Concrete Counter tops: Are They All They’ve Cracked Up To Be?

About six years ago the flood gates opened and the options for concrete countertops increased exponentially.  About 15 years ago, my clients would request countertop materials such as laminate, granite, tile, and solid surface.  Today, those options have spread to butcher block, glass, stainless steel, paper, vinyl, resin, tile and of course … CONCRETE!

What makes concrete so unique?  

  1.  First of all, concrete can be custom colored- In fact, states :

“Each Concrete counter top contractor offers their own unique standard and premium colors. Samples will always be different due to each contractor having their own secret recipe for constructing the counter tops and employing different types and amounts of cement and aggregates. In fact, cement will vary in different parts of the country! There are different brands of pigments, stains, and aggregate colors, so concrete counter tops will always be unique.”

  1.  Creative edge detail options are endless- because concrete is poured, the edges are only limited to the creativity of the mind and the options for custom edge forms.
  1.  Mix it up- in the concrete counter tops that I have provided in the last eleven (11) years, we have included glass, petrified wood, aggregate gravel, metal shavings, shells and more.
  1.  Design versatility- tile counter tops have limited application in design themes and styles, whereas concrete has a broader spectrum of use.  For instance: Looking for a Victorian style? How about a heavy rope edge? In concrete, custom rope edge detailing is feasible, whereas with natural stone would be astronomical in cost.
  1.   What about cracking?   Yes, all concrete cracks, however, most of the methods used for fabricating concrete counter tops today limit the cracking to smaller fissures instead of large gaping holes.
  1.  Heat Resistant- Just like tile or natural stone, concrete is quite heat resistant.  Take note that the finish on the concrete will have independent heat properties to the concrete.  I have seen concrete finishing go from bees wax to epoxy, and now to urethane.  The durability of concrete today is so similar to quartz and stone, especially since there are a lot of added polymers to give flex and limited porosity.
  1.  Affordable- Of course this is a relative consideration.  When compared with the average natural stone, concrete is typically a little more affordable.  

Note:  Buy concrete for it’s unique values and uses, not because it imitates granite, solid surface, or other material.  Some of the concrete products on the market will come with a urethane or an epoxy coating which will provide a longer lifetime and more damage resistance.  Concrete usually must be 2” thick or thicker to maintain its strength and durability. Plan for this thickness accordingly, since most counter tops are 1 ¼” to 1 ½” thick.  Also, some concrete takes 28 days to fully cure. This will be unusually longer to wait for your counter tops compared to the 1 ½ – 2 week typical fabrication time frame.  If the top can be poured in place, it can usually be used starting just a day or two later, making it much more attractive than counter tops that require templating and fabrication in a shop.

Quick- Name 10 Things You Can Do To Your Kitchen Before the Holidays!


By Shad D. Johnsen, CKD

Scenario-  It’s November 2nd, and your brother calls to let you know that their home is not available for Thanksgiving.  Now, the burden of hosting the family gathering is on your shoulders. What is your first thought?  The Kitchen. You think through the twenty discussions you have had regarding remodeling your 1980’s kitchen.  You didn’t really like it when you moved in, and always planned to improve the materials, not to mention the layout and usability.  Unfortunately, you don’t have the time to design, plan, and implement an entire kitchen remodel in the next three weeks. But, to think about hosting a group of 13 adults and 18 children would be so much more pleasant with at least a facelift!

Here are some ideas commonly and uncommonly used as a quick way to get a nice change without all the cents:

  1. Paint:  What a dreadful thought right?  Yes, it can be, especially when you decide to put on the painting gloves all by yourself.  So, I highly recommend to have a professional do the work. Usually, it will take about 1-2 weeks for a painter to liven your old, aged oak, alder, maple or other wooden cabinets.
  2. New Appliances:  As long as you stick with an appliance in the same dimensions as your existing you should be fine.  Don’t forget to check for electrical demands, water line needs, location requirements of your connections and the such.
  3. See Through:  If you have doors that are made from five pieces of wood (five panel), a flat panel or raised panel, then you can have glass inserted in them.  Simply have a carpenter remove the center panel from the back of the door, then have a beautiful piece of glass added for that extra touch of class.  Just keep in mind if you want the contents and inside material of the cabinets to be visible or not.
  4. Easy Access:  There are plenty of aftermarket accessories to choose from to enhance the usability of your storage items.  Items such as roll-out shelves and recycle bins, spice racks, cutlery dividers, drawer organizers, cutting boards, and more.
  5. Fancy Flow:  Certainly replacing the faucet with something not only better, but more beautiful, can be a quick fix.  Plus, if you purchase the faucet that you really want, it is quite easy to use it in your future kitchen remodel.
  6. Top it Off:  Crown molding was not very popular in the 70’s and 80’s, primarily during the drop ceiling era, when cabinets were flush with the ceiling.  If you have the space, it is a beautiful way to finish the cabinetry. It may be difficult to match the existing finish, so may have to be creative in coordinating.
  7. Floating Floors:  There are some great floating wood floor products on the market now that can be installed over existing flooring.  Some of these products are very good quality, and again can be reused upon actual remodel of kitchen.  Some of them include floating luxury vinyl tile or planks, engineered wood or laminate, and even the heavier floating vinyl sheet option.
  8. Handle It:  Most cabinetry 20-30 years old did not have any hardware.  If you are not sure if you want knobs or handles, try using a knob to start with on the doors, and it will serve as one of the two holes if you choose to change to handles later.
  9. Add Some Splash:  A backsplash can add artistic flair and interest to the space.  Whether it be with tile, brick, faux painting, embossed tin, stainless steel, or more, it is an easy way to draw attention and make a statement.
  10. Let There Be Light:  There are some undercabinet lights on the market that are battery powered.  Easy to install and inexpensive. Also, if you have a home that was introduced to the can light world, and contains incandescent light bulbs, try changing to LED (Light Emitting Diods).  They will burn longer and brighter. Also, they will fit in the same socket as the other bulbs.

Most homeowners that remodel their kitchens go through an assortment of the above steps and usually much more.  However, if you are looking for something to make a difference for a few years, an appropriate selection of these just may do the trick.

Selecting Kitchen Materials From Such Small Samples

By Shad D. Johnsen, CKD

Are you overwhelmed when you consider all the decisions that need to be made? Does your brain spin as you realize that just for the cabinetry, you need to choose the wood, stain or paint color, the style, the finish sheen, and perhaps a glaze, sand through, distressing or other specialty feature to the finish. Once you have decided this, you then move onto flooring with about 20 different materials to choose from, not to mention color, pattern, texture, and more.

Let’s make this simple! There are enough decisions on any new construction or remodel project, let alone samples of materials for the surfaces in your new kitchen. Here are a few suggestions for your consideration:

One Bite at a Time
First of all, find one material that you keep coming back to when looking at pictures or other projects. If this color is a paint color, then that is a great start. Start with one color as a starting point. After that, you can put your color palette together using that as the foundation color. Sure you may need to change it down the stretch if it is not quite the right tint, shade, or hue to lock up the final color selection. But, at least you are on your way!

Take Charge
Remember that every room should have a dominant color. This could also be called the primary color. Usually you will then have a secondary and tertiary colors. You will also have some accent or highlight colors. Simply speaking though, allow one color to dominate the space, with others to support it.

Balancing Act
This is referring to colors and contrast. Stripes versus polka dots, right? Not necessarily. This balancing act is more focused on your sensitivity to wood grains, granules of color, surface texture, gloss versus matte, etc. Contrast in colors from horizontal to vertical surfaces creates good balance and long term comfort. If you look at the colors and texture combinations in your selections of samples, the sample which is most visible should be the one you want to be most visible.

Keep Your Distance
Each time you are making a decision on a sample, look at it from at least six feet away, or as far away as you will typically see it in its final destination. This helps texture, color, pattern, light reflection, and more to be more realistic perceptions.

Run With It
Don’t take the samples and run. Test how the samples hold up to daily life and living. On flooring, take your shoes off, if you don’t wear shoes in your home, and walk on it. Test countertop surfaces for scratch resistance to typical kitchen items, with the approval of your dealer of course.

Live With It First
Take your samples home for a field trip. Put them in the room where they will be. In new construction applications, put them in the same room in the house you are living in, as they will be in the new house, with lighting as close as possible to the planned lighting. Look at your selection for a couple of days during sunshine and clouds, morning, midday, and evening, when you are in a good mood, and when you are not.

Now that you have your plan of attack on compiling the best samples possible, go forward assertively and with excitement knowing that you will be making the best choices for your situation. If you need a second opinion, find a professional. So, go swiftly seeking surface samples for your situation.

Entertaining In Your Kitchen- And How It Is Influenced By The Design

Entertaining in Your Kitchen

And How It Is Influenced By The Design

By Shad Johnsen, CKD

“I want lime green cabinets” confidently spoken by my client about her cabinet color choice.  I took her to the samples of laminate countertops for a quick confirmation of her version of “lime green”.  Sure enough, the color that she wanted was lime green!

How does this relate to entertainment in the kitchen?  In this case, the husband wasn’t interested at all in the planning and designing phase of the project.  And, most certainly didn’t feel that he had anything much to show off with in the existing kitchen.  However, upon completion of their kitchen remodel, he was more excited to show off their new kitchen than his wife.  Because of this, they spent much more time in the kitchen with or without guests.

So, first of all, we should consider some of the ways that homeowner’s “entertain” in their kitchen.  Webster’s says:  “to show hospitality to <entertain guests>”.  This suggests an open field of possibilities.  Really, when a homeowner evaluates how they use their kitchen, or prefer to use their kitchen, they find themselves surprised with the need to plan for entertaining in their design.


Most of my clientele are grouped into three main categories of entertainment in their kitchens:

  1. Both informal and formal gatherings on a regular basis.  Full meal preparation with many people involved in the preparation, cooking, and cleanup process.
  2. Mostly informal gatherings a few times a month where the primary cook likes to have guests in the kitchen to talk while the meal preparation is going on, but not necessarily actively involved in it.
  3. Most entertaining takes place with the those living in the home.  There may be some need to sit and eat in the kitchen for casual meals, but most take care of their own food preparation, cooking, and cleanup.

I have seen too many projects where the planning and implementation of a kitchen design occurred with the average kitchen entertainment planned.  Then, upon the first few uses and gatherings in the kitchen, it suddenly becomes apparent that the entertainment plans are not sufficient for the needs.  Sometimes the harsh reality of the space dictates whether or not it can be planned for the types of entertaining that homeowners really may want or need.


Let’s take a look into some more detailed entertainment considerations to plan into a kitchen design for each of the previously mentioned options.

Regular gatherings involved in the meal process:

  1. Two work triangles can make life much easier, so that each party preparing a food selection will be independent of the other. This means two refrigerators, two cooking surfaces, and two sinks.  Many of the designs where this is being implemented with my clients may include a smaller preparation sink, an undercounter refrigerator, and a small two burner cooktop.
  2. Wider walkways certainly encourage more comfortable use of the space.
  3. Seating also becomes interesting. Try two smaller seating sections adjacent to each work triangle, rather than one large seating space.
  4. Multiple height countertops caters to different height users.


Occasional gatherings with minimal meal assistance:

  1. Great option to include a secondary sink for help with preparation and cleanup.
  2. Higher seating encourages shorter use, such as 42” high versus 36” or 30” high.
  3. Plan the microwave and refrigerator locations closer to the living space.


Gatherings for those in the home:

  1. Keep seating close to the work triangle.
  2. More convenient use appliances with low maintenance.
  3. Consider tying the kitchen seating and the breakfast nook seating all into one.
  4. Multiple options for lighting.

For a couple of last suggestions, consider options such as attaching a table to the island, mobile island unit, convection microwave oven when a second oven isn’t practical, and cabinetry in the dining area for quick dish access.  All of these ideas and more should be considered when designing your dream kitchen.

Remodeling Your Home Soon? Prepare For the Worst- To End Up With the Best

Remodeling Your Home Soon?

Prepare For the Worst- To End Up With the Best

By Shad D. Johnsen, CKD

You just finished the last few decorations in the dining room when there’s the first knock at the front door.  You have dreamed of this moment since last Thanksgiving when you and your family crammed into the small breakfast nook and front room provided by your generous home plans.  Not only was everyone tripping over the food table, but also the lack of lighting made it difficult to see expressions on the faces of family members as uncle Bob was told his routine jokes.  You got up to check on the turkey, only to find out that you placed the oven on 450 degrees instead of 325.  The smoky evidence was very clear to everyone else.  You quickly turned on the hood to recirculate the air, and opened a window in the living room.  Finally, because of the terrible smell, and smoke filled room, everyone ended up going out for the Thanksgiving meal.

This year was different… you have spent a lot of blood sweat and tears getting the new addition with the enlarged kitchen, added dining room, and more private and enlarged living room.  You worked with your designer to ensure that you covered all the details, including the built-in buffet in the dining room with plenty of walkway space around the table.  As you get to the front door, you notice some of the before photographs from old rooms before demolition began.  You cringe to think of the lack of efficiency that the space offered.  You open the door to your two brothers and sister with their spouses and children.  Quickly you take their coats and get them into the house, excited to begin your tour of the recent renovation.

Suddenly the room goes dark, and all you can see are some red lights saying 7:15.  You wonder why it smells like burnt wood.  You sit up in bed to realize that the finished project was all a dream.  You are now three weeks away from Thanksgiving, and your home is in shambles.  You cough at the evidence of dust in the air.  Obviously the contractors made themselves at home almost an hour earlier than they usually do.  That’s good, because they have some catch up to do after yesterdays mistaken removal of the carpet in the living room.  You spent four hours on your hands and knees removing staples out of the floor, trying to decide what you want to do for the new flooring, whether you wanted new flooring or not.  You have come to expect these difficulties since you started the addition in June.  It was supposed to be completely wrapped up by September 15th, but delays in concrete material, problems with the roofline, and the recovery of the contractor from his nail gun accident all delayed the projected completion.


What are some common sense ways to prepare for a remodel, and be realistic with the process and outcome?  Here are a few suggestions:

Delivery Times:  Through all the enthusiasm, anticipation, and excitement of kitchen remodel planning, sometimes we forget to plan the scheduling of the project around the arrival of the goods.  I strongly encourage my clients to wait on demolition until all the products for the project have arrived and been checked for damage.

Get Out of The House:  Plan some time away from the project.  You might even consider a vacation or two during this time.  Some of my most satisfied clients are the ones who spend the least amount of time around the project.  Plan for the cost of meals out of the home, time visiting family, etc.

Contingencies:  Plan for unforeseen problems to arise.  After the walls are torn up, and the work to move the sink location has begun, you may find the pipes are in need of some replacement work.  Or, you may find that special new technology gadget halfway through the project that you would like incorporated into the new kitchen.  Or, you just might not like one of your design choices, and want to make a minor modification.  On any account, you should plan about 4-5% of the project as a reserve for these types of changes.

Noise & Dust:  Plastic mats, plastic zipper walls, vacuuming, vacuuming, and more vacuuming will help some.  Even with all of this, you should still cover your furniture in the adjacent rooms, and find a little corner of the house as far from the project as possible to create some solitude.

Work Delays and Waiting Time:  So many work delays can occur during this type of project.  You may find that the flooring contractor was delayed by three days at another project.  Or you will find frustration from the wait times for the mud and texture to dry properly.  Some of these delays, you simply do not have control over.  May I refer you to the “Get Out of The House” suggestion.

Errors and Omissions:  Everyone makes mistakes, especially on larger projects where there is a large amount of detail to record and plan.  In the middle of the project you may have to resort to the ancient method of pencil and paper to render what you want to see happen.  Then, simply add initials with a date, and you have a modification to the project.  Also, it is a good idea for both of you to have a copy of this change.

How Much Did You Say?:  Some of you may already be painfully aware of this unfortunate scenario;  The contractor hands you the invoice with change orders attached, and suddenly your project has doubled in cost.  How?  “Well, you know the cost of materials and labor has increased so much lately, and I didn’t realize how long it would take to move that wall, so it was a surprise to me too.”  One of the best ways to avoid this is to obtain an accurate estimate up front.  Then, if you run into anything that would change the cost by more than 5%, you stop the project, assess the cost in writing, approve that change, and move forward.


You walk downstairs avoiding loose nails, pop cans, and trash and find the new wood flooring almost done.  The last minute change to insert a medallion in the entryway is a welcome sight.  Even more of a welcome sight is the airline tickets on the desk to send your family to Disneyland this weekend.

I have found that the happiest day of the project ends up being the day before they write the first deposit check.  From there until the completion of the project, there is much to be said about the inconvenience of a remodel.  Be realistic and prepare, and the project will be less of a nightmare, and more of a…shall we say “bear it with a grin” opportunity.