Home Awesome Remodeling 101: A Primer on Kitchen Countertops

Remodeling 101: A Primer on Kitchen Countertops

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Nothing puts kitchen countertops to the test like the holiday season. If your counters don’t pass muster this year (maybe there’s no longer enough space to cook Thanksgiving dinner for your ever-expanding extended family, or you’re left with unsightly rings after a cocktail party); or if you’re embarking on a remodel or just ready for a change, consult our primer on countertop options. From butcher block to stainless steel, our countertop guides help navigate what can be a daunting (and expensive) process.

Find your countertop match.

Soapstone Countertops
Dramatic soapstone counters in a charming New York kitchen; see Kitchen of the Week: Hudson Valley Farmhouse Kitchen Reborn. Above: Dramatic soapstone counters in a charming New York kitchen; see Kitchen of the Week: Hudson Valley Farmhouse Kitchen Reborn.

Soapstone wins the award for the most durable countertop material—it’s resistant to stains, stands up to acidic materials, and won’t scorch or crack when a hot pan is placed on it—and its dark black tone adds dramatic appeal. The only downside? It’s a softer stone that can show scratches and nicks. For a full rundown of pros and cons, see Remodeling 101: Soapstone Countertops (and stay tuned for our forthcoming post on how to care for soapstone).

Butcher Block Countertops
Italian kitchen designers Schiffini use end-grain butcher block on a kitchen island. Above: Italian kitchen designers Schiffini use end-grain butcher block on a kitchen island.

Butcher block countertops can be fairly high-maintenance: They need to be oiled at least every six months to prevent dulling and cracking, aren’t easy to clean, and will show marks if used for cutting. But they also get points for being charmingly rustic and warm, and can be quite economical, if not custom-made. Think butcher block might be right for you? Read on about the three different types available in Remodeling 101: Butcher Block Countertops.

Concrete Countertops
A kitchen with thick concrete counters by architect Theodore Zoumboulakis; see Kitchen of the Week: A Greek Architect’s Ode to Minimalism. Above: A kitchen with thick concrete counters by architect Theodore Zoumboulakis; see Kitchen of the Week: A Greek Architect’s Ode to Minimalism.

Contrary to its formerly drab reputation, concrete makes a rather striking kitchen countertop. It’s stylistically versatile, and can add a heavy-handed element (as shown above) or be as thin as three-quarters of an inch. Those who want extra durable counters should beware that it stains easily and can damage knives. Read on in Remodeling 101: Concrete Countertops.

Stainless Steel Countertops
Sleek stainless counters add industrial style to minimalist built-in shelving in Strategic Storage in a Minimalist Loft. Above: Sleek stainless counters add industrial style to minimalist built-in shelving in Strategic Storage in a Minimalist Loft.

There’s a reason virtually every restaurant kitchen is clad in stainless steel: It’s almost indestructible, particularly tolerant to heat, and easy to get very clean. It can be expensive, but readymade freestanding counters, tables, and carts from restaurant supply stores are an economical workaround. See Remodeling 101: Stainless Steel Countertops to find out more.

Marble Countertops
Honed marble counters pair with offset tile in Designer Visit: Charles Mellersh in London. Above: Honed marble counters pair with offset tile in Designer Visit: Charles Mellersh in London.

Marble is a classic, timeless choice for counters and instantly elevates every kitchen. It gets a bad rap for being high-maintenance—it can easily get stained, scratched, or etched—but as one marble expert noted in our post How to Care for Marble Countertops: “Every house in Europe has a stone countertop—it’s only in this country that people think everything has to look brand-new.” If you can let go of the idea of perfection, marble may work for you. See Remodeling 101: Marble Countertops for more, and Remodeling 101: The Difference Between Carrara, Calacatta, and Statuary Marble to find out about the styles available.

Engineered Quartz
 A Shaker-Inspired Kitchen in London has engineered quartz counters with a marble look. Photograph courtesy of deVol Kitchens. Above: A Shaker-Inspired Kitchen in London has engineered quartz counters with a marble look. Photograph courtesy of deVol Kitchens.

Made of quartz and flexible resins, engineered quartz countertops are supremely strong and resistant to nicks, scratches, and stains. Because engineered quartz is man-made, it’s available in an ever-expanding array of colors, styles, and textures, including some that look like marble or other natural stones. Read on and see examples in Remodeling 101: 7 Things to Know About Engineered Quartz Countertops.

Corian Countertops
White Corian countertops in Inner Sanctum: Maximum Calm in a London Townhouse. Above: White Corian countertops in Inner Sanctum: Maximum Calm in a London Townhouse.

Another man-made option that’s gaining traction: Corian and other solid-surface countertops. A few of its virtues include being nonporous (which makes it resistant to bacteria and easy to clean); fully customizable, with variety of colors, styles, and shapes (it’s easily molded to create draining racks, soap dishes, and more); and fairly economical. But it’s not heat resistant. See Remodeling 101: Corian Countertops (and the New Corian Look-Alikes) for more.

Paper Composite Countertops
Julie can vouch for paper composite countertops: She chose Richlite, a durable, warm-to-the-touch paper composite, for the counters in her Mill Valley, California, kitchen. “The material has a nice touch and solidity to it,” says her architect Jerome Buttrick. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista. Above: Julie can vouch for paper composite countertops: She chose Richlite, a durable, warm-to-the-touch paper composite, for the counters in her Mill Valley, California, kitchen. “The material has a nice touch and solidity to it,” says her architect Jerome Buttrick. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.

Paper composite countertops may sound improbable—and messy—but in fact the paper, when heated and compressed, takes on the look and feel of soft stone and is quite durable. Paper composite counters are environmentally friendly, seamless, and easy to install and clean, but they can scorch under very high temperatures. Curious? Read on: Remodeling 101: Paper Composite Countertops for the Kitchen.

N.B. Still not sure which option is best? See also Remodeling 101: Five Questions to Ask When Choosing Kitchen Countertops. And read:

10 Easy Pieces: Remodelista Kitchen Countertop Picks
Architects’ Budget Kitchen Countertop Picks
Remodeling 101: 6 Considerations for Lava Stone Countertops

Finally, get more ideas on how to evaluate and choose your kitchen countertop in our Remodeling 101 Guide: Kitchen Countertops.

N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on November 23, 2017.

Read more: remodelista.com

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