Choosing a kitchen counter is a huge and often overwhelming task. Forget about the color for a minute (though that is important and can be a weeks-long, dizzying process!) – just the material is a big deal! Stone? Laminate? Eco-friendly? Something else? Counters are made of almost every imaginable material and the choices can seem endless.
Step one: pick a material.
This is a biggie. You need to examine your cooking habits, the amount of use and abuse your counters get, your square footage, and your budget.
If your budget is tight but you want beautiful counters (and who doesn’t?), never fear – you have lots of options.
Laminate counters, commonly referred to as Formica (sort of like “Kleenex” rather than “tissue”), costs between $8 and $20 per square foot and is a durable, affordable counter. It does nick, so you can’t cut directly on its surface, and it is not entirely heat-proof, so it’s best not so set hot dishes on it. Laminate is available in a massive array of colors, patterns, and finishes, so you’re sure to find (at least!) one that matches your kitchen.
Laminate is easy to clean, does not require sealing, and is available with “green” certification.
Tile is an inexpensive and beautiful choice as well. Ceramic and stone tiles will run anywhere from $10 to $50 per square foot and are available in hundreds of shapes, colors, and sizes. Tile counters are amazingly durable and easy to install, but the grout can be hard to clean.
Soapstone itself if a pricier option, generally about $80-$100 per square foot. It is dense, heat- and stain-resistant, and incredibly durable. The downside of soapstone is that it’s a softer stone, which makes it prone to scratching. It also does not come in many colors; most soapstone is a veined darker gray/green or bluish color, which will darken even further as time goes on.
Other popular natural stones include granite, marble, and quartzite. Marble is a beautiful and timeless choice, but like soapstone, it’s a soft, porous stone that’s prone to scratching and staining and therefore not the best choice for heavy-duty cooking. It’s also one of the more expensive options, starting at about $70 per square foot.
Certain slabs of quartzite mimic the look of popular marbles (like Super White quartzite can look similar to Carrara marble) and are much more practical in a kitchen. Quartzite is comparable to granite for durability purposes; both are incredibly heat-resistant, scratch-resistant, and long-lasting with proper sealing, an easy and low-cost process. These stones – which come in thousands of colors and styles, with veining, waves, or speckles – start at $50/square foot but can get very pricey.
Super White Quartzite
When choosing a natural stone, make sure to go out to the slab yard to pick your slab. Because the stone is formed naturally, every piece is different – sometimes dramatically so – and you want to make sure that you get the right one. Be aware that natural stone can go by different names in different yards!
Cosmic Black Granite
Blue Luis Granite
Do not confuse quartzite with quartz! Quartzite is naturally formed sandstone that is treated, while quartz is engineered, combining natural stone with resin fillers for a uniform look. Popular quartz manufacturers are Caeserstone, Zodiaq, and Cambria Technistone. Because quartz is man-made, it is not necessary to see the slab; what you see in the sample is what you get in your kitchen. It boasts the durability of granite (but not the heat resistance) but can be manufactured in bigger slabs for fewer seams in your kitchen. Prices are comparable to higher-end granites.
Vivid Green Caeserstone
If you’re looking for professional-grade or indestructible counters, opt for stainless steel or concrete. Stainless counters give your kitchen an industrial look but the corresponding industrial benefits. At $80-$90 per square foot, it is not the costliest option but is not inexpensive either. When paired with stainless sinks, faucets, and/or appliances, stainless can give your kitchen a seamless (and very shiny) look. It is easy to clean and heat- and stain-resistant (but not scratch- or fingerprint-proof), so it will hold up to rigorous use.
For an unusual look, wood counters have the eco-friendly advantage and are easy to maintain – just sand and restain when you nick the counter! They are generally not water-resistant, though, so create a barrier between the counter and the sink. You can use butcher-block, bamboo, or salvaged wood – the prices will vary depending on the type of wood used.
Finally, solid surface counters (often referred to by the brand name Corian) are a popular choice for minimalist kitchens. Solid surface is a seamless, man-made, nonporous and stain-resistant counter option that is formed specifically for your kitchen and joined invisibly with sinks and backsplashes of the same material. It can mimic many different counter materials in virtually any color and finish and can be refinished as necessary. Solid surface is not heat- or knife-resistant, so you can’t cut or put down hot pots directly on the counter, and it can be expensive (about $50 to $100 per square foot, or more).
What kind of kitchen counters do you have? What does your “dream kitchen” have?
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