Paint Your Counter Tops - My Marble-ous Adventure! A Tutorial.

counter - sink finished.jpg

Painted counter tops? I’ve tried in the past. I’ve failed. It’s my own fault. I have trouble with following directions. This is why I don’t bake. But, I think I’ve got it now. And, I’ll share the steps I took with you in case you are living with no budget and ugly counters too!

Our counters were looking really rough. Since we moved into this house 3+ years ago it’s been my laboratory. If there is something I want to experiment with - I try it in the kitchen. The cabinets have been painted multiple times. The laminate counters were painted. Next they were given a lovely coat of concrete. We know these counters will have to be replaced - we’re stalling. Thanks to all of my experimenting the counters were a mess. My original plan was to sand them down and reseal them.

And then, I found Kristi. On her blog, Addicted 2 Decorating, she thoroughly explains how she refinished her concrete counters. While I didn’t follow her exact method, her tips were awesome, as were her results in the end. She inspired me to try again! Check out her blog - she has tons of great projects going on over there.

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STEP ONE - CLEAN

This is what I started with. It’s not pretty. Like anything, start by cleaning. For this I used my go-to degreaser Krud Kutter. Clean it really well then wipe it down with clear water and a microfiber cloth. Let it dry. (The same is true if you are working on laminate counters.)

If you have gouges or other imperfections you can’t stand, now is the time to fill them. I don’t mind our counters dents and scrapes so I skipped that step. If you are going to fill, my favorite is Bondo.

STEP TWO - SAND

FIRST!!!!! Get a mask. Wear the mask. I’m all for taking risks but I’d rather do it by eating undercooked sushi or something. (Stepping off my soap box now . . .ahem.) Okay, so I used my little orbital sander and 80 grit sandpaper to start. I don’t recommend going lower than 80 grit if you are working on a concrete coat (rather than solid concrete) or if you are working on laminate. (If you don’t use sandpaper a lot - the lower the grit #, the rougher the paper will be.)

The goal, if you know you’re going to paint, is to scuff up and remove the shine from your surface. This will give your primer something to hang on to.

After I used the 80 grit paper, I wiped down the counters and went over them again with 220 grit paper to soften them a bit.

Post sanding. They are smooth despite the discoloration.

Post sanding. They are smooth despite the discoloration.

STEP THREE - PRIME

Priming is a step I skipped the first time I tried this. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. JUST DON’T. I have two primers I usually use. I used Bin Shellac Based primer tinted to a Sherwin Williams Dark French Gray simply because I had a can on my shelf. I used the dark gray because I knew I was going for a marble look. If you’re going light, just use the white primer as it is in the can. I use this primer a lot on cabinets because it stops tannins in the wood from leaking through - worked great on concrete as well. If you are working with laminate counters, I would recommend STIX primer. This stuff is awesome and it sticks to anything.

I apply the primer with a 4” roller and high density foam thingies. Just replace the rollers when they start getting squishy. If you have to stop, seal up your roller in a gallon ziploc baggie. It’ll hold up for at least 24 hours. However you apply your primer - use something cheap and toss it when you’re done. Primer is a nightmare to clean off rollers and brushes.

If you’re super sensitive to smells, crack a window and wear your mask when priming. I don’t mind it but it does bother some people. The smell does not linger long.

Let it dry overnight and do it again. Once it’s dried for a second time, do a light hand-sanding with 220 grit sandpaper, wipe down, let dry and get ready to paint!

First coat of primer - still drying here.

First coat of primer - still drying here.

STEP FOUR - ASSEMBLE YOUR PAINTING SUPPLIES

We’re getting to the fun part! If this is making you nervous keep breathing and chant to yourself, it’s only paint, it’s only paint. Because. It’s only paint. You will goof. And then you’ll cover the goof with paint and try again until you get it.

Here is a list of what I used. Obviously, I spend most of my waking hours painting so I happen to have quite a bit of paint on hand. If you don’t, don’t panic. My one recommendation would be to pick the main color (in my case white) and splurge on a quart of Sherwin Williams Enamel Urethane paint. I used Hi-Hide White. Other great Sherwin Williams whites include: Alabaster, Marshmallow, Snowdrift and Extra White.

  • 1 quart Sherwin William Enamel Urethane - Hi Hide White

  • Sample sizes of satin, latex Sherwin Williams in: Eider White, Repose Gray, Marshmallow, Icicle, Dover Gray (which is a Pittsburgh Paint color - but they can match it), Castle Wall (another Pittsburgh Paint color . . .), Winter Feather (again PPG color - I LOVE this one for marble), Iron Ore, and Requisite Gray

  • Feathers - I happened to have a bag of peacock feather here (no clue why). They were super fun to work with and you can find them on amazon or e-bay. Any feathers would work but I would avoid super stiff ones.

  • Chip brushes - these are super cheap and usually sold in a bags of 10 or more. I usually grab a box of them from Harbor Freight.

  • Artist brushes - these do not have to be super quality - try Dollar Tree for a bag. (Guess how much they cost?)

  • Sponges - sea sponges are best - you can find them at Michael’s, Hobby Lobby and online. I didn’t get enough and ended up picking up a bath sponge at Walmart and cutting it into random shapes and it worked surprisingly well. $1.29 well spent in my opinion.

  • Sturdy paper plates - small ones are good

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STEP FIVE - FIND YOUR INSPIRATION

In the instance of my own counters I like to think of a recent visit to TJ Maxx in search of a purse. Not because I needed a purse but because I love purses - they always fit and you don’t have to go into a dressing room. I found a cute bag, felt it and thought to myself, “This won’t be too much, it’s not leather.” I flipped the tag and cracked up. It said “Vegan leather - $85” What a weird concept. But, I’ve decided to bother it. I am not calling my counters Vegan marble. No actual marbles were harmed in their making. I’m not trying to fool anyone with my counters. They mimic marble but they are NOT marble.

It’s nice to think of artists just suddenly springing to life in the middle of a meal and rushing off to create a masterpiece. The truth is, sometimes finding inspiration is a bit of work - have you been to Pinterest? It’s totally acceptable to copy something you like. One, unless your business is forgery, it’s highly unlikely that your copy will be even close to the original. Two, in the case of counters, odds are you’re copying nature. Nature is always going to win.

All that to say is find a couple of pictures or items you have on hand that you can refer to as you work to keep you on track. Here is the picture I used for my counters.

Ahhhh . . .

Ahhhh . . .

STEP SIX - LET’S PAINT!

Alrighty - time to put on your beret and draw on your inner artiste. Let’s paint! Take your main color - hopefully the SW Enamel Urethane - and dump about 2 little glugs (1/2 cup?) onto a paper plate. Grab a sea sponge, get it wet and squeeze it mostly dry. Put on a plastic glove if you don’t like paint on your hands. Start covering your counter in paint by dabbing the sponge constantly flipping it around so you get a random pattern. There will be gaps and that’s fine. Work quickly and get it covered.

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Now, dump some of a medium/light gray onto a plate, get a new sponge damp and start adding your marble pattern. We’re not going for perfection here - just an outline. Tip from nature - marble’s streaks only run in one direction. Pick your direction and stick to it.

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Once you have your basic pattern, commit and go over it again with a new shade of gray. Don’t forget your edges.

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Time to get your feathers out! (If you have paint sitting on plates that you’re not using, plop a piece of plastic wrap on top to keep them from drying out or getting a skin on the top.) Dip the tip of your feather into the paint and start going over your marble lines. Here I used a medium gray. Alternate between dragging and pushing the feather to get a pattern with variety. Again - this is NOT the time to go for perfect. Finish this step and move away for a few hours.

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STEP SEVEN - BLENDING

At this point, I used my orbital sander again (though you can also do it by hand) and went over everything with 400 grit sandpaper. Wipe it clean and see what you are working with at this point.

Now is the time to start really creating your look. Look at what you have done thus far. Go back to your inspiration photo(s). They look nothing alike and that’s just fine. Put out a row of plates (I like to label them with a sharpie marker) and dump a small amount of paint on each on. Wet and wring out a sponge for each plate. Now, start dabbing around your veins. Use a light touch. Work with a mix of grays and whites. Move around your counter - don’t be too focused on one vein.

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From here on out it’s just a process of covering up most of what you’ve done. Subtly. From this picture, I used the lightest (almost white) gray and mostly covered the veins. Next I worked all around with my variety of whites. Keep referring to your picture. Odds are you’ll be back to mostly whites. That’s fine. Leave it again for a bit and clear your head.

Once you’re back, sand it again with your 400 grit paper and wipe it down. Grab some of your darker gray paint and a feather. With a very light hand go back in and add some details that you just erased. Dab in whites as you need. It’s pretty much trial and error from here.

If you find yourself getting discouraged, step away and come back. Re-sand to get some perspective.

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Here is where I left mine. As you can see they are not perfect by any stretch. But, they are a mix of colors that works for me. When in doubt think about the last time you visited someone and spent time looking for defects in their counters. Yeah. Never. Make it pleasing to your eye and there you go.

counter - sink finished.jpg

STEP EIGHT - SEALING

Sealing is the key with painted counters. On her blog, Kristi ended up having a professional team seal her counters. In a perfect world, this is what we would have done as well. I ended up using this instead. I did five coats and let it dry for a solid week before we used the counters. I will be watching the counters closely to see how they hold up. Another option to try would be epoxy. We may end up going that route depending on how these hold up.

My next project will be to do a similar treatment to our master bathroom counters. They are laminate. Not sure if I want to try vegan marble again or maybe vegan granite or quartz. I’ll keep you posted.

I hope this helps someone out there! Let me know if you try any or some of it!