A friend of mine is redoing her kitchen and recently posted on Facebook that she was looking for countertop ideas. The post generated a ton of responses…so many people have redone kitchens and everyone had some input ~ marble, black granite, leathered granite, honed granite, quartz, quartzite, concrete…so many choices. Having myself just gutted a kitchen, I had some input, especially since I am a huge researcher. I ended up with quartzite (which is a natural stone, not to be confused with quartz, sometimes referred to as engineered quartz), but it wasn’t without a lot of reading and driving all around greater Boston to come to a conclusion. I learned a LOT over the 4-5 weeks I spent making a decision on my countertops, and thought it might be worth sharing some of what I learned so that others may start out ahead of where I did. I broke my advice down into 8 tips, the first four of which are presented here.
Tip #1: It’s Not All Fun & Games
While I do not want to start off by complaining about redoing my kitchen, I think it is good to start with a realistic picture of what you are in for. I love my new kitchen and feel very fortunate that I could afford to redo it…especially given that when I bought the house a kitchen renovation wasn’t part of my plan. The kitchen had brown cabinets, stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. On the surface it appeared updated and while not my first choice in finishes, certainly tolerable. I had thought maybe I would have the cabinets professionally painted white and then call it a wrap. Until I realized how cheap the cabinets were…original to the house, they had taken a beating over 25+years, were thin and flimsy and outdated in style ~ they weren’t worth spending the money to have them painted ~ the whole “putting lipstick on a pig” kind of thing. And once I decided to replace the cabinets, the countertops and backsplash quickly followed. Suddenly I had a project on my hands. And admittedly I got excited…but just prepare yourself. Yes, it is fun to choose your cabinets, countertops & backsplash but be aware that unless you have an unlimited budget, what you want and what you can have may not always be the same thing. And you will run around like a crazy person looking at cabinets (there are a ton of cabinet makers), granite warehouses, tile stores for the backsplash, faucets, sinks, cabinet hardware, lighting, appliance stores…again, I love my kitchen, but brace yourself because it is a lot of work and there are a lot of decisions to make, not all of them tremendously exciting (e.g. placement of canned recessed lights in my kitchen). Towards the end I was tired of making decisions and just wanted it done. Now more specifically to countertops…
Tip #2: Have a Countertop Budget Before You Start to Look
I say this, yet at the same time having a budget may not always help you weed out choices. There is so much variation in the pricing of many of the countertop products (e.g. granite can start as low as about $35 a square foot and can easily exceed $100 a square foot) and it can be easy to fall in love with something, only to learn later that it is very expensive. Some showrooms will actually price the slabs. This still doesn’t tell you how much it will be to fabricate and install; you also need to know how many slabs you will need (it doesn’t take much countertop to necessitate 2 slabs). Some showrooms don’t even price the slabs, but instead use some kind of color system to mark the slabs…this tells you their cost relative to other slabs, but you can feel like you are really shopping in the dark…so orange is less than silver, but how much is orange to begin with? And how much more is silver than orange? Which leads me to my next tip…
Tip #3: Talk to a fabricator early in the process…in fact, talk to two or three
In many cases the only way you will be able to get a price on a particular countertop material is to talk to the fabricator, who can then call the warehouse and quote you a price for everything…stone, fabrication and installation. In my case I had absolutely fallen in love with “super white” quartzite…it had a silver sticker on it (only topped by gold in the pricing hierarchy) and so I kept looking for something else…but I finally got a quote for it and it fell within my budget. Get quotes from more than one fabricator!! I had quotes that differed by $2400 for the same stone (the exact slabs I had tagged at the warehouse), same kitchen. That’s because I needed two slabs and fabricators differ in how they price this. Two fabricators were charging me for both slabs, plus the fabrication and installation. I barely needed two slabs and there was going to be a lot of leftover stone…in theory it would belong to me, but what was I supposed to do with it? Unless you are remodeling other parts of your house and think you can use the leftover product somewhere else, having extra stone just results in more expense for you. The fabricator I ended up working with actually charged me just for the stone I was going to use…the balance of the stone they kept to sell as a remnant (another tip…if you are looking to just do a bathroom vanity you should always ask about remnants). This can work well, especially if you have a stone that is popular, like super white quartzite. This is what accounted for the $2400 differential…it made the stone I loved fall within my budget. And I had no other use for more quartzite. Just something to understand, as I didn’t when I first got started.
Tip #4: Before you start looking, think about how you will use your kitchen
Are you an avid cook who spends a lot of time preparing meals? Are you quick to wipe up spills? Do you like to be able to set hot pots & pans directly on the countertop? Are you okay with having to periodically seal, oil and otherwise maintain your countertops or do you want something that is maintenance free? You need to be realistic about this…I knew that I wanted something relatively maintenance free…I do wipe up spills pretty quickly but I didn’t want to have to run down in the middle of the night because I wanted to make sure that wine glass I left on the counter wasn’t creating a circular stain on my marble countertop. All countertops have their pros and cons…they may be porous or not, heat-resistant or not, susceptible to scratching or super hard, they may require periodic oiling or sealing or require no maintenance at all and they may be inexpensive…or not. Be smart about the different options, preferably before you go look at stone. I am going to tell you right now, it is (IMO) very, very easy to fall in love with the look of marble and believe it or not, many marbles do not break the bank…but marble is high-maintenance, and unless you know you will be fastidious about wiping things up and you won’t mind scratches, then just shield your eyes as you walk past the marble section of the showroom. You can thank me later.
Ready for more? 8 Tips on Choosing Kitchen Countertops ~ Part 2.