To try and speed up this kitchen refurb, I knew that I would be doing some of the work myself. I knew I’d be painting the units, sealing the work surface and tiling – a new skill for me. But I didn’t realise I would also be doing the sanding of the floor boards and helping to build the carcasses!
I started with the work surface because it was being stored in the hallway and was essentially a hazard. It came in 3 metre lengths and weighed an absolute ton! Richard, the building contractor only had me to help him manoeuvre it into the house and we really must have looked like a comedy act. I’m not much use when it comes to heavy stuff! But now that it’s cut into appropriate lengths and is secured in place, it looks fantastic. I chose a wood stain that can be applied with a soft cloth and was really happy with how it went on. Because the work surface is a composite wood – small blocks of wood fused to create a longer length – the wood stain goes on in an irregular way. Each small block is a different part of the grain and takes colour differently, so getting the colour even isn’t really the issue. I just wanted it to looked aged and weather worn. The colour I used from Mylands http://www.mylands.co.uk/wood-finishes/earth-stains came in a 250ml container. So I didn’t have the fear of knocking the thing over and turning my whole room Clay coloured. Apart from the smell, which is horrid, I found it easy to work with. I applied two coats and was sparing with the amount to allow it to build up colour in a natural way.
I took Mylands advice on how to finish the work surface as well. They felt that oiling the surface would give me a more robust finish rather than varnish in either a water or oil based formula. What they said – and I’ve seen it myself – was that coating the surface with a varnish allows water to get trapped underneath. This isn’t visible until the varnish bubbles – and that could be months later – but by this time the water has penetrated the wood and starts to blacken the timber. If timber is oiled, this disperses on the surface and naturally repels water. Building up that protective layer takes time and you have to be quite diligent in the first few weeks because it needs to be applied every day for a week, every week for a month, every month for a year and thereafter once a year.
I have done this with kitchen units in the past and they did come up well; fats wipe straight off and the wood patinates really nicely. So, I decided that this would be my approach. It’s now been oiled every day for a week and the water simply forms beads on the surface. So far so good!
The tiling was really fun. Richard has done so much of this over the years that I was keen to get the tricks of the trade. He started me off with lines all over the walls – where each row would start and where we would finish. The adhesive is applied to the individual tiles to give enough movement that they will bed evenly onto the wall. This allows you to get the tiles level on the surface as the adhesive doesn’t set hard for a number of hours. Each one has a spacer separating it to allow the grout lines to be even and to allow you to get them level. Then when all of the regular tiles are positioned, the ones that need cutting are measured and cut with either a scorer or a wet wheel tile cutter. They are applied the same way but every so often something needs to be slotted in around a socket. Make sure you turn off the electricity to that circuit before you attempt to remove the socket cover! Wipe each tile as you go to remove any adhesive and keep the edges clean so that the grout lines are clear. Then when everything has dried, you can remove the spacers – even without grouting, the wall looks really finished!
Applying grout is a bit like icing a cake, you have to watch where you’re putting it and work quickly to make sure you get the finish you want. The thing about it is that mixing it takes patience. It’s a waterproof product so doesn’t naturally want to bind – but once you get the consistency right, you end up with something a bit like butter icing in texture. When you spread the grout, you also have to work it into the crevices and run a finger over the gaps between the tiles to make sure you haven’t missed anything – so that’s where the cake icing analogy ends! Then you wipe it off with a sponge and fill in any gappy bits. You wipe it again – and again – and then you buff it. It’s worth taking the time to get it smooth because this finish is the difference between a professional look and something that is a bit ‘homemade.’ Grout does not look good if it’s rough and ‘rustic.’
Now I’m just waiting for the doors…