Kitchen Countertop, Sink and Backsplash: The Plan

by Josh on December 13, 2011 · 6 comments

in Kitchen,Projects

Something is cooking in the kitchen, and it isn’t just Christmas cookies. My kitchen remodel continues with a big, high-impact change–replacing the countertop, sink and backsplash.

As with my other kitchen improvements, I want to make this update low-cost and vintage-inspired. For my purpose, “low cost” doesn’t mean the absolutely least expensive option, but rather the choice that accomplishes my stylistic goals for a good value. The “vintage-inspired” concept is trickier to nail down because my kitchen is by far the most remodeled room in the house. Rather than rip out anything that isn’t original (basically everything but the windows) I am selectively replacing the most ugly or stylistically incongruous pieces with new traditional materials and sympathetic reproductions.

Now back to my countertop, backsplash and sink. They aren’t truly ugly, but they aren’t interesting either; they’re just boring and cheap-looking. The sink is a standard two-basin stainless steel drop-in, set in a white laminate countertop with an inset cherry wood edge detail. The countertop includes a standard integrated backsplash and the wall behind it is actually covered in some kind of melamine backsplash material that has been painted over several times.

countertop and sink before

Plan for the Sink

When I think of details that define a bungalow kitchen, the first thing that comes to mind is a white porcelain enamal cast iron apron sink with built-in backsplash and wall-mounted bridge faucet. I’m sure my kitchen had a sink like this originally, but the sink and even the plumbing that served it have long since been replaced and relocated. New and salvaged kitchen wall sinks are available, but I couldn’t install one without heavy modifications to my plumbing and cabinetry.

Instead, I decided the best compromise between style, cost and convenience was a modern ceramic cabinet-mounted apron sink. These sinks can be expensive, but I found a thrifty DIYers dream sink in the Domsjo double basin sink at IKEA.

Domsjo double bowl sink

Okay, so there’s no mistaking this for a vintage sink, but it definitely has a few things going for it–even compared to similar new apron sinks. Modern in shape and proportion overall, the ribbed drainboard at the back of the sink is a nice retro touch that I really like. More important, though, this sink installs over the countertop, not under it as is more common in apron sinks. The DIY benefits of this design are huge. Unlike an undermount sink that requires a precise, rounded cutout in a countertop that spans the entire length of the base cabinets, this sink only needs countertop on the cabinets on either side of the sink base, and the cuts are straight and concealed. In other words, by using this sink, I only need two 3-foot sections of countertop to cover a 9-foot length of base cabinets. Those two short countertops are cheaper and easier to handle than a single long slab. Best of all, compared to similar sinks that often cost $500 or more, the Domsjo comes in at just over $300, so I’m not paying extra for this convenient, thrifty design.

Plan for the Countertop

Lots of people replacing countertops these days install granite because it is natural, beautiful, durable, and conspicuously expensive. I’m bucking the trend with a countertop choice that is also natural and beautiful– and it happens to be a historically appropriate for my bungalow, too: wood. Wood may not be as durable as stone, but it is more forgiving on dropped dishes, repairable when damaged, and inexpensive.

unfinished cherry butcherblock countertop

Butcherblock countertop isn’t hard to find– including at IKEA where I sourced my sink. However, for a bit more than the beech at IKEA, I found an unfinished solid cherry butcherblock countertop that will be a perfect match for my cherry cabinetry. Unlike with granite, this countertop choice requires me to do all the cutting, finishing and installing, but that’s part of the fun, right? The 8-foot length that I bought for $300 will give me the 36″ and 42″ sections I need next to the sink with room to spare.

Plan for the Backsplash

My new butcherblock countertop won’t have the integrated backsplash that is on the laminate countertop now. Instead, I want to tile the entire wall between the countertop and the upper cabinets with 3″ x 6″ white subway tile. White subway tile was very common in bungalow kitchens and bathrooms because it was inexpensive, uncomplicated, and sanitary. Fortunately, those virtues all still hold and subway tile is enjoying a big revival in popularity. Modern subway tiles are available in a variety of colors and sizes, but sticking with white in the standard size increases the “vintage-inspired” factor and also gives me the most sourcing options, so I can find the right balance between cost and quality. White tile also ties together my white sink and white appliances, including my vintage Chambers stove.

Complicating the backsplash issue is the mystery melamine material on the wall now. I could probably just tile right over it, but it has loosened from the wall in a few places and I don’t want to build up my tile on an unstable foundation. On the other hand, the backsplash material could have asbestos in it or it could have lead paint covering it, so blind brute removal isn’t a smart choice either. Taking a test sample of the backsplash to a local lab should give me a better idea how to proceed with my tile plans.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Reuben December 13, 2011 at 5:48 pm

ooh, i wouldn’t let asbestos or lead paint keep you from doing it right. Get the family out of the house for a day, double up on the face masks, and just be careful. You’ll be ok!

*Note: I’m not even close to being a doctor or anything.


Josh December 13, 2011 at 9:48 pm

I think this a case where the right thing is situational. If the backsplash isn’t toxic, obviously the right thing is to rip it out. If the backsplash is contaminated, finding a way to stabilize and contain/cover up the offending material is probably the right call if I don’t want the expense of complete abatement.

Don’t worry, though, I have a feeling it’s going to work out alright…


San Antonio Siding December 15, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Good call on taking it to a lab! Lead and asbestos aren’t things to joke around with. If those materials are present, they should be able to help you through the process of safely removing it.


beth Haiken December 20, 2011 at 2:34 pm

We got that same sink. I love it. There is a tendency for grody-ness to accumulate in the washboard but if you just keep a scrub brush near by it cleans up easily!


Josh December 21, 2011 at 10:18 am

Thanks for the advice and your endoresement, Beth. I’m excited about this sink!


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