In our search for the right countertop material for our kitchen, we quickly got frustrated with the available options. We liked the look of honed granite, soapstone, and concrete. We simply couldn't justify the price of the granite or soapstone, knowing we could spend that money somewhere else in the house. We were scared of the weight of concrete countertops, as we would be covering a large area and we just weren't too sure how much weight would be safe. We started looking into less popular options and ran across Paperstone and Richlite, both eco-friendly options, which we liked.
Unfortunately, we had a lot of trouble finding anyone local who was selling either product. There weren't a lot of online reviews about them, either. We finally tracked down the owner of a green building supply shop that had recently closed. He let us into his warehouse one Saturday and we dug through boxes until we found some samples of the products. It wasn't a lot to go on, but it was somewhat reassuring to finally have something you could actually touch instead of just looking at pictures on a website.
Both products are very similiar, but we decided that we preferred the feel of the Richlite and the color variation that it offered. We knew we wanted a darker color and the black Paperstone seemed almost rubbery. We eventually bit the bullet and decided on the Richlite in Chocolate Glacier. You can read the details on the company website, but Richlite is basically paper that is mixed with resin to create the countertop material. It cuts similar to MDF and you can route the edge for a decorative finish, if you wish. The price was much more reasonable than granite or soapstone and the fact that we could cut it and install it ourselves was very appealing.
Even though things were looking up and we felt good about our decision, you should know that there are some additional challenges we faced with the Richlite. The availability was difficult for us, as we didn't have a local dealer. We had to order direct from the manufacturer. Because we aren't certified installers, we had to pay about $100 for a training guide that explained how to work with the product. They seem to be most concerned with the seaming process. We had to seam together two small pieces of Richlite and send them back in to the manufacturer, in order to show that we weren't going to make their product look junky. :) We also had to purchase special saw blades for the product and it wasn't exactly as easy to cut as regular ol' MDF. Still for the price and look that it gave us, we would do it again!
The Richlite arrived in very large slabs. We had some choices on the sizes that were available, so we tried to get pieces that would work for our space with as few seams as possible. I admit, when it first arrived, it was kind of scary. It looks very chalky and dull with a lot of scratches and imperfections. But, I just kept reminding myself that it would look better once it was in and we sanded and oiled it. Just to be clear, we knew from the beginning that it WOULD scratch and develop a worn patina. We were 100% okay with that. It just takes some getting used to when it's very different from your typical countertop.
After lots and lots of careful measurements, we cut out cardboard templates to fit on top of our kitchen cabinets. Those were carefully taped on and we got ready to start cutting out for the stove and sink.
We used blue painter's tape to help keep a smooth, straight line. Notice my father in law's mask. This stuff puts off A LOT of nasty dust when cut and sanded. You definitely need a mask and I recommend doing this outside, if possible. Make sure you use a new, sharp saw blade and if you're cutting a lot, you may need to have an extra on hand. It dulled our blades fairly quickly.
After a thorough sanding to smooth everything out, we started laying it in place.
The area that you're looking at in this photo is the only big seam we had to contend with. We were able to match the others up with our stove, so it wasn't very noticeable. We opted to just keep our seam perpendicular, rather than at a 45 degree angle. It works out well in this small corner and there was no need to make it more complicated.
You'll notice that it really doesn't look very brown in these pictures. I'll share more photos in the next post that show the countertop after it has been oiled. The color darkens and becomes much richer. Check back in to see how it all turns out!