December 18, 2018

The Story of DIY'ing Our Kitchen Island (so exciting, right?!)

DIY kitchen island

This is long and boring, but in case you are interested in everything that went into this island (which still isn't finished!), I'll write it all out here. I saved this for its own post, because it's been--well, I don't want to say frustrating, because I am excited about finishing it--but it's been a process getting to this point. And finishing it is going to be a challenge!

When we first started working on the kitchen, I knew that I wanted to do something different with the island. We have a large space between the island and the other side of the kitchen (where there is a sliding glass door to go outside, and the pantry, and laundry room). We've had our dining room table there for years, because we used the actual dining room for the treadmill and bookshelves.

I was never been able to come up with a solution for the treadmill. When the boys shared a bedroom, we had the treadmill in the spare room. I knew I wanted to use the dining room area for an actual dining room and move our table and chairs there.

The solution we came up with was to put the treadmill in the living room and the couch in front of it. Since we got rid of the huge sectional, we were able to make this work. It shortens up the living room a little, which I actually prefer. It's cozier this way. Below, I was taking a photo of the couch, but you can see the treadmill behind it. It kind of blends in to the background, especially considering the bright orange couch right in front of it:

So, by moving the treadmill to the living room and the dining room table to the dining room, we will be left with a large open space in the kitchen where we've kept the table. I decided that I wanted to extend the countertop of the island to be about twice as long and put legs on the end. Then we could add a couple of bar stools at the end of the countertop.

The island that we had was very poor quality, and I knew it wouldn't hold up to a super heavy countertop. So, I decided to reinforce it by adding some framing here and there. But once I started taking it apart, I realized I might as well just rebuild the whole thing with better materials.

And I did! I was intimidated by the whole thing, and I researched the heck out of beforehand. It ended up being one of the easiest projects I've done. I had it put together in about four hours (minus the countertop). (You'll have to imagine this with different flooring. This is linoleum and we are going to replace it with dark gray vinyl planks. Since we're replacing it, we didn't make an effort to protect it from paint, and that's why it looks so bad!)

I actually made the countertop before making the island. The countertop is 92 inches! We weren't sure how we were going to finish it, though--put the same laminate down as the rest of the counters? Or something different?

That decision was made for us when I accidentally cut the laminate sheet wrong (yet another mistake for my upcoming post about "What NOT to do when making over your home"). We would have to order another piece of laminate if we wanted to make the counter to like the others. The laminate isn't super expensive, but they charge $24 shipping (a mandatory fee--there is no option to ship to store for free). So, it would've been a lot for just one piece of laminate.

First, we cut down the island a little so that it was 25" wide instead of 28". That way, we could still apply the laminate that I'd cut too narrow. However, we didn't have enough laminate for the sides. So, we figured we could add wood trim on the sides to finish it instead of using laminate.

I don't have a miter saw, and creating mitered corners for the trim was challenging. They would have to line up perfectly. THEN, we (Jerry was helping me with the framing because it was so large) had to screw the frame on so that the top of the frame was flush with the countertop. I had Jerry hold it flush while I screwed it together. And not surprisingly, we couldn't get it flush--the drill would move the screw just a tiny fraction so that it didn't line up.

It's hard to tell in the photo, but the laminate came up above the trim just a touch, so it wasn't flush. Also, the mitered corners didn't fit well together--mostly on the other side that you can't see in the photo.

(I still wasn't frustrated, though! I wanted to come up with a good solution...)

After ruining some of the trim by making it a hair too short, I found a new solution--put tiny little posts on the corners and avoid mitering altogether. I used the Kreg jig to make the frame, and then we placed it over the countertop, and it fit! (I will explain below why the edge has a lip on it)

Then, it hit me. A solution that involved something I've always wanted to try making: a penny countertop (or, in our case, nickels--because they would match the kitchen better than pennies). For this, you create a lip around the counter (which you can see in the photo above), and then glue down the nickels.

Here is a photo of someone's penny countertop bar:

penny countertop bar
Photo Source

Then, you pour countertop epoxy over the whole thing. And when it cures, it's a perfect countertop that is as hard as granite.

To do this, I shifted the frame up so that it was 1/4 inch taller than the countertop, and carefully screwed that in (thankfully, we got it right on the first try). Then, I primed the entire countertop and trim with oil-based primer. Twice. After that, I painted the countertop and inside lip of the trim orange, and I painted the trim itself white. The orange wouldn't show too much, but it would peak out through the nickels a bit.

After two coats of paint, I was really liking it! I ordered the epoxy and then saw on the website that if you're coating a surface with oil-based paint, you need to put on at least three coats of oil-based polyurethane in order to make sure the epoxy doesn't separate over time.

So, I added three coats of polyurethane. And I thought it made the countertop look even better, actually. If the 1/4" lip wasn't on it, we could have just left it as it is. (It was still very wet in the photo below--the color lightens a little when dry)

When that was dry, I was ready to add the nickels. I thought it would be fun to include other silver change as well--some 50 cent pieces from when I was kid, Susan B. Anthony dollars, the quarters from all 50 states, etc. I tried laying it out, but discovered 1) We severely underestimated how many nickels we'd need, and 2) The different sized change made the layout look weird.

I removed all of the change except for the nickels, and arranged them so they were butted up against each other.

I liked the way it was looking, but after arranging about $50 worth of nickels on there, it wasn't even 1/4 of the way covered!

And that is what it looks like now. Thankfully, I hadn't glued down the change--I wanted to lay it out before gluing. Then we had to decide if we wanted to buy more nickels or come up with another idea. I thought and thought about it, and I came up with a pretty fun idea. We are still going to use the epoxy, but instead of nickels, we are using something else that is practically free of cost. And definitely more fun. I'll wait to share that after it's done because I don't want to get talked out of it. ;)

Now, the challenge is the epoxy itself. The epoxy must cure in a space with air temperature of at LEAST 75 degrees--preferably higher. For 72 hours! Considering it's Michigan winter, we are using our furnace and have it set at 68. We will ROAST if we set the thermostat at 75-80.

We've been working on a solution to close off the kitchen and use a space heater to make just the kitchen itself 80 degrees. The other option would be to wait until summer, when it's super hot outside anyways. That's a long time away! The countertop will actually work until then if we need it to.

So, that's the long story of our island. I hope that when all is said and done, we will love it. With the other projects, even with the mistakes here and there, I've really loved how they turned out. And considering it's all DIY, I think it has character!


  1. So creative! Can't wait to see what you chose! I've wanted to do something similar in our house with bottle caps. Although, I should start saving them b/c it could take a while! ;)

    1. The bottle caps look awesome! If we had a bar, I would love to do that. I've seen wine corks as well.

  2. My husband does this professionally and so many DIY home improvement errors come from using incorrect tools and poor planning. I'm not sure if you are aware of this, but you can rent miter saws. Then you could have eliminated the twelve steps after and used the 50 bucks in nickels for something else.
    I know the goal is to get through it quickly and get your house back but rushing doesn't always work. If you took a step back and planned better, it might be over sooner.

    1. It's funny you say that, because I've never planned for anything more than I have for this project! I didn't even spend this much time planning my wedding. I've been working on it for four months, mostly by myself. I'm proud of what I've done, and I'm thrilled with the results :)

    2. Art: The little lights aren't twinkling.

      Clark: I know, Art. And thanks for noticing.

      --National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

  3. If you say that you are going to do the countertop with the free coasters from bars I will scream and declare you my new BFF. I always wanted to do that and even started saving a ton. Can't wait to see what you came up with!!

    1. I'm so sorry to disappoint you, but it's not going to be free coasters from bars. That's a great idea, though! Jerry did mention it, and said we should have started saving them a long time ago if we wanted to do that ;)

  4. Can't wait to see it....and I know I have said it but I'll say it again....I LOVE THE ORANGE!!!!

    1. I do, too! The blue cupboards and orange accents weren't something I normally would have thought of, but I LOVE the colors!

  5. It looks great. And the bar is huge. I want it!!!

  6. Hi Katie! I'd love instructions on how you built the island. I've been googling it and everything is telling me to use premade cabinets but it doesn't seem like you did that. Can you share instructions or where to find what you followed to make yours? Thank you!

    1. Hey there Renee! I wish I had a simple set of instructions (maybe I'll make a tutorial for those of us that have no clue when we get started! ha) but I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like (basically the same island we had previously, only much better materials and a longer countertop). I calculated the measurements of the sides, back, bottom and face. I used a sheet of 3/4 inch plywood (the nice, sanded kind--it's a little more expensive, but it's ready to prime and paint) to cut into the pieces that I'd need. And I used the Kreg jig to put the whole thing together with pocketholes. It was MUCH easier than I'd expected! This is the tutorial I finally found to be most helpful:
      I had to adjust all of the measurements from what is shown, but if you keep it simple and you have an idea of what you want, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out. It's MUCH more intimidating to plan than it actually was to make!


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