If there are two questions that I am asked often, they would be about our chalkboard painted countertops and our open kitchen shelves. It seems that people are curious about the practicality of both.
Let’s visit about this!
In the course of the planning and design of our kitchen, I was working within several limitations – space and money being the two most restraining. But, I was also working within visual limitations. That, I had more control over, since I could manipulate the space visually to make it seem larger.
Room color, ambient light, and the visual bulk of furnishings and cabinetry have the ability to broaden or restrict visual space. Open shelving, then, was the best choice for upper wall dish storage for us. The simple kitchen shelves I chose give the illusion of openness, when in actuality they take up as much literal space as upper cabinets would have.
And the bonus here was that the cost was less!
The shelf brackets are iron with a matte black finish, purchased from Signature Hardware. I was looking for iron brackets with a very simple design, in a finish that looked like it happened over time. These were the closest to fitting the bill, and the price was right.
The wood planks are old barn wood that I found at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. It has such character with its weathered gray patina, its rough surface, rusty nail holes, and worm trails. To make the shelves practical for everyday kitchen use, I sealed them with paste wax, which gives them a wipeable surface (no splinters!) without giving them a sheen or taking away the rough-hewn look.
Because I know you’ll ask (wink), paste wax is a solid wax and can be found with all-natural ingredients (food safe) that is rubbed on a wood surface in a circular motion with a soft cloth. The paste wax I used is Howard Citrus Shield, and came from Home Depot.
This kitchen sees a lot of action. Much of the time, there are more than one of us in here together, making or cleaning up meals. The kitchen lends itself to handling several cooks at once with its simple layout along one wall, and the open shelves make it especially easy to come and go with dishes – no ducking and dodging around cabinet doors.
Falling in step with our personal mantra of having only what we love, the kitchen shelves let us see the dishes and glassware that we’ve collected, right there in the open. These things are really just things, yes, but they are things that are beautiful to our eye and I wanted to be able to appreciate them visually, every day. The mix of glassware and stoneware, with a bit of metal and wood, and the green of a houseplant or two come together as art on our shelves.
Do they get dusty? Yes. Life is dusty, we’ve found. I have a cotton cloth, a feather duster, and a slice of time (it really just takes minutes) on Thursday mornings to take care of that. About once a month, I give the glassware that isn’t used most often, a trip through the soap suds and rinse water. The ware that’s used every day, doesn’t even need it!
And this chalkboard painted countertop? People are so curious about it! The light in this photo really captures the look of it - how it’s not a solid black; how it has tonal highs and the lows; how it looks like stone. The look of soapstone is what I was after, and I’m so pleased with the results – it’s perfect for a cabin.
You may notice that I also chose to not have a backsplash. I wanted a clean, fitted look with the countertop scribed to the wall. It’s a more historic approach (unless we’re talking about tile), and one that I’d choose every time.
This countertop choice made it easy to integrate the little things, like this slotted knife rack. I can’t even tell you how much I love having my knives handy without having a knife block taking up valuable counter space! I could have gone with a magnetic strip on the wall for the knives, but decided to go with a more subtle display.
One of the perks of having any solid surface counter top is the ability to have an under-mount sink. I appreciate the clean look that it provides and I was thrilled to be able to have one. There are three different types of faucet mounts that can be done with an under-mount sink, wall mount (where the faucet is mounted onto the wall), deck mount (where the faucet is mounted onto the counter top itself), and sink mount, like I have. I went with the sink mount, though if I had to do it over, with the same limitations, I’d choose wall mount.
I did choose a tall bridge faucet, which has been invaluable in this hard-working kitchen, for filling tall stockpots and such. Our faucet came from Home Depot; the sink is a stainless deep double-bowl by Elkay.
Now, for those of you who are curious about how, exactly, the chalkboard countertop was made, here are the steps:
I had the cabinet maker craft the counter out of 3/4” furniture grade plywood (please note that I recommend furniture grade, nothing inferior, and better yet, solid wood 3/4”), with a 1 1/2” edge band of solid wood (I would recommend a tight-grained wood such as maple, birch, or ash). This gives it the look of thickness along the front edge, and is a trick that is often used by natural stone and solid surface countertop fabricators. I recommend a good sanding of the entire surface with medium and fine grit sandpaper to ensure a smooth, uniform look. If you’ll be using an under-mount sink don’t forget to give the sink cut-out edge a good sanding as well.
I then applied three coats of chalkboard paint with a small sponge roller, letting each coat dry between applications according to the label instructions (I didn’t use a primer, but you may want to get the advice of a paint expert on this). I let the paint cure overnight, then I sanded the entire surface lightly with fine grit sandpaper. This brought out the black/gray variegation inherent in the paint, bringing it even closer to the authentic look I was going for. I wiped the surface clean with a tack cloth, damp wiped it, then let it dry.
The final finish of paste wax was applied with a soft cloth in a circular motion over the entire surface. I let this cure overnight. The brand I used was Howard Citrus Shield, purchased from Home Depot.
As far as care of the countertop goes, I would compare it to solid butcher block, or real, unsealed stone in that it requires a certain, minimal amount of maintenance. Every three to six months, I get the chalkboard paint out and, with a thin artist’s brush, I touch up areas around the sink cut out and the front edge (the 90° edges) where the paint has worn a bit. I let it dry, touch it up with past wax, and it’s good to go. In the year and a half that I’ve used this kitchen, I’ve resealed the entire surface with paste wax only once. It’s a good feeling to know that if or when the counters might need to be completely re-done, I can do it myself.
As for durability, this finish has surprised me. Our kitchen gets heavy use. With few exceptions, I cook three meals a day, and bake regularly as well. Since we have no dishwasher, the sinks and counters are used by all five of us in hand washing dishes after every meal. I also do some home canning – preserving fruit and vegetables every year for our winter pantry. We do not baby these countertops. If I were in the position of making this same decision again, I would choose this chalkboard painted counter, without hesitation.
Have a lovely weekend, friends!