replace all the countertops — and, truth be told, they could be worse. Since in our last kitchen we loved the butcherblock eating bar, we got a wild hair to replace just a portion of our counters here with the same material. At first I thought we’d have to stain the wood a similar color as our dark counters — but once we installed it, the mismatched surfaces worked surprisingly well, and the lighter color wood helped brighten the room.

The counter is from Ikea — called some forgettable combination of too many consonants and an umlaut-ed vowel or two. It’s crazy cheap — you can order a counter-depth 8-foot section for $169 (about $10/sq ft). We got the deeper version, since ours would need an overhang for our eating bar — but the deeper one only comes in a 6-foot length. This was the reason Tim had to build out the cabinets at the wall end of the counter — the 6′ length wasn’t long enough to extend from the wall to the end of the peninsula. He built the shelves out about a foot, and the counter covered the rest. Problem solved — and as it turns out, I love the variety the built-ins lend to the open shelves.

I also love the counter because I can knead bread and roll out dough directly on the surface (no knives here!). I wanted a non-toxic way to keep them water-repellent and conditioned, so I make up my own spoon oil and give it a coat every few months. My kids took a ball-point pen to it once, which required a light sanding — but as far as spilled wine, berry stains, etc., they will fade on their own in a matter of a day or two. It’s a little harder to give the counter a daily wipe-down, but the trade-off is worth it, to have a soft eating and prep surface.


The last major change was the backsplash. The original kitchen didn’t have one — and I wanted to go with something classic, something that wouldn’t lock us into a color scheme, something cheap. Enter the good ol’ white subway tile. Already precipitously close to being over-used, likely to become the infamous “avocado green” of the early 21st century kitchen, it was hard to argue against it. You can get 100 tiles for $60 (we used a shy 200 tiles, so the total was about $120). Plus, I love white. I have white cabinets, and wanted the white-on-white walls to match. My original plan was to have the entire kitchen wall, straight up to the ceiling, covered in tile. But in the end I decided a little splash of paint would be nice — it helped that my husband “strongly recommended” I not do that, and since he was doing all the work, well, you know.


In the last kitchen reno post, next week, I’ll wrap up the remaining details that brought the whole project to a close — as well as give a line-by-line breakdown of cost (as best I can manage, we’re not the best receipt-keepers). Anyone wanna take bets on the total project cost? Or, wanna guess the one thing I still hate about my kitchen? Leave it in the comments — the winner will get nothing more than the joy of knowing you guessed something right.

Who doesn’t want to be right?


You might enjoy following the rest of our reno adventure:
Part 1: Julia Child Pot Rack
Part 2: The Window and Shelves
Part 4: Final Details & Cost Breakdown

17 thoughts on “Kitchen reno, part 3: the countertop and backsplash

  1. Ugh… IF ONLY Ikea could be shipped!!! There is so much stuff I’d like to have in our house that we could probably afford if Ikea was an option. It’s so annoying.

    I love the kitchen, I can’t wait to see it in person!!!!!!!! (And all of you, of course!)

    I’m gonna say you still hate the neighbors AC unit. =)

    1. I still say don’t put any money into a rental, even if it’s Ikea-cheap.
      When shall we put you on the calendar? ; )

  2. I would like to hear why you don’t like granite because almost everyone who has them loves them. I’m a curious type and I love to hear people’s opinions on things. It’s never good enough for someone to express their opinion, I often feel driven to discover why?! Again – I know I have more issues than National Geographic. Oh, and I love the prize of knowing I was right – so I’m going to guess the refrigerator that recently broke down. Maybe the stove? I think it has to be an appliance.

    1. Nancy, my thing with granite — I just don’t love the way it looks, especially darker colors. Now, I go NUTS for some carrera marble (or the stuff SJ has, it’s not carrera but cortona, maybe? easier to maintain). But granite I just find distracting, and for some reason I don’t like dark countertops (in *my* kitchen, that is — I still know many beautiful kitchens that use dark granite).

      In addition, I’ve been seeing stuff lately about how granite is pretty bad, as far as carbon footprint. I think the more eco-friendly option is a composite, but it’d take some research.

  3. I will come in the night one night and steal your kitchen. Just a heads-up.

    Stove top? I’m not implying anything, because I can’t see it in the pictures, can’t remember what type it is. Just a guess! Based on my own biggest particularity in the kitchen . . .

    1. If you can pull that off in the night, you can have the kitchen ; ) Who would I be to deny that type of magical talent?

      Maybe just leave me another one so we can make breakfast?

  4. are you freaking kidding me? it costs this little to add a decent, non-repulsive countertop and a backsplash? ugh, i’m going to crack my landlords’ heads together.

    no, it can’t be the stove. katy’s stove looks like it belongs on the iron chef or something.

    1. what’s sad is that your landlords *likely* pay more at Lowe’s to get the crappy rental stuff (this are generic descriptions applying to all rentals I’ve lived in — no judgement on your kitchen, as I’ve never seen it!).

      For some reason, landlords here are in love with cheap travertine tile, too. I cannot tell you the depths to which I hate it — it’s in our bathroom, and we’ll sadly never redo it.

      1. well, i’m actually not convinced that my landlords spent any money at all on my kitchen counter and didn’t just pull it out of a scrap heap (which i would be all for, by the way, if it weren’t spectacularly ugly), because the end of the countertop is just sawed off. as in…i can see the inside with all the bits of pressed composite wood. it is appalling. and on top of that, the counter is this bizarre, mottled, dirty beige color. i think it is supposed to look like marble, but it mostly just looks like crap. at least with my mere 4 square feet of counter space, my exposure to the hideousness is limited.

        and yes, my bathroom has that type of tile. NOT a fan.

  5. When I (eventually) change my kitchen, I AM going to use the granite-looking formica, simply because I woudn’t see a ROI for anything pricier. I’ve also about decided that my cabinet doors are too one-dimensional to try and paint, so I am looking at ordering new doors and drawer facings. Probably a summer project, assuming I get my mini-MRI foot machine paid off by then.

    1. Amy, that makes sense. That’s actually one reason I don’t like granite — it gets put into houses where it doesn’t fit at all (like it wouldn’t fit in your house). That’s become such a selling point for a house, and many times it just looks out-of-place.

      1. Can I borrow Tim for, like, a week? I AM going to have to replace my kitchen subfloor, at least parts of it. Tim seems handy.

        Worried that the entire floor is going to have to be replaced. If it does, then I will also have to deal with new cabinets and appliances at the same time. If I take up that floor, I am not putting the old stuff back in.

  6. I’ve loved your kitchen reno except for one thing…it’s made me doubly sad that I did not take pics of mine! I’ve been in my home for 20 years and started painting the day after moving in. And painting. DARK wood molding, dark fireplace, dark wood doors. It took a couple of years before I had managed to turn this cave into a home. Except for the kitchen.

    So finally, about 6 or 7 years ago, I took the plunge. My neighbor had painted her dark kitchen cabinets in two days. They looked it so I made a point of really doing it right and it took two weeks. I did hire someone to install new countertops and oh my…they are formica! People have commented so positively on what I did that others have followed my lead and it really makes a difference. What? I had them all edged with beveled wood trim; it’s amazing how much richer they look. I also set some granite tiles into the section that separates the kitchen from the eating area so that I have a place to chop or roll pie dough and also made a butcher block to fit the area to the left of the stove. Well, not made from scratch, but I did buy two pieces from The Container Store, glued them together and then cut that one piece to fit exactly! AND..yes I make spoon oil but I call it wood butter and yes, it’s wonderful for those butcher block surfaces isn’t it?

    Last…IKEA just opened here in Denver a few months ago but I’m getting that butcher block piece soon. I think I’m going to make a table to use for my photos but I’m loving how you used it and am even more encouraged to go get a piece. Like right now! Love this series Katy; maybe because I’m such a DIYer; I just love seeing when someone else does something in their home.

    1. Barbara, I would LOVE to see photos (I too am a vicarious DIY-er)! Even if you don’t have before pics. It’s funny — I am so much happier with my formica counters now that I also have the wood. I think there was something about having just so much of it — so it may be that even if I had an unlimited budget I’d still do something similar to what you’ve done — a little of this, a little of that.

      Congrats on Ikea ; ) I have a friend in Denver who pined for it for YEARS…

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