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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Alternatives to Granite

Hey MDG,
I am going to renovate my kitchen and I would like to find a countertop alternative to granite. Any suggestions?

Hi Jen,
Oh goodie, I too am over Granite! If you are going with a clean contemporary look, then I recommend  White glassos or Soapstone.
Glassos Crystal white is a pure crystallized glass which looks like Thassos white marble, which by the way is a horrible stone since it stains if not sealed properly. Glassos is made from a sophisticated technique of sintering crystals and minerals under high temperature. I digg it because it has a beautiful modern looking luster, is non-porous, doesnt stain or scratch, and doesnt require sealing. It is my top choice for a kitchen countertop or vanity tops.

Soapstone is also a very interesting material. It is a natural stone that is both durable and requires minimal maintenance. Get this, it is virtually heat proof. You can put a hot pot right on the stone. Did you know that soapstone is used to create pizza stones and is used insides of pots? How ideal is that for a kitchen countertop? Additionally, the only maintenance required for soapstone is mineral oil. The oil enhances the darkening process the stone goes thru. Overtime, the stone changes from a charcoal gray to black and sometimes a hint of green remains. How humorous, your friends will ask you if you keep changing the counter? Unlike Glassos, soapstone can scratch but you can sand it out or hide the scratches with an application of mineral oil.
Send me pictures of your installation! Cheers, M

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Help, my Porcelain tile is cracking

Hey MDG,
I purchased discontinued porcelain tilees and used them on my kitchen floor. To my surprise some of the tiles have been cracking. Why would new tiles crack? Now I need to replace the cracked tiles and I am unable to purchase new ones since they were discontinued. What do I do? Sincerely, Sharon

It is unfortunate to hear that your newly renovated kitchen floor is cracking. Discontinued tiles doesn't mean that anything is wrong with the tiles. So, I wouldn't worry about that. The tile store was most likely bringing in new inventory. Porcelain is a very durable tile for floor applications since it is madeup of water, clay and quartz ferrous sand materials. It is common for a ceramic/porcelain tile to crack if the foundation of your house is settling or if it was improperly installed.

My thought is that your contractor did not properly prepare the subfloor. You want a level subfloor for ceramic /porcelain flooring. Otherwise it proves unreliable, thus the cracks you have been experiencing.

Professional tile contractors that warrant their work over long periods of time mud set their floors. "Mud setting" is the ideal substrate because the mud set provides a flat and level floor, a water resistant base and adds structural stability to new and especially existing old floors. When I renovated my downstairs space (see Zen Modern blog), the subfloor had a huge bow across the room and it required a mud set floor, especially since I purchased 12" X 24" porcelain tiles. (see pic below)

Unfortunatley your kitchen space is done and I really doubt you want to start over and rip up the entire new floor and fix the sub floor. Perhaps, your contractor can come back and rip up the problematic area and level it off so that future tiles do not crack.

The other problem you face is that you cannot purchase new tiles since you purchased discontinued tiles.Take a sneek peek under the refrigerator, cabinetry or island to see if any of the tiles were installed under there. Your tile contractor can use those tiles for the subfloor repair and solve your cracking issues!
Best of luck,

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Visual Sizzle: Outdoor Firepit

Hey MDG,
I am going to renovate my outdoor space. Do you have any firepit suggestions?

Hi Sandy,

A firepit is a wonderful way to create an outdoor living space for sharing, entertaining a group of friends and enjoying life! Some firepits require gas or propane and others burn just from good ol' wood. S'mores anyone?

Here are some of my firepit favorites:

The Big Bowl O' Zen Sculptural Firbowl is a custom work of art by John T Unger Studio. Love it! It can be used for clean burning propane/natural gas or wood fires.  Its hemispherical lines are perfectly constructed giving a serene, classical yet contemporary statement. It is made up of 100% recycled american steel and has a hidden base. (See pic below)

Clean lines, an organic shape showcases the Modfire! It can burn wood or has several burning fuel options (propane or natural gas). Crafted by hand in their Arizona steel studio, Modfire comes in many dazzling bright colors and can be a fun focal point to any backyard space! (See pic below)

The innovative italian based has come out with some really cool outdoor contemporary woodburning fireplaces inspired by industrialized craftmanship. One is called Zen and the other is called Zero. Both firepits encourage relaxtion and a communal feel. Zen is a sculpted circular steel pit made of 1/4" thick carbon steel with a rusted finish. It is constructed out of bands and the moat in-between the bands can be filled with gravel, lava stones or sand. It can be above or sunken into the ground. (See pic below)

Zero by Ak47space also has a contemporary round shape where wood can be visibly stored around the combustion chamber. It is functional and artful. (See pic below)

If you are looking for a custom firepit look, you can purchase your own kit and face it with any stone of your choice. Flame creation offers prefabricated stainless steel fire pit trough burners that outputs 100,000 Btu/hr. The burner assembly and frame pan requires a stainless steel flexible gas line and an electrician will have to supply a 110v power on and off switch.  There are various sizes ( 24",36",48" )and different fire accessories such as lava rock, fire glass, and boulders. (See pic below)

Solusdecor offers concrete outdoor firepits. Two of my favorites are the Halo fire pit and the Firebowl Hemi. The Halo firepit is a sculptural floating slab that invites warmth and gathering. It is powerd by an approved 40,000 Btu/hr natural gas or propane burner that is lit manually and key valve operated.  (See pic below)

The Firebowl Hemi by Solus decor is a 36" hemispherical firepit available with an outdoor natural gas or propane burner that produces a 75,000 Btu/hr flame. (See pic below)

There are lots of modern takes on the outdoor fireplace. Enjoy the warmth and relaxation!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thinking Concrete Countertop...

Hey MDG,
 I am not sure whether concrete is the right material for me to use for my home. Can you share with me the advantages and disadvantages of concrete?
Thanks, Lily

Wow Lily, The average person thinks of concrete sidewalks and not concrete design! I am a big fan of concrete! It can be transformed into highly versatile and unique objects such as  bathroom sinks and countertops, kitchen countertops and backsplashes, fireplace surrounds, wall panels, and furniture.  I would definately consider concrete if you think granite or marble is too common or if you think solid surface material looks plastic. If you appreciate hand-crafted items and you want a one-of-a-kind custom piece, then concrete is the right material for you! A good source for concrete kitchen and bath countertops is trueformconcrete as shown in the kitchen pic below. To showcase personalization, you can integrate anything into concrete(glass,stone,metal) like the metal strips shown in the kitchen countertop below.

Let me be clear though, concrete does have imperfections!  But, I see those imperfections as an advantage and not a disadvantage. Yes, concrete has variations in color and texture and are susceptible to hairline cracks; however, these tiny cracks are not structural and are a result of natural shrinkage, stress and movement in the concrete.

Lets discuss everyday usage: it is easy to maintain concrete if a good penetrating sealer has been applied. Spot repairs can be made if necessary. Concrete is also easy to clean with mild cleaners or soaps. Just like any stone, you should not put anything hot directly on it. Highly acidic products and chemicals should also be avoided and cleaned up right away to prevent damage. As for the disadvantages, concrete's corners can chip and its surface can scratch. So don't hit the corners with anything hard and don't cut any food on it without a cutting board over it!

There is so much good concrete design out there: Take a look at these unique 'green' integral sinks from  fiddleheadconcrete. I say 'green' because fiddlehead concrete is an 80% blend of recycled glass, recycled concrete, fly ash and carpet tiles (to help resist cracking). I love their shapes (see above pic) ...their sinks have clean modern shapes and are like water sculptures. Water cascades down a geometric basin and ends into a narrow slot where the water disappears! So cool, I want one of those for my next renovation!

Lastly, cast stone fireplace mantels and surrounds by solusdecor are absolutely stunning! Their cast concrete transforms an ordinary fireplace into a sensational focal point for any room! See the above pic to the right. Clean modern lines with an earthy feel!

Solus also makes smooth and luminous concrete floor tiles that are cast and finished by hand. (See pic above to the left) They offer 12 colors in various sizes. What a statement, if you vary the colors and sizes!  I can even see using them as a backdrop on a large wall. Know these interior tiles are durable but susceptible to surface scratching and scuffing. They do tend to self-buff and get more polsihed with wear. Its amazing what a natural material can do!

Lily, I just scratched the surface (ha ha)  but I hope this has been helpful information for you to decide how to use concrete in your home!

Thanks for posting!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Dry Rot Damage & Prevention

Hey MDG,

I live in Orlando, Florida and the side of my door jamb has Dry Rot. What causes this and how do I fix it?



From looking at your picture, your door jamb definitely shows dry rot from inadequate flashing, poor grading and ‘Rising damp.’

Dry rot is a fungus that destroys wood and can happen from consistent moisture containing salts from rising ground water. Basically, ground water keeps creeping up the side of your door jamb. The ground water contains salts such as chlorides and nitrates and every time it creeps up the jamb, it leaves salt deposits when the water evaporates.  The salts become acidic substances every time more ground water washes over it. The wood ultimately became brittle and rotted out.

I would take close inspection of your 2x4 frame. If there is rot, you will need to replace the 2x4s with pressure treated wood. If there is no structural damage to the frame, the rotten wood should be scraped away from the door jamb and treated with epoxy wood hardener and then filled with epoxy. If there is damage to the structural door frame, then the rotted wood should be scraped away and the bottom portion of the jamb should be removed and replaced with pressure treated lumber.  Fill any gaps with siliconized acrylic latex caulk, then prime with oil based paint followed by latex exterior paint.

Once the door jamb has been fixed, I would flash the door sill properly and
re-grade away from the door to prevent the rising damp from happening again.

Thanks for posting!