MODwoodworks

Guys, I’ve neglected telling you about some of the incredible projects that have popped up in our house in the past few months.  I’ve mentioned before what an incredible craftsman Dr. Jay’s father is.  Remember the farmhouse-style dining room table he made for us?

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Over the past few month’s he’s jumped at helping us with small projects to furnish our house. Small projects for him, though they would be impossible for us to complete. He created this bar for us during the kitchen remodel (among the many other kitchen remodel projects he completed for us!)

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I’m sitting at this bar right now, blogging.  It’s the perfect place to sit because it’s very close to the kitchen, where the food is!  We love the thickness of the walnut wood and the contrast it provides to the stone counters and white woodwork.  In the photo above you can see that little leftover space between the door and the counter in the kitchen, to the left.  We purposely left that spot open (free from cabinets) because we wanted to break up the long line of counter/cabinet/drawers on that wall, and because cabinets and drawers would certainly be in the way of the door anyway.  So we left it open until we came up with the solution for what to do with that space.  I went back and forth shopping for off-the-shelf pieces, which were super hard to find in the right dimensions, and something custom.  And how would we make something custom?  Dr. Jay’s dad to the rescue:

ImageFour open shelves, made of walnut, that serve as the drop-off/pick-up point for anyone headed outside.  It’s where we leave hats and mittens, my purse, out-going mail, wallet, etc.  It keeps these things from piling up on the counter.  It has saved the kitchen, really.  We used a hanging system for the top two shelves and a bracket system for the bottom two.  It was a trial getting everything level and precise, but doesn’t it look intentional and as if it was always there?  He routed out grooves on the bottom of these shelves so that the wire wouldn’t slide around and become unstable.  These shelves make us look a lot more organized than we probably are!

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Another piece he made for us is this console table for behind the sofa.  We bought the hairpin legs (from Modern Legs, who were great to work with by the way!) and attached them with screws to the bottom of this walnut cherry wood he pieced together and finished off for us.

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In short, Dr. Jay’s dad is an incredible carpenter.  His name is Matthew DeBacker and the whole family has been bugging him for almost a year to start selling his work.  He finally agreed to start an Etsy shop, so I’m proud to introduce you to MODwoodworks at etsy.com.  He has a few of smaller pieces listed right now (things like breadboards) mostly due to the issue of shipping, but if you are in the Atlanta or North Georgia area you could probably arrange pick-up or delivery of a larger custom item.  Matthew sources wood local to the southeast from felled trees or fences which he has milled down for lumber.  He seeks out incredible cherry, oak and walnut (we love the walnut all over our house) and amazes us with his technique in combining the pieces he finds.

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Matthew is always enthusiastic about the challenge of a design project and makes everything with such high quality.  And most of all, it’s something that he loves to do.  Many of you have asked me in the past if he does sell his work, so I wanted to be sure and let you know that yes, it’s finally out there and I know he’d be interested in talking to you about your project!

about those countertops

Soapstone.  Man do we love this soapstone.

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I’ve had questions about our countertops since we’ve finished the kitchen remodel (what is it? do you like it? etc) so I thought I’d write a post explaining our choice for soapstone.

First of all, yes we love it.  I think it is an excellent material for our family.  It may not be for everyone (I’ll explain why) but for us, it’s perfect.

Let me say a little about our soapstone specifically.  The stone in our kitchen is from the USA.  It’s from a quarry in Virginia very close to where I went to school, in fact.  This soapstone is Alberene Soapstone, and they are the only remaining producer of soapstone in America.  Most of the soapstone in this country is sourced from Brazil or China, but it was important to me that we support  this more “local” company.  So important, in fact, that I had to set up Alberene Soapstone with a more local distributor and fabricator, Smokey Mountain Tops, in order to get this stone installed in our kitchen.  Basically, I started a dialogue between a salesperson from Alberene and a project manager at Smokey Mountain Tops in Nashville and got them to agree to work together in order for me to buy this stone instead of soapstone from Brazil.  Alberene sent me a sample piece to make sure I knew what I was getting, and I was emailed photos of all the available slabs that would fit our dimensions.  Dr. Jay and I narrowed it down from there.  We would have been able to pick it out on-site if we had wanted to travel to Virginia, but we chose our slabs from photos and questions over email.  Then Alberene had our slabs shipped from Virginia to Tennessee to be fabricated into countertops.  Smokey Mountain Tops did an amazing job crafting our counters and I can’t say enough good things about their service and help along the way.  We had one small hiccup in the initial installation and it was fixed within two days.  Neither of these companies know I am writing about them (or that I have a blog) so don’t think I was given a discount or compensated for mentioning them.

As for soapstone as a product is concerned, I will say that there is a lot of misinformation out there.  As I began my search here for a source for soapstone, I was told by one local fabricator that soapstone “wasn’t for me” and that it’s a “showpiece” countertop, not one for every day use.  This was completely disheartening to me, and I came home telling Dr. Jay that maybe we should consider granite (which I have never wanted) because this man told me soapstone was for show kitchens and not real kitchens.  He reminded me how much research I had done and asked me to reconsider before I changed my mind. I’m so glad I did.  Folks, this might be rule number one for dealing with salespeople or contractors during a remodel.  If you’ve talked to someone for five minutes and they proceed to tell you what is or is not for you, start getting suspicious.  Maybe they are right, but probably not.

So I forged ahead in my pursuit of soapstone and became more convinced that it was the right material for us.  And I was finally able to find someone I could trust to work with.  This means a lot when you are forking over thousands of dollars on one item in your kitchen.

What do we love so much about soapstone?  We love the way it looks.  It’s a charcoal grey, but when it’s oiled, it becomes black with white and grey veining.  We chose a honed finish, so it’s not shiny and has a very real look to it.  We like that.

Soapstone is not porous, therefore it’s naturally anti-microbial.  It’s completely non-reactive, so it won’t stain and acidic food or cleaners won’t affect it at all.  Soapstone is what schools used to use for counters in chemistry labs (when plastic laminate didn’t exist) because of these characteristics.  It’s thermal qualities are incredible.  I can set a pot with boiling water on it with no fear of it cracking or leaving a mark.  Soapstone is pretty indestructible, and for a family with small kids that is important.  Ours is not a “show” kitchen by any means.  We make three meals a day here and really put it to the test.  It’s definitely a working kitchen.

Soapstone is natural though, so it is not bulletproof.  Here are its downfalls, if you will, that aren’t deal-breakers for us.  It can scratch pretty easily BUT these are only surface scratches which will disappear in a few days time with the natural oils from your hands or if you rub on some food-safe mineral oil.  I think this is why that one man was trying to dissuade me from it, but I don’t think he realized the “self-healing” properties of soapstone.  It is also very hard, but brittle.  There is already one corner that was filled in with epoxy because it chipped before it left the shop, and another corner was chipped while the electrician was here installing a light.  But this is a very minor flaw that I’ve since rubbed smooth and no one has ever noticed it.  Basically, I like that our countertops will take one some natural patina.  I take care not to drop anything heavy on it, and I’m okay with the daily scratches that come and go.

I recently oiled it with the food-safe mineral oil (which is recommended a few times a year) and it came out looking as good as the day it was installed.  I thought it might be an annoying process, but it was a relief to completely clear off the counters and have a chance to start over again.

So there you have it.  Soapstone.  I’m really happy with it.  Any other questions for me?