Questions on process of updating countertops

alygalOctober 30, 2013

I'm in a house with a kitchen that was updated 20 years ago with white thermafoil cabinets and soft blue laminate counters. It's a small L-shaped galley style with one corner for a very small nook.

The structure of the cabinets are in very good shape and I'm happy with the footprint. The existing laminate is in very good condition but I do want to update it and eventually the door fronts (thermafoil has yellowed).

I'm considering either soapstone counter tops or possibly just replacing the laminate with WilsonArt's "Oil-based Soapstone" laminate. Would later add mini-subway tile back-splash in white.

1. How do I know if the existing cabinets can hold the weight of soapstone?

2. I want to keep my original porcelain drop-in sink. Can that be done?

I'm assuming that with a stone countertop, the installers would have to remove the existing counter top and the sink and that this may be pretty labor intensive.

With laminate I know we could save the sink. But what is the process? Do they just tear off the old laminate and glue down the new? How does that work?

As for the stone vs laminate: it's more a question of function rather than cost for us. We don't spend loads of time cooking and we're not after a trendy fashion statement either. The house is a neat cottage bungalow built in 1950. I like the clean look of white/black/gray. We want something durable with resale value that presents a classic look.

Appreciate any ideas on what we need to consider. Thanks.

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It's not worth the expense of putting stone on top of 20 year old thermofoil unless you replace the cabinets too. Refacing 20 year old thermofoil is throwing good money after bad also as nothing really sticks well to thermofoil long term, and you're still left with the 20 year old boxes.. Replacing would let you tweak the layout to add more utility, like more drawers, or even a change in layout. If you don't want to go to that expense, then the laminate can buy you a few more years of use until replacing the cabinets becomes completely necessary.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 9:17AM
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There are laminate counter paint could try just painting your existing laminate and save $$ and labor costs to replace. Go to Google or Amazon and type in "laminate counter paint kit" and read the reviews. As Green pointed out....I would not go to great expense to put new counters on 20 year old yellowing cabinets or bother and spend $ replacing the doors either. Better to save your $ and totally redo down the road or let new buyers remodel to their taste.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 10:03AM
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Thank you both for the voices of reason. As much as I would like the soapstone the point of putting it on the older cabinets is taken. The footprint of the cabinets work for us so I am leaning towards getting new laminate. I did look at various websites on the counter paint but truthfully I just want someone else to install so we can use the counters quickly. We are not good DIY'ers at this kind of work.

What I like about laminate is that it would be easy enough to replace if we ever sold and the new owners didn't care for it. Laminate is not a huge commitment.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 11:05AM
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With the thermofoil material, I would opt for the similar material, laminate, rather than putting a real stone next to. The aesthetic is too different, imo. It also sounds like you are not particularly into cooking/kitchens, so a high maintenance material would be a pain rather than a labor of love.

I don't know how to know the quality of your boxes but people often hang onto those for a very long time. I know someone who refaced their cabinets 20 years ago. That makes the boxes 50+ years old at this point and all functions just fine. Those were not high quality cabinets either. They are not trend conscious people though. It's a nice kitchen and works for them. So it fits the bill.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 11:21AM
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Often a "designer" will try and scare you out of doing so, but really no reason to replace the cabinets if they aren't falling apart. White thermofoil is still quite popular today as well.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 2:22PM
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Agree with eve & others that you shouldn't feel obligated to replace the cabinets as a prerequisite for replacing the counter if the current cabs look & work well. People put relatively expensive counters on relatively inexpensive cabinets all the time. Budget allocation is personal - don't let folks tell you how to allocate your reno budget.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 2:50PM
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I have a friend in a high end home with thermofoil cabinets. When yellowing has appeared the dealer replaced them for free. The cabinets are solid and the layout good so she have granite put in. No issues and it all looks great.

I think we have all seen kitchen with cabinets falling apart or a terrible layout with new granite installed. To me it is such a waste of granite. So just be sure your cabinets are solid.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 2:53PM
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I'll start by saying I don't know what thermofoil cabinets are.

We recently took out tiled countertops that we'd installed 20 years ago and replaced them with soapstone and marble. Our cabinets are a mix from the 1920s and replicas we had custom built to match 20 years ago. They are perfect for our vintage feel kitchen, and we like the layout.

There was no question about weight of the countertops. We did need to replace our backsplash though (even though I liked it and replaced it with something very similar) because the difference in the counter material height left way too many gaps. This is an example of project creep.

Despite the fact that they are now considered passé, I put in a drop-in sink identical to the one we had before. Our cabinetry had been built to work with that particular sink, and I love this unique cast iron sink with built-in drain board. But, unless you have a very similar unusual situation, I would caution against paying big bucks for something like soapstone and then cutting a big hole in it to install an old sink.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 3:42PM
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Have you done any research to see if there is anything you can do to clean the yellowing off the cabinets? I know nothing about thermofoil but I thought it wasn't supposed to yellow. As for the laminate countertop, we are having ours replaced, my husband found our old one was just screwed in, very easy to remove, the hard part is that it is heavy, with a particleboard base. We didn't opt to just cover the old laminate with new sheet laminate right on top (contractors tell you not to do this, but I've seen websites that show you how) I think it could be done if the old laminate is still secure. That's probably the cheapest way. No countertop is cheap , but I agree that I wouldn't put stone in on old cabinets if you plan to replace them eventually.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 5:25PM
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For those who don't know what thermofoil is, it's plastic. They take a sheet of stretchy plastic and wrap a profiled slab MDF piece with it, just like they do with those graphics for vans these days. Newer thermofoil is a lot tougher and prettier, especially the Euro kind that actually wraps the individual 5 pieces of the door rather than a single piece routed trying to look like it's a 5 piece door.

Older thermofoil on the other hand is pretty crappy. It's not even the quality of a good laminate door. It yellowed with time and heat exposure, sometimes unevenly. 20 year old thermofoil cabinets aren't really going to be that great a quality unless they are from a major manufacturer. There were a LOT of crappy quality thermofoil done 20-30 years ago, and none of it is worth trying to put money into. Even if they are from a major manufacturer, refacing them is still a hit or miss. Stuff just doesn't stick well to that plastic coating. And the labor you'd have to pay someone to peel it off of the faceframes and then veneer them? You just bought all new cabinets.

Believe me, I'm not trying to scare anyone away from refacing. They just need to look at it realistically. I'm not against refacing good quality cabinets that are made from solid wood as long as the layout is good. The problem is that if the cabinets are old enough to have cosmetic issues, or datedness issues, the design is old enough to probably only have a single drawer stack in the whole kitchen, as well as a few other issues that could be addressed. That's a functional issue. And addressing that functional issue when you're paying labor for someone to remake an existing cabinet also means that you've just bought new cabinets without the thrill of new cabinets.

Refacing makes good sense on older well made cabinets when it's the homeowner doing the labor, and they're handy enough to rebuild the cabinets themselves into drawer stacks and are handy enough to apply the veneers, etc. When you're not paying labor, the price is much more reasonable. But, if you start counting the hours it will take you to do times minimum wage, well, you might be surprised at how much it actually "costs" you to do.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 7:56PM
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But she said the kitchen functions well for them, so buying what is today's functionality in cabinetry is not something that is really necessary (drawer stacks are not new, they are back in favor as the current trend). Once you start with that line of thinking, the domino effect sets in and you are spending a fortune when you really only needed new counter tops.

This post was edited by snookums2 on Wed, Oct 30, 13 at 20:24

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 8:21PM
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Wow, came home from work and found all these thoughtful replies. Thanks - gives me food for thought!

Well, I should say first I'm a gardener and spend lots of time in our large lot plotting out garden beds and tending my hens. I love my older home and our lifestyle is on the casual side with gardening and animals. I appreciate "high-end" but am realistic to know what works for our family. I prefer classic over trendy. We have two big dogs that charge through the house, hubby clomps through with boots on. The kitchen is a thoroughfare for all. That said I have got to be practical...I just put in commercial VCT in the kitchen to try and keep the floor looking at least decent. We need function that also pleases the eye - and isn't that the challenge of design?

OK, so back to counters and cabinets. GreenDesigns, thank you for your excellent description. We inherited the thermofoil from the previous owners who installed it about 1995. Parr Lumber, a company here in the Pacific NW did the design and installation. The boxes themselves have held up extremely well, they are still white, no chips or cracks. The doors have held up too but they have yellowed over the years plus I do not like the design on them. I'd prefer a Shaker or even flat face. I will say the thermofoil has been very easy to clean while my kids were growing up - just a wipe down with soapy sponge.

I did stop off at my local flooring/counters/surfaces retailer today (local family run business) and he said laminate is indeed making a comeback, He did say that the boxes could be braced if needed to support a stone counter, if I wanted to pursue that route. Said they do it all the time for people.

Snookums2, the domino effect hit me earlier. I take on a couple house or landscape projects a year, pay cash as I go. Did the bathroom last winter, now it's the kitchen and I was just going to do the floor.

So, I think I'll make myself one of those design boards with samples: WilsonArt "Oiled Soapstone" laminate, white subway tile back-splash (or mini-brick in white). Then I'll need to get rid of the gosh-awful fluorescent overhead lights. There's that domino effect, lol.

Here's a photo with the new floor just in. Appliances not back in at the time but they are stainless steel. You can see the cabinet fronts here.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 12:56AM
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Here's a kitchen done with the laminate soapstone.

Here is a link that might be useful: laminate soapstone

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 1:04AM
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snookum2 - thanks! I had actually seen that and it gave me the idea to use the laminate soapstone.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 1:22AM
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I would check into getting new doors and drawer fronts. Linelle on this forum has that in her kitchen and it looks wonderful!

I would get quotes on granite, soap stone and laminate to compare cost. If you look at black pearl granite it is usually a builder program priced granite and pretty reasonable cost.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 11:10AM
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Just throwing it out there, didn't someone remove the thermofoil and paint their cabinet doors? I seem to remember them turning out very very nicely. There is a video on Youtube showing how to remove it using just a heat gun.
I like laminate, for what it's worth. Very low maintenance.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 6:27PM
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