Ugly Countertop Syndrome may be common, but it’s far from incurable. You may be salivating over white granite while bemoaning your finances, but the solution doesn’t have to be that expensive — or that difficult to install.
From paint to wood, concrete paper to (gasp!) laminate, your kitchen countertop options are endless with a little DIY, even on a tiny budget. All you have to do is decide which solution is right for you. Here are six ideas to get you started.
1. Modern Laminate
Project time: 2 to 3 days Cost: From $30 per sheet
Durability: 10 to 20 years, with proper care
Forget what you think you know about laminate. Manufacturers have begun creating countertops that mimic high-end granite styles. “You can’t tell the difference until you touch it,” says Meredith Barclay, a countertops merchant for Home Depot.
Try Formica, which makes several elegant granite-esque patterns that cost around $90 for a 96-inch-long sheet, giving you the look of Calacatta marble for much, much less. Or try Wilsonart’s textured, glossy sheets — perfect for creating your dream all-white kitchen without breaking the bank.
If you’re going to install laminate yourself, don’t be afraid to consult with experts. Barclay bemoans customers who think their special-order laminate countertop was made incorrectly. “But the customer really didn’t know how to install the product that we delivered to them,” she says.
For the most part, Quinn found the process simple. “It was quite easy to work with,” she says. Ten years after installation, the only durability issue is that the countertops have risen slightly around the seams, a problem caused by moisture build-up.
Common installation pitfalls include making sure the laminate fits perfectly against uneven surfaces, such as textured, tiled, or brick walls. It’s not a difficult process (all you really need is a compass and a pencil), but done incorrectly, it can look unprofessional.
For Quinn, laminate countertops have another benefit: Instead of being committed to granite or quartz for decades, she can change up her kitchen on a whim.
“If we’d spent a ton of money on granite or anything else, we would feel like we probably shouldn’t change it,” Quinn says. “This way, we get to make changes when we’d like to.”
Project time: About a week Cost: $300 to $500
Durability: Long-lasting, but stains easily
Concrete countertops are back in style — Pinterest is rife with tutorials for transforming your home into industrial chic. But owners are divided on the trend’s longevity, not to mention the upkeep. A survey on “The Kitchn” yielded responses ranging from “I do kind of hate them” to complaints about maintenance to “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
So are they for you? Here’s what to expect with concrete: a dusty, messy process that takes about a week. Hiring a pro is recommended, but if you’re feeling handy, it’s a totally manageable DIY.
“Initially, it sounds a little overwhelming, but when you break it down to the original steps, there’s nothing there that’s hard to do,” says Jenise Frohlinger, the blogger behind “Do It Yourself Fun Ideas.”
Frohlinger opted for a marbleized concrete, traveling to Las Vegas to learn the Ashby technique. She attended a course through Countertop Solutions. Although she recommends the course for anyone who wants to learn the nitty-gritty of countertop creation, Frohlinger says anyone can do this project, even without a class. Here’s the counter she made in the course:
Frohlinger’s advice for first-timers: Make sure your measurements are accurate, especially when cutting your countertop template out of melamine or plywood. And when you pour the concrete, do it in one shot, she says. “You want to make sure you’re consistent in the color.”
3. Granite Tiles
Project time: A (long) weekend Cost: From $7 per square foot
Durability: The same as granite — indefinitely — but with the annoyance of dirty or cracking grout
Want the granite look for less? Swap out the enormous slab for smaller tiles — a project Barclay calls a viable DIY project for homeowners.
It’s much cheaper, too. Although tiles can be purchased for as little as $7 per square foot, a slab countertop costs upwards of $60 per square foot.
Granite also weighs nearly 13 pounds per square foot, meaning a five-foot-long slab countertop might weigh up to 130 pounds — or more, if you’re using thicker materials. Choose granite tiles instead, and you’re looking at only 13 pounds per 12-inch tile. That’s heavy, but not crazy heavy.
You’ll need a wet saw to cut the tiles to fit, but installation is the same as any other tiling project. Spread thin-set mortar on your surface, use spacers to separate the tiles, and grout in between.
But if you choose to go this route, Barclay has one warning: keeping the grout clean can be a pain “due to the variety of materials that come in contact with a countertop,” she says. Regular maintenance will be required, and you’ll want to clean spills and messes immediately.
4. Contact Paper
Project time: An afternoon Cost: Less than $100
Durability: Definitely not a long-term solution.
Although Barclay doesn’t recommend this as a long-term solution, covering your countertops in contact paper can be a fantastic, low-cost alternative to a full remodel.
Depending on the size of your kitchen, contact paper can cost less than $100 and provide a dramatic transformation. We tried it ourselves and the upgrade looked “100% better,” according to HouseLogic writer Lisa Kaplan Gordon.