24 April 2012

Wood Countertops: Guest Post by Joshua Johson of J. Aaron

I’ve always admired the natural beauty of wood countertops in kitchen design, so when Joshua Johnson, president of artisan-crafted J. Aaron, LLC, custom wood top makers and a talented design blogger, too, offered a guest post on the topic, I readily said yes.  Here are his insights on why to select wood for your counters, which species to consider (including some you may never have heard of before!) and caring for one of these beauties in your own home.


Why wood

Wood countertops beautifully fuse with today’s cabinetry, custom-designed the old-fashioned way with patience, dexterity and a keen eye for design.  Wood countertops are adaptable to suit just about any style preference – from rustic to contemporary to traditional elegance.

They can also be a sustainable choice.  When you use wood materials harvested from responsibly-managed forests and rapidly replenished, as opposed to natural stone, which takes far longer to replace, you ensure the sustainability of our planet.

Species specifics

J. Aaron’s top selling wood species are walnut, iroko, sapele and hickory. They are all hardwoods, but each have characteristics that set one apart from the other.

The Janka Hardness Test rates a wood’s resistance to impact by dropping a .44 inch-steel ball on the wood from a consistent height, then measuring the depth of the dent created. Harder woods are less prone to denting but all woods will receive their fair share of dings over time… This only adds to their character.
  • Walnut is a beautiful, naturally dark hardwood indigenous to North America. The color tends to stay constant throughout the life of the top with a little darkening over time though use and oxidation. On the janka hardness scale it’s rated at 1010 putting it in the lower end of the hardwoods as far as impact resistance. Typical cost for walnut is around $90-$110 per SF. 

    Walnut top

  • Iroko comes from Africa and is considered an exotic hardwood. It starts out bright yellow but, through oxidation and UV exposure, darkens several shades to become a wonderful golden brown. Its janka score is a 1260 making it a little bit harder than walnut. This is a good wood to use on an outdoor kitchen because it has the same characteristics as teak and is often referred to as African teak. Typical cost for iroko is $100-$110 per SF.

Iroko top
  • Sapele is today's mahogany, now that mahogany has been made illegal in the US and many industrialized countries. It has a very similar look in both color and grain pattern. This African native is a wonderful wood to work with, being fine grained and a very stable consistent wood. The color will darken a bit with time so expect that a new countertop will not match an older sample. Its janka score is 1500, a relatively high score. Typical cost is $90-$100 per SF. 

Sapele top

  • Hickory, the American classic, has a janka score of 1820 putting it quite high on the score board. An ideal choice for truly heavy use chopping blocks. It is a domestic hardwood and readily available. The color is constant but it’s not consistent. In any one board there are dramatic shifts between blond and brown. This color shift produces a beautiful top with lots of variation. Typical cost is $70-$85 per SF.

    Hickory Countertop
Wood care

Most wood countertops require basic protections and routine maintenance to retain their timeless beauty, but those who already care for wood floors understand this. With just a bit of basic upkeep, homeowners can ensure superior value for their investment.  An upfront investment can deter replacement cost over one’s lifetime.
We recommend frequent standard surface sealing with mineral oil and occasional sanding to smooth scratches.  Most homeowners find the occasional nick or cut the most charming part of their countertops, using it in place of a cutting board to give it that one-of-a-kind character.

J. Aaron provides and recommends any one of three wood countertop sealants

  1. Standard conversion varnish sealer for a long-lasting, scratch-resistant finish;
  2. Tung oil sealer for a soft, natural look;
  3. 100 percent food-safe mineral or butcher block oil.

 *  *  *

J. Aaron is a family-owned business in Scottsdale, Ga. that has been making custom wood countertops for homes and businesses since 2001. 

PHOTOS:  All photos are credited to J. Aaron.

17 April 2012

Food for Thought #7 - Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

I find myself using this line fairly often, so I thought I’d share my perspective on its importance to your kitchen or bath update.

Project scope

It’s not uncommon to find enthusiastic homeowners ready to rip down walls and shake up their entire home to get the kitchen or bath of their dreams. Web sites, TV shows and magazines all encourage consumerist fantasies that cost tens of thousands more than makes sense for your home and neighborhood, often in styles and layouts that won’t mesh with your existing architecture.

The most egregious example that comes to my mind was a couple building a new Florida home at the height of the boom. The wife brought me a picture of a lovely cottage-style kitchen with handsome wall cabinets rising from the countertops surrounding the main sink. “Your sink is on an island,” I pointed out. “This is designed for a sink wall.”

“My builder will create a support frame,” she replied. It didn’t matter that this frame would look absurd in the middle of her kitchen and defeat the openness that an island generally offers. She could get it done so she was going to make her husband and builder crazy doing it. Just because you can make something work, doesn’t mean you should!

Another common example is squeezing an island into a kitchen too small to accommodate one. I’ve had clients insist on including an island that will barely allow for 36-inch clearances, even though I’ve suggested that their space limitations will make the island more of a negative than a positive. Someone convinced them that a kitchen had to have one and darned if they weren’t going to! Just because you can squeeze something in, doesn’t mean you should!

Don't try to squeeze an island where it won't fit!
(Photo: Jamie Goldberg Kitchen and Bath Design, LLC)


This happened more during the boom years than it does today, thank goodness, but over-spending on your remodel rarely makes sense. Your budget might handle the extra funds just fine. You might be totally committed to having a $40,000-plus La Cornue Range but does this really make sense for your home and your neighborhood?

  • If a particular item doesn’t make Sensible Style for your home, but you’ve dreamed about it for decades and not including it will come as a great personal sacrifice, OK.
  • If you’re a professional caterer who works out of your home kitchen and need certain equipment, OK.
  • If you run a spa business at home and having a spa-level shower is a corporate necessity, OK.

Otherwise, put your money to better use, please! Just because you can afford it, doesn’t mean you should!

This gorgeous range isn't a Sensible Style choice for every kitchen
(Photo: La Cornue)

Care and feeding of your new kitchen

I always advise clients to use trivets and cutting boards on their new stone tops. Yes, they are heat resistant but you can still damage them with a pot straight off the burner. “I’ve put hot pots on my granite tops for 20 years,” declared one homeowner.” I shook my head sadly and repeated my recommendation of using a trivet. About a week after she got her new Absolute Black granite tops, she scorched a deep ring into the section next to her range. She couldn’t remove this mark. The fabricator came back to her home. They couldn’t remove the burn either. A lovely bowl sits on top of it today. Just because you can probably get away with doing something when absolutely necessary, doesn’t mean you should do it all the time.

Stone tops are durable, but they are not indestructible!
(Photo: Jamie Goldberg Kitchen and Bath Design, LLC)

Bottom line

Choose professionals in line with your lifestyle and project type and listen to their advice. Yes, it will still be your kitchen or bath. Yes, you can still have what you want. But be smart about it, please!

10 April 2012

From the Right Column... Not a Political Statement

I "volunteered" to judge a student blog-writing competition produced by my national association and sponsored by a major design industry manufacturer, and spent a chunk of time last night reading the 51 posts that were sent to me and my fellow judges. This was not a fun experience in giving back. A few posts were very good. Most were not. Well, they're students and will hopefully improve.

This exercise did get me thinking about what makes a good blog post -- interesting material, new information, helpful ideas, original expression, easy to read -- and about the many design blogs I do enjoy reading. They deliver these points on a regular basis, and I highly recommend checking them out.

You can find my favorites linked alphabetically in the Golden Links - Blogs of Note column on the right. I'm proud to call many of their publishers personal friends, especially including my fellow Blogger 19 members. We love hanging out at trade shows together and sharing food, fun, fellowship and our favorite products and trends.

I've had the pleasure of contributing to some of their blogs, including...

Cote de Texas
KitchAnn Style
Kitchen and Residential Design
Life of an Architect
Useful Spaces.

Many more of them have contributed to mine. Type "Guest Post" in my Search Box above to find dozens of these! Three talented designer/blogger buddies have also contributed kitchen projects to my upcoming Taunton Press book. These include...

Kelly Morisseau of Kitchen Sync
Cheryl Kees Clendenon of Kitchen Details and Design
Susan Serra of The Kitchen Designer.

I'm beyond thrilled to have their work included and will let y'all know as soon as the book is published in December.

FYI, I don't consider this to be one of my best posts, but it does contain helpful information -- i.e., some of the best design blogs you should be reading, if you're not.

It's late. I worked all weekend. And I came up with something for tomorrow's post, since I committed to posting every Tuesday for as long as I keep Gold Notes online. Done.

03 April 2012

More Houzzing Around - Extras Edition

Here are three Houzz Ideabooks I created that offer you the chance to create some special spaces in your home. These are the "added value" features that let you personalize your residence while adding fun and functionality. Hope you enjoy them!

Create a Family Landing Zone

Landing zones are those spots in or near your kitchen that provide space for book bags, purses, brief cases, keys, mail and the other clutter of daily life to land... So that they don't end up on your countertops! This Ideabook shares tips on how to create one that fits your household's needs.

Create a Morning Kitchen

The editorial team changed the name of this Ideabook to Mini-Kitchen, but it was really intended to be the luxury add-on to your master or guest bedrooms. I'm thinking of adding one to the third floor landing of my own "Chez J" townhome. That will save me and my guests trips downstairs for a glass of water or cup of tea in the middle of the night.

The popularity of Mad Men has really brought home the value of a mini bar -- at work or home. This Ideabook shared tips on creating one in your abode. I don't drink much myself, but I like having a spot dedicated to enjoying wine in my entertaining zone. What about you?

FYI: Many of the images used in my Ideabooks (and others', as well) on Houzz were shared by talented colleagues from across the country. Their names of the firms that contributed these fabulous shots are listed below their project pix.

Found Gold: Popular Posts from the Past!

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