(Bruce Buck for NYT)
A week or so ago this picture of performance artist Marina Abramovic's kitchen was in the New York Times. Everything was starkly modern but the wooden island made it all seem warm and welcoming. Eighteen months ago I installed wooden countertops during a kitchen renovation (ironically it replaced simulated butcherblock Formica from 70s). I bought two 12 foot lengths of cherry butcherblock unfinished countertops from Lumber Liquidators for $329 each and one 8 foot length for $250. I hired cabinet maker Devon Thibeault, "The Underground Carpenter", to cut them to size including the mitered corner you see below and some complicated cuts around the cabinets on sideboard and around sink. Then I finished the counter pieces (on saw horses in middle of room) with a tung oil product called Waterlox that I can't say enough good things about. I used the Waterlox SEALER/FINISH in Medium Sheen.
Here are a few more technical details. I believe Devon used biscuits and special counter brackets (underneath) to pull the corner together. You could obviously make the big island seen in the Abramovic kitchen the same way by splicing two pieces together. We were worried about the end grain around the sink but it has been perfectly stable. I used a brush to apply Waterlox and put two coats on underside and five coats (I think) on top surface sanding with very fine grit sandpaper between coats, using the very finest between last two coats. A deep luster came up through this process. One counter I did during a few days of very high summer humidity and it took many weeks to cure completely (so don't make that mistake). The other was fine from the get-go. The counters are impervious to standing water (even overnight) and I have only used soap and water to clean. I have never waxed or polished surfaces (all pictures taken this week). I once scrubbed the finish so hard it got dull and cloudy, so I lightly sanded the spot and brushed a new thin coat of Waterlox on it and it looked like new---you cannot tell there was a "fix".
No one recommended installing wood counters, in fact quite the opposite, but I think that is just because people generally have little experience with wood in a kitchen. The counters are very slowly developing a nice patina, especially the section to right of stove where I do a lot of work. This picture below shows that if you shine a bright light just right you can see little divots from the bottom of wine bottles opened on the counter.
The backsplash tile was two odd lots bought for $20 at the Boston Building Materials Resource Center, a great recycling place; sink from Craigs List; faucet from ebay; stove/hood from liquidator; knobs from Lowes.