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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Remodeling Around an Ugly Granite Countertop

Would you choose this granite for your countertop?

Our home's previous owner (PO) did. I think it's a Juparana Florence or Juparana Bordeaux or Juparana Crema. It's hard to tell for certain. The color looks different, depending on the light.

Dark area over the dishwasher

Distinctly coral-colored in the light near the window 
Lots of brown near the sink
While I'm not in love with this granite, I can cut our PO some slack. Having had the nail-biting pleasure of choosing a slate slab for my previous home's kitchen and a marble slab for this home's recent bathroom reno, I can understand how a homeowner with the best intentions can still end up with a stone that doesn't end up looking as nice as they'd imagined it would.

When you go to "choose your slab" from the fabricator's yard, it comes out at you in big raw blocks like this.

You're generally standing outdoors in blinding natural light with a door sample of your cabinetry to hold up next to it as a test — and that's if you're lucky. Meanwhile, your contractor is texting you that your timeline will be blown if you don't make a decision today.

So, I'm not baffled when so many people end up with stone they don't like (just Google "Ugly Granite" to read some harrowing tales). The question is, for those of us who inherit granite that we don't love, what if anything can we do about it?

Countertops are a costly rip out and redo. Replacing stone with stone is going to run you $5k and up.

Can you "tame" your ugly granite? Is it even worthwhile to try? Ask yourself these questions:

1. Is the stone in good condition?

2. Is the footprint of your kitchen staying the same?

3. Are there colors in the granite that you DO like?

4. Are the cabinets paintable?

5. Can the backsplash be altered?

If the answer to these questions is yes, you may be able to dodge the "gut renovation" bullet and be on your way toward a not so costly refresh of a few thousand dollars.

Condition of the Stone

If your stone is in good shape — there's no pitting or cracking, chips or gouges and the seams, if any, are subtle and were properly joined — it's probably worth preserving.

The Footprint of Your Kitchen Isn't Changing

If you're not altering the layout of your kitchen, it's probably a good candidate for a remodel rather than a full scale renovation and that means preserving your granite.

There Are Colors in the Granite That You Like

All granite is multi-colored with 3 or 4 strains of color running through it. Our (I think) Juparana has a lot of cabernet, cream, chocolate, and coral in it. I'm not a fan of coral at all — and our backsplash was playing ours up — but I love both cabernet and cream. And that is important, because one of your granite colors is going to save the day.

The Cabinets Are Paintable or Re-stainable

Sometimes the problem is not the granite itself but the way its color is affected by surrounding colors, such as the color of your cabinets. Very often simply staining wood cabinets a darker color or painting them a lighter color can bring out other colors in your granite that you do like. And if the new colors are all complimentary, it will enhance the beauty in your stone in a new way.

This was what happened in our case. The yellow birch-look cabinetry in our kitchen clashed with the coral undertones of our granite that the pinky travertine-look backsplash was bringing out. Any one of the other underlying colors in our granite — cream, cabernet, or chocolate — applied to our cabinetry would have worked, and looked 100% better instantly.

I considered cabernet. A rich, dark red-brown would have looked great with this granite. I once helped my parents reno a kitchen using a Rustoleum kit in Cabernet and it turned out great. I was sort of itching to use that kit again for this project. But my parents had stainless steel appliances that complemented the cabernet color. We have white appliances that would look jarring with cabernet cabinets and new appliances were definitely not in our budget. In addition, ours is a narrow galley kitchen with just one window bringing in light. Dark cabinets would make the space seem even more closed in, so we decided to paint our cabinets cream. See: Painting Kitchen Cabinets to Match Kraftmaid Canvas Color

White was the right decision in this case. You can see how the new color brought out the luster in the granite — before we even touched the pinky backsplash.

The Backsplash Can Be Altered

And what about that backsplash? Once you have your cabinetry color and granite colors working in harmony, updating your backsplash in a similar color is going to bring it all together. We chose a simple subway tile in almond.

If you're purchasing a new home and have inherited a granite countertop that you're not loving, ask yourself the five questions above. If the granite is in good shape and has some colors in it that you do like, the kitchen footprint is not changing, and the cabinets and backsplash are alterable, it's worth a shot to change the color of the cabinets and backsplash. A little bit of paint and tile will cost a lot less than new stone countertops — and it's also the greener way to go.

For a breakdown of the costs of our remodel see: Our White Kitchen Makeover for Under $3,000.