Tips to Consider when Selecting New Countertops

Countertop Options Whether you’re looking to replace your old countertops as part of a full kitchen remodel or a quick facelift, you’ll find there is a wide array of options when it comes to materials and distinctive finishes. The best surface for your home often depends on your budget, style and lifestyle. Keep in mind you don’t need to pick just one! A trend we’ve seen in our recent remodeling work is that many homeowners are mixing and matching complementary surfaces in different areas of the kitchen to achieve a truly one-of-a-kind look. The following overview of available countertop options may be helpful when choosing the solution that is right for you.

Natural Stone

Granite still reigns supreme as the most popular choice in countertops. This beautiful, natural stone is made up of crystallized minerals that are formed together at extremely high temperatures in the earth’s crust. Besides the vast selection of stunning colors available, the durability of granite plays a large role in the stone’s popularity. Granite is one tough material – scratch and stain resistant, it can withstand temperatures up to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit without damage. While granite is less porous than most natural stones, proper maintenance and sealing are necessary to avoid staining. Marble is another natural stone with a distinctive and luxurious look, though it is not recommended for areas that receive a lot of wear and tear. As marble can stain easily, care should be taken to clean spills quickly, and periodic resealing is recommended. Also, highly acidic liquids, such as fruit juices, coffee and vinegar, can cause etching that is not preventable with sealing. And, since marble is a softer stone it can chip or crack easily. So, if you absolutely love the look of marble, consider putting it on an island or baking area, as marble’s cool surface is great for kneading and rolling dough. Another option, limestone, has a natural weathered look that can darken over time, and comes in a range of earthy colors. It does have properties similar to marble, so care should be taken to prevent staining, etching and chipping with this natural stone as well.   Soapstone countertops have a soft “dry soap” feel, as they are composed of a large amount of talc. Although soapstone countertops are often seen in historic homes, they are frequently used in modern homes for countertops and sinks. A durable, non-porous material, it is both heat and stain resistant. However, because of its softness, soapstone can show dents and scratches more easily than some other countertop materials.  Naturally a light shade of gray, soapstone will darken over time to a deep-charcoal color, and also develop a patina. It is recommended that regular applications of mineral oil are applied to this stone to keep a consistent color, especially during the first year of use. Natural stones can have a good amount of variation, so it is recommended that you choose the slab in person, as the colors and veining can differ greatly from one slab to another.

Engineered Stone & Solid Surfacing

Engineered stone, a combination of crushed natural stone and a resin binder, is an increasingly popular choice in countertops. The majority of engineered stone tops are made with quartz, making them extremely durable. And, recent technological advances have made it possible for this man-made material to look more like natural stone than ever before. These surfaces are heat and scratch resistant like natural stone, but they require less maintenance since they are non-porous, highly stain-resistant and don’t require sealing. Engineered stone comes in a wide palette of colors and finishes, ranging from a natural stone look to a slick, fire-engine red. The materials don’t have the natural variation, swirls and pock marks that granite and other types of natural stone do, but some homeowners prefer the more consistent and uniform pattern. Before engineered stone, Corian was the only option if you wanted to upgrade from laminate but didn’t want to go with a natural stone top. Since then solid surfacing has become much more affordable as additional brands have emerged over the years. Solid surfacing is a man-made material, mostly composed of plastics or acrylics and a polyester resin-like material. This allows the material to be melted together, without visible seams after installation. You can even create a sleek look by incorporating an integrated solid-surface sink. While solid surfacing is stain-resistant and scratches can easily be buffed out, it does tend to be more susceptible to heat damage than other options. A wide selection of colors, styles and patterns are available, including stone and glass look-alikes.

Additional Options

If you’re looking for a distinctive, modern look, consider a metal countertop. Stainless steel is a very popular choice as it is heat-resistant, easy to clean, and will stand up to dents and scratches better than other metal choices. If stainless is too “industrial” for you, the warmer look of copper may be a better option for your kitchen. This metal will develop a reddish-brown patina as it ages, unless you choose to periodically apply a wax or sealer. Another option, zinc starts out with a whitish to silvery-gray appearance, but develops a darkened blue-gray patina with time, and is a great way to add character to a bar top. If considering zinc, keep in mind it has a lower melting point than copper or stainless steel, so it may be susceptible to distortion if hot items are placed on its surface. Wood countertops generally fall into two categories. Decorative countertops, such as islands suitable for alternate eating areas, service stations or other activities that don’t typically mar the surface, often feature a softer wood such as teak or birch. Whereas functional countertops, intended for chopping and food preparation, are often made from hardwoods like oak, maple or cherry. Regular applications of mineral oil should be applied to these countertops to maintain their beautiful, warm appearance. Concrete is a versatile material that can be modified in many ways. Concrete countertops can be molded into angles and curves, custom colored to match other design elements, or include items embedded in the surface such as pebbles, sea shells, and recycled glass. Depending on the level of detail, these custom-made pieces can have a hefty labor-intensive price tag. Although concrete is naturally heat-resistant, it is a porous material, and should be sealed to prevent staining.

Choosing a countertop can be overwhelming, but an experienced design build contractor can help to educate you on your options and guide you in the selections process. With established contacts throughout Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC, a remodeler like BOWA can recommend showrooms where you can preview the numerous options available and make the best choice for your home and family.