If you are considering upgrading the kitchen countertops in your home, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with some of the more popular options—both natural and human-made. Not long ago, choosing a high-end, durable countertop meant picking a natural stone like granite or marble. However, the quality and appearance of certain human-made alternatives have improved exponentially, giving materials like granite a run for their money. With so many possible choices, picking the right countertop materials is no easy task. Here, we’ll describe what differentiates some prominent options and share some of our favorites.
Once the reigning king of high-end kitchens, granite remains a popular choice among the many countertop varieties. Its natural qualities and unique design easily complement most kitchens making it a “top feature,” according to a survey of prospective homebuyers by the National Association of Realtors. Granite is a hard, 100% natural (solid) stone that is mined from quarries, and then cut and polished to the desired finish. Heat resistant with a wide array of color choices, most homeowners can find something suitable to their taste and color scheme. However, the downside to granite is its porous nature, which means liquids can seep through and stain the surface. To prevent permanent marks, a granite surface must be properly sealed and maintained throughout its lifetime.
Pros: Unique, natural beauty; heat resistant.
Cons: Absorbs liquids; must be properly sealed and maintained to prevent staining.
Another favorite material for kitchen countertops is honed Carrara marble from northern Italy. The beautiful white stone with quiet, grey veining will not overpower a kitchen no matter how much counter “real estate” there is in the room. We believe that classic, tried-and-true materials should be used in fixed items like countertops, and that casual trends should be avoided. Clearly passing the test of time, Carrara marble has been around since the days of Ancient Rome and was used to design such notable works as The Pantheon and Michelangelo’s David. However, like all marble, it is porous and will stain. While some homeowners may consider future markings life’s patina, others find the worry of permanent stains a nuisance.
Pros: Classic; stands the test of time.
Cons: Porous material will stain.
In recent years, several knowledgeable outlets—including Elle Décor—have declared that quartz (not to be confused with quartzite) has overtaken granite and marble as a kitchen countertop favorite. In fact, some argue that quartz is the new must-have standard. Quartz countertops are made of engineered stone manufactured using roughly 93 percent ground natural quartz blended with seven percent polymer resins (binders) and pigment (color). Unlike granite, quartz is nonporous, so it is stain resistant and does not need to be sealed (but can be sensitive to heat above 350°F, so always use a trivet). Additionally, because custom pigments can be added to the stone, quartz countertops offer a more extensive range of colors for homeowners to choose from. Finally, because quartz is harder than granite, it is scratch and impact-resistant, making it popular with large families who can be hard on kitchen countertops. We find that both Cambria and Caesarstone offer excellent quartz countertops options, nearly indistinguishable from marble, yet requiring no sealing or long-term maintenance.
Pros: Stain and impact resistant; no upkeep; comes in a myriad of colors.
Cons: Susceptible to heat over 350°F.
Wood is another wonderful material to consider for your kitchen countertops. A beautiful addition to wet bars, pantries, and kitchen islands (especially when designed to feel furniture-like), wood effortlessly warms and enhances the overall kitchen space while mixing well with other surfaces. With so many of today’s kitchens opening to a home’s main living spaces, wood is an excellent option for creating a sense of continuity through the rooms. We prefer mahogany or walnut with a catalytic finish, which imparts a rich level of elegance and helps protect against heat, moisture, and scratches.
Pros: Imparts instant warmth; works well with other surfaces.
Cons: Requires upkeep.
When reviewing available countertop options, we suggest considering the level of maintenance each choice requires. For those who feel that natural stone is the best option, be prepared for some upkeep and even potential staining of your classic material. And, for those who prefer a maintenance-free route, there are thankfully beautiful and durable engineered alternatives, nearly indistinguishable from the “real” thing. We hope these ideas help you navigate some popular options, and we wish you well on your design endeavor!
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