So you want to redo your countertops. Simply changing out countertops is a quick and easy way to update your kitchen without a lot of fuss. Some people instantly gravitate toward one type of material or another. There are myriad options to consider here, from stone to man-made, from wood to metal. If you’ve ever gone through an entire kitchen renovation or expansion, you know there are at least 100 decisions to be made in the process. We talked a little about that in our post on kitchen remodeling here.
Counters are sort of the icing on the cake, if you will. The smooth surface either plain or patterned with swirls or patches of color create visual interest and help to define the style you want to achieve. Not only do you want a good-looking counter top, you’ll really want to consider how it will be used. Will it be a rarely used powder room or will it experience daily use because you cook 7+ meals a week on it? Maintenance and durability are more points you will want to consider and could outweigh other considerations. Since there are so many options, we’re just going to give an overview today of the most common options available.
Natural stone options to consider include granite, marble, soapstone, limestone, slate, and quartzite. Natural stone comes from the earth, so each piece is unique. That said, there are different “types” or “colors” that are available. What that really means is that each kind comes from a specific area on the earth, and mostly matches the characteristics of that “type” or “color.” One reason that people like natural stone is the variation, and that it never looks manufactured. Small color or pattern variations are sometimes visible, and occasionally larger variations are enough to make one think it’s not even the same variety of stone. Fact: natural stone will certainly have variation. Some stones are known to vary more widely than others that are more consistent from slab to slab. A small 2” x 2” sample may not carry each and every characteristic that a larger slab will. If you love a particular type of stone and don’t mind the natural variation, this might be a good starting point in your selection process. If you want a very consistent look or are worried about the characteristics a stone has, you will want to either select the exact slab in-person you are purchasing, or select stone that is known for being more consistent in color or pattern.
Natural stones have other pros and cons. They are quite durable when it comes to heat, and can be cut and shaped into both simple and fanciful edge styles. Pricing for natural stones ranges quite a bit and can be on par or even more expensive than manmade options. On the other hand, some like marble and limestone will stain with red wine, or etch with acid like lemon juice or chemicals. Light colored granites and marble absorb water from around a sink, so wiping up spills quickly helps the stone maintain its characteristics. Materials like slate and quartzite are almost impermeable to these small assaults and are good stone options.
Some people don’t think of metal as a “natural” material, but it does come from the earth and is often mixed with other elements. These include metals like stainless steel, copper, and zinc. Making a comeback, are pewter and brass. Stainless steel is the gold-standard for commercial kitchens and more recently, home appliances since it doesn’t patina the way copper and zinc does. These options are non-porous, which means they won’t absorb dark liquids and do not require sealing. Because these are sheets of metal, they can be cut and molded to the exact size needed.
The last natural surface we’ll cover is wood. Wood looks rich and warm, but does need a bit of care like regular oiling to infrequent refinishing. Similar to furniture, a variety of woods lend themselves to being perfect candidates for countertops. Walnut is a warm, rich wood that is used in furniture, especially of the mid-century modern ilk. Other options are maple, teak, and birch. In this application, strips of wood are laminated together to create a durable surface for meal prep. Wood adds a touch softness to the room, and is much quieter in a household kitchen than the stainless steel more commonly found in commercial kitchens. Because it can be expensive, it’s frequently used on eat-in islands for a warm, furniture look rather than a wide and long counter.
Solid surfaces are a newer kid on the block and just as popular as the materials listed above. I consider any polymers and resins, even mixed with natural stone chips a “solid surface.” The most well-known solid surface probably is Corian. Corian is a brand name for DuPont’s polymer material that was developed in the ‘60s, though there are a number of other brands available now. It has a high-quality look lends itself well to decor, more than you might expect for something you might consider to just be plastic. There are a variety of patterns like granite and solid colors available in Corian. It can be molded into a sink connected right to the countertop and resists staining and scratching. It can also be polished into a reflective surface or honed to add depth and softness to a surface.
My current favorite solid surface is quartz, and there are several brands that produce a very similar material. Quartz basically is composed of small chips of stone mixed with resin. These chips can be tiny and uniform or they can vary in size adding visual texture to a surface. The chips are mixed with a dyed resin to produce a variety of colors. Quartz can have a similar look and price to granite and marble and is essentially maintenance-free.
Though I have never personally used porcelain for counters, the properties have me intrigued. I have however encountered many porcelain thrones, and those are meant to last a long time, especially with public use! Porcelain is made of a high-quality clay that has a high concentration of kaolinite. Porcelain counters, bathroom fixtures, and even your fine china are made of the same kind of clay as said thrones, glazed and fired for the finished product. The main negative to porcelain is that it can chip and break under immense pressure (though it is unlikely you’ll run into that in your daily activities in the kitchen), but it is stronger than even granite, and the price is comparable to the other natural stones. The pros of porcelain on the other hand are many. Basically, any negative listed in materials above almost are non-existent with porcelain. One huge positive about porcelain countertops are that they are very lightweight because they are thin and can be installed over existing counters. If you prefer a thick look, the edge can be built up just like with other materials.
Concrete countertops aren’t new, but they are hardly the norm in many kitchens today. Made of sand, gravel, cement and water, this slurry is mixed together and then poured into a form, which hardens and cures over time. When I was in school, concrete counters had been around maybe less than 20 years. With an alluring warmth and soft patina, we were warned a concrete counter would be a fickle mistress. They were expensive and cumbersome to create and came with a handful of risks, like cracking. That said, we’ve had many technological advances since then, helping to make concrete a viable option for many. From pre-formed casts to the addition of resins, they are now a seemingly better product than in the past.
Be sure to check back since we’ll be doing a deeper dive into counters in a future post. What is your favorite counter top material right now?
Written by Emilie Kyle