Kitchen Countertops: Five Categorical Choices for Beauty and Durability

It can be challenging – even confusing – to find the right material for your countertops which are the hardest-working surfaces in your kitchen. Also, there are considerations you should address before choosing a countertop based on looks alone. A countertop should be durable, scratch-resistant, heat-resistant, water-resistant, stain-resistant, easy to clean, as well as attractive. This brief guide reviews five material categories selected for their perfect combination of practicality and beauty. There are many material options – natural, manufactured or engineered – to go on counters which can be installed as a solid surface or applied to a backing like a veneer.

Your material of choice can impact the kind of sink you want, whether it is integrated, drop-in or under-mount, An integrated sink will only work with stainless steel or solid-surface materials, like Corian. A drop-in sink is the most versatile and can be used with any type of countertop material, and an under-mount sink also works with any material except for wood.

Also consider textures and edges as your material choice will impact these as well. You will want to investigate all the edge styles for your choice and check the sharpness and thickness of the profile.

A combination of two materials can be a solution when you are considering tasks that will be performed on that countertop. While you may choose granite or ceramic for the majority of countertops, you may want a section of wood for chopping, cutting and slicing, or marble for rolling out pastry and candy making. The combination of two materials can be worked into the design and provide the best solution, where one type of material is for a work area, and another for clean-up or eating. In fact, countertops affect the look and feel of the whole kitchen and can make a dramatic design statement.

1. Stone: Granite, Marble and Limestone

Granite, marble and limestone may be the most expensive choice but they are the top choice for beauty and practicality. They will last forever with proper care. Granite is the leading choice within this category. The stone can be installed as a solid surface but a more reasonable installation can be made as granite or limestone tiles with tight grout lines.

Granite exudes elegance in a kitchen and as the use of it becomes more widespread, prices have come down. Stone upgrades even the most modest kitchen. It holds up to heat and comes in a range of colors. It is substantial and will last a lifetime. It can have a mat finish as “honed” or a shiny polished finish. New sealers are almost maintenance-free but granite can require some periodic sealing and some stones, particularly marble, can absorb stains despite being properly sealed. Granite has the second highest hardness rating after diamonds but any stone can crack if it is stressed in transport or installed improperly. Stone offers a high value to home buyers and, particularly, granite kitchen countertops are elegant and timeless.

2. Quartz- and Acrylic-Based: Engineered Stone and “Solid Surface”

Countertops made of engineered stone are composed of 93% quartz particles. Engineered stone offers a wider range of colors than granite and has a nonporous surface that resists scratches. Engineered stone is not as popular as granite and is often confused for granite but the regular consistency of the patterning gives it away as being man-made. In fact, engineered stone has all the benefits of granite but is easier to maintain, without the annual sealing required by natural stone. It is more expensive than granite or stone. Engineered stone brands include Silestone, DuPont Zodiaq, LG Viatera and Cambria Quartz.

Similar to the quartz-based engineered stone countertops are the seamless, manufactured acrylic-based ones that are called “Solid Surface” counters. While they also offer a wide assortment of colors, patterns and finishes, they don’t have the natural look of stone. They do resist stains, moisture, sunlight and heat, and inhibit the growth of mold and bacteria. However, they are vulnerable to hot pans and stains which can damage the surface. Solid Surface countertops are custom-made and their acrylic material can be formed to include an integrated sink with seamless installation. Brands of Solid Surface countertops include Avonite, Corian, and Swanstone.

The term “Solid Surface” for this acrylic-based material category is confusing, These countertops are so-named because they are just what they’re called, “solid.” However, they are solid and custom-made, manufactured, seamless countertops as are the quartz-based engineered stone countertops. In addition, the term is doubly confusing since stone countertops (granite, marble, limestone) and wood (butcherblock) are also seamless, “solid” countertops, as opposed to veneer-like countertops as laminate or tile.

3. Tile: Ceramic, Aluminum and Copper

While ceramic tile seems old-fashioned as a countertop material, it has many pluses. It is durable, inexpensive and easy to clean. Ceramic tile counters are usually installed one section at a time and most people can easily work with the materials. Ceramic finishes are excellent because they take hot pans, are easy to clean and are available in a number of different textures. The only downsides are that the grout in between the tiles can be difficult to clean, tiles can chip and crack, and the surface can end up uneven. In addition to ceramic tile, tiles also come in aluminum and copper for some great new looks, whether in brushed or smooth textures. Also, tiles can be set in various sizes and patterns, as squares, subway block and angled as diamonds. Back splashes can have unique designs and capping tiles.

4. Stainless Steel

To give your kitchen the look of a serious chef at work, or a contemporary industrial design, then stainless steel countertops will work for you. This material is extremely heat-resistant and durable, and it is easy to construct the countertops precisely to your specifications as a seamless surface. While they are easy to clean, on the down side, they can dent and they can be very expensive.

5. Concrete

Contemporary and industrial, concrete countertops offer another option that blends function and chic modern design. These can be constructed and cast right in your kitchen and they can be color-tinted. New treatments reduce the porous character and eliminate cracking. Concrete is heat and scratch resistant, and the look is exotic and unusual, a nice variant on the modern design theme.

In sum, these are kitchen countertop options for every style and every budget. Any of the five material choices for your new or remodeled kitchen will give character and beauty to your hardest-working kitchen surface. Your choice will define your kitchen as the countertop is the focus of every kitchen. These choices have a proven record of durability as well as beauty. While there are other choices, like laminates which scratch, lift up at their edges and look cheap, or butcher block wood surfaces which can be porous, scratched and require much maintenance, only these five categorical choices will boost your home value while they survive scratches, food and water spills to maintain a clean, stylish, decorative appearance.

(c) 2012 Elizabeth McMillian

Elizabeth McMillian enjoys writing about her personal interests, including travel, exercise and cycling. She is an architectural historian, a former editor at Architectural Digest and the author of five books and numerous articles. To outfit your new or remodeled kitchen with appliances, find some with bargain prices at [http://www.Cheap-Kitchen-Appliances.com/] and [http://www.SlowCookers-CrockPots.com/]

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