Countertop Selection for your Kitchen
The importance of selecting your cabinetry is first and most important. Along with this - the perfect countertop is at the forefront of most homeowners' wish lists. Whether you're craving granite or have fallen for the unique look of quartz surfacing, there are plenty of options.
It's important to approach the selection process wisely. You know what these countertops look like; now it's time to get a handle on their characteristics. Read on to learn about specific costs and pros and cons before you make a countertop commitment.
The brief overview:
Practically speaking, solid surface, natural stone and quartz tend to hold up best. If you spill something, hope it lands on solid surface, quartz or stainless steel. You want to roll dough on marble and cut on stone or wood. Laminate and solid surface come in the widest variety of colors. The flexibility of solid surfacing and stainless steel makes them ideal for fashioning decorative shapes or integral sinks. When sealed, concrete functions as an excellent surface that is gaining in popularity.
Tile, wood and stainless steel offer special looks but have their tradeoffs: tile doesn’t offer a smooth surface for food preparation and its grout can discolor; wood requires sealants and maintenance; and steel scratches and shows fingerprints. Specialty surfaces like hemp-based countertops and those fashioned from lavastone provide alternative choices outside of the countertop norm.
Want to achieve the best of all worlds?
This can happen by carving out space for a mix of surface materials—a granite island for serving, a maple butcher-block square for cutting, solid-surface tops for food-preparation and tile for a backsplash accent.
Natural Stone Selection
It's hard to beat the beauty of natural stone, and it shows. Granite countertops consistently top the "most wanted" list, due in part to their durability and rich composition. But it's certainly not the only stone on the block. The most common natural stones used to make kitchen counters are:
· · Granite
· · Marble
· · Limestone
· · Slate
· · Soapstone
· · Natural quartz
You should insist on seeing the slabs selected for your kitchen before they arrive (typically you’ll have a chance to do this at the fabricator’s workshop). If they were prepared from different lots, the color of the stone you saw in the showroom may not exactly match the stone set aside for you. Make sure you are comfortable with any differences. Also, know that you can choose from a variety of finishes. Common ones include polished (for a high-gloss surface), honed (smooth with more of a matte look), flamed (a blow-torch creates a textured surface) and tumbled (the stone itself is tumbled, resulting in rounded edges appropriate for old world or farmhouse kitchens; matte, but not as smooth as honed).
How they compare
Granite Granite is the most durable, and is chip and scratch resistant. You can cut, roll dough, and place hot pots directly on granite. Because stone is porous, each stone requires special sealants. But granite absorbs the least and only requires resealing about once a year.
Marble Because it’s smooth and cool to the touch, marble is the traditional favorite for rolling dough and making pastries. However, it lacks the durability of granite and requires sealants to be applied more frequently to prevent stains.
Limestone Limestone is not the best choice for messy—or frequent—cooks. It offers a unique weathered look but also stains easily due to its more porous nature, so spills must be addressed immediately. But don't write it off too quickly: Jerusalem stone, a generic term for stone primarily quarried from areas around the Holy Land, is a dolomite-limestone that resembles marble but is hardier than both it and limestone.
Slate Used for centuries to create stylish weather resistant roofs, slate's natural beauty and strength are finding their way into the kitchen. Befitting of a roofing material, slate is durable, hard and fireproof. Luckily, it's beautiful, too, making it a prime choice for homeowners seeking a countertop that will make a statement. Its low absorption rate keeps stains at bay, though you may want to seal regularly to add a further dose of protection.
Soapstone Often referred to as "the original stone countertop," early settlers in New England relied on the durable material for their own countertops. Far from a high-maintenance top, soapstone's inert nature means acids won't etch the material, and stains can be rubbed out. Mineral oil treatment will bring out a darker, richer color. Make a powerful statement by combining with a soapstone sink.
Quick Tip: As you investigate your natural stone options, consider functionality first, then this: do you want a stone that will look brand new 10 years from now, or one that will take on the patina of age? Let your answer help guide your choice.
To Clean: Stone is a natural product, and cleaning is fairly simple, though be sure to follow specific instructions for your stone. Monticello Granite, the first nationally available countertop company, recommends that stone surfaces be cleaned with a few drops of a neutral cleaner, stone soap or mild liquid dishwashing detergent. Always avoid products containing abrasives, lemon, vinegar or other acids, as well as scouring pads.
Cost of Natural Stone Products:
About $70-$100 per square foot. Top-of-the-line slabs can run upwards of $300 per square foot.
What It Is
The superman of stone, quartz surfacing provides a nearly indestructible material, idea for homeowners who want a beautiful countertop—that they might occasionally spill wine on! Providing the look of natural stone with a mettle that laughs in the face of coffee, lemon juice and high-maintenance care, its non-porous nature protects against more than just stains—it's also extremely hygienic, making it a food-safe choice.
Though quartz surfacing is sometimes referred to as “engineered” quartz, don't be fooled into thinking that you'll end up with a synthetic countertop. Expect pure natural quartz (generally upwards of 90 percent) mixed with epoxy resin binders. The care-free surface doesn't require sealants. Boasting the look of natural stone, quartz surfacing has a consistent color; its color should be very close to what you saw in the showroom.
· · Does not require sealants.
· · Scratch-resistant with diamond-like hardness, you can cut on quartz (excessive force can damage it, however).
· · Consistent color.
· · Its non-porous makes it virtually stain-free.
· · Can be worked into a decorative edge.
· · Though it can briefly tolerate moderate temperatures, you'll want to use a hot pad or trivet when placing a hot pan on it.
· · Integrated sinks are not available, as with solid surfacing.
Quartz surfacing is available in colors not found in nature, as the crushed stone is generally mixed with pigment. Take advantage, and choose a color that dazzles while looking like stone.
Though it's important to follow your manufacturer instructions, CAMBRIA, a leading producer of natural quartz countertops, recommends washing with warm water and a pH neutral, non-abrasive cleaner.
Cost of Quartz
Similar to natural stone - expect to pay $70-$250 per square foot.
What It Is
The most common kitchen countertop, laminate is a synthetic material made up of several layers: multiple sheets of kraft paper (like that used in grocery bags), a decorative paper and a melamine plastic coating. Though economical, laminate doesn't have the lasting power of stone; however, manufacturers like Wilsonart offer upgraded, high-wear surfaces with increased lifespan. A slightly more expensive alternative with no dark edges is solid-color laminate, which is made of a colored plastic throughout.
· · Produced in hundreds of colors and patterns and a variety of finishes. Certain designs replicate the look of granite, solid surface, engineered stone and hardwood, among others, providing an in-demand look at an undemanding price.
· · Easy upkeep.
· · Impact resistant.
· · A coved design, where the laminate eliminates the countertop’s back edge by curving slightly up the wall, makes for easy cleanup.
· · Cost savings, due to reduced labor and more inexpensive material compared to other surfaces.
· · Difficult to repair chips.
· · Hot items and water seeping into seams may cause layers to break.
· · Kraft paper leaves a dark line at the edges, unless it runs wall to wall or is trimmed with a decorative material such as wood or stainless steel.
· · You’ll need cutting boards.
· · You can’t clean it with abrasives.
Working with a tight budget that won't allow for that more expensive surface? Cover a small area of your kitchen, like an island, with your desired top, and use a complementary laminate as the main perimeter surface.
According to Wilsonart, a top manufacturer of laminate surfaces, a damp cloth and mild soap should be adequate for most spills. For more resistant stains, create a paste from baking soda and a mild household cleaner, and give a brisk 15-20 strokes to the area using a nylon bristle brush. If these methods don't work, a cotton ball saturated with undiluted household bleach can be rubbed on the stain for up to two minutes, though Wilsonart warns that the surface must be thoroughly rinsed with water and dried, and prolonged exposure to bleach will cause discoloration. Always follow your manufacturer's specific instructions.
Expect to pay about $5-$20 per square foot.
What It Is
Decorative tiles are often used for trim or backsplashes, and hardier types can serve as a countertop surface. They may feature raised, recessed or painted designs. There are main types are: ceramic, porcelain, quarry, glass, natural stone and mosaic. Unglazed tiles (which generally have a matte finish) must be sealed; glazed tiles are impervious to water.
The spaces between the tiles are filled in by grout. An epoxy grout is recommended to help resist stains. A palette of grout colors looks like a palette of paint colors—there are that many to choose from. One that is similar in color to the tile is recommended for a more unified look; remember that lighter colors aren't as effective at hiding dirt, and the grout should be sealed to prevent bacteria from setting up camp between your tiles.
How They Compare
Ceramic: Ceramic tiles are made from pressed clays with a matte finish or a glaze of metallic oxides and ceramic stains.
Porcelain: Porcelain mosaic tiles, also made from clay, are baked at a higher temperature, which makes them thicker. Their color also goes all the way through the tile, rather than just covering the surface.
Quarry: Quarry tile is an umbrella classification for tile made out of a clay mixture, such as shale. Terra cotta tile, which retain clay's reddish orange to brown hues and require a sealant, fall in this category.
Glass: While the majority of glass tiles are too delicate to provide a durable countertop surface, they're an exceptional choice for backsplashes.
Natural Stone: The usual suspects, like granite, marble, slate, travertine and limestone, fall into this category. Unlike natural stone countertops, the stones are actually cut into thin squares that function as tile.
Mosaic Tile: Refers to tile made from any material that measures 2-inches square or smaller.
· · You can put hot pots on tile.
· · Resists moisture.
· · You can use special hand-painted designs.
· · The grout may stain.
· · The tile surface won’t be smooth enough for cutting or rolling dough.
For a personalized look, consider mosaic countertops; or, for something equally unique, combine hand-painted, vintage or imported tiles with inexpensive, monotone tiles for a customized look at a reasonable cost.
The safest cleaning method will depend heavily on the type of tile you've used, so be sure to consult your manufacturer's instructions. For glazed ceramic, the most common tile countertop material, tile manufacturer American Olean recommends cleaning with a damp cloth and non oil-based household cleaner, and cautions against using ammonia, which can discolor grout.
About $1-$100 per square foot, depending on how decorative and unique a look you want.
What It Is
The most common wood countertop you know as butcher block, those thick hardwood maple surfaces that every knife-wielding chef dreams about. Butcher blocks generally vary in thickness between 1 ¼ and six inches, and are made of stacked and glued hard maple pieces; the exposed end grain is the cutting surface. Other woods such as cherry, teak and walnut can be used, though they're generally chosen more for their decorative effect or used on a hutch.
· · Won’t dull knife blades.
· · Provides a convenient, built-in chopping/food prep area.
· · After heavy usage, in many cases knife marks can be removed by sanding and re-oiling.
· · Requires sealants.
· · Should be periodically re-oiled.
· · Shows knife marks.
· · Prone to water damage so it shouldn’t be placed near the sink without several coats of sealant.
Considering a butcher block island? Hang a pot rack overhead to make food prep even easier—chop those veggies and put them right in the pot!
According to butcher block great John Boos, it's important to periodically apply a non-toxic mineral oil appropriate for kitchen use with a rag. Never use harsh detergents to clean, and follow your manufacturer's guidelines.
Wood Countertop Cost
About $10-$40 per square foot.
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