My husband and I renovated a barn into a new home. We wanted a simple, small, but roomy space that we could customize according to our needs without breaking the bank. And in keeping with the spirit of thrift and originality, I decided one of the standout features would be a kitchen made of cinder block.
I’m not 100% sure why I chose this. Maybe it was the cool cinder block gardens I’d seen on Pinterest, or perhaps it was the fact that trying to understand IKEA’s online kitchen planner made my head want to explode.
Regardless, something about stacking up cinder blocks like Legos and turning and twisting them Tetris-style just flipped a switch for me. I couldn’t get the challenge out of my mind.
Of course, executing the project was not nearly as simple as the concept. The actual building process wasn’t too difficult, but the planning and effort posed a true challenge – and there were precious few resources available for help along the way.
The good news is that the entire kitchen (with all the bells and whistles) cost slightly less than $5,000 – the cinder block and counter tops themselves cost about $1,350. We could have spent less if we’d cut corners on appliances, but my husband and I agreed that stainless steel and cinder block go great together.
If you’re inspired to create a kitchen from cinder block – whether inside or out – here’s what you need to know.
Planning Your Cinder Block Kitchen
As they say, “Measure twice, cut once.” The devil is in the details and you absolutely must plan your cinder block kitchen with precision.
Before you do anything else, measure your kitchen space exactly. Our space is 11.5 square feet. Draw a rough sketch of your space with measurements and make sure you note the precise location of your current drains and outlets so you can position your cinder blocks around them.
Or, if you plan to relocate certain utilities, talk with your contractor about where you want them placed, and account for their location when you make your measurements. We didn’t have any existing outlets or plumbing, so I had the luxury of working with our contractors to place the sink drain, dishwasher, refrigerator, and stove outlets where I desired.
Of all wiring and piping concerns, the most essential is the drain pipe for your sink. If you need to buy a longer cord for an electrical outlet, that’s not such a big deal – but it’s much more difficult to add pipe. I actually miscalculated my drain by about eight inches and had to make adjustments to my kitchen because of it.
One other thing to keep in mind when planning a cinder block kitchen: If you want electricity or water in the center of your room for an island or peninsula, you need to figure out in advance how you’re going to run the wires or piping. It’s best to talk to your contractor or electrician about this to better understand the options in your unique space.
2. Start Drawing Plans
After measuring your space and noting the location of your utility hookups, it’s time to “play Tetris” and make everything fit into place. I chose to draw my plans by hand – it was a great way to tinker with the layout and ensure that my planning was thorough. I started by drawing an overhead (a bird’s eye view) of the kitchen space.
Here is how to start your plans:
- Draw Your Space. I used a piece of graph paper and allotted one square for every six inches of my kitchen. If you have a very large space, you may need to allot one square for every 8 or 12 inches. Using this measurement, I drew my kitchen’s dimensions and carefully marked my utilities.
- Account for Appliances. Next, I started accounting for appliances. I knew I had to build the kitchen around the sink, stove, dishwasher, and refrigerator, while being sure to account for opening and closing doors. Since we hadn’t yet purchased our appliances or sink, I started doing research, selecting the items we planned to buy, and recording their dimensions – height, width, and depth. You also want to consider the wiring at this point – if you know your fridge, stove, and dishwasher need to be plugged in, think about how you’re going to run the wires.
- Think About Your Sink. I also knew I wasn’t handy enough with concrete or cinder block to create a custom sink cabinet, which meant I needed to buy a freestanding sink instead of a traditional one. When I started researching freestanding kitchen sinks, it became clear that most of them were made for commercial kitchens, and the ones in my price range weren’t what I was looking for. I wanted a large sink, so I bought a BigTub Utilitub from Home Depot. The $200 freestanding sink came with a faucet and the necessary plumbing supplies, and at 40 inches wide and 13 inches deep, it was big enough to give my dog a bath in. And, best of all, I didn’t have to build a custom sink cabinet around it.
Once I had drawn my appliances onto the graph paper, accounting for every single inch of space, it was time to start drawing in the cinder block.
Understanding Cinder Block Dimensions
Traditional cinder blocks are 16 inches long, 8 inches wide, and 8 inches tall. There are also other rectangular sizes (4-by-8-by-16, 2-by-8-by-16, 4-by-8-by-8, and 2-by-8-by-8) as well as square sizes, such as 8-by-8-by-8.
While these are standard sizes, it’s important to remember that there are often minor variations from block to block, so plan some wiggle room in your project and design your counter to work with whole blocks. That way, you don’t have to cut them to match your dimensions. I had modest flexibility when it came to the placement of my appliances (give or take 6 inches in any direction), which meant that minor variations between my plan and its eventual execution didn’t challenge the project.
As you draw your plans, keep in mind that you can create a stronger wall if you stagger the cinder blocks as you build up. For instance, I decided to use more 8-inch-square blocks, staggering them with the 16-inch blocks on the walls designated to support my counter tops. In other words, I could have used two 16-inch blocks, but I instead used an 8-inch block, a 16-inch block, and another 8-inch block. Then on the next row up, I used two 16-inch blocks. This way, the edges of each row were staggered instead of being perfectly aligned.
Likewise, on the walls where I was using one 16-inch block and one 8-inch block to support a counter, I alternated which block went where, so I would start one row with a 16-inch block and end with an 8-inch block, then on the next row up I would start with an 8-inch block and end with a 16-inch block. It’s important to account for this staggering effect when you draw your plans so you know exactly how many of each type of block to purchase.
Here are several more tips to keep in mind as you create your plans:
- Map Out Cinder Blocks by Starting in a Corner. I started in the corner (the one place I knew I couldn’t adjust to my liking), and drew the front edge of my forward-facing wall – the wall of the peninsula that would face the living area. I knew I wanted a long counter, so I drew seven 16-inch blocks and one 8-inch block to give myself a full 120 inches of counter space (that’s a 10-foot counter, to be exact).
- Account for Decorative Walls. I also knew I wanted this forward-facing peninsula wall to be “decorative.” In other words, it wouldn’t support the weight of my counter tops, and would simply serve to separate the living area from the kitchen. This meant that when laying out my design, I had to add eight inches of cinder block width (adjacent to the counter) to the footprint of the design. (See the image below.)
- Work on Counter Depth. From the forward-facing peninsula wall, I worked backward, accounting for the depth of my counters. Again, I knew I wanted deep counters, so I chose to draw two 16-inch blocks to support their weight – 32 inches of counter depth. I could be flexible with my counters since I had them custom cut.
- Adjust for Appliances. This is where things start getting tricky because you also have to keep in mind the depth of your appliances. Because my stove is located in the center of this forward-facing peninsula counter, I had to know how deep it was, and how it would look set in 32-inch-deep counters. Since I chose one that’s about 29.5 inches deep, I knew I’d have roughly 2.5 inches of space at the front or back of it. This gave me room to account for its outlet. And while there’s still a little more counter space at the front of my stove than you might see in a traditional kitchen, it looks fine. Another option is to move the stove (or other appliance ) flush with the counter in the front, and cover the open space at the back with a piece of metal trim.
- Plan for Shelving, Seating, and Visual Interest. If you have the space and the inclination, it’s possible to plan for bar-style seating, shelving, and other visual interest points throughout your kitchen. I knew I wanted bar-style seating on one side of our stove along the peninsula because our house doesn’t have a traditional dining area. To the right of the stove, I built one 32-inch cinder block wall to support the second counter top of the peninsula – but instead of building a second, 32-inch counter-supporting wall at its end, I used 8-inch-square cinder blocks to make a simple pillar to support the counter. That way I would have two spaces large enough to slide bar stools beneath at the end. Likewise, to the other side of the stove, I knew I wanted shelving. I made a note to position the cinder blocks in my three counter-supporting walls so the hollow openings faced each other horizontally – this way, I was able to run slats of wood between the cinder blocks to create shelves.
- Finish Sketching the Bird’s Eye View. I worked my way around the kitchen, gradually drawing the length of each cinder block counter, then the depth – always accounting for how my appliances and sink would look within the space – then adjusted cinder block sizes based on needs. For instance, my dishwasher was only about 23 inches deep, so I knew I didn’t want it to be engulfed in a 32-inch deep counter. Instead, I chose to map out a 24-inch deep space using one 16-inch cinder block and one 8-inch cinder block.
- Draw Separate Plans for the Forward-Facing View of Each Counter. After drawing the bird’s eye view of the kitchen, it was time to draw the counter’s height. Using a second sheet of graph paper – allotting one square for every four inches of height – I first drew pictures of each of my appliances’ width and height, using separate sections of paper for each counter. In other words, I knew my dishwasher and sink would be against the same wall, so I drew one layout of that counter, and a separate layout of the peninsula counter that would contain my stove – keeping in mind that these two separate counters would actually meet in an “L” shape at the corner of the kitchen.
- Think About Final Appearances. Before I started playing with vertical cinder block layouts, I thought carefully about how I wanted the counters to fit around my appliances. For instance, I knew I wanted my stove and counter tops to be at roughly the same height, and I wanted my counter to sit flush across the top of the dishwasher. I had to make sure that when I started planning the cinder block layers, they would end up being the appropriate heights to meet my goals.
- Plan the Cinder Block Height and Account for Counter Tops. After mapping the height of my appliances, I started drawing different cinder block layouts to create the correct height, all the while keeping in mind that I needed to account for the height of my counter tops. To make life easier, I decided to purchase custom butcher block counters, which I could order in any height from The Hardwood Lumber Company. This meant I didn’t have to work my cinder block around the counter tops – I could work my counter tops around the cinder block. To achieve the perfect height for all my counters, I determined I needed to use four 8-inch tall blocks and one 4-inch tall block. Then, I ordered my butcher block counter at 1.75 inches high so that my counters would match my stove height.
3. Determine Your Cinder Block Needs
The entire drawing process took about half of a day, but when it was done, I could estimate my cinder block needs almost exactly. Because I had specifically drawn every single block, I simply added the number of blocks I would need in every size and prepared to place my order. I added about 10% more blocks of every size to my order, just to give myself some breathing room and account for changes and broken blocks.
4. Determine Other Product Needs and Expenses
Using my cinder block numbers, I was able to estimate my expenses almost exactly.
- Cinder Block and Cinder Block Adhesive. My total cinder block purchase came out to about $250 from McCoy’s Building Supply. You can use its online store to get a good picture of cost based on the block sizes and amounts you need. I then decided to pay $50 for the block to be delivered to my house, and spent another $40 on a caulking gun and four 28-ounce tubes of Loctite PL Premium Polyurethane Construction Adhesive. The version of Loctite I chose is designed to be used on concrete – it’s three times stronger than other adhesives, and is waterproof and paintable, which was important to me. Ultimately, I ended up using nearly four tubes of the product on a total of 144 concrete blocks of varying shapes and sizes.
- Counter Tops. After determining the cost to build the wall, I had to figure the costs for my counter tops. Because I had precisely measured my kitchen space, I was confident when ordering my counters to size. I ended up purchasing three separate butcher blocks – one 32-by-36-inch counter, one 32-by-48-inch counter, and one 24-by-48-inch counter. All three counters were 1.75 inches tall. Including shipping, I spent slightly less than $900.
- Counter Top Installation. How you install your counters depends on the type of material you’re using. Some counters, such as laminate, can simply be glued in place using a Loctite adhesive. However, butcher block shouldn’t be glued down. This is because wood expands and contracts, and can warp if glued in place. Instead, I needed to use L-brackets to screw it down. This meant buying a minimum of 12 L-brackets (at least one for each corner of every counter top – I purchased two-inch brackets), and a minimum of 12 masonry screws (I got a box of 1.25-inch Tapcon concrete screws) and 12 wood screws (I used the 1.25-inch screws we had on hand). The masonry screws join the L-brackets to the cinder block, and the wood screws attach the other side of the L-brackets to the underside of the butcher block. I also needed a hammer drill to drill into concrete (I bought one from Amazon for less than $30) and masonry drill bits (the correct size drill bit actually came with my Tapcon concrete screws). In all, I spent another $60 on counter top installation supplies.
It cost between $1,300 and $1,350 to build my cinder block kitchen space. Of course, this didn’t include the cost of appliances, sink, or the additional shelving I purchased to finish the kitchen.
Building Your Cinder Block Kitchen
Planning your kitchen is the hard part – building it is relatively easy. That said, there are a couple of things to keep in mind before getting started.
General Building Tips and Lessons Learned
- Cinder Block Isn’t Light. A standard, 16-inch rectangle block is about 26 pounds. By itself, that’s not so bad – but if you’re moving 100 of them, that’s a lot of weight to lug around. Determine in advance exactly where your blocks can be most conveniently delivered so that you do not have to carry them long distances.
- Construction Adhesive Is Nasty Stuff. I didn’t think to wear gloves the first day I worked with the Loctite construction adhesive, and it took almost a week to get all of it off. While the glue didn’t irritate my skin, it was an annoyance and it made me look like I had a peeling-skin disease. After the first day, I purchased cheap nitrile gloves and changed them often to avoid tearing.
- Have a Safe Spot for Your Caulk Gun When Not in Use. Even when you’re not squeezing the trigger on your caulk gun, the pressure in the adhesive tube continues pushing material out of the container. If you don’t have a safe place to put your caulk gun when you’re not using it, you can end up with construction adhesive all over everything. An old paint tray is a good option for storing your caulk gun between uses – if the adhesive empties onto the tray, it won’t do any damage.
- Take Time to Complete the Job. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your kitchen won’t be either. It took me about three total days to put our kitchen together. We got our fridge, sink, and stove up and running as quickly as possible so we could start using them, and then we gave ourselves a week to complete the project.
- Beware of Adhesive Stains. As you’re handling the cinder block and the adhesive, you may accidentally transfer adhesive from your fingers to areas where it will be visible. The result is finger-shaped smudges that don’t come off easily. To avoid this, grip the cinder block inside the hollowed out holes rather than the outer edges. If you do get adhesive on the blocks, use a soapy sponge and do your best to wipe off the adhesive while it’s still wet. If the adhesive dries, you can scrape it off with a sharp knife, or use a commercial concrete cleaner.
- Think About Visible Seams Before You Build. The only tutorial I referenced for building with cinder block was for a small outdoor bar on The Hunted Interior, and I picked up a very valuable point from the blogger: Only use construction adhesive on invisible seams. In other words, you aren’t actually applying the adhesive between blocks – you’re stacking them without adhesive, then applying adhesive externally to the seams. This prevents it from affecting the level height of each block. The adhesive then expands and dries to fill the space at the seam, securing it in place. The trick is, you don’t want the adhesive to be visible, so you only apply it on seams that will be invisible to the eye. For instance, I didn’t apply any adhesive to the front of my peninsula wall, only a bead of adhesive to each seam along the back and inner edges of each block. Unfortunately, I didn’t think about all the seams along the counter-supporting walls of the peninsula that would be visible in the kitchen. If you accidentally apply adhesive to a visible seam, wipe off as much as you can with a wet sponge or paper towel before it dries. If it still looks bumpy and unattractive, cut away excess with a sharp knife.
- Think About Electrical and Plumbing Accessibility Before You Build. You don’t just have to think about where your pipes and wires will run – you have to think about how you’re going to access them if you ever have a leaky dishwasher or if you need to move your stove. If you run your electrical wires through the openings in your cinder blocks, they should be pretty easy to access. My electrical outlet boxes aren’t secured in the wall (rather, they just sit in the holes of the cinder blocks), so I can easily adjust the location of the box or unplug my outlets as needed. Plumbing was a little trickier. While the plumbing of the freestanding sink was simple (I just ran pipes directly into the wall without a problem), the dishwasher proved to be difficult. I wanted my cinder block to be built closely around the outside of the dishwasher, which meant that once it was adhered in place, there wouldn’t be a lot of room along the bottom or sides of the appliance to access wires or pipes. For this reason, I had to leave a little room along the back of the dishwasher to run the piping and electrical cables. How you access your wires and piping is up to you, but think about it carefully before you get started.
- Know Your Adhesive Dry Time. When using construction adhesive, you have up to 30 minutes to reposition a concrete block before it’s pretty much stuck in place. This is one of the reasons why planning is so important – you don’t want to make too many decisions on the fly, and if you do make a mistake, you need to catch it quickly. Also, the adhesive needs a full 24 hours to cure – don’t test it before it’s done. You don’t want to compromise the strength of your kitchen because you became impatient.
- Plan Your Breaks Wisely. Construction adhesive dries in weird, bulbous shapes. If you place a seam of adhesive and allow it to dry completely, chances are it’s going to end up looking a bit funky. Also, the way the seam dries can negatively affect additional block placement, especially if you haven’t run a finger along to even it out. If you need to take a break from building, always place the next necessary cinder block before allowing a wet seam to dry, and don’t seam the edges of the newly placed block until you’re ready to get to work again.
5. Start Building With Cinder Blocks
Once your plans are set and your supplies are in hand, it’s time to get to work. This is the series of steps that led to my finished kitchen.
Prep the Space
- Install the Freestanding Sink. I knew my freestanding sink was the only item in my kitchen I had no leeway to adjust since the drain hole was positioned in a fixed location. It made sense to install it first so I could work around it.
- Clean the Floors. Because we planned to adhere the concrete block to our concrete floors using the Loctite adhesive, we needed to be sure that the floors were clean and ready for action. We used warm water, a mop, and plain soap to prep the floors, and then allowed them to dry completely. If you’re not working with concrete floors, I highly suggest you talk to a contractor about how to adhere your first layer of blocks to the ground or walls. The last thing you want is a whole wall of concrete block to come crashing down.
- Use Chalk to Draw Your Outline on the Floor. With a chalk line marker, outline your kitchen dimensions on the floor to help you lay your bricks in a straight line. You can do this by snapping a chalk line with a chalk reel, available at hardware stores for about $10, or you can use a tape measure and a piece of chalk to simply mark edges and corners.
Lay Your Cinder Block
- Start a Horizontal Row in a Corner. I started building my cinder block kitchen at the corner of the forward-facing peninsula wall. This wall wouldn’t be supporting or interfering with my counters or appliances, so it was a safe place to start. I laid the first block, then used my caulk gun to apply a bead of construction adhesive to every seam that wouldn’t be visible to the eye – one along the wall, one along the back of the block, and another along the floor on every side except the one facing forward. I left about a quarter-inch space at the front of the side seams to prevent any extra adhesive from pushing out into a visible area as I laid more blocks. I then placed the next block in line on the horizontal row and repeated the process, using adhesive externally along the seams between the two blocks and along the floor, making sure to line up the blocks as evenly as possible to create a nice, clean look. It’s also important to remember that cinder blocks have solid sides and hollow sides – think carefully about how you place each block so you know which side will be visible.
- Build the Base Row for Your Counter-Supporting Walls. Using my plans and chalk markings, I adhered blocks to the concrete floor, the forward-facing peninsula wall, and to each other on every edge. This was the base row for the first of three separate counter-supporting walls in this section. I then went to work on the second counter-supporting wall, placing and adhering the bottom row as determined by my plans and chalk lines. The placement of the final row of this section was the most critical. I laid the base row, but before adhering it, my husband helped me set the butcher block counter on top of the dry-laid cinder block. This way I confirmed that my measurements and chalk lines were correct and that everything would fit.
- Start Building Up Your Walls and Running Electrical Wire, if Needed. With the base rows laid, I was ready to start building each section of wall. I started with the forward-facing peninsula wall because it seemed easiest. As planned, I placed two rows of 16-inch rectangle block, one row of four-inch rectangle block, and two more rows of 16-inch rectangle block. After laying each block, I meticulously used my caulk gun to place a bead of adhesive along each invisible seam. Once I built up the forward-facing peninsula wall, I started working on the first counter-supporting wall. In this section, I had to make sure each block was placed so the hollow edges were facing inward, toward each other, so I could run the wiring for my stove and create shelving as planned. Because I was careful, it went off without a hitch – be alert to which sections of your project will require special care and attention when placing block.
Add Shelving and Counters
- Add Shelving, if Needed. Once I had the block laid for the three counter-supporting walls to the left of the stove, I needed to position my shelves before actually hooking up the stove. We measured and cut eight 2-by-4 inch boards to fit through the openings in the three cinder block walls where we planned to run the shelving, and simply laid them in place.
- Place and Affix the First Counter Top. Once the three counter-supporting walls were completely built, we laid the counter in place, and prepared to affix the counter to the cinder block. It was a simple matter of placing the L-brackets under the counters – near the four corners made by the cinder block and the bottom of the butcher block. Using a pencil, we marked where we wanted the holes to be drilled. Then, we removed the counter top from the cinder block walls and used a hammer drill and masonry drill bit to drill holes in the cinder block. Once that was done, I screwed the L-brackets into place on the cinder block using concrete screws. My husband helped me put the butcher block back on top of the cinder block, and we inserted wood screws into the other side of the L-bracket and into the butcher block.
Finish Your Build
Once you’ve got the groundwork laid and have made a good start on your project, it’s just a matter of following, checking, and finishing your plans.
- Insert Appliances. With our first counter top in place, we were able to hook up the stove and check that it worked correctly. (Ours is an electric stove, so we didn’t need to connect to gas lines. Hire a professional if you plan to install a gas range.) The next phase of our project involved installing the dishwasher – I highly recommend you have a plumber install yours. This was possibly the hardest part of the whole project because we optimistically planned to install it ourselves. Once the dishwasher is installed, it is crucial to run it a few times and ensure that there are no leaks in the water line or drain hose before building up any cinder block around it. It’s much more difficult to fix problems if you don’t catch them until after you’ve built your walls. To be on the safe side, I dry-stacked all the cinder block in this section before adhering it to make sure the dishwasher opened and closed correctly.
With our appliances installed, we continued with the next section of counter supporting walls (to the right of the stove), and our bar section. Because of the openings to accommodate bar stools, more seams were visible in the bar section, which required more care with the adhesive (and cleaning). Our second counter top was placed and affixed atop the bar section just like the first. And that completed the bulk of our build.
Add Finishing Touches and Start Using the Space
Once the kitchen was complete, we waited a full 24 hours before touching the walls or using the counters – we wanted to give the adhesive the time it needed to cure. We finished our shelves by attaching a cut-to-fit piece of plywood (courtesy of Home Depot) within the shelf space openings atop the boards.
Because we didn’t have any drawers to speak of, we also purchased and put together a drawer unit from IKEA for $329, and picked up several stainless steel wall shelves to stack our dishes, pots, and pans. Each shelf cost between $20 and $30, depending on size.
Pros & Cons of a Cinder Block Kitchen
- Offers a Unique Aesthetic. It’s perfect for a “rustic industrial vibe.”
- Relatively Easy to Build and Customize. You don’t have to be a DIY whiz to make it happen. I’ve never built anything in my life without a full set of instructions, and yet I built this kitchen with almost no help at all.
- Relatively Inexpensive. When looking at the cost of an IKEA kitchen similar in size, it was going to cost closer to $3,000 or $4,000, not including the cost of appliances.
- Size of Cinder Blocks Makes Creating Sufficient Storage Difficult. It’s like putting in kitchen cabinets with walls that are eight inches thick – it’s not exactly an efficient use of space.
- A Lot of Heavy Lifting. Building a cinder block kitchen isn’t suitable for anyone who isn’t prepared to lift and lower 26-pound blocks repeatedly for hours at a time.
- Using Concrete Adhesive Is Messy. Even when wearing nitrile gloves to protect my skin, it was hard not to find smears of adhesive here and there.
- Storage is limited. While you can create some shelving options, you almost definitely need to supplement your kitchen with drawer units, cabinetry, or additional shelving.
- Dishwasher Plumbing Access Is Tricky. While I can easily access the plug for the dishwasher under the sink, it’s much more difficult to access pipes for plumbing. I did leave space at the back of the dishwasher, so if I need to, I can remove the counter top and reach behind the dishwasher to pull it out from the wall and make necessary fixes – but it’s not a quick or easy process.
I don’t have any regrets regarding my decision to build a cinder block kitchen. It’s a little funky, and I definitely took a few missteps along the way, but the final product is exactly what I envisioned – and it was completed at a cost no contractor could beat. While we still need a bit more storage, the space is functional and straightforward, and I’m excited to cook in it for years to come.
Have you considered building a cinder block kitchen?