Wednesday, April 27, 2011

If You Liked My Old Counter Tops You Might Like These

Let's go down memory lane in my kitchen.
We did our first clean-up and decoration when we bought the house in 2005.
I posted my first photos on the internet of it on Rate My Space in 2007. I was so proud of my funky New Orleans kitchen, decorated with a budget of under $200., and so proud to show people New Orleans after Katrina.
With that budget, we painted, did a faux concrete surface recover on the laminate counter tops, removed laminate upper cabinet doors, and wallpapered the lower doors.
Some people loved it, others didn't understand it. After I looked at the other suburban slick kitchens on Rate My Space, I knew the site wasn't for me ha ha. Shortly after I started the Visual Vamp blog.

Fast forward to 2011. The kitchen is finally "done". Alberto and I started what I call a soft renovation in 2009. We did all the DIY stuff we could: First new light fixtures, then in 2010 we painted, built new cabinet doors, and walled in a door behind the refrigerator. Now in 2011 we had marble counter tops put in and got new appliances. You all have shared the experience with me, reading my many blog posts.

For this last soft renovation, we did not rip out anything but the old laminate counter tops, and a sink base cabinet that was falling apart. We kept the existing floor plan, floor tiles, and plumbing. Decorative accessories got edited, and I reupholstered the antique dining chairs, got a Louis Phillipe mirror and some new art work. We also changed the appliances.

Visual Vamp kitchen 2011

Visual Vamp wallpaper on kitchen cabinets 2007

Visual Vamp kitchen furniture 2007
It's all very French farmhouse

Visual Vamp kitchen 2007 - chintz curtains & French pot rack

Visual Vamp kitchen 2007 faux concrete covered back splash and hood

Visual Vamp kitchen 2007 breakfast area
The chairs are yellow

Visual Vamp kitchen 2007
Old black glass door stove that came with the house

Visual Vamp kitchen 2009
The chairs are white, and aqua accent wall was painted
photo by Melanie Acevedo from Undecorate

Visual Vamp kitchen 2010
New lantern light fixtures

Visual Vamp kitchen 2010
"New" all white used stove

Visual Vamp kitchen 2011
New greige paint and cabinet doors (that still need knobs)

A mirror was added behind the sink

Why didn't we gut the kitchen and start all over? For one thing: Budget. For another thing, some of the things were in good shape. That's why I call it a soft renovation.

The marble I chose is the marble I got. Initially we were going to do a black laminate that mimics soapstone, and keep our old faux concrete back splash. Enter a friend who owns a kitchen and bath company who offered me a couple of slabs of his "garbage" marble that no one wanted. I was ecstatic, until I saw it. Holy 1980's, Hello 1990's, it was dark green, like all that Ubatuba granite from India that had its heyday.

What me panic? I looked at the reverse side of the slabs, and it in my mind's eye a beautiful honed surface was revealed that read more gray than green. I asked if I could have it installed on the "wrong" side. After a couple of double takes and thought bubbles ("this chick is crazy"), everyone said why not. Then I asked for a chunky edge. I consulted Holly and Joni, and the stone fabricator said he never did a 2.5 inch edge before, but he would try.

I also needed a new sink base cabinet and asked for one with drawers, and ended up with two cabinets, one 36 inch wide one for the sink, and one 12 inch wide one with three wonderful drawers.

I ordered the cheapest, nicest faucet on eBay for $94., and asked for a new stainless sink. I would have used our old sink, but it was over mount, not the under mount used with stone counter tops.

There were alot of delays, but finally installation day was upon us!

The cabinet guy (Duane) arrives!

And here's my marble -
it's called Empress Green
The honed side I used looks more gray

Of course I was taking a huge chance using, gasp, green marble. Actually according to Stephanie Southwick who has the excellent blog The Granite Gurus, said this about my marble: "It's called Empress Green. Okay, well if you want me to get all nerdy about it, it is technically a serpentinite. Which is a good thing! Serpentinite's don't etch in reaction to acids. They also are a bit harder than real marble, so they won't scratch and stain as easily.
I have seen some serpentinites etch, but I think there was probably a little calcium mixed in those slabs. I highly doubt you will have that problem with your Empress Green.
Here in the USA we label stones under more generic labels, so Empress Green gets put in the marble category. It helps keep things nice and confusing."

My back yard as a cabinet maker's shop

I felt the Empress Green on the reverse honed side had a gray cast and was actually quite beautiful. That is my story and I am sticking to it. I also compiled a quickie clipping file of inspiration images of green kitchens ha ha. I also reminded myself that I am the empress of make-do, and free marble is free marble ha ha.

Dakota polishing my Empress Green counter top to a beautiful gray

I had to choose a sink

The old kitchen stripped down and ready

One last look before it goes

The new sink base cabinets are installed!

Duane is taking out the old counter top

Randy the genius marble man with a template

There were so many bittersweet feelings about seeing the kitchen counter tops getting replaced. We loved the old ones. In fact everyone loved them. A $15. bag of Ardex concrete mix spread over that crappy laminate was a real crowd please-er. But after seven years, the counters were showing wear and tear that was shabby and not chic. They were meant to be a temporary place holder for a year or so.

I learned so much watching this installation, like if you guys do this, insist that the installer use a template, and not just go off measurements to cut your counter tops. Randy the genius marble man fitted the new counters and back splash impressively tight, because he used a template of the exact size and shape of the space the counter was installed on.

Template for the back splash

Randy installs the marble

I had two counter tops cut, both without any seams

The under mount sink

The counter tops and sink are done

Detail of the 2.5 edge I had fabricated to make it look like a thick slab

The counter tops looked so beautiful when they were installed. It reminded me of soapstone or slate. I asked about sealing them, and a regular marble sealer could not be used because it would restore the shiny granite look like the side I did not want to install. Duane suggested grout sealer because it would keep the honed matte finish.

The back splash goes up!

The next thing to get installed was the back splash. Like so many of you, I love the look of tile, subway tile or glass tile, and bead board, but I also loved the stone look of our old back splash. And ding ding ding the marble was, like a gift. So the marble back splash was da winner!

The stone look of the old back splash

Da winner!

The marble back splash is almost done

Since I took what I could get marble wise, I didn't have the luxury or agony of having to match slabs.The pattern is random, left up to nature, and Randy chose pieces that looked good side by side.

Marble back splash over the stove is done

A seam in the back splash was filled to look invisible

Once the counter tops and back splash were done, I sealed them with four coats of grout seal. It darkened the marble a bit, but not alarmingly so, and the counter tops could not be left unsealed.

Randy does the finishing touches

I sat in the kitchen and just sort of watched my marble. Sometimes it looked gray. Sometime blue. Sometimes green. You always wonder if you have done the right thing, and a change always takes some breaking in time. After about ten minutes of watching the marble, I decided I love it and I made the right choice. If money were no object, and the marble was not a gift, would I have chosen this? Maybe not, but I would have chosen something very much the same - black soapstone or slate. I was never one of the white marble girls, though it is very beautiful.

The counters and back splash are done!

The dark kitchen is trending right now. Chiarascuro. Moody grays, blacks, and white. Who knew that after all the years it took to finally get update the kitchen, that a trend would catch up with me.

When the new marble came in, we decided to get stainless appliances right away. Ever since last October, we kind of do things (within reason) sooner than later. We found a cheapo package deal and got all four pieces (Frigidare builder's grade). Nothing fancy, but a thrill for us to have new appliances, something Alberto and I never had in our long lives. We were city dwellers and renters for most of our lives, or living with what came with a house we bought, so we always had used appliances. We kind of felt romantic, like newlyweds setting up house for the first time.

Visual Vamp kitchen 2011 with stainless appliances

The whole feeling of the kitchen is so adult. Do I miss all the arty farty make-do stuff? The wallpaper cabinet doors? The sink skirt? The Union Jack decal on the dishwasher? The faux concrete I applied with my own hands? The edited and re-edited clutter? Well, yes and no.

One thing has happened to so many of us that have discovered the internet as a source for inspiration. We have earned our higher education via Blog Google University. I for one have evolved and learned so many things from reading your blogs, and by doing online research for my own blog. My kitchen is a product of this education, combined with a talent I have possessed all my life.

Visual Vamp kitchen 2011
My PhD Thesis from Blog Google University ha ha

The other side of the kitchen
A left over piece of marble is on the island

The old microwave was here - we have a new over the stove one now
So now there's a place for Kitty Kitty Bang Bang

Cholo loves the new runner

The love note behind the microwave

The last time the kitchen was renovated was 1983. We know this because the carpenter found a 1983 penny under the old counter top he took out. He told us carpenters often leave a coin or a note to perhaps be discovered by someone in the future. We left a 2011 penny under our counter top, and we wrote a love note on the wall before the over the stove microwave was installed. We hope whoever lives in our house long after we are gone, will perhaps renovate again, and find our note from the past. We hope it inspires them to know that this is a happy house where happy lives were lived.

Visual Vamp kitchen 2011

Smart Buy Kitchen and Bath - (504) 455-4700
Randy expert marble and stone man - (228) 224-1403
Duane the excellent carpenter - (228) 332-1440
Bon Marche Furniture (appliances) - (504) 362-8877
Bloggers and readers
Alberto, the love of my life


Olivia said...

Just stunning...yet with the wit and wisdom of the Vamp herself!!

Love the penny and the note...we do that to...and have found a many!

Gerry said...

Wow, Valorie, what a transformation! I've loved watching how the kitchen has evolved as have your taste and trends have changed along the years. I can see how your kitchen was a warm, inviting, fun place after Katrina and it was perfect for it's time. The changes along the way were interesting and timely, but the end result is just lovely. Obviously you are very proud and you so deserve to be. Great job!

Debby said...

Very beautiful. Pat yourself on your back. I love the penny idea.
NOw sit back and enjoy.

Renae Moore said...

Oh Valorie! This is beautiful. I love the soapstone look of your backwards granite! You are soo smart! This is a beautiful transformation. I wish Alberto could come do my cabinets!

Appletree said...

VV it looks so great! The penny story is great. We found a magazine from 1929 when we ripped out a wall of our home. Now we will leave a message in all our renos.

anita said...

Love it all, Valorie!!
The whole story is fantastic; especially the love note put behind the microwave.

(I have to know what you did with the Union Jack decal!)

Sketch42 said...


Valorie- it looks like a totally different place! AMAZING! I love the new kitchen, and be damned, it looks exactly like soapstone to me... which is FAVORITE!

Congrats! Some design mag should publish the evolution of your home ;)

Nita {ModVintageLife} said...

Wow! The kitchen looks so great. I think that counter is fabulous. Even better since it was free. I loved seeing how your kitchen has evolved over the years. Yes, the one thing about blogging is...that it pushes you to the next level. Things that I probably would have been fine with in the past aren't good enough to show on the then I must have them be blog worthy. Your kitchen is top notch now!

pve design said...

I love the grown up look for a not so grown up empress blogger! I have a little something to send down to you for your new re-vamped kitchen.

Things That Inspire said...

This is my favorite kind of post - tracking a space through time, with a personal narrative on the thought process behind the design. I am absolutely loving your new kitchen, and especially the countertops!

I think your 'trending dark' kitchen with the balance of lights and darks is amazing. My sister is remodeling her kitchen, and tends to be on the cutting edge of design, and she is doing a big black range as a way to temper all of the white in her new kitchen.

NYCLQ said...

Your kitchen looks frinkin' fabulous! And yes - VERY adult!! I LOVE it! And I also love that it does still have personal touches in the space (like the left side) and you get to see your wonderful collection of white dishes / pitchers with some open cabinets. The counters look great - LOVE the subway sign - and the stainless appliances also really took the space to another level.

GREAT JOB my dear!! enJOY!!
Love you! xo

:D Lynda

d e l i g h t said...

Great kitchen redo! Love the new look! Kitty in that little basket is so cute! I found your blog this morning and am a new follower. I invite you to visit my blog.

beckhen said...

I think it looks just beautiful. The slab edge is very sophisticated. I love lots of color in most of the house, but I think white kitchens and bathrooms are so restful.

Dumbwit Tellher said...

I love nothing more than before and afters and one with a budget and a huge amount of cleverness. Many of us can design a decent kitchen with a big budget, but how many can tackle a project with a smaller budget and still look this fabulous. That takes skill my friend and balls. I adore your kitchen; the stainless sink, appliances, the honed marble, the runner (which I'd love to snag) Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, & Cholo. Bravo Valorie and Alberto and team, bravo! xo xo

Sabina said...

How wonderful, and the furry ones obviously like it too.

Margaret said...

VV, the last step is to jump over the broom and marry that lovely kitchen now that's all grown up! Genius to use the reverse of the marble--designers use the reverse of fabric since it's so well woven--you know this trick. Love the penny, the note, the niche for Kitty. Whip me up some Gumbo, girl!

MOMS said...

Love the kitchen! You are such an artist. Love the illusion of thick counter top. My fav part is the love note behind the microwave. I love you guys! xxxxxoooooo

Anonymous said...

It's a beautiful kitchen, Valerie. Now go have some fun somewhere else. Don't lay another hand on your kitchen. Perfect!

Red River Interiors said...


Love your new kitchen...especially how you got the honed granite look by flipping over the shiney creative. I also loved your story and read every word of the renovation process... Great Post!!..Fay

pretty pink tulips said...

What an incredible job. The marble looks smashing...and I love that term, soft renovation. I think that's often all we need.

How clever to leave a love note for a future owner!


Lila said...

I love the dark marble against those beautiful white cabinets. Great job! You are a lucky gal!
Lila Ferraro

24 Corners said...

Hats off Valorie!! Ingenuity and style collided in your kitchen and it's fabulous...clever, clever girl!! Now what??
Enjoyed the unfolding tale enormously...congratulations!
xo J~

Acanthus and Acorn said...

This was such a fun and interesting read! And, so true about the education through's incedible!

Your kitchen turned out fantastic!!! I love the little note you left...I put one under our refrigerator, but penny idea is new to me and I must remember to add it for future projects.

I bet you had the best time at the grocery store shopping for food to put in your new fridge and cooking on a new stove!

Congrats on this and being in Underdecorate!!!

Carollynn @ designGumbo said...

Its a amazing to look back to see the journey you have made in decorating the kitchen. All the iterations have been wonderful, but this last one is stunning. Congrats to you and Alberto on a beautiful soft renovation! I hope you enjoy it for many years to come!

marlaakajake said...

you are adorable and your kitchen reflects that. you have a kitchy way about you that makes your home so personal and welcoming and everyone wants to peek inside.
you are truely the visual vamp.(:-)

Cote de Texas said...

I could cry right now, reading that note, knowing y'all story, how you found each other - how sweet Alberto is. wow.

the kitchen looks great, but i always liked it anyway with the wallpaper, etc. i do love new appliances. i bought the cheapest ones too, except i splurged on a quiet dishwasher - i liked its handle too much to pass it up. but my refrig and oven, pennies!!!

ok i'm going to tweet this story, I love it soo much.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post! This is my kind of story. I love the back story on your kitchen and how the new look evolved. I am a stay at home mom and I have two sons and one of them has special needs. We live off of one income. So I love anything on a budget. I have been putting off my own kitchen because of the budget issue. This is inspiring! Thank you so much. I love it!!!

home before dark said...

To Skills & Balls: WOW! I so agree many can do a fab kitchen with $$$$$, but skills & balls and I must add: passion, this kitchen is what I like best: personal.

Sarah (La Maison Boheme) said...

Your kitchen makeover can be summed up in this little poem I wrote for you.

V is for Virtuoso.
A is for Amazing.
L is for Luxe.
O is for Opulent.
R is for Rapture.
I is for Incredible.
E is for Everybody is jealous of your kitchen.


Boo said...

Very inspiring!! Absolutely love the light fixture - i love seeing your style evolve :) but yes, New Orleans has a completely different style all its own that your 2007 kitchen totally embodied - I LOVE the new kitchen though!!