Kitchen

Refinishing My Concrete Countertops – Part 2 of 3

I’m back with a kitchen countertop update. This is the second post in my attempt to refinish my concrete countertops in my kitchen, so if you missed the first post, you go back and get caught up here…

So if you’re caught up, let’s move on…

I have spent the last four five days working on the painted finish on my countertops, and last night at about 11:00, I finally got them just like I want them. They still need the clear coat, which is the main thing that I hired the guys to do for me since the polyurea coating they’ll be using isn’t really available to the general public.

They’re supposed to come back today to do the clear polyurea coat for me. I’m really hoping it doesn’t change the look of the countertops much, because I have them just like I want them, and it took me four five days of hard work to get them just right.

So let me back up just a bit. Last Friday, I showed y’all the countertops with the gray, plastic-looking primer that they had used on them. That gray primer looked like this…

refinishing concrete countertops - 18 - concrete countertops with primer - peninsula

Before they left, I asked them what grit sandpaper I needed to use to sand that primer.

“You can start with 80-grit, but we sometimes use 60-grit,” they said.

60-grit?! 80-grit?! In my world where I’m generally dealing with finishes on wood, 60- and 80-grit sandpaper is what you use if you really want to tear into a finish and remove it quickly. If I want to smooth a surface, I generally start with 150-grit and finish with 220-grit.

I just couldn’t imagine starting with 60-grit, so I assumed they didn’t know what they were talking about. And yes, I realize the foolishness of that seeing that they work with this product every single day, and I had never seen it before. 😀

So I started with 150-grit sanding discs on my rotary sander. It barely affected the primer at all. So I reluctantly went to 100-grit. That didn’t do anything either. So I very reluctantly tried some 80-grit, and finally started seeing some progress. Even with 80-grit sanding discs on my sander at high speed, it still took quite a while to sand it smooth.

Then I made a huge mistake. I thought to myself, “This primer really is a layer of plastic. I just can’t imagine latex paint sticking to it well, so I think I’ll use oil-based primer as my base coat.”

Sounds reasonable, right? After all, oil-based primer is way more durable than latex paint and will stick to way more surfaces. It also sands so beautifully when it’s completely dry, so I’d be able to get a super smooth base coat with it.

So on Friday evening, I put the primer on. A few hours later, right before I went to bed, I tried to sand it and it still felt cool to the touch, like it still had lots of moisture in it. It wouldn’t sand. But I was sure that it would be just fine by the next morning after a few more hours of drying.

Ummm…it wasn’t. I tried sanding by hand, expecting that fine chalk dust texture that oil-based primer has when it’s sanded off. That didn’t happen. I sanded harder. Nothing.

I got my electric sander out with 220-grit sandpaper on it. That did nothing.

I ended up having to sand that oil-based primer of with 80-grit sanding discs on my rotary sander at the highest speed, sanding about 8 square inches at a time before having to change to a new sanding disc because the primer was just gumming up those discs so quickly.

Y’all, it literally took me about eight hours and almost an entire pack of 50 sanding discs just to sand the peninsula and get back down to the gray primer coat. By the end of the day, my hands were aching, and I was just about in tears. But I was way too tired to cry.

So after losing an entire day, I started over again. This time with latex paint. 🙂

Somewhere along the way, I also decided that I wanted all of their plastic primer removed completely from the ogee edges. I had told them before they even started grinding my countertops that I wanted some of the divots and really rough areas on the edges filled, and that I had purchased some Bondo specifically for that. They assured me that Bondo wasn’t needed because they had their own product for just that purpose.

Well, that would have been great except that they didn’t actually use their product or do anything about the divots, air holes or rough patches in the edges. They just primed right over them and went about their day. I tried to be okay with the edges, but I just wasn’t.

So I sanded the edges down completely (that required 60-grit sanding discs and about three more hours), back to bare concrete, and then spent about another three hours filling any air holes, rough areas, uneven areas, etc., with Bondo and sanding them smooth. I did prime those with oil-based primer, which I knew would work since all of their gray primer had been removed.

By this time, I had completely ruled out doing any kind of marble paint treatment on my countertops. I didn’t want to take a chance at having to sand them down again if the faux marble effect looked a bit too…well…faux. I just wanted the project finished.

After three coats of Sherwin Williams High Reflective White (which is their base color) rolled on with a small roller labeled for “smooth surfaces,” I was thinking I might just like the solid white. It was light, bright, and white, which is exactly what I said I wanted. By late Saturday night, I had decided to just go with the solid white and be done with it. It wasn’t completely dry, but here’s how it looked…

refinishing concrete countertops - 19 - concrete countertop with two coats of Sherwin Williams High Reflective White paint

I did test out a small patch of multi-colored sponged paint to see what that would look like.

refinishing concrete countertops - 20 - testing out a multi-color paint finish on concrete countertops

I didn’t take a lot of time on that, though. And admittedly, it didn’t look so great. So again, I thought I’d just go with the solid white.

Then I got up Sunday morning and looked at the solid white again. I did a few Instagram stories about my countertops, asking opinions on the solid white vs. a multi-colored look, sharing the above two examples (in videos rather than still images).

The vote was overwhelmingly “solid white,” which is understandable. Compared to my poor attempt at a multi-toned sponged look, the solid white was clearly the obvious choice. But in the light of day, and up close, the solid white just looked so…blah. One dimensional. Lifeless. Fake. I knew that wasn’t showing on pictures and videos, but in person, something about it was just off. The sponged look in my sample was awful, but I was convinced that it was because I had used all the wrong colors, and had taken all of two minutes to do it.

So I actually decided to go with the multi-colored sponged look, because the solid white just wasn’t working for me.

I started by sponging on a layer of Benjamin Moore Classic Gray. And yes, I was seriously doubting my decision after this, because it just looked like a horrible 80’s sponge painting flashback.

refinishing concrete countertops - 21 - first coat of sponged contrast paint in Benjamin Moore Classic Gray
refinishing concrete countertops - 22 - first coat of sponged contrast paint in Benjamin Moore Classic Gray

It was awful, but I tried not to panic. I let it dry, sanded it lightly with 220-grit sandpaper (by hand), and then added a layer of Behr Polar Bear. It got a little better.

refinishing concrete countertops - 23 - second coat of sponged paint in Behr Polar Bear

I let that dry, sanded it, and then did a layer of Sherwin Williams Snowbound.

refinishing concrete countertops - 24 - third coat of sponged paint in Sherwin Williams Snowbound

On the layer of Snowbound, I mixed about 3 parts paint to 1 part Floetrol. Also on this layer, I sponged on a small section, and then went back over that section pouncing with a large, dry brush. The dry brush, which was the largest and softest brush I could find at Home Depot labeled for use on staining and finishing decks and fences) really softened the look. I made sure that I wiped off the bristles often so that they wouldn’t fill up with paint.

refinishing concrete countertops - 33 - sea sponges and brush used to do the sponge painting

I did two more layers — one layer of Sherwin Williams High Reflective White and one last layer using Behr Bright White (which is their base coat).

After all five layers of sponging, with sanding in between each layer, I finally had it like I wanted it. And this is what it looked like this morning in the morning light.

refinishing concrete countertops - 26 - peninsula after all five coats of sponged paint

Here’s a close up.

refinishing concrete countertops - 27 - peninsula after all five coats of sponged paint - closeup

It’s the kind of subtle texture that I don’t really think anyone would even notice or focus on. It looks natural, like…well…like actual concrete. Or if I had to compare it to something, I might compare it to a really light limestone.

It’s light and bright and white and clean, but in person, no one would look at it and think “sponge painted countertop.” In fact, I don’t think they’d think much of it at all. On the other hand, had I left it solid white, I do think people would look at it and think “painted countertop” because it just looked so one-dimensional and unnatural.

The multi-colored look also goes with my backsplash better. Those tiles aren’t a really bright white, so the solid white countertops made the tile look really dingy.

Here’s the long countertop with all five coats of sponged paint. You can see that it’s really not an obvious sponged look. It’s incredibly subtle.

refinishing concrete countertops - 28 - long countertop with all five coats of sponged paint
refinishing concrete countertops - 29 - long countertop with all five coats of sponged paint - closeup

And the counteretop to the right of the stove…

refinishing concrete countertops - 30 - countertop to right of stove with all five coats of sponged paint

And to the left of the stove…

refinishing concrete countertops - 31 - countertop to left of stove with all five coats of sponged paint

I’m just hoping and praying that the clear coat doesn’t change the color, because I have them exactly like I want them. If it changes the color, there WILL be tears. Lots of tears.

So let’s just take a stroll down memory lane, shall we? Here’s what the peninsula looked like right after my brother and I poured these countertops in 2014…

And two-and-a-half years later…

refinishing concrete countertops - 1 - concrete countertops before refinishing - stains on peninsula by sink area

And today…

refinishing concrete countertops - 32 - peninsula after all five coats of sponged paint

Here’s what the countertop to the right of the stove looked like just after we poured it…

And two-and-a-half years later…

refinishing concrete countertops - 5 - concrete countertops before refinishing - countertop to right of stove

And today…

refinishing concrete countertops - 30 - countertop to right of stove with all five coats of sponged paint

And the long countertop after we poured it…

And two-and-a-half years later…

refinishing concrete countertops - 4 - concrete countertops before refinishing - stains on long countertop on wall of cabinets

And today…

refinishing concrete countertops - 28 - long countertop with all five coats of sponged paint

I’m very excited about how these look right now. Let’s just hope the clear coat doesn’t ruin them. 🙂

Update:

The refinished concrete countertops are finished! You can see them here…

Helpful sources and products:

Do you want to see how I poured these concrete countertops for my kitchen? You can see that project in these three posts…



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50 Comments

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Tegan
    March 29, 2017 at 9:50 am

    Bravo! Had I not of seen the second after (your final sponge job) I too definitely would have said plain white it comparison to the first sponge job 🙂 But it really looks so much better with some dimension! Glad you followed your gut and decided to go through with the sponging. I’m sure the white would have looked fine but not spectacular like this. Very anxious to see the clear coat!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Abby C.
    March 29, 2017 at 9:52 am

    I LIKE!!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Melissa K
    March 29, 2017 at 9:54 am

    Oh that looks so much better!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Dale
    March 29, 2017 at 9:59 am

    It looks great Kristi!! Wow, wow, wow what a lot of work!!! I am saying a little prayer that this countertop not only stays the color you want, but that it lasts a long, long time for you!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Lizzette
    March 29, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Your countertops now look the way I pictured them when I read white concrete. Mission accomplished. One question though, how hard will it be to remove all the paint from your backsplash? My OCD can’t help but wonder why you didn’t tape it off and cover the floor.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi
      March 29, 2017 at 10:11 am

      The paint scrapes off very easily from the backsplash. Those are glossy glazed tiles. Latex paint won’t stick to those.
       
      As far as covering my floors, well, that’s a huge frustration for me. Before the guys came last Thursday to grind my countertops, I texted and asked if I needed to do anything in preparation. I had purchased paper for the floors, plastic to cover the doorways, etc. But I was also running behind on schedule and would have been very rushed in taking care of covering the floors and doorways. But of course, I was willing if need be.
       
      He texted back and said it wasn’t necessary because their system would catch all of the dust. Since I had no experience with that kind of tool with the big vacuum system, I trusted him.
       
      That was a big mistake. When they left my house, there was a coat of concrete dust covering every inch of flooring tabletops…EVERYTHING. They did put down three dropcloths, but dropcloths don’t catch dust.
       
      So after that, I figured I’d just go about my part of the project, doing the sanding that I needed, and then just worry about cleaning up all of the dust once the whole thing is done. Guess what I’ll be doing today. 🙂
       
      In hindsight, I learned to never trust a man who says not to worry about dust and mess created by his use of tools inside my house. 😀 Lesson learned.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Em
    March 29, 2017 at 10:04 am

    I have to say, you scared the heck out of me more than once in this post.

    Good for you for being so tenacious! It looks great!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    my2cents
    March 29, 2017 at 10:05 am

    Perfect! It’s a winner!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Alma
    March 29, 2017 at 10:05 am

    I did a budget friendly remodeling in my kitchen years ago. I was left with no money for a nice counter top, so I did what I knew what to do: fake it. I used plywood and made a stone look alike by using three paint color patted down with a square piece of one of my husbands old t-shirts because I didn’t want to use a sponge. i did this after multiple coats of artist’s gesso and lots sanding. Everyone thinks it is stone. I sealed it with Defthane water based, the best poly around. They stopped selling it in my state and I decided to renew with a coat of Minwax. What a mistake that was. I had to sand it all because the finish was not as crystal clear or smooth like the Defthane is. This brand will not yellow or change colors. I hope it would work on your countertop. Maybe you can ask the company.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Eleanor Bruce
      November 25, 2017 at 3:42 pm

      How does Defthane water based poly hold up around the stove and with grease spots? How about around the sink? Will water get through it? I’ve used Polycrylic and have problems with grease stains. Water doesn’t seem to get through but grease around the stove is a big problem. My countertop is Henry’s Feathercoat applied to look like slate. I love it but the grease is driving me nuts. I need to do some repairs. ….. oh, could I sand the polycrylic and apply Defthane over it?

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        Alma Miranda
        November 26, 2017 at 5:36 pm

        It held perfect for 10 years. After which I sanded lightly and reapplied.I always dry around the sink after use. Water or grease do not get through it. Try sanding a corner and applying Defthane. It is an outstanding product.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Carol F
    March 29, 2017 at 10:07 am

    I love the counter tops! I notice that it looks like you have a lot of cabinets to still paint, do you think you will make your deadline?

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi
      March 29, 2017 at 10:21 am

      I doubt it, but that won’t stop me from trying. 🙂 All of the cabinet doors are finished, so it’s just the cabinets that still need painting. Where the heck has this month gone!?

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Mark E Tisdale
    March 29, 2017 at 10:08 am

    LOVE the textured version. It’s hard to tell whether the white looks flat and “lifeless” or not but if it did to the person living with it, that’s all that matters!

    The textured version doesn’t look like concrete to me but a natural stone of some sort. And it’s so subtle as you said, I don’t think anyone’s going to home in on it Well done!

    Mark

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Dianne
    March 29, 2017 at 10:08 am

    Looking good. Can’t wait to see them all finished

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Robin
    March 29, 2017 at 10:10 am

    I don’t know if it’s to late or not, but I’m thinking you should be VERY verbal about the workmanship of this contractor. He totally left off a step – this caused you to have to remove their primer and fill in the edges. This was brought to their attention and was part of the agreed upon price. I would watch the final work very carefully. Of course, great job as usual!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Amy
    March 29, 2017 at 10:10 am

    Looks great! You must be exhausted! I feel like I need a nap and all I did was read about your hard work.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Joanne @A Fresh Perspective
    March 29, 2017 at 10:12 am

    It looks beautiful! Here’s hoping the epoxy works out for you today!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Theresa P
    March 29, 2017 at 10:20 am

    All that sanding sounds exhausting!!! I continue to admire your persistence, attention to detail, and “eye” for getting what you want! The multilayered sponging really adds so much dimension! Great job! As a side note, I’m not seeing your videos on Instagram. Do they expire? I’m not so up-to-speed on how Instagram works.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Debra
    March 29, 2017 at 10:22 am

    Amazing! i don’t have your fortitude and would have been crying just contemplating all that grinding and painting….or even finding a reputable contractor to do it for me.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Jessica M.
    March 29, 2017 at 10:26 am

    Fingers AND toes (what a creepy visual) crossed that the color stays true!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Jolyn
    March 29, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Wow! They look great. Very subtle. And I think you’re right. If you had left them bright white, then after awhile, your backsplash may start looking a little dingy to you. I sure hope the clear coat doesn’t change anything after all your hard work! Makes my arms ache just thinking about it.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Sheri Hepworth
    March 29, 2017 at 10:34 am

    Now, I’m very tired.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Marcia B.
    March 29, 2017 at 10:39 am

    I hope you change your mind about putting two small doors between the fat posts on the base cabinet. First, in my mind’s eye, a whole wall of narrow doors simply doesn’t look good. I believe one bigger door on that section gives a better balance to the composition. Second, I just think those fat posts would be out of proportion with two small doors. You mentioned that the wider door was inconvenient, but I’d be willing to put up with that little bit of inconvenience. To me a stile blocking access would be a bigger inconvenience, whereas with one door you can have a handy pull-out shelf. (If you go back and look at a photo, I think you’ll see what I mean about all small doors.)

    Your countertops look so much better with color added. I thought the white looked a bit like Formica. You did a lovely job, and I hope the color stays true so you won’t shed any tears!

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Gwen
      March 29, 2017 at 11:18 am

      I believe she’s already ordered the doors. To ease your mind about one aspect, she will not have to have add a stile in between each pair of the new, narrow doors.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Trudy Hance Gaehring
    March 29, 2017 at 10:41 am

    Kristi, I have never known anyone who works as hard and diligently as you! I admire your bravery to dream and think out of the box and I marvel at your talents and skill. The counters are stunning!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Janet L.
    March 29, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Looks amazing! Persistents pays off,but oh my all that sanding! I was wondering if their finish will make the countertops shiny? I had thought you wanted a more matte finish and I hope that their work makes it just what you want. The difference between the first sponge job and the final job is fantastic! I was wondering how many coats is needed to protect stains from cookware etc.touching the surface and discoloring it as before? Good luck,fingers and toes crossed that you just love it!!!!!!

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi
      March 29, 2017 at 12:42 pm

      They can do any sheen I want. The product is glossy, but they have an additive to dull the sheen. The more additive, the duller the sheen. The problem with the matte finish is that the duller the sheen gets, the rougher the finish gets. It’s fine for a garage floor, but the matte finish isn’t really appropriate for a kitchen countertop. So I’ll probably stick with something in the middle — a satin finish.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Peggy
    March 29, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Kristi, I went back through your post to make a list of the steps and what paint you used. I think I counted 4 shades of white and one shade of grey. I’m assuming SW Snowbound is a white. Would you say the key to making this work is the multiple shades of white? I’m thinking of doing something like this on the kitchen island I built. It has a plywood top right now just covered in clear vinyl, waiting for inspiration. Thanks so much for that!

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi
      March 29, 2017 at 12:40 pm

      All of the various shades of white are definitely the key to getting the soft, subtle look. But they’re useless without some sort of contrasting color buried in there somewhere. I used BM Classic Gray which is a very light gray. So it doesn’t take much color at all, but you will want at least one color buried in the whites.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    janpartist
    March 29, 2017 at 11:34 am

    Well, phew, the end product is very attractive.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Sharon C
    March 29, 2017 at 11:47 am

    What a lot of hard work, but again all your efforts have been truly rewarded as your countertops look amazing and I think they look more like a subtle stone surface. Well done Kristi, great job!!!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Suzy
    March 29, 2017 at 11:57 am

    All of that work for such a subtle difference, just doesn’t seem worth it, imho. What is important, however, is that you do think it is worth it. Glad you’re happy with it.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi
      March 29, 2017 at 12:32 pm

      There’s also a huge difference between seeing it in small pictures on a computer screen, and seeing it in real size in person. 🙂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    DJ
    March 29, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    Nailed it! The level of depth you were able to add to your counter tops is astounding. Really beautiful!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Patty
    March 29, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    I love the final result (even in the small computer image, lol), it is subtle, but has real depth to it! I sympathize with all the sanding and redoing, ugh, I went through something similar (not quite 5 days thank goodness!!) trying to get the right finish on my walnut butcher block island countertop. In the end my fix was easy – pure tung oil. Too bad I didn’t try that to start with! I look forward to seeing your final result, and the ‘final’ kitchen 🙂 I do admire you for being unafraid to back up and start over to get what you really want, and appreciate that you share your thoughts and talents with us!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Sewducky
    March 29, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Feeling the anxiety as you go through it and getting your footing with that primer. It’s great to see it turned back to what you were intending, (the original white countertop look you wanted when pouring them), after you pulled out the brush. That brush technique’s a miracle worker!

    Make sure you ask or get them to paint some sample “stuff” (ruined cabinet doors?) with the clear coat. I’d want to test cleaners on, since the contractor’s word hasn’t been 100% true so far. I’d hate to use the wrong cleaner, and make it sticky or something.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Leslie
    March 29, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    I’m sorry but I think the counter tops look absolutely beautiful! I am so jealous. I understand the fear but the reward at the end when it falls into place is just so rewarding. This brings a tear to my eye. I can hardly wait for you to finish. You inspire! I will pray that you have no tears today!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    'Tricia
    March 29, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    Your new finish is gorgeous.
    And YOU are amazing.
    I am so in awe at all you can do.
    You blow me away…but make my day.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Marianne in Mo.
    March 29, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    I’m glad you chose to add a little somethin’-somethin’ to the plain white. You would go crazy with white, not only because you aren’t a fan, but because it would show every.little speck.of.anything! I like how it turned out, but wow, what a lot of working and waiting!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Joanne B
    March 29, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    I’m exhausted just reading about it. You are relentless if you are nothing else. Those countertops- the whole house really- should quake and bow down when you enter the room. You showed ’em who’s boss! Here’s hoping you will be happy with the final result!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Ellen W.
    March 29, 2017 at 10:58 pm

    I like it! I thought the original pure white was a little too harsh, and the paint technique you’ve used gives it depth and subtlety. Question: are you still going to be able to set hot things down on those counters now? I would think that hot pans could damage the colors/sealant.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Maggie Obst
    March 30, 2017 at 5:35 am

    After all your work on the top! You have a beautiful finish. Love it.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Stefan Brockett
    June 19, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    What a great sponge job! I think it gives the counters a lot more character than just with the solid white!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Chad
    January 25, 2019 at 8:04 am

    Good morning. I have a question. What kind of primer did you use on these countertops? I don’t remember seeing it in the post.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi
      January 25, 2019 at 8:23 am

      I tried using an oil-based primer, but that didn’t work. After sanding that off, I just used latex paint directly over the gray primer that the company I hired put on there for me. I have no idea what their primer is. It’s very thick and gray and feels like a coat of plastic.

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