Saturday, July 26, 2014

Designing a Home | Kitchen Selections

When it comes to finishes, it's probably no surprise that we've gone for a very white and neutral scheme. Here's a breakdown of our kitchen choices and some of our inspiration.

After many sleepless nights and countless naysayers, we pulled the trigger on a Venatino marble surface for our 9 ft island. Not only am I over the moon about this decision, but hubby is more than on board! Once he saw the samples and the depth and life that marble has over other surfaces, he was sold. It is such a beautiful stone and I know it will be my favourite part of this house. Hubby keeps seeing marble surfaces on TV and in restos/cafes and is almost as excited as I am. The perimeter counters that flank the cooktop are a snow white quartz that will be durable and also a nice break between the marble island and the marble backsplash. 

We chose maple wood cabinet doors painted in Alabaster (similar to the style above but a tad different and little bit creamier than this white) and charcoal vinyl plank floors. We chose a luxury vinyl plank (looks like laminate or wood planks but is made out of very durable man made material) because we have lived with both laminate and hardwood and wanted a more durable option. Our laminate floors were horrible, all three sets that we've had. Any amount of water made the seams swell, which means cleaning without water is a tedious task. Hardwood isn't great for our dogs (unless it's really rustic and grooved) because it's slippery for them and with the back issues we just didn't want to risk it. This vinyl plank is perfect - it's durable, waterproof, and if there ever were damage the individual planks can be replaced fairly easily. But best of all, there's a grippy texture that will help loads when our pups want to run around and play. It's about the same cost as laminate and some entry hardwoods at an upgrade cost to us of about $6500 from the standard lino sheet flooring that is included in the base price.

Our lighting is still in the works, but I'm hoping to go for this style of pendants over the island (This kitchen layout is VERY similar to ours) with 6 pot lights overhead and under cabinet lighting.

We also plan on having a built-in hood fan constructed after we move in (DIY project via father-in-law) but until then we have a sleek stainless steel hood fan that isn't bulky or obtrusive.

Hardware will be classic with small shiny chrome knobs on the doors and a classic chrome pulls on the drawers.

Backsplash will be done immediately after we move in because I am far too indecisive to make that decision now (because obviously I will change my mind). We are going to go for a marble tile (likely a 3 by 8), I just haven't decided whether I want subway or herringbone ala this dreamy kitchen.

We are very excited about the fridge, going with an all fridge, all freezer option. I'm sure it seems excessive as we are just two people, but if you saw our fridge/freezer you would understand. We spend well over $200 a week on produce alone, so you can only imagine how full our crispers must be. I also freeze loads of meals and ingredients since my vegan dishes are often far too large for one person. Freezer storage is my saviour and allows me to make healthy meal and snack choices when I don't have a lot of time. If there is one appliance we need to be above and beyond the everyday, it's the fridge.

We thought long and hard about our stove top. In our rental house here we got to experience gas for the first time (a really nice GE profile gas range). I love the look of a gas range, I love the feeling of the flame...but, after a year with it I just didn't love the maintenance (funny, considering I'm willing to take on the maintenance of marble countertops!). I just found that under the grills got dirty every single day, and it wasn't an easy clean up. The little black disks where the burners are also got splattered/stained easily.  It looks pretty from afar, but far from pretty up close. I also didn't see any difference in cooking time from any of the other stove tops I've used in the past. So we are going with a modern looking Samsung glass cooktop and I'm happy about the choice.

Our facet looks similar to this style, with an oversized, undermount rectangular sink.

Micro will be built in under the counter in the island along with the dishwasher. 

And what about a pantry you ask? Being the pantry freak that I am, I have THREE pantries. We selected two wall pantries to flank either side of the fridge, and then we have a walk-through pantry connecting the kitchen to the mudroom (think butlers pantry style, although smaller and without cabinetry and a sink). I can't wait to replace the wire shelving in the walk-through with solid wood shelving, and to organize and label all of my jars. It might take me a week, but it will probably be one of my favourite things!

I will try and get a floor plan up so you can see everything in context - and will post about the other finishes sometime soon too! If you're building or re-decorating, how's it going?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Designing a Home | Final Decisions and Marble Countertops

** skip to the bottom of this novel on our house build for photos and countertop info**

If I were to be compensated hourly for my in depth countertop research, well, let's just say I wouldn't need a job. My brain hurts. I'm not sure how much longer I can look at a screen and maintain my eyesight. I might be losing my sanity.

Yesterday marked the day where we had to have ALL of our house decisions in (well, except for the lighting, thank goodness). It feels like forever since we first wrote our contract on our house build (January - but then changed our lot and plan in early February). Here it is, mid- July, and we have a basement. It's seems at once both an incredibly slow process and a quick one. I started picking out my finishes last August before we even bought, and nearly a year later, here I was, still stumped by some decisions.

There are lot of factors for us to consider. How long we will be in this house (not long). Will everybody love our design choices for resale's sake (probably not). Will spending buckets more mean we will get buckets more (probably not). Do I want to make decisions based on the fact we may sell it in a few years and forgo my own desires (not really).

At the end of the day, we don't know what the future holds, what this market will be like, what the design trends will be, nor what people will like. We could be here for longer than 4 years, and in that case, it would be ashame to make decisions based on resale value. And really, if I were to look at 95% of the homes on MLS right now, none of them are my style. Which also means that my style may not please 95% of buyers. Oh well, c'est la vie. It's my house and I'll do what I want to (please make sure to sing that line in your head while reading or it comes across horribly bratty).

The plan is to design this home to our taste (I guess I should say MY taste because my amazing hubby is really letting me take the reigns) and not overspend. There are definitely things that I would do in our "forever" home that we are not doing with this home. But, things can always evolve. If we are in the house for a while, there's no saying we can't upgrade as we go. We are upgrading nearly every single thing from the base options, but for some we aren't going crazy. Our ensuite comes with a tiled soaker tub, a basic one-piece fibre glass shower, and a vanity with a single sink (base includes basic lino flooring, basic laminate countertops, etc). We are upgrading the cabinetry, the countertops, adding a dual sink (WHY on earth do builders think one sink in an ensuite with a large vanity makes any sense at all?), flooring, and tiled tub surround. To upgrade to a tiled frameless glass shower was going to be around $10,000. Yup. I also really wanted a free standing tub, but it's another item that I cut off the list as soon as we realized our upgrades were getting up there. Like, our upgrades cost almost as much as the lot. Yup. Crazy.

Okay, back to the countertop research. I *thought* I had my mind made up. I *thought* that I was going to be happy as pie with my stark white countertops and marble backsplash. And then as soon as it came time to schedule our design meeting to make the final choices, I started thinking about marble again. What if I just put in on the perimeter? Then I could do a white backsplash and still get some marble counter love. Or... what if I did it on the island? Oh my, that would be beautiful. That would just make the kitchen. It would just make the house. What if.

And so the wheels started turning again and I decided if I was going to forgo my hearts desire, I should at least really give it a fighting chance and look into it as best I could (again). This time, I supplemented my online research with a visit to a slab yard, and some rigorous sample testing. I could recap all of my marble tests in great detail, but there are so many available online, that if you are reading this through a google search, you've probably already found them. I can't add more to them, but I will summarize my findings.

First things first, slabs. I was hoping I wouldn't be as enamoured in person. Or that the slabs they had weren't pretty slabs. Or that something else would jump out at me. Nope. This trip to the quarry made me want marble even more. It is just so beautiful in person. Directly comparing them to the quartz slabs we found there would be unfair. Quartz is a great material (one that we will be using at least in part) but to compare a man made, uniform slab to a gazillion year old piece of stunning metamorphosed stone just cannot be done. Here is the Venatino Marble (priced at $104/sq foot + $8/sq ft for honing + installation which ends up totalling $160/sq ft when all is said and done).

As expected, the staff there tried their best to warn me about marble. As expected, I was told I would have to sign a waiver. Unexpectedly, they apparently have only ever had one customer choose marble for the kitchen, and apparently it has been replaced by them THREE times (cue the now-in-effect waiver). I found this incredibly hard to believe because I think they are the biggest (if not ONLY) supplier of stone countertops in the city. But then again, my all white, marble heaven of kitchens is something I have yet to see in my year of perusing the local listings on a weekly basis, so maybe it is true. They did show me some "quartzite" (in brackets because I've read in quite a few places that most Super White or White Fantasy is not quartzite but in fact dolomite marble - not quite as soft but still an etchable marble) that I thought was pretty, less the "eggs". Someone, somewhere (through all of the blogs and forums I've read) referred to the round blobs of veining in this stone as eggs because they are egg shaped, and now that is all I see. I knew I didn't like the veining. It's not subtle and pretty like marble. But I thought I would give it a fair consideration and took a sample too. Super White/ White Fantasy "Quartzite" $114/sq ft + installation.

Okay, now on to the testing. I did tests on unsealed samples, on polished and unpolished, and on freshly, crappily sealed samples (I didn't let it cure for 24 hours, I didn't use the best impregnators on the market, just a run of the mill Home Depot sealer which is not recommended).

These are my findings:
1) Stains do not seem to be an issue in sealed marble. Sealing = no staining.
2) Etches are very real. They happen.
3) Etches can buffed out or visibly reduced by buffing out.
4) Throwing sharp or heavy things at your marble will create dings and scratches (things like other sharp stone samples, a heavy knife, a cast iron pan, etc).
5) If you want a "perfect" countertop that looks like the day you bought it, marble isn't it.
6) Nothing compares to the depth, beauty and life of marble. Nothing.
7) If you can embrace (not just accept) the perfect imperfections of marble's living surface, then you and marble are a match made in marble heaven
8) Honed marble is infinitely better for kitchens because it doesn't show etching nearly as much
9) Marble has been used as all sorts of surfaces from counters to tables to bars and stairs in Europe for centuries.

Other points to note.

  • Dont' throw stuff at your counters, marble or not
  • Honed marble is one of the only surfaces you can actually "refinish". Like a solid wood floor needs refinishing every so often, marble counters can definitely benefit from a surface refresh (unless you really love holding on to every bit of patina you can, then don't do this). 
  • Not only can marble be rehoned in place by a pro (rumour has it Martha has her gorgeous counters rehoned annually), but you can do quite a bit on your own. Some methods I tried on my samples (try at your own risk) are:
    • Wiping vingar or lemon juice all over to blend in etches
    •  Rubbing a thick mixture of baking soda and water into the stone
    •  600 grit wet sand paper
    • Comet and a Scotch Brite Scrubber
    • Haven't tried: professional marble etch remover
  • Once I really understood the nature of marble, I felt a little less angst. It's very much like wood floors. There are lots of alternatives like laminate and vinyl plank that look SO much like wood, but nothing really really looks and feels like wood except wood. Like marble, wood isn't "perfect". It can scratch (I once slipped in stilettos on my parents freshly done wood floors and left a huge gauge) and it can stain and swell from water. But it also has a warmth to it. It looks comfortable and beautiful at the same time. The scratches give it life and a story.
  • Quartz CAN scratch and it CAN stain. It's not indestructible, just a lot more durable.
I can say now my only reservations are the chipping around the sink from pots and pans (we cook two separate dinners every single night, which means double the dishes, and double the wear), and potential resale issues (not everyone will embrace the patina as I will).

But, I just can't imagine anything else in my kitchen. I can't let go it. I've dreamt of marble counters since I was a young teen girl enamoured with home decor magazines.

I will embrace the patina. I will still do my best to prevent chips by being careful when doing dishes (I'm sure to start I will put a tea towel around the rim of the sink), and I am sure I will try to blend in some etching every once in a while if something really sticks out, but I'm going to love every minute with those counters.

And what if we go to sell in a few years? I will get our counters rehoned to minimize the inevitable scratches and etching, and will cross my fingers that someone out there will appreciate them as much as I do (having a mostly white house, I feel like similar minded people will be the only ones attracted to it, but who knows!). And if not, if it becomes a big issue and we need to replace the island, we can either try and sell the top, bring it with us to the next house, or (and probably best case scenario) have it cut down into a few smaller pieces we can use for bathroom vanities and side tables.

So really... what have I got to lose?

And, I can't write this post without referencing these two testimonial blog posts that really helped push me back towards my beloved marble. It really has been accounts like this that have made this experience that much more - so thank you!