Monday, September 29, 2014

Ordering Countertops, the abridged saga

With traveling to Europe, attending a wedding, and re-installing all the radiators, our cabinets had been installed for 3 weeks and still we hadn't ordered any countertops.  This is the most off-schedule I've felt.  It's really frustrating to have beautiful, installed, brand-new, perfect cabinets that are totally unusable as a cooking surface.  I'm absolutely ecstatic with the beautiful travels and events that are filling my weekends, but sometimes you just want to come home and cook in your kitchen!

Without countertops, we cannot install our sink.  Without a sink, we cannot install our dishwasher.  Without a kitchen sink or a dishwasher, we are washing the dishes in the bathroom sink, which just makes me feel like we are camping in our own house.

Now, in every house I've ever personally lived in, the kitchen has had laminate countertops.  I understand the care of laminate.  I understand the pricing of laminate.  There was a brief period, for maybe 5 minutes in March 2014, where I thought maybe I could afford quartz.  Google set me straight.

If I had been smarter and more well-versed in kitchen design, which admittedly I am not, I could have saved some money by making sure all my countertops were as unbroken as possible, all together in one straight, contiguous line.  Because the edges are where Formica hides all their upcharges.  My first Formica quote, from Lowe's, was triple my expected expenditure.  With 8 exposed edges, they were killing me with upcharges.  Plus, I learned that despite what Formica brags about on their website, an undermount sink with Formica looks really awful and isn't even expected to hold up.

Our 8 exposed countertop edges

It was pretty shattering to go in and try to make a really responsible decision with the low-budget Formica, and then be told that not only would the price be 3x higher, but I would also have to lower my expectations of what I would get for my money.  Enter in the PARADE OF MISFORTUNE: no undermount sink, a 45-degree seam in the top of the counter, black-lined edges on every side, potential for peeling...    "I really don't recommend Formica for your kitchen," I kept being told, but no other options were given.

Four quotes and three weeks later, I had gotten the price down by a significant number of hundred-dollar bills, but I was still extremely unhappy with the PARADE OF MISFORTUNE.  I had almost resigned myself, but hope springs eternal, and I finally asked, "What is the next level up from laminate and how much more will it cost?"

I was expecting another jaw-dropping figure, but, thank you Mike at Home Depot, the only straight-talking and knowledgeable big-box-store employee that I have ever dealt with, I heard the magic words, "Well, Corian would only be a couple hundred dollars more, probably".

I have never felt more backwoods than right then.  I didn't even know what Corian was.  I could identify it: it's that expensive-looking, luminous stuff that has little flecks of light-reflecting rocks in it.  Here's what it actually is: Acrylic with tiny aluminum flecks in it.  Which sounds very un-sexy, but then again, so does laminate, which is basically a plasticky printed sticker wrapped around a sheet of plywood with little pieces of sticker cut off and stuck to the ends.

Here's what you get with Corian.  First off, the PARADE OF MISFORTUNE is completely eliminated.  You will never see seams because Corian is solid-surface, so no side seams and no 45-degree angle seam.  You can also have the undermount sink of your dreams.  It will never peel like laminate can sometimes do if you're hard on it or it is installed improperly. Furthermore, it has a 15-year warranty: If you gouge it, it is the only repairable countertop, they just pour in more melted acrylic.  Or you can even sand it!  So, like many things of such nature, the durability seems to negate some of the negative environmental impacts of initially producing the acrylic.  And again, laminate isn't exactly the most eco-friendly thing either.  Neither is mining natural stone, for that matter.

We ran the quote, for our complicated kitchen, it really was only $200 more.  Corian is much more expensive for the material, but that is the only thing you pay for.  Formica was upcharging me for every endpiece, for the HD pattern I wanted, for the line-free front-edge style that I wanted.  With all of the Formica upcharges, I felt I would get much more for my money with Corian.  Now, again, I want to emphasize that if I had a more normal kitchen plan with a galley kitchen or a L-shape kitchen, Formica would have been much more cost-effective.  But that was water under the bridge for me at this point.  Learn from my mistakes, friends!

Home Depot was running 10% off that day, so I hunted around in the sample bin for all the white Corian colors, and pulled them all out.  I picked my favorite, and then took them all over to the cabinet door samples to see them next to my gray cabinets.  My early favorite looked the best with the cabinets, and so we ordered it and now we are DONE.

I feel so good about jumping this hurdle, and I'm so glad that I just admitted how clueless I was and asked about "the next step up".  The installer will be coming to measure soon, and then there is a 3-week lead time.  So they should be in by the end of October.  Yes, I've had to double my original countertop budget, but I would have had to for Formica anyway.

We chose "White Quartz" by LG.  It's a lovely, creamy luminescent white base with slight grey marbling and little specks like black pepper.  I just love it.  What these sample pictures don't really catch is the effect of light on Corian, which is really impressive.  It gets all glowy and translucent.

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