How to Pick the Best Kitchen Countertop Material for Your Lifestyle
If you're in the market for a new kitchen countertop, you know that the choices can be overwhelming: There are hundreds of colors, patterns and textures to chose from. And materials range from natural stone to quartz composites to stained concrete. Which one is right for you and your family, your style and your budget?
First things first: Take your lifestyle into consideration, says interior designer Kerrie Kelly of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab. Ask yourself the following questions: "Do you really want to seal granite and natural stone once a year? Do you want to worry about spilled red wine, cutting lemons, or burning the surface? Are you active entertainers or do you have a house full of family members?" If so, you may want to consider a material that incorporates man-made elements that support a busy lifestyle and are low maintenance, like quartz, she says. Be honest with yourself and realistic about what kind of upkeep—daily, seasonally, and yearly—that you and your family are willing to do. Choosing something that doesn't fit with your lifestyle and that you won't actually maintain is never a good idea.
It's not all about function though. You should also think about aesthetics. Countertops often set the tone for the design of the kitchen, so choose a material that reflects your personal style and start building from there. In many cases, people decide on countertops before choosing their cabinets. Whether you're building a new kitchen from scratch, shopping for a house, or updating an existing home, read our guide to the most popular kitchen countertop materials before you start shopping.
Granite, soapstone, marble, and slate are all beautiful and lend an organic, natural look to your space, but they're also porous and high-maintenance, says Kelly. You must seal these countertops once a year. Any acid (like an errant lemon squeeze or a spilled glass of wine) may cause etching and can degrade the material over time. This material also tends to be the most expensive.
The quartz used for countertops doesn't come from a quarry; this contains as much as 93 percent quartz particles and other minerals, shaped into slabs and bound with resins. It's popular with designers for its non-porous surface that resists both scratching and staining—no sealing required. Some types are convincing copies of natural marble, with similar veining.
Solid Surface Materials
These surfaces are made of acrylic, polyester, or a combination of the two. This mid-range material mimics the look of natural stone, but since it is nearly non-porous, it doesn't require the upkeep of natural surfaces and keeps bacteria away. It's not as strong as natural stone and is prone to scratches and heat damage.
Durable and affordable, tile has this fallen out of favor with homeowners because "no one wants to clean grout," Kelly explains. Instead, it's now used in kitchens for horizontal surfaces like backsplashes and walls, where you can have the beauty (and a wide range of designs) without the maintenance.
Warm and inviting, wood is still very popular for sections of countertop—say, like a chopping block. (Maple and oak are the most commonly used varieties.) But you must make peace with how it looks after regular use, which often means water stains and cuts from knives. Wood can harbor bacteria, too, so do not handle meat on it, cautions Kelly.
This heat- and scratch-resistant surface has been all the rage because of its industrial look. But more recently, concrete's popularity is waning, says Kelly. That's because like other natural materials, the surface is porous and requires sealing to maintain. And some owners find it's not consistent in installation and aesthetic. Because all concrete countertops must be made custom, it tends to be expensive.
For a truly modern and industrial feel, go with stainless steel. Heat resistant and durable, they evoke the look of a sleek, restaurant-style kitchen. Rust-proof and burn-resistant, it's easy to clean, install, and recycle. It's also expensive. Perfectionists beware: This surface is susceptible to scratches, dents, smudges, and fingerprints are much more noticeable.
Often referred to by the brand-name Formica, this countertop material is made of paper that's plastic-coated and available in a range of colors—including surfaces that resemble natural stone, butcher block and other surfaces. The biggest difference? It costs a fraction of the price. It's also easy to clean, but it tends to scratch, burn, and stain just as easily.