From granite to quartz, different types of kitchen countertops can deliver on both looks and performance
After kitchen cabinets, kitchen countertops have the most style impact in the kitchen. There are many types of kitchen countertops to choose from—stone, quartz, solid surfacing, wood, to identify the most popular—so you’ll want to take a few factors into consideration before pulling out your wallet.
Where will it go? Will it be attractive if it’s visible from adjoining living areas as well as the cooking space?How will you use it and how often? Can it stand up to common spills and daily impact with cooking tools?What other features will it connect to? Will it look good and stand up to adjoining elements, like a sink or a stovetop?How often do you clean? Besides the after-meal swipe with a sponge, are you up for taking the time for regular maintenance?
Happily, whatever your answers are to the questions above, there is a countertop for you. Today’s eclectic kitchen styles also welcome a mix of materials, so don’t worry about everything matching. You can have one material for the island and another for the countertop, or treat yourself to a small slab of marble for a bar space, for instance. For best results, always hire a professional certified to fabricate and install the particular material you choose.
Below are popular types of countertops that Sweeten homeowners have installed along with the pros and cons of each material.
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(Above) Sweeten homeowners Lia and Chris’ kitchen remodel
Sought for its classic beauty and variety, marble still draws its fans among homeowners who want stone in the kitchen. However, it is more porous than granite, and this factor, combined with a high price tag—more than $100 per square foot, not including fabrication—limits its application to a few areas of the kitchen, like entertaining or baking areas. Remember that this particular material enjoyed pride-of-place in grand homes in the last two centuries, so if you are up for classic elegance that yields a timeworn patina, this could be the stone for you.
Withstands high heat Adds a high-quality, luxury look suitable for traditional or contemporary kitchensStays cool, so good for rolling out doughPairs beautifully with many other surfaces, especially wood and metal
The most expensive of stonesLimited in color choices—whites, grays, blacksStains, scratches, cracks, and chips more easily than other stonesRequires monthly sealing and may still discolor
Above) Sweeten homeowners Janet and Jerry’s kitchen remodel
Soapstone’s resistance to heat and water, along with a muted color palette marked by subtle veining, makes it an appealing alternative to granite and marble. It also comes with a slightly lower price tag, in the $70 to $100 per-square-foot range. Soapstone does require care, like all stones.
Resists heat and waterColor tends to be uniform throughout the slabSuitable for sinks, too, if you want a blended lookComes in at the lower price spectrum of natural stone
Scratches easily and will show stains, which can be sanded outMay crack or chip if you aren’t careful when working on itRequires regular sealing and will show stains if not wiped up immediatelyDevelops a patina over time, which you may or may not like
Engineered stone counters
(Above) Sweeten homeowners Bellamy and Zak’s kitchen remodel
Of all the types of kitchen countertops, engineered stone is probably the toughest surface on the market. this material is typically 90 percent quartz mixed with pigments and polyester resin, then manufactured under pressure into highly dense slabs. Manufacturers such as Caesarstone offer a vast array of looks, including many faux granites as well as the whitest whites, blackest blacks, and some brilliant colors like red and blue. Claims that it won’t stain or fade or succumb to high heat make engineered stone the most popular choice for kitchen countertops, edging out granite, despite the fact that the cost starts around $100 per square foot, the same or higher than natural stone.
Most impervious of all surfaces; resists heat, stains, scratches, bacteria, fadingHuge selection of patterns and colors, including faux stones and custom colorsCan be manufactured into nearly any shape you wantRequires no sealing or special maintenance
Faux stone doesn’t appear to look like real stoneMay crack on sudden impact with a heavy objectCosts as much as real stoneSolid-colored slabs will show seams
Above) Sweeten homeowner Ann’s kitchen remodel
Granite landed on the kitchen scene a little over two decades ago and remains popular. It’s a close second behind the number one choice, engineered stone, according to a survey from the National Kitchen and Bath Association. Why does granite endure? It combines unique beauty with durability and low maintenance. The natural grain means no two slabs will be identical. While very hard and impervious to heat, granite is porous, so it needs to be sealed at least annually—easy enough with hand application by sponge.
Resists high heatComes in a range of colors and grainsEach slab has a unique appearanceMaintains its value if well cared for, including sealing annually
Expensive, from $60 to $100 per foot, but popular colors come in lowerShows wear from knives and spills like vinegar, citrus juice, and oils, so use a cutting board on topRequires regular maintenance, which a DIY project with a sealant and a sponge can accomplishWill crack if improperly installed or a heavy object makes impact
Solid surfacing counters
(Above) Architects Can Vu Bui, Lane Rick, and Matthew Storrie’s kitchen remodel
Twenty years ago, solid surfacing was the darling in the world of kitchen countertops. It still deserves consideration, as many qualities have been improved over time by brands like Corian. It is heat- and stain-resistant and comes in a range of looks, including faux stone, and lots of fashion colors. Because it has a little give, due to it being made of acrylic or polyester or a blend of the two, objects dropped on solid surfacing are less likely to break. It also can be molded into many shapes, including intricate inlays, edge and backsplash treatments, as well as furniture. Plan to spend around $80 to $100 per square foot, depending on the pattern and color.
Heat- moisture-, and fade-resistantEnormous choice of colors and patterns, including customSeams fuse together so joints don’t showMolds into just about any shape including integrated backsplash or sinkDoes not require sealing; clean with mild detergent
Can’t take high heat; will lose shapeVulnerable to scratches, cuts, and prolonged exposure to stains like wine or catsup; requires a cutting boardFaux stone looks don’t exactly resemble stoneNot recyclable
(Above) Sweeten homeowners Lavanya and Regis’ kitchen remodel
Probably America’s earliest type of kitchen countertop, wood is still desired for its natural beauty and warmth. Wood can take moderate heat, but it will show burns, dings, and knife cuts. Fans consider the patina part of the appeal. Most damage can be sanded out; be sure to reapply food-safe mineral oil after any repair. Avoid installation in areas like the sink with prolonged exposure to moisture, which will cause it to swell. Clean with a damp sponge and a mild detergent. Hardwoods such as maple and oak are most commonly used as kitchen countertops, in a butcher-block pattern, which provides additional strength. Wood is a thriftier choice than many of the surfaces described above, starting at about $35 per square foot and climbing upward.
Easy to clean and repairGood for cutting and chopping; knives won’t dull with contactWon’t chip and objects dropped on it are less likely to breakProvides a rich look for a price lower than many other kitchen surfaces
Vulnerable to moisture, chemicals, and high heat, which cause permanent damageImmediately shows signs of useExpands or contracts with extreme swings in moist environmentRequires food-safe sealant and regular care to preserve surface
(Above) Sweeten homeowners Dan and Mike’s kitchen remodel
While not so rugged as most other surface options today, laminate still has plenty of upsides, like loads of patterns and colors, and a thrifty price tag starting at $10 to $20 per square foot. Made of resin-covered paper backed by plywood or particleboard, laminate does come with its share of synthetics. To ensure your indoor air quality, look for laminates certified by Greenguard, like Wilsonart, which indicates they are made from low-emitting materials that use formaldehyde-free paper and low- or non-toxic glues. This fashion-friendly surface can mimic the look of stone, wood, or fabric, or any graphic the manufacturer can think of. It will last for a few decades with proper care, which includes no direct cutting on the surface or exposure to acid or chemicals.
Requires minimal care and no sealingAvailable in a vast selection of patterns and colorsEasy to cut and install in tight spacesWell-priced, particularly for a product with so many style options
Scratches and burns easily; sometimes impossible to repairSeams show, particularly on solid colorsAllows only drop-in sinks, due to their constructionAnything other than the simplest edge treatment will drive up the price
Stainless steel counters
(Above) Sweeten homeowners Beth and Bob’s kitchen remodel
Of all the types of kitchen countertops, stainless steel counters are commonly used in commercial kitchens. This is because stainless steel can take a beating: from knives, high heat, most spills, and it’s completely anti-bacterial. You must avoid caustic chemicals, but since it’s water- and stain-proof, that’s not an issue unless you use it for something other than food prep. It comes in a number of finishes, including polished and brushed, which help hide scratches. Cost begins at the high-middle, about $70 per square foot. Dings and dents will show up and are impossible to remove without displacing the countertop. But if you want a pro-style countertop, those battle scars can be shown with pride.
Super-resilient material is water-, stain-, fade-proof and resists bacteriaNo need for sealing; cleans with simple detergent and waterIntegrates seamlessly with features like drainboards, sinks, and backsplashesManufactured to exact specifications, so potentially seamless
Not suitable for cutting; must use a board to protect from knivesShows the smallest scratches and dents, which are very hard to removeNoisy when kitchen tools come in contactFabrication will drive up the price unless you buy a ready-made sink and drainboard unit
Depending on how you use your kitchen, there is a myriad of options for those who always order take-out to the avid home chef. Style and function combine for the level of care you choose to take on.
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