We had been looking at various old sink options for a few years, but my husband found this one completely by accident, when he was out driving one day. It's an old soapstone sink, in nearly perfect condition except for a piece missing along the top left side. The sink is exactly like the one my family had in our laundry room in Minneapolis, where I grew up, although that was a triple bay and this is a double bay - much more practical for us.
The sink was sitting outside an old barn about two miles from our house, so Jack pulled into the driveway and left a note for the homeowner, asking if the sink was for sale. After quite a bit of negotiation with the husband, the wife finally said that if we paid her and got it out of her yard within a couple of days, we could have it at a great price. She was tired of looking at it!
Jack went over to pick up the sink two days later, with the help of my brother, Dick, and our friend, David. NO LUCK! The sink was ridiculously heavy and they couldn't even get it into Dick's truck. It apparently weighed about 450 lbs.
Luckily, Plan "B" did work. The following weekend, Dick borrowed a hydraulic lift hand truck from a buddy of his and the guys got the sink to our house (without rupturing any discs, I might add!) The thing was so heavy they had to place big pieces of plywood on the ground to prevent the sink from literally sinking into the ground, or cracking all the Italian tiles we have leading to the front door. My "big" contribution was that I ran along and grabbed pieces of plywood that had been crossed, placing them in the front of the line, as the guys slowly moved the sink forward.
Dick, Jack & David, after finally manoeuvering the sink into our kitchen.
Once we had the sink in the kitchen, it was time to figure out what kind of tiles we wanted to put behind and around it. All the tiles we liked best were either unavailable antiques or astronomically priced new ones which would take months to get from Europe. The solution just popped into my head that I could paint trompe l'oeil tiles and have the perfect backsplash for just the cost of plywood and paint.
So, while Jack set about demolishing the old sink and cabinetry, I began researching exactly which styles and colors of tiles we wanted. We ended up with a combination of Portuguese style border tiles (similar to the ones we had dragged home from Portugal on our honeymoon, years before) and Italian style tiles - both modern and antique designs. I took borders from some tiles and combined them with center patterns from other tiles. Some designs I completely made up, but most were doctored versions of tiles I found online.
Jack cut top-quality, heavy plywood to the exact size for me, and after double priming both sides of the wood (to protect from water damage), I laid out my grid and started designing.
My work area was in our living room, since the kitchen was a messy demolition site.
I used colors from the various pieces of French, Italian and Portuguese dishes we own, plus put in some Latin words and phrases for fun. In one of the designs I made up, the sun has the word "LUX", meaning light. It's a word that very much describes the area around the Mediterranean where are hearts are generally playing hooky on vacation.
The right side, painted and ready to install.
While I was busy painting the backsplash, Jack removed the old sink as well as the cabinetry that had been below it. The new sink is much wider than the old one, plus it's deeper and way too heavy for ordinary kitchen cabinetry to support, so Jack built a new base out of 4 x 4's, dovetailed together for stability. We didn't have any tiles that matched the ones on the floor, so Jack found some very similar ones and cut them to the right size, to go under the sink, where the floor had been unfinished concrete.
In the meantime, our plumber had come over and converted the single faucet set-up to a double wall mount scheme to fit the holes in the new sink back.
Detail view of the edges. I painted them to look like real terra cotta tiles, and the edges have flat - not satin - polyurethane on them.
All of the faux grout is shaded with shadows where they would fall, based on the light streaming in through windows near the backsplash. I also painted in lots of little dings to the corners and edges of the faux tiles, to give them a realistic aged look. Where the glaze has been "damaged", terra cotta shows through to imitate real unglazed tile.
I put in this Latin phrase, meaning "Love conquers all".
One of my favorite tiles is this adaptation of an Italian tile I discovered online. I have always loved how Europeans have names for the different winds. I imagine that the "maestro" wind is the same as the provençal "mistral", which famously comes down from the arctic, crossing the Alps and bringing frigid air with it to the South of France.
Stay tuned for Part 3B - The Sink Installed!