Need help with countertops and under cabinet lights

Ashe42May 15, 2013

Hi--I'm in the midst of remodeling my kitchen and have made every mistake you can make. The worst is that I went cheap on the cabinets--I was trying to keep my budget appropriate to the house. We wanted white cabinets so I went with Woodmark Reading linen white. Not happy, but it's done; the cabinets are being installed. The floor is maple hardwood. I've painted the walls a moss green but that could change. Still struggling with the countertop decision; the builder strongly recommends Ikea butcher block but I'm wondering if it's going to look cheaper given my 'inexpensive' cabinets. I like dark grey (slate) tile countertops but everyone advises against them. Can't afford granite etc. Does anyone have any great ideas that will make the cabinets look better?
Also, we set up for direct wire under cabinets lights. I'd wanted LED (for coolness in summer) but they're $1400 to buy. Does anyone have good ideas about UCL? Thanks! Wish I'd spent more time on this forum before getting started!!

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What wrong with the cabinets? Many here have posted good things about woodmark. Is that American woodmark from HD?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 1:22PM
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If you want dark countertops at an Ikea price, you could do what Brickmanhouse did: use Ikea butcherblock, stained dark gray with India ink:

Here is a link that might be useful: Brickmanhouse kitchen

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 2:20PM
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I had American Woodmark in the past and can understand your dilemma. But I'm guessing most people will not notice the little details that you see that separate the stock cabinets from full custom or high end semi custom. I'm no pro, but I do have some suggestions based on experience a budget pincher:

a. If you live near a major metro area, check out the prefab granite suppliers in your area. They are surprisingly affordable, as long as your plan is not complex. I'm not a fan of all light butcherblock counters for maintenance and durability reasons. I much prefer the darker woods. You can go with a less expensive counter today, and then upgrade in the future. Just don't put in the backsplash.
b. A nice backsplash will upgrade the whole look, as will nice hardware.
c. Trim will upgrade the look of any cabinet: crowns on the cabinet, in the room/ceiling, light rails (if needed) and toe kick valances. The labor is the high cost on these items, and if you get handy with a power miter saw (or rent one), you can really finish off your look.
d. I used inspiredled for my UCL; it was a third of the cost of my other quote. This requires a transformer, however. Ikea does have some nice options as well. You can have your GC wire in low profile junction boxes, if you have the wiring available already.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 2:37PM
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I am not sure why people seem to want direct wire UCL systems.

I will be installing 12V LED tape lights. There will be a switched outlet above the cabinets to power the transformer. You can run the low voltage wires in the gaps between upper cabinets, if needed. We will be running some in wall rated cable, since we are tearing into the walls anyways. Cut LED strips to the length that you need (in 3 LED increments). Peel and stick under the cabinet. You can use snap on connectors to daisy chain to the next strip, if needed.

For our 13' x 18' kitchen, the cost will be about $125.

Here is a link that might be useful: Armacost LED Lighting

This post was edited by gpraceman on Wed, May 15, 13 at 14:53

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 2:52PM
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There are some lovely laminates now. There was a reveal a few months ago that I can't find now (sorry) that used a dark laminate, and it was very elegant. Just another option.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 2:52PM
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I really chintzed out on the undercabinet lighting costs and am very happy with it. They are light strips from Costco - come 2 in a pack - for $19.99 per package - each run on 2 or 3 AA batteries - attach by screws - but I put them up on velcro strips to allow us to pull them off in blackout storms (which we had used in that way before putting them up during Sandy - in the NE) - great LED light - and of the three switches (on/off/motion) I keep them on motion and really love that the lights flip on when the overheads are off.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 8:23PM
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I agree with the details really making the look. Trim that's appropriate and installed correctly. Nice hardware, even if it's not expensive. If you tile the backsplash, spending a little more on some accent tiles can make really cheap tiles look expensive if they work together.

If you like laminate, it has come a long way in style. Some have mentioned prefab on here, you could probably use that with some butcher block for a custom look, though I don't have any experience with that.

Or if you have a particular look in mind, use some plywood while you save up.

I used Maxlite self driven LED bars for my kitchen and only spent about $600. And that was with one of the very fancy dimmers instead of a more basic dimmer. Look at, keep in mind if you sign up for the newsletter you get a 10% off coupon for a whole order.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 8:57PM
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If you do a google search and type in the terms: laminate countertops grardenweb you will will be able to find quite a few posts from gardenwebers and many have pictures of their great looking formica countertops. If it were my kitchen I would want a formica top over a butcher block

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 9:10PM
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Thanks; some great tips here! I am going to check out all these lighting sources y'all have suggested.

@ debrak_2008: I'm happier with the cabinets now they're mostly installed, but when I opened the boxes to inspect I nearly cried. Hadn't realized that 'engineered wood' means chipboard. The interiors are cheap looking and the bottoms of the drawers are not durable--I will not be able to store my cast iron cookware, for instance, in the deep drawers. May have to replace some drawer bottoms. Another time I would not buy AW, but perhaps everything will hold up better than I think. Part of the problem is that I live in an area rife with great craftsmen and artists, so I look at, and appreciate, fabulous, high-quality and deeply individual cabinetry etc on a daily basis, but can't afford to buy it!!

@ gpraceman: We chose DW because we wanted one switch for everything and we were putting in new sheetrock and wiring anyway. According to the electrician, if you buy the cheaper lights, you will end up paying dearly for replacement bulbs etc. One of his customers who went for the cheap lights told him he'd already spent as much again in replacement bulbs. No idea.

Still worrying over counter choice--LOVE the butcher block but I freak out over the water issue. If we do it, we will definitely choose an IKEA sink with integrated drainboard. (Not sure why integrated drainboards are otherwise so hellishly expensive in the US.) Still contemplating tile. Husband doesn't want laminate. I am SO not good at this stuff. I really appreciated all the helpful and thoughtful suggestions.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 6:08PM
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@Ashe42 - There are no bulbs to replace. Usually, it is not the LED's that go out, it is the power supply. So, unplug the power supply and plug a in new one. For me, that would be a $37 fix. Anyways, if a LED strip needs replacing, it is not hard to do so, nor is it expensive. DW systems seem far more expensive to me.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 6:38PM
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Ashe, I'm glad you are feeling better about the cabinets now. I have American woodmarks sister cabinets Shenandoah. Installed about 6 months ago. We are really happy with them. No issues with drawer bottoms but I would check on the weight limits before loading really heavy stuff.

For under cabinet lighting we went with LED plug in but the plug is hidden behind the crown molding. The outlet is controlled by a switch. So its like direct wire but with the plug in price.

Do have any a budget for the countertop? What ever it is check ALL your options. Don't rule out anything without more than 1 estimate. We got a granite counter in our bath for a few dollars more than laminate. The is a thread right now on tile counters. Read it if you haven't already. Will give you some ideas such as granite tile and large format tiles.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 6:39PM
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I saw some large granite tiles at HD last week, seems like they could be an answer to your dilemma. Price was very reasonable.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 3:14PM
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Yeah, I think we're leaning towards tile. The installation cost for the butcher block (we're not huge DIY people) puts it up to about $24 per square foot. I'm going to go to a local stone place tomorrow to see what the best linear foot price is and will consider it all some more. I also saw where someone had gone to a tombstone maker and got some very cheap stone countertops! That would suit my sense of humor. "Here lies all my money and my confidence in my choices, RIP, 2013."

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 6:41PM
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My friend has counters of large Verde Butterfly granite tiles. It's very beautiful, and the thin grout lines are dark - so practical. Unless you're right next to it, you don't know it isn't a granite slab. But she said the edge tiles in granite can be pretty pricey, as can the installation cost of granite tiles. Just a caveat.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 10:25PM
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