Ugly granite counters: Cover over or replace?

kendrahroseJune 28, 2013


Is it possible to cover granite countertops with another material - concrete, staintless steel, zinc, anything else? And if so, is it more cost effective than getting new countertops altogether? I really do not like granite counters, and our recently purchased 1852 rowhouse came with some particularly unappealing ones.


We have unexpectedly needed to do a ton of structural work that necessitated removal of cabinets, backsplash, and countertops. Now really is the best time to re-do these elements as they have to be reinstalled anway. We had not anticipated all of these costs, so I am trying to get creative. We luckily are not pinched for cash, but why spend a ton where it is not needed? We looked in to reclaimed marble and the total cost would be $4,000 for our 34 sq ft of counter space. Though we have the money, we'd rather do something else with it, like buy less expensive counters and donate the change to a good cause!


We like a salvaged, farm house, industrial, vintage look. Our goal is to have the kitchen look more vintage as the rest of the house is quite old and beautiful. We are putting in random width reclaimed pine flooring to match the rest of the original floors in the house. The cabinets are 3 years old, maple-type wood on plywood. We intend to have them painted a cream or grey. We'd like to install subway tile backsplash. I want to pick up an old workbench to use as an island. Here is a pic from the real estate listing. Tile and pinkinsh paint are already gone!

What types of counters, or alterations to the current granite, do you invision in this space that would not break the bank and might be eco-friendly?

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Sophie Wheeler

I wouldn't do anything else with this kitchen other than paint and put back the original counters until I could address the shortcomings of the layout with a complete remodel that addressed the lack of functionality. You'd be wasting your money spending it on any other materials.

And no, you don't want to cover granite with anything. It won't work. If you are painting the cabinets gray, I actually think the granite would go very well with the gray. I think you may be suffering a bit from "situational blindness" where the colors that are in the space currently are keeping you from seeing what it might look like with the changes you are planning. You should get a big piece of poster board and paint it the gray under consideration and put that next to the counters to see what you think. It's really not all that different in tones from many white and gray marbles.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 7:14PM
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Thanks for your reply. Sorry for not specifying that we are changing the layout. The wall with the fish picture is an old back staircase that has been removed. Our kitchen is now one big open space. We will no longer have that sink peninsula. The sink and D/W will be along the wall where the stove is. The fridge will be moved to that wall as well (out of view of the current frame in this pic). The wall beyond the strange peninsula has floor to ceiling windows looking out on a very nice back patio, a real green oasis in the middle of the city.

This whole rennovation began because my mom fell and we realized the need for a powder room on the first floor. We are putting it between the kitchen and dining room. It has been major construction, and we want this to be the only time we rennovate the kitchen while we are in the house. So I do feel a bit like it is now or never with the counters and I really do not like them.

Does that change your recommendations at all?

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 7:32PM
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I'm confused. You're asking if you can put some counter material over an existing grante countertop in a kitchen where you have made structural changes that allowed for layout changes? If you've changed layouts, how are you reusing the granite when you've changed the layout? Why not see if you can donate or recycle the granite and put in countertops that you like? If you're trying to minimize costs you could use laminate or butcher block.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 7:50PM
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Sophie Wheeler

If you're doing a new layout, I would concentrate on making that layout the best it could possibly be first. (Have you posted it on the Forum to get feedback?) That could definitely mean that you wouldn't be able to reuse some of the current cabinets, and that you would need to purchase additional ones. An unfitted look works with an older home, so I wouldn't let the fact that something doesn't "match" deter me from making things the best that they could be.

For the counters, you're not going to be able to reuse the granite as it won't match your new layout. I'd do an Ikea butcher block as a cost effective easy DIY stopgap and save my pennies to put in a stone section of marble to make a baking area. Or, a smaller piece of that salvaged marble, which could be more cost effective.

I'd also look into DIYing copper counters, but that might be tricky with some grays. It would have to be a warm gray. Copper is warm and earthy and also eco friendly because so much of it comes from recycled materials melted down and reformed.

Stainless would be another good choice, as all of it can be recycled and comes from partially recycled materials. But, it's only fabricatable by a pro, which is expensive, and doesn't always go well with other grays as that makes for an awfully cold palette. I might choose something other than a gray if I went with stainless.

If you're willing to experiment on some smaller projects first, and buy an electric cement mixer, then concrete might be a good choice for you. It etches and stains, similar to marble, but with an old house, the patina might be right up your alley. It's not at all cost effective if you pay a pro to have it done, and it has a pretty good learning curve to DIY. But, you can use the mixer to create stepping stones/custom patio stones when you're done with the counter projects, or sell it on Craigslist.

There's a lot of choices if you're willing to get your hands dirty and make some messes!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 7:50PM
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The reclaimed marble would be a very green choice, if it was originally from a local installation.

Generally I don't like what I call "dog barf" granite, but your granite looks quite ungranite-y to me.

One solution maybe to have it honed or leathered. Honing, at least as far as I can tell, mutes a good deal of the tarted-up glossiness that characterizes granites. That might make it easier to integrate into what you describe of your aesthetic goals for your house. I think I recall that not all stones called granite are truly granites, and not all can be honed. A good stone fabricator could help you sort that out.

I wouldn't spend a lot on something else as place holder unless you have worked through layout issues in your kitchen.



    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 7:53PM
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Donate the counters and move ahead with your layout changes. Someone else may be able to make better use of your unaltered counters.

I have not seen it posted, but you should consider untreated soapstone. It would go well with grey and the vintage vibe you seek. Mix it up with some reclaimed wood to be used on the island or a stretch of counter.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 9:09PM
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The layout will be finalized prior to us deciding on or purchasing counter tops, for sure. I just want to get a jumpstart on deciding what materials and finding fabricators or installers, or seeing what my GC can do himself. We have a final meeting with our structural engineer on Monday and things should fall in to place after that.

It is good to know that concrete is not too cost effective unless you are DIYing it. We are not DIYers! (I was proud of myself when I figured out how to tighten a fan screw yesterday!)

Copper sounds interesting. I am not married to grey cabinets and it could look nice if we went with cream cabinets. I imagine copper is very expensive, no?

I also appreciate the reminder that not all the counters have to be of the same material and we could do the marble combined with something else. I like the look of butcher block but have read it is not that great bacteria wise. Any thoughts?

From a far, this granite does not look terrible. But up close it is dog barf. There are 1/4 inch wine colored polka dots in it. Wowza.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 9:11PM
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We wrapped some of our old speckled granite in stainless...or I should say, we had a fabricator do it. It's not a budget option, but it's great when it's done!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 9:26PM
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Sophie Wheeler

Butcher block is easily sanitized with a 10% bleach solution if you need to take it that far. Simple soap and water cleanup is enough for any counter unless you've put raw meat directly onto a counter. And you NEVER should do that. You should always use a polypropylene cutting board that is designated for meat and that an be put into the DW when you are done with it.

Copper is a good bit higher priced than stainless if you have to pay a fabricator. That's why I suggested DIY, which is what one of our forum members, circuspeanut, managed to do.

I have to say, with a limited budget, and an old home, it's time to start developing your handiness or the old house will bleed you dry. Labor is the most expensive component of any type of renovation. Start with some small projects and tool purchases and gradually take on more complex projects. Mixing concrete isn't that hard, just labor intensive. Cutting butcherblock to size isn't hard with the right tools, practice, and patience. Doing the copper circuspeanut's method isn't difficult either with the right tools, and a good deal of time and patience. Become a tool junkie and start to get your hands dirty! Your pocketbook will thank you.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 9:45PM
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I am not sure that "dog barf granite" will make the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, or the American Heritage Dictionary, but I appreciate your insightful candor. Some granite is just a rock.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 10:57PM
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Youngdeb, that looks fantastic. Would you mind revealing what the approx. cost per sq ft was to wrap your granite in SS?

Inox, for our wedding, my husband and I got the complete 23 volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary. I will have to keep my eyes open for future supplements to see what new granite descriptors appear and if they credit lireodendron.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 3:27AM
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Why wrap granite in SS? It seems like it would be much easier and more cost effective to just have them traditionally fabricated.

Wood is naturally antibacterial, and would go great with a more antique look. Ikea butcher block is super cheap--this whole kitchen was just under $500. The perimeter cabinets are stained butcher block.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 8:12AM
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It's not really any different than having them traditionally fabricated, you're just using the granite as the substrate rather than plywood.

You're going to have to call several fabricators...the prices vary a lot, as does the quality of the work. Make sure to get residential references.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 8:15AM
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I would go with the marble and donate the current granite. Marble is a timeless material and one you might find in any new or historic home.

Good luck!!

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 8:40AM
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kendrahrose said: "Inox, for our wedding, my husband and I got the complete 23 volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary. "

whoa. Arguments at your place must use words that most people have never heard--and not the four-letter ones!

ok, back to topic. I agree with the suggestions to donate the counters (and get a tax write off if you like) and get new counters. That will be "greener" and make someone else ecstatic to have granite that they think is pretty.


    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 10:21AM
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THe granite in question appears to be a greyer version of Shivakashi White. Those ugly purple red specks in it are actual garnet crystals. Jewels in your kitchen. It's considered a premium granite.

Most of the options listed are only budget if you DIY them. Stainless is more than granite in most locations to have fabricated and installed. Copper would be significantly more than that. Butcher block, while a budget choice if Ikea and DIY, is usually about the price of granite when you pay to have it fabricated and installed. More if it's from a less budget friendly source as Ikea.

A 4' level and a good cordless drill driver of at least 14.4 volts and an extra battery is a good beginning to a tool collection for a newbie homeowner. And measuring for and installing a laminate counter is a good beginner's project. It will fit your pocketbook, and serve you well until such time as you recover from the expenditure of the current remodel and can do something else.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 11:21AM
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Great advice. Want stainless, doing salvage? This is a great opportunity: Look for a commercial kitchen counter, expect it to be 30" deep, design the layout around it.

BTW, subway tile? Don't know the era of your home, but a backsplash is a chance to further the eclectic look you're going for, and I'm guessing there will be a lot more original choices out there, including perhaps some version of Arts and Crafts, traditional or modern take-offs. I've liked subways for several decades, way back when they were considered old and tacky, and still do, but really. By the time they're in chain restaurant bathrooms and "fusion-traditional" tract homes by the hundreds of thousands, maybe time to look further?

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 3:36PM
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I'm just so confused. If the sink peninsula is gone, and the sink and DW are going where the stove now is and you don't have a whole lot of decent sized granite counter pieces to begin with - why the heck are you trying to save it and for where and for what? Did it all survive the demolition?

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 5:26PM
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blfenton - Oh, no wonder you are confused. I am confused as well and it is my own dang kitchen! Yes, all of the granite tops are carefully wrapped and in my basement and could be installed exactly as is on the L shaped cabinets that are currently to the left of the fridge and on the little piece to the left of the stove. The peninsula one is wider than what we will now need. I don't know if we would have that cut down or not. But heck, I had not even thought about that. Sorry for the circus that is my head right now.

Let me ask you all a few questions: Our peninsula that contains the sink and D/W is 36" deep. The rest of our cabinets along the other walls are 24" deep. If we were to put the sink and D/W in a 24" deep new cabinet along the wall with the stove, is that a normal depth for a sink and D/W? The new dishwasher we purchased is 23 3/4 " deep so it sounds like it should fit. (Bosch I am assuming the peninsula is 36" just because that is how deep they wanted it, not because a sink or D/W requires that much depth. Am I correct?

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 6:24PM
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Rosie, I will always stand by subway tiles. Fads may come and go, but subway tiles are always there. They are a reminder of my college days in NYC riding the subway. And of my great Chicago apartment that had them floor to almost ceiling in the bathroom, original from the 1920s, with a beautiful crackle.

Figuring out a style for our kitchen and bath that is original to the house is a bit of a fun trick because our house originally had neither. It had an outhouse (long gone though some neighbors still have them as tool shed relics in the back yard). And it has what is known in these parts as a shed kitchen, which is just what it sounds like, a shelter in the yard that existed prior to indoor plumbing and electric. Over the years the shed kitchens were built on to and eventually enclosed, and in our case another floor and roof deck added on top. All of this balanced on the shed kitchen - what had been a rather campground like, picnic type shelter. In digging in to the kitchen floor to run pipes for a bathroom that we were going to put in the back stairwell, we discovered that the whole kitchen, and all the rooms above it, were balanced on two crumbling brick piers, and that the ground below was many, many feet deep of coal ash. In excavation, bottles, newspapers, and kids' messages were found dating from the 1930s. Who knows what version of our kitchen was built when.

All of that is a long way to say, no real kitchen style seems authentic to our house necessarily. Our area has no Arts and Crafts references or architecture. Victorian and Italianate is more the style. I like to think of butlers pantries, nothing too flashy, wood, marble, stainless maybe. For our bathroom, we put in a salvage console sink with glass legs from the 1930s. It is quite handsome and seems to blend in to the hodge podge. Our hope is to cobble together a kitchen that seems to blend in to the rest of the house too. The one that is there now just feels very out of place with the old fire places, staircase, molding in the rest of the house. We don't need/want historically accurate, just more of an old time vibe.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 6:39PM
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" If we were to put the sink and D/W in a 24" deep new cabinet along the wall with the stove, is that a normal depth for a sink and D/W?"


    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 10:04PM
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