June 28, 2019: Kitchen Upgrade

When we first built the Greeny Flat we weren’t exactly sure how we wanted to finish the base cabinets for the kitchen. So we finished the upper cabinets and put some temporary cabinets under the counter top. We used a mixed bunch of oddments picked up from second-hand shops including a couple of old filing cabinets. Then we hung a curtain across the front and made some benches out of off-cuts of plywood. This is how it looked when we first moved in…

Our original, temporary kitchen

Our original, temporary kitchen

This worked okay as a temporary solution but now it’s time now to put in some proper base cabinets and better counter tops. The plywood ones were okay but for some reason the finish that we put on them turned to a sticky goo, particularly on either side of the stove. I don’t remember exactly what we used to finish them but it was some sort of water-based clear coat and the resulting sticky goo has proved to be almost impossible to remove.

It’s always an interesting question what to use for kitchen benchtops. There are so many options from real stone, fake stone, concrete and tile to timber, metal or laminate. Each one has pros and cons. Stone is natural, durable and beautiful but expensive and often transported a very long distance. Concrete is durable but can stain easily and has a high embodied energy. Laminate is inexpensive but made with lots of chemicals and is generally durable but easily damaged by heat. Metal can be highly durable but not everyone enjoys a commercial kitchen look. Timber is beautiful but only as durable as the finish you put on it.

With all that in mind we were leaning towards timber and our choice was made easier when I found a nice panel made from FSC-certified, finger-jointed pine at Bunnings. FSC stands for Forrest Stewardship Council and here’s a bit from the ‘About Us’ page on their website

We are an independent, not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation that works to promote the environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests. 

So FSC-certification is a pretty good indication that the wood used was sustainably and responsibly grown and harvested. The added benefit of finger-jointing is that it allows for the production of long and wide pieces of wood made from a lot of small off-cuts of timber. In the past, large pieces of wood were often cut out of huge, old-growth trees and a lot of the off-cuts would have been wasted. Finger-jointing means you can use off-cut pieces of wood from smaller trees so it’s more sustainable.

One of our counter pieces made from finger-jointed, FSC-certified pine.

One of our new counter pieces made from finger-jointed, FSC-certified pine.

I happen to also really like the look of finger-jointed pine and to top it off, we were able to make all three of our counter pieces from one panel that cost $99. So it ticked all the boxes for us… Sustainable, Affordable and Beautiful.

Not wanting to risk the sticky-goo situation again, we finished the new counters with five coats of an oil-based clear finish. I generally try to stay away from any oil-based products because they’re nasty chemicals which can lead to poor indoor air quality. A natural oil or wax finish would have been better from that perspective but they need a certain amount of regular maintenance and the Greeny Flat is designed as a rental property so needs to be fairly bullet-proof.

As with every decision in every building project there are compromises that have to be made and we’re pretty happy with the choices we’ve made for this one. Here’s a photo of the base cabinets in place and the counters finished.

Our new cabinets and counters in place

Our new cabinets and counters in place

We’re heading back to Queensland in a couple of days to put the finishing touches on our house at Russell Island. So we’ll have to finish the doors and drawer fronts when we get back.

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