Planning Your Kitchen Remodel: Choosing Countertops
A major design decision when planning your kitchen remodel is choosing countertops. Second only in my mind to cabinet selection, choosing the perfect countertop to complement your cabinetry and lifestyle requires a little bit of knowledge and some in-person visits. In this post we look at the pros and cons of the different materials available for today’s kitchens so you can make the best choice for you!
Granite is a naturally occurring igneous rock that offers rich colors and patterns for kitchen countertops. Of the natural / stone surfaces, granite is still the most popular choice, but its popularity is waning somewhat in favor of other natural and engineered stone surfaces like quartz, quartzite, marble and soapstone according to the market research firm, the Freedonia Group. Granite is naturally harder and less porous than marble making it less susceptible to staining, but it does need to be sealed periodically for best results. It is also heat and scratch resistant which is why it is such a coveted choice for homeowners.
Marble is actually metamorphosed limestone. It is typically white or grey in color and is characterized by waves of color flowing through it called veining. There are different levels of marble for different budgets with Carrera marble at the “lower” end and luxury marbles like Calacatta marble at the high end. Marble is prized for its beauty but is softer than granite (a 3 on the MOH scale vs. 7 for granite) and more porous so it can stain and etch (from acidic foods) more easily requiring more maintenance and care.
Quartz countertops are an engineered stone that is made up of around 94% crushed quartz mixed with polyester resins, pigments for color and small amounts of glass or metallic flecks for interest. In the past, quartz was criticized for looking too man-made, but those days have passed, as today’s quartz countertops do a great job mimicking natural stone. Quartz is non-porous thanks to the resins used in its manufacture, so it is stain- resistant and antimicrobial and does not need to be periodically sealed. Quartz is also heat and scorch resistant – up to a point. Manufacturers say that the countertops can withstand temperatures up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, but if you leave a hot pan too long, the surface can be damaged. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to use a trivet. Finally, quartz cannot be used in outdoor applications.
Quartzite is a naturally occurring metamorphic rock that began its life as sandstone. The sandstone was converted to quartzite through heating and pressure due to tectonic compression. This stone has some natural sparkle from the quartz pieces in it. Quartzite offers the beauty of marble with the durability of granite. Because it is a natural stone it will still need to be sealed prior to use.
Concrete countertops can offer either a rustic or industrial look and are becoming more and more common with the popularity of the farmhouse style. Concrete countertops can be poured in place or pre-cast, with the latter being more stable and less susceptible to cracks. The pros of concrete countertops are the unique look and patina they take on over time. But the material is porous so it is susceptible to stains and bacterial growth and staining can occur even after sealing, so if you are looking for perfection, concrete isn’t for you.
Solid Surface is also known by the biggest brand that sells it Corian (just as some call all tissues Kleenex), but there are actually many manufacturers of solid surface countertops in the market (Wilsonart, Staron, Formica, etc.) and it is the third most popular countertop material by sales according to Freedonia with just over 12% of the market. These synthetic countertops are engineered from acrylic or polyester resins, marble dust and pigments. Solid surface countertops are non-porous so they are stain-resistant and antimicrobial. They can be made seamless and because the color goes all the way through the slab, minor scratches can simply be buffed or sanded out. The disadvantages to solid surface countertops is that they are not heat resistant. (If you clicked over from our facebook post, the countertop shown there is Corian Clam Shell!)
Wood has been used for as a food prep surface for centuries. Known as butcher block, these countertops are created by gluing together pieces of wood (typically maple, though oak, cherry, teak and walnut are also used) into a solid surface. There are three main types of butcher block that depend on the way the wood is glued together: edge grain, face grain and end grain, with edge grain being the most common. Butcher block countertops add warmth to a space, you can cut directly on them and contrary to what you may have read, wood has natural antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. The downsides are that wood will stain and can be scorched or burnt by hot pans. The countertops can also swell and shrink depending on conditions causing the wood to crack or warp.
Laminates have been the number one choice for countertops for many years because of their affordability, but in recent years have been losing market share to granite and other options. However, product improvements that have created more natural looking surfaces will allow laminates to keep their top spot with nearly 44% of the U.S. countertop market through 2019 according to Freedonia research. Laminates biggest pro is its accessibility. It provides a durable surface that is stain and mold resistant but it is not heat resistant and can scratch.
Is your head spinning yet with all of the options? The graphic below pulls it all together to help you chart your course in the countertop world:
Where to Buy
If you are working with a kitchen showroom on your remodel, most likely you will order your countertops through them. Many stone businesses do not sell directly to the public. The kitchen showroom you choose will have specific relationships with one or two local stone suppliers, certain brands of engineered stone, laminate and wood countertops that they rep. If you have your heart set on a specific brand, make sure the design center you choose has access to the product, and if not, find one that does.
For DIYers, the big box stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s and Ikea all offer countertop options. Some stone businesses will sell retail and a google search will lead you to them. They typically advertise their stock granite and quartz offerings with installed square foot prices on their websites so it’s relatively easy to determine who is who.
The Bottom Line
Have fun with the selection process and see what speaks to you. Get a cabinet sample with your color/finish on it and take it with you when choosing your countertops. If possible, take a sample of the countertop material home and look at it next to your cabinetry sample in your kitchen in both natural and artificial light to make sure you love it. If opting for marble, granite or other natural stone, don’t be surprised if your mind is changed when you see the full slabs – mine did! The pattern I loved in small form as a sample looked completely different to me when I saw it in large format. Stay flexible and do your homework!