Ask Sally

Ask Sally


Dear Sally:

My husband and I recently bought a mid-1930s bungalow in a historic small town neighborhood. It’s a rambling old place with a lot of charm and, if I’m honest, a lot of things that need updating. We’re about to start working on the kitchen. The existing cabinets are solid pine, mostly glass fronted and original to the house. I’d like to keep them mostly as is. The counter tops, however, need to be replaced. I would like to preserve a period look, but I’m an avid cook so I need something functional. I don’t love granite and I’m afraid butcher block, on top of the wooden cabinets (and a hardwood floor), will look like too much wood. What do you recommend?

Puzzled in Pittsboro

Dear Puzzled,

If you follow my blog you know I simply LOVE old houses. Character, charm, a story to tell. I really honor the fact that you are keeping the original cabinets. They sound like a well-written character in a treasured novel.

If you are planning to sell your home in the next few years you will need to take “Holly and Howard House-Hunter” into consideration. Of course you should pick a material that you too like but if the goal is to sell and make a profit you should consider the prospective buyers. A neutral natural solid surface is fab for resale.

Although exterior siding, shake roofs and floors are constructed with wood on every day that ends in the letter Y, folks are still a bit timid about wood countertops. No matter how many fashion photos show some uber-prepped out model on a wooden boat, homeowners can be skeptical about wood and water. Me? Not so much. I like your idea of using chopping block. You can make the three wood surfaces get along in the same space. There are lots of options for hardwood countertops. You might consider looking at something regional. I’ve been using a good bit of walnut lately. Hand distressing them will further their character and relax the cooks in the kitchen. Either of these would likely suit you and M/M House-hunter. Your installer can talk you through the simple care of a wood countertop.

While you might not be President of the Granite Fan Club I would challenge you to reconsider. Using a slab of durable granite provides you with a very low-maintenance, hop up and tap dance solution. If the thought of granite conjures up visual of some nouveau-riche spec house, please know that there are many more options in the world of granite, from simple quiet stone with very little color variation to loud and proud, crazy color-filled stone with lots of “movement.” If it’s the patent leather image of granite that turns you off, take a look at honing the stone before it is cut. This removes the sheen and turns down the volume of the countertop material. Recently I installed a “leathered” granite countertop and found a new fave in my book of tricks. In addition to removing the shine, the leathering process also gives surface texture. Much like a well loved “been around the chopping block” it is not perfectly smooth or level. This surface is still crazy durable yet unlike shiny polished granite the crumbs from your grandmother’s famed corn bread stuffing don’t scream when strays end up hanging out on the counter top the day after Thanksgiving.

If you love to cook I would hate to see you have tiptoe around marble, Soapstone and slate. All look great in older homes, but none are as easy as granite or wood. And as someone who cooks, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that stainless is solid option (no pun intended) for any serious cook.

Taking resale “off the counter” we can talk about tile. If the grout lines won’t send you straight to the looney bin, there are bookoos of options for tiling your kitchen countertop. Feeling French? Able to Art Deco? Flashback forties retro? You can go there with tile. While having the right fabricator and laborer is important with every element of renovation, the selection of your tile installer is A #, muy importante! I cannot stress this enough. An experienced, well-referenced, totally OCD, detail oriented tile installer is always worth it.

Good luck with your renovations.

Let me know what you decide!


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