A few weeks ago I posted a two-part series called “8 Tips on Choosing Kitchen Countertops” (see here for Part 1 and Part 2). Those posts walked through what to do before you look at materials, things to consider when selecting a material and what to do when you have found a material that you like. Now I want to talk about some of your actual material choices.
When thinking about countertop materials the obvious choices are granite and quartz. But when you really start digging into it there are an almost endless number of options. Making a choice comes down to the three (or maybe it is 4) “P’s”…Personal Preference, Price and Properties…what do you like, what can you afford, and how are you going to use your kitchen (which will dictate the properties you are looking for in your countertop). Today I will discuss 8 of the countertop options that are the most common…ones most people have seen or at least heard of. This post is not meant to be a recommendation of any one material…it really depends on you and the 3(4?) P’s. When I was looking for my countertops I considered granite, quartz, marble, soapstone, wood, concrete and quartzite, all of which are discussed today. In a post next week I will cover an additional 8 materials that are less common but certainly worth consideration (don’t you love how everything about these posts is “8”?).
Before we get started, please note that I have tried to provide ballpark cost per square foot for the materials…understand these are rough estimates…costs can vary by region due to availability and labor costs, and there’s almost always an option that is more expensive than the range given. So, let’s get started…
Granite $35 a square foot and up
Everyone is familiar with granite and it is getting to the point where people almost expect it, even in a lower price-point kitchen (if you watch House Hunters you will see people reject kitchens out-of-hand if they don’t have granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, even for starter homes). Growing up no one had granite countertops…we all had formica (which believe it or not is still around). And we all turned out okay. :) Granite has proliferated in the last 15 years to where it is now almost the defacto choice. And there is nothing wrong with that…granite has many wonderful properties. For one, there is a granite for almost any budget. The very uniform (dare I say “generic”) granites can be had at around $35 a square foot installed and it can go up (and up and up) from there (the granite pictured above is one of my favorites, called Costa Esmeralda…it is a higher price-point granite). Granite also comes in an endless array of colors and patterns, and can be done in a honed (matte) finish or a leathered (textured) finish for a more unique look. Granite is very durable, is heat-reistant and low maintenance. The negatives are that it is everywhere…your granite may look like your neighbors. There are also some negative environmental aspects of granite, both from the quarrying process and the impacts from shipping these large slabs of stone all over the world (much of the granite comes from Brazil and India).
Marble $70 – $100 a square foot (or more)
Marble is becoming the new granite…it is showing up in kitchens everywhere. With the current trend towards white kitchens and gray paint tones, marble works well design-wise. I think marble is absolutely gorgeous. But marble comes at a price…and I don’t just mean dollars and cents (it can actually be less expensive than many other countertop materials). While marble is touted as being great for rolling out doughs and working with pastry (um, how often do you do that?), it is also highly susceptible to scratching, etching and staining and will develop a “patina” that may look worn (which some people like). Like granite, it is generally considered to be heat-resistant and easy maintenance (outside of constantly having to worry about staining, etc). When I was looking at the granite warehouse I wandered into the marble section…it is easy to be swayed by it’s beauty and relatively reasonable price point…but I knew I didn’t want to be worried about the staining and scratching…it is a trade-off, one that obviously many people are willing to make.
Soapstone $80 – $100 a square foot
Soapstone has been around for years…I have read about old soapstone sinks being found and repurposed. This is another stone that I considered when looking for a countertop material…while it is more limited in color and design (from deep green black to black to gray), some of the stone has very interesting veining and can be quite beautiful. Soapstone is heat resistant and nonporous (and therefore resists staining). The main reason I decided against it is that similar to marble, it is subject to scratching, chips & dents. Soapstone is part talc, hence this susceptibility. Friends who have soapstone said it can look worn after a time…some people may not mind this, or may actually like this…just be aware. Soapstone also requires regular oiling (monthly). Soapstone is generally a matte (non-shiny finish).
Quartzite $150 a square foot and up
Quartzite is a natural stone, not to be confused with quartz, which generally refers to the manmade material (discussed below). Quartzite has become very popular of late because one of its variations looks a lot like marble (often referred to as “Super White” or “Fantastic White” as in the photo above). This is the material I ended up with (as I loved the look of marble but didn’t want the headaches). My personal experience was that while it is available, if you see a slab you like, tag it…it doesn’t last long in the warehouse. Also be aware that there is a lot of variation in the slabs…some have a lot more white and less gray (which can actually drive up the price point) and some have more “filler,” which if not done well, can look yellow (quartzite has natural gaps that are filled before being used as a countertop material). Quartzite is very hard (harder than granite), is heat resistant and low maintenance. However, like marble, quartzite is subject to etching from acidic foods…etching is where the acid actually eats away at the surface…this can leave a mark and/or noticeable dull spot in the countertop (essentially etching away the shiny surface). You need to be conscious of things like citrus and tomato juices sitting on the countertop for too long a period of time. I have had my countertops for 6 months and haven’t noticed any issues, but I also do most of my prep work on my island which is wood.
Wood $35 – $200 per square foot
Wood countertops have a warm look to them and come in a variety of options…maple is generally priced at the lower end, walnut and cherry will be more, and some exotic woods will be even more than that. Many people think of butcher block when they think of wood, but wood countertops have come a long way from butcher block. While warm in look with relatively inexpensive price points available, wood is not heat resistant and is subject to scratches, swelling and darkening if not properly maintained. Wood, like soapstone, requires more regular maintenance with frequent oiling recommended to maintain the surface. Wood allows for some creative variations, like using reclaimed/distressed wood or allowing the countertop to take the natural shape of the wood. Wood can also be a nice complement to another stone, for example on an island or bar top (which is what I have done).
Concrete $70 – $150 per square foot
The use of concrete, both in countertops and in flooring, seems to be growing. Concrete in countertops can be a relatively reasonable option as far as price point, and it can be so much more than gray…in fact it can be made in virtually any color by adding pigments, stains and dyes…although gray still seems to be the most common. Concrete can also be fashioned into almost any shape by virtue of the forms used. Concrete’s disadvantages are that it is porous and therefore subject to staining. It is also subject to cracking. However polymers are now being added to some concrete products to help resist cracking and some manufacturers are claiming that their sealers make concrete virtually non-staining. And while concrete countertops can be heavy, again, new technologies are coming up with lighter weight materials. The popularity of concrete is relatively new, so if this material appeals to you I would ask a lot of questions of the installer.
Engineered Quartz $100 – $185 per square foot
Engineered Quartz or engineered stone, commonly referred to as just “quartz” is a manmade product made from crushed quartz and a resin that binds the material together. It comes in a variety of colors and patterns. In general it has a more uniform look to it, but manufacturers (such as Caesarstone and Silestone) continue to play around with patterns that mimic real stone…some of the most popular are ones that mimic marble. Like natural stone, engineered quartz is made in slabs and will require seams if your countertops are longer than the slab size. Because the material is more uniform the matching at a seam, however, is much easier. Quartz is basically maintenance free and non-porous, another advantage. While “heat-tolerable” these countertops are not “heat-resistant” and hot pans should not be placed directly on a quartz countertop.
Solid Surface $75 – $125
Commonly referred to Corian (although that is just one of the manufacturers), this manmade material was all the rage before everyone wanted granite. You will still find it in kitchens and bathrooms, and it has it’s advantages. Like engineered quartz, it can be found in a myriad of colors and patterns (many mimicking natural stone) and has a uniform look. Unlike quartz, corian is seamless (you will often see an integrated seamless sink in a bathroom installation). It is non-porous (i.e. won’t stain) and is very durable. It is, however, subject to scratching and is not heat-resistant.
So there you have it, 8 options to consider. Next week I will discuss stainless steel, glass, recycled paper (really), recycled glass, sodalite, limestone, lava stone (get out your checkbook!) and zinc as countertop options. See you then1