Kitchen Countertops: So Many Materials!

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Your kitchen countertop is one of the most visible surfaces in your kitchen and it receives the hardest use. It’s a key element, and luckily, you have more choices than ever in terms of price, look, durability and ease of care.

From natural stone to a slew of engineered, manufactured, recycled and even salvaged options, there are far too many options to consider in one small blog post!

But let’s start with the basics.

Natural Stone

When we talk natural stone, we mean big slabs of granite, limestone, slate soapstone, or marble — natural stone blocks that are sealed, polished and ready to become your glamorous new cooking surface. Natural stone has a higher price point than other materials and it will require periodic sealing, but you’ll get a lifetime of use from this durable substance with proper care.

Granite in particular is not only the most popular natural stone choice; it’s the most popular kitchen material period. In many real estate circles, “granite countertops” has become shorthand for “good kitchen.” This, along with its natural strength, resiliency and well-rounded kitchen aptitude has made it a favorite material for remodeling homeowners who hope it will fetch their home a higher resale price.

Perhaps in reaction to granite’s extreme popularity, many homeowners have been searching high and low for alternate stone choices that set their designs apart. Options such as soapstone, slate, limestone and more have arisen, each with their own characteristic features.

Marble remains an elegant and popular choice, especially for baking, but because it can dent, chip and wear easily, most marble owners only use it for islands, specialized baking or candy making stations, or other sections of counter that receive the least abuse. Additionally, marble stains quite easily, so red wine and beet juice are its enemy!

Remember those silky charcoal desks from chemistry class? That’s soapstone. Soapstone is resistant to cracking and gives a luxuriously soft matte feel, but like marble it will dent if you drop something hard on it. Some owners welcome these dents, scuffs and marks, believing they add character. There are some maintenance issues, so if you are unwilling to seal this top often, you might want to select another countertop option.

Man-Made and Engineered Stone

Engineered stone countertops like quartz have the look of natural stone and are easy to maintain. Made specifically to withstand kitchen abuse, engineered stone won’t nick, chip, crack, dent, scorch or require sealing. The cost is typically higher than granite, but the ease of care and beautiful look makes the choice easy for no-fuss homeowners.

Quartz is the most well known engineered stone, and is made from ground quartz that is mixed with resins and binders to create surfaces in nearly any color, grain, or texture.

Solid surface countertops like Corian are similar to quartz, but are made of a homogenous mixture that is strong and highly customizable, and well-suited for kitchen countertops. Solid surface comes in a wide array of colors, patterns, and options and can be molded to any shape with no visible seams. Dark colors will show scratches quite easily (although scratches are easily repaired).

Laminate is still a viable option. Technology has come a long way since the 70’s and 80’s. Today’s laminates are manufactured to resist common kitchen damage such as cuts and burns, and can convincingly mimic popular stone patterns. The main benefit of laminate is its low price point.

Eco-Friendly Options

If you’re designing a kitchen with a conscience, there are many options that use materials responsibly, look good and hold up well to the tortures of daily kitchen use.

Concrete countertops are gaining in popularity as an alternate to natural stone or solid surface materials. This is a fine-grade concrete, that is very attractive and strong and can even incorporate glass remnants to give it a look and texture that comes close to natural stone.

Concrete can be cast in place or ordered in premade slabs. Similarly, recycled glass countertops are made from glass and binders to put that waste to work while looking divine.

Sustainable wood options are popular, with fast-growth and responsibly harvested options such as bamboo and palm providing exotic, warm, and surprisingly durable surfaces for the home kitchen. Salvaged wood is another way to get a responsible wood countertop. Look locally for suppliers who are able to supply you with salvaged wood that gives planks and boards a second life.

Butcher block is another eco-friendly wood option, as it is made from smaller pieces of wood that would otherwise go to waste. This traditional surface works well in country and rustic kitchens, giving a warm, homey feel.  As a general rule, all wood counters will need periodic treatment with food-grade mineral oil to keep them at their best — and nicks and cuts can be sanded away to renew its surface.

Stainless steel has made its way out of commercial kitchens and into modern homes thanks to its distinctive look and easy care. Stainless is great for kitchens because of its nonporous and easy-to-clean surface.. Keep in mind stainless steel countertops will show fingerprints and spots just as much as stainless steel appliances.

There are new inventive eco-friendly products popping up constantly. Paperstone is made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper but looks like soapstone, and between bio-glass, Icestone®, and other exotically named recycled products, there has never been more opportunity to make your next remodel an ecologically responsible one. Unfortunately, these are very expensive… but isn’t our world (and your space) worth it?

It’s a lot to take in, but we can help. Stop by any of our five Marsh Kitchens showrooms to see (and touch!) samples of different countertop materials. Our experts are here to answer any of your material, design or layout questions.