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Inexpensive, Weekend Kitchen Makeover Using Tile as a Countertop Material

Construction How-To, Kitchen, Painting, Remodeling, Tile February 16, 2009 admin

A kitchen update doesn’t have to be expensive.  Here is an inexpensive kitchen makeover done in one weekend and for just a few hundred dollars.



The lake house was built in the late 1960s. Forty summers had come and gone since any improvements had been made to the kitchen other than a fresh coat of paint. My father had just passed away the month before and it was here, at the lake house where he and I spent so much of our time together. The two of us would work on projects trying to stay ahead on the maintenance of owning not only one, but two lake houses, and it always seemed something was broken and needing repair. Of course under these ownership conditions, maintenance and repair took precedence over improvement, so the kitchen of this particular lake house retained its dated countertops and gothic hardware that must have been the style in the late 1960s.

After dad’s passing, I wanted to do something we never had time to do during his life, redo the kitchen. I decided to put to use the skills I learned from him as a belated way of saying thanks for putting up with me, for teaching me what he knew about building and for buying these lake houses so we would have a place to spend our weekends together.

The black laminate countertop is more than 40 years old.

  Dark and Cheap Describes the Previous Counters

The countertops were made of black vinyl—apparently another ‘60s trend that could best be described as dark and cheap. I wanted to update the countertops and make the room look brighter. Researching the available options with a big consideration on time, budget and ease of installation, I chose a 12” tile from Lowe’s Home Improvement Store for the countertop, and tumbled stone and tile mosaics to provide contrast and texture for the backsplash. Cost for the 12” tile was reasonable at less than $2 per tile, while the sheets of mosaic tiles and individual tumbled stone tiles were about $8 per square foot. To save time, I used Mapei’s premixed thinset to set the tile and Mapei’s premixed color-matching grout. After inspecting the old countertop for structural soundness, I decided to install tile backerboard on top of the old countertop to save time.

Before installing the backerboard, remove stove inserts, sinks and anything interfering with the tile installation.

  Tile Backerboard

Tile cannot be installed over wood. Wood contracts and expands, and plywood is not suitable as a tile substrate. If the existing countertop is in poor condition, or not suitable for overlaying backerboard, remove it and fasten the backerboard to the cabinet frames making sure the studs are no greater than 16 inches on center. Drywall is suitable if there is no moisture issue. However, I was concerned with kitchen sinks and dishwashers in this area so I used backerboard. Backerboard is not impervious to water, but unlike drywall, it will not soften when exposed to moisture. Special screws are required for backerboard installation and are available where you purchase the material. I used screws intended for the Hardie brand of backerboard I was using. I chose a length long enough to penetrate the old countertop and studs, but short enough to keep from penetrating into the cabinet space. By leaving the existing countertop in place, I was able to lay the backerboard on top of the cutouts for the sink and stove top, and mark the cut out lines on the backerboard by tracing along the edges of the old countertop from underneath the counter. This resulted in perfectly matched cuts for the appliances. For making the cuts in the backerboard, I used a small tile cutting saw with a wet diamond blade. However, you can use a utility knife and a straight edge to score and break the material, similar to the method used for drywall. You can also use a circular saw with the appropriate blade.