DIY Concrete Kitchen Island Reveal + How-To

DIY Concrete Island

Hello! My name is Karisa and I blog over at Petite Modern Life. I’m so excited to announce I’ll be joining the Remodelaholic contributor team for 2015! You can count on me to share fantastic home remodeling, decorating and inspiration projects with you here on this fabulous blog!

We dove into remodeling our 1970 rambler one year ago and it has come an incredible ways from its standardized everything, awkward pocket doors, oatmeal walls + carpets, and even screenless single pained metal windows. Today we’ll focus on the kitchen transformation and our DIY concrete island! First I’ll need to speed you through what it took to even get an island in our kitchen. It was serious business! Here’s what the kitchen looked like for the previous owners.

Kitchen Remodel Before

Kitchen Remodel Before

Kitchen Remodel Before

The kitchen was enclosed and cave like. Not at all what I pictured in my “dream home.” How do you make this into an open kitchen? With a hammer, crowbar, and a little bit of love of course.

Karisa's Kitchen Remodel

Look at all the light crossing through! It was a glorious moment. AND the roof didn’t cave in. Ok, we did do some heavy homework about trusses and support and had a structural engineer friend on hand to talk with. After all the walls were out of the way we rearranged the cabinets to make the most of the storage space. The tall pantry cabinet could only open at a certain height, so we raised all the cabinets with wood inserts and shims to be level with it. We talked about adding awesome drawers underneath, but sometimes there’s such a thing as “one project too many,” so we didn’t pursue that route.

Karisa's DIY Concrete Kitchen Island

You can see that we also tore out all the floors and carpets at this time. We lived on plywood for a good few months while we chose and ordered new floors, which we LOVE! I hope to share those here another time!  Once those and the new baseboards were all put in we had formed our plan for the island. We decided to do a faux concrete island with a waterfall end. Below I’ll give  you the step by step of how we made the counter.

DIY Concrete Kitchen Island How-To

Full Material List for the Counter:

  • 3 Sheets of plywood that measured 2.25″ thick total (~$150)
  • 2 Bags Ardex Concrete Feather Finish (~$63)
  • Metal trowels: 10″, 3″, and an extra 3″
  • Medium mixing bucket (at least 60 oz)
  • A mixer attachment for your drill
  • Measured mason jar
  • Painters Tape
  • Rags
  • 400, 220, 180 Grit sandpaper
  • Power sander
  • Shop-Vac
  • GST International Satin Sealer & GST International Final Coat (~$80)
  • High density roller brushes large and small
  • Stain Brush
  • Paint Pan

OK, let’s begin. First we drove over to Lowes with our counter measurements, including how much overhang we wanted for the bar. We purchased 3 slabs of plywood that measured 2.25″ thick and screwed them down. The first piece was drilled into the perimeter of the cabinets and the other two heavily into one another. We filled the holes with wood filler, let dry then sanded even. You don’t need to sand all the plywood before applying the concrete because the Ardex Feather Finish needs a roughed up surface to adhere properly. Next tape off your cabinets and wherever else you don’t want concrete to stick. (*Note: some of the tape will be forever concreted in, but you can use an x-acto knife to cut off the remaining no big deal.)

DIY Concrete Island

Now you are ready for the concrete finish! This is our second go around using Ardex Feather Finish. Our first project was our bathroom counters and we learned quite a few things from that experience which I’ll tie into the instructions below.

  1. MIX your concrete thin. Much thinner than the recommendations. We determined that 32 oz of mix to 20 oz of concrete powder was easiest to smooth across the surface, it didn’t dry in the bucket too fast, and was easier to sand in between coats. Use your drill mixer attachment to whip the two elements together; let sit for 5 minutes; then stir again with your trowel.
  2. SPREAD the concrete in big splats across your largest surface using your largest trowel. Spread thin until completely covered. Then, using your smaller trowel, cover your side and underneath surfaces. Have a compadre follow you around to wipe up the concrete that falls on the ground.
  3. CLEAN your tools an buckets outside in between coats to save money!
  4. EDGE the concrete after it has sat for 30 minutes with your small trowel. We wanted our island to have sharp angles so we pulled the small trowel around all the edges until they were crisp.
  5. SAND down the large surface with 400 grit on a power sander after dry (this time will vary depending on your home’s temp and humidity. We generally waited at least 12 hours). Be careful to not use your power sander near the edges, or you risk nicking the concrete back to wood. Instead, use a sanding block to smooth out the small surfaces. (*TIP: Did you know you can hook up your shop vac to your power sander?! Sanding inside was no problem when we were doing that!)
  6. Repeat the above processes 2-3 times. More is OK if you sanded too much or something random happened. It can be a delicate process. Change to a lower grit sandpaper with each repeat, with your last coat being sanded with the 180 grit. Let dry completely.
  7. TIP: We did our very last coat in 3 parts so there weren’t random smears of concrete that dried at different times on the edges. We did the top and waterfall surface first, scraping off any concrete that got on the sides. Let that dry about 2 hours. Then do the undersides scraping off any that gets on the sides. Let dry to another 2 hours. Lastly do the edges scraping off any that get on the top and waterfall side. Let fully dry then sand. This may seem OCD, but we really think it helped the island look like legitimate slabs of concrete.

DIY Concrete Island

The last step is sealing. We wanted to use a different sealer than our bathroom and after researching some online we decided to go with the GST International Satin Sealer (oil + water resistant, long lasting, resealable) for the first coat and the GST International Final Coat (scuff resistant, long lasting, high gloss). We got ours through a local dealer. (*Note: It can take more than 3 weeks to receive these from their only online store!) The staining was very easy and very fast. Apply the satin sealer very quickly with a high density foam roller. It dries in less than 10 minutes and you want even coverage so be agile! We did 2 coats of the satin sealer followed by 4 coats of the final coat. All in one day. Let cure ideally for 4 days. (We had a huge party at 3 days and while we tried to hide our anxiety over the situation, the concrete really held up great!)

DIY Concrete Island

Would you look at that gloss!? It was just what we wanted while keeping the concrete its original gray color. Now then, so you don’t have to scroll up, here’s the before..

Kitchen Remodel Before

And the after!

DIY Concrete Island

What do you think of the wood? They are 1x6x8 Douglas Fir Boards cut and mountedto the cabinets with a nail gun. We used dark walnut stain, the same that is on our shelves, but with two coats instead of one for a richer color. (7 Planks ~$130)

DIY Concrete Island

The waterfall look is my favorite part! I’m so glad we did it. You can see the unique colorations the concrete has in this picture. They add that perfect industrial look that I love.

DIY Concrete Island

We found these stools on amazon.

DIY Concrete Island

The concrete crisp edges add a great contrast to the other rounded decor in our house while still flowing with my favorite industrial pieces.

DIY Concrete Island

Summary of time and costs: The total cost for your island project will depend on its size and what materials you have on hand. Our total cost was more or less than $450. This project could be completed in 3-4 days.

Thank you for reading about our DIY concrete island! I hope the (in depth) tutorial can help you create something similar in your own home! My husband and I will be updating how it’s holding up over the next year so check our blog for the quarterly updates!

DIY Concrete Kitchen Island | Remodelaholic.com

Also, I’m so very thrilled to connect with you here on Remodelaholic! I hope you stick around and check out more amazing things happening on this blog by Cassity and the other contributors!

If you enjoyed this post you’ll love my tutorial for Heavy Duty Floating Shelves, our DIY Painted Shower Tiles, and this DIY $35 Modern Pendant Light. Stop by sometime and say hello! I’ll answer any questions below so ask away. Cheers friends!

Karisa's signature————————–

So thrilled to have you on our team, Karisa, and love what you are doing in your home!

More kitchen island ideas here:

Black Beadboard Panels and Corbels

black painted board and batten kitchen island with corbels on Remodelaholic

$20 Board and Batten Updateboard and batten kitchen island makeover, Serene Swede featured on Remodelaholic

Reclaimed Wood

reclaimed wood planked kitchen island, Frazzled Joy on Remodelaholic

Upcycled Dresser

dresser to modular colorful kitchen island, Sweet November featured on Remodelaholic

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43 Comments

  1. That glossy finish!! Wow!

    Some of your links didn’t render quite correctly (I went for the DIY heavy duty shelves and the link using this page’s url as the root).

    1. Hi, love the island! We want to do something similar…now that you have had it for a while, how is it holding up? I have boys…teenage boys….need I say more?
      Thanks
      Lisa

      1. Hi Lisa! So we had the concrete island for about 7 months before we sold the sweet little house just recently. Here are the negatives to consider after 7 months.
        -It did show little dents (not gouges) from anything from sliding things across to writing with a pen on paper without another barrier. You couldn’t see this dents unless at an angle.
        -Acidic substances not wiped up after a few hours (say during a party) left a dark raindrop size spot that wouldn’t come out.
        *Another thing to note was that we didn’t use the island heavily. We’d eat at it from time to time and wipe up without incident. We also didn’t have any incidents where something was rammed into the edges, so I can’t boast of testing the durability. Plenty of things would get piled on top no problem. I’m not sure what teenagers could manage against it!

        All in all, we really did think it was beautiful and lasting well from the way we did our application. It would have been a bummer after spending all the money on the wood underneath and time on top to not enjoy it or have it break. Having read other blogs, people seemed to tire of the concrete denting after a year. So maybe consider that when thinking of this project!

        I hope that helps somewhat?!

  2. I LOVE concrete countertops. I have been thinking about doing them in my kitchen for a while and using the Ardex Feather Finish. How well do you think they hold up to the wear and tear of a kitchen? I am just afraid that I’ll put all that time and effort into them only to have them looking like a disaster a few months later.

    1. Hi Amber! So we were definitely hesitant with the same worries of project time vs long-term satisfaction. The most common thing to happen is little tiny scratches that you can see when you look from an angle with the light. We decided we’d be ok with this, though we’ll see what we feel in a year or so about it. I’ll definitely be updating how it’s holding up over on my blog in the next 2 months. I figured if my OCD husband was OK with it, then it would be fine!

  3. Would love to know what the wood floor is! We are redoing our kitchen floor this year. We have dark cabinets like yours . . .

    1. Hi Callie! They are Bruce Reclaimed American Chestnut (laminate hardwood). We ordered ours through Home Depot. We LOVE them. The price hit the right spot and we’ve been so so happy with the look, ease of install, durability, and how they hide the dirt from our/our animal’s busy lives!

  4. Wooowww – I loose how it all turned out. I have to say that my favorite detail is the wood on the side of the living area. Such a great touch. Well done!

  5. What a great project! Coincidentally, I have the same barstools!

    One question: You said in this article that you used 400 grit sandpaper for your first sanding, moving LOWER each time until finishing with 180 grit on the final sanding. That is backward from traditional, “finer grit each time” sanding methods. I wonder why? What would be the benefit of starting fine and ending rough?

    Thanks! I think I’m going to try this method for a workbench in my garage!

    Zak

    1. Hi Zak! Thanks for the compliment! Let me explain the sandpaper a bit more. We started with the lowest grit because the first layer of concrete is so thin that a heavier grit would take it back down to the wood. So with each additional layer, we wanted to move to a heavier grit because the concrete was thicker and we wanted to more or less “buff it” as even as we could (clearly, without holding it in one place too long.) I think it could look awesome on a work bench! Cheers!

  6. How has the concrete held up? I have concrete island and acidic stuff really stains it. Might be my sealer.

    1. Hi Karyn! We think it’s still a little to early to tell (it’s only been finished and sealed for 2 weeks.) We have had some acidic elements on it briefly, but they didn’t mark it then. We’re fairly confident in the sealers we used after our research. You should check them out and maybe email the company! GST International. Cheers!

  7. Seriously, mindblowingly, impressive! The kitchen has been a spot I desperately want to do something with in our home and I feel so hyped up seeing your transformation, but the big wall we NEED down is a support wall riddled with electrical. Le sigh.

  8. This came out amazing, I love the glossy finish! I just picked up a bag of this cement today. I’m going to try it in my bathroom first. I’m trying to figure out a way for it to come out white rather than gray. Although I love the gray color, it just won’t go with my bathroom. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Roxanne! That’s very exciting way to go! You know, I don’t know about what? I know people have tinted it black, blue, red, etc. But you’d want to google for white to see what your options are! Good luck!

  9. My husband and I just finished our counter tops, all we need to do is seal them. I’m picking up the sealer you used tomorrow. I have a quick question about the sealer. Is it self leveling? When you used the roller to apply, could you see the lines from the roller, or does it seem to fade away when drying? Thank you so much for your help and great job on the kitchen! Looks fab!

    1. Hi Christy! Yes it is self leveling. We spread it across with the roller just as we would paint on a wall. No lines were found after! Quick tip though, thoroughly blow off and wipe your counter before applying sealer! We try not to think about it since the deed is done, but we totally sealed some cat hairs in it and that sealer is not going anywhere, so those little hairs are staying. 😉 So far the sealer is holding up great! Good luck to you guys! -Karisa

  10. Hi Karisa,
    Well, done, the island looks fantastic! I’ve been wanting to do Ardex over my laminate countertops for a long time, and I had a question about the GST sealers. How bad are the fumes? We’ve got 2 kids, 2 pets, and a pregnant wife. And it’s 10 degrees outside, so I plan on waiting till spring. How long after you used the sealers do you feel like the fumes went away? I know with wood stain sometimes it takes weeks before you no longer notice the smell.

    1. Hi Colin,
      Thanks for the compliment! I’m pretty wary of fumes too, and this was at the bottom of my fumes list. It does have an odor, but I thought it was just as, or more mild than paint. We finished the sealing in a day and the odor had dissipated within by the next. Again, that’s my personal opinion based on paint, stains, and mask necessary fumes from the past. I hope that helps and your project turns out well! (ps: another tip with pets– we didn’t do a super meticulous sweep & wipe down prior to sealing and totally permanently sealed hairs into the counter. Not noticeable, but was totally infuriating 😉

      1. Wow, thanks for the quick reply! You’re all over it:) I’m really excited to get moving on this project now, thanks so much!

  11. Hi, I am just curious as it seems you basically rendered the plywood. So that is not just formwork that also is structural right?
    It looks great though! Well done!

  12. Hi- the convmcrete is so beautiful. I was wondering whether I could use this teqnique with fewer layers on kitchen cabinets as well? What do you think? I might buy an apartment with very ugly cabinets and cannot afford to spend too much money, but can absolutely spend time 🙂

    I would love your insights. I am usually quite brave and just going ahead with projects like this, but maybe it is a bad idea?

    Smiles from Denmark,
    Gyde

  13. Hi, thanks for sharing the project. I love how it looks and I am going to start this project in the next couple weeks. I have a question for the sealer and final coat though. I like the glossy look of the concrete but I am a bit concern of the sealer and final coat given that they don’t seem to be food safe after checking their website? Do you recommend to go for a food safe sealer? Or it does not really matter as long as we are careful when preping the food?

    Thanks~

    1. Hi Charlie,
      That’s awesome! It’ll really change the look of your space. Great question about the sealer. It is not “the most” food safe sealer you could get. After discussing the options we went with what was most economical for us and decided we were not doing food prep on that counter in particular so it was OK. However, if this is a concern, I would check out this review from Young House Love about their thoughts on Food Safe Sealers and what they went with: https://www.younghouselove.com/2014/04/sealing-the-deal/

      I applaud you for looking into this in advance as some sealer can take some time to arrive! I think Amazon has more and more of them though, so hopefully it won’t be an issue! Good luck with your project 🙂

      1. Hi Karisa,
        Thanks for the response. I will definitely look into your suggestion. I have another question though. I would assume the usual steps for sanding would be using the lower grit number (coarser) first and then finish up with higher number (finer) sand paper. But you did it in a opposite way. Is there a specific reason for going for a finer grit sand paper first and finish up with coarser one?
        Thanks~~~~~Can’t wait to start the project hahahaha

        1. Here is our reasoning behind the sand paper: Your first layer of concrete is so thin that if you use a low grit (rough) sandpaper, you’ll sand right back to to wood. As you add layers of concrete you can keep your grit high (fine) or lower it (rough) to help buff out the thicker bumps you have on the counter without sanding it back down to the wood. This is what worked for us. We still used our power hand sander for each layer to save time. Just be careful to not hold it too long in one place or hit the corners!

  14. Hi there

    This looks besutiful!! I just read this and am wondering now a year later how well the island has held up? Scratches? Chipping? Very curios to hear your feedback.

    Nadia

    1. Hello Nadia!

      Thank you for the compliment, it was really a gorgeous centerpiece to our home. To be honest, we sold our house about 7 months after building the island so we don’t have a lot of feedback on how it is holding up. When we were wrapping up the house we would say the island had minimal use: we’d cook and prep on the other counters and mostly ate at the dining room table. Faint scratches did appear though with that use; a few stains could be seen from unwiped balsamic/oil spills; and we were slightly worried that the three sheets of plywood underneath the concrete veneer were ever so slightly settling/fluctuating and would eventually crack our edges. All in all, a solid caste of concrete would definitely have been more durable and easy to sand down, but It was gorgeous and served our purposes. We’re just not sure how long it would’ve held up to our standards.

  15. Hi Karissa,

    Love the table, love the site.

    I’m about to take on this project and have a brief question about the plywood. You mentioned that the total thickness of the top counter and sides are 2.25″ inches thick? Did you just glue them together or screw them in together to fasten them Was it just two 1″ boards?. I ask because in the photos, the sides(legs if you will) look a bit wider than the countertop. Are they both the same width? will cause the cement to crack where the seams meet?

    thanks a bunch,
    Peter

    1. Hi Peter,

      We screwed down the wood together to fasten them. We made the thickness the same on all sides. ! We moved out of the house after about 6 months from when we built the island, so I can’t tell you how they look now (I’ve been very temped to stop by and ask, but don’t want to know if they’re disgruntled with it!) But we do think that the seems were going to start cracking through. Mainly because we started seeing the wood grain and seems through the counter sides (lips?). We assume the wood would probably continue to warp even in the slightest and probably cause the concrete to crack. Hope that helps!

      1. Karisa, thanks so much for your response. It does help, gonna try tape on the seams and see if that helps the upkeep.

        Thanks for doing such a great job on your site!!!

  16. Wonderfull!!!!????????. It is some sort if additive you mix with the concrete? Sorry for english????

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