Some people – one woman at least – liked to change her kitchen countertops about as often as conscientious drivers change the oil in their cars. Formica was cheap and her husband was indulgent so she bought winter whites, spring pastels, summer brights and autumn neutrals.
But after about 5 years and 20 laminated countertops, the husband took a sterner approach and said the countertops could be replaced only when necessary.
So, about every three months, the woman would put a hot pan on the countertop, point to the scorched surface and head out to the nearest hardware store. But Formica started building stain and heat-resistant countertops, making it harder and harder for the woman to “accidentally” ruin them. One May, the woman’s husband caught her frantically sawing the winter countertop with a carving knife and gave her an ultimatum: the stone yard or the sanitarium.
She bought a granite countertop. That was `12 years ago. Both the countertop – and the marriage – remain intact, the latter with some help from intensive psychotherapy.
How long do you want your countertops to last? How much effort are you willing to put towards their upkeep? Do you like shiny, matte or textured countertops?
The choices are plentiful enough to make anyone confused, even if they weren’t addled to begin with.
Here’s a countertop shopping guide to help you make intelligent – and reasonably sane – choices about the best-for-you countertop materials:
Set a budget and understand your needs before you shop for new countertops. It’s almost as crazy to fixate on $150-a-foot marble that you can’t afford as it is to buy $10-a-foot laminate that will devalue the price of your million dollar home.
Don’t rely on an online photo or tiny store sample to judge what your countertop will look like. Visit a showroom, take advantage of manufacturers’ apps or visit a stone yard to see life-size samples. A 3-inch sample of red Corian may look cute anywhere, but an 8-foot stretch could look hideous against your cabinets and floor coverings.
To save money without sacrificing quality, ask your fabricator to cut the countertops. Chances are, his experience will prevent him from making mistakes. But, if he does, you don’t have to pay for the recuts. In small areas, you might also be able to mix materials – use someone’s leftover marble for a bathroom sink and a compatible marble for a vanity. Or make some calls to area contractors and interior designers – they may be sitting on countertop materials that a client opted against and give you a bargain to take it off their hands.
Want the look of natural stone countertops with minimal maintenance? The bright colors of Formica but with a formidable surface? Then you might love quartz countertops. Consumer Reports ranks them best for resisting stains, hot pots, serrated knives, and abrasive pads. Rounded edges protect against chipping, which may require professional repair.
Which quartz manufacturer to choose?
It really comes down to personal preference as tests and reviews say that quartz countertops – made of mineral, pigment and resin – perform well among all major brands.
Caesarstone hobnobs with celebrities. The Israel-based company teamed up with Architectural Digest to design the green room at the 2014 Oscars and sponsors Variety’s Actors on Actors show, aligning its brand with stars such as Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon.
Caestarstone’s polished quartz countertops require the least maintenance. Its honed, textured and Motivo™ finishes require more daily maintenance and may need regular cleaning with products such as SoftScrub to remove fingerprints and metal marks. Before purchasing, note exclusions to the company’s residential lifetime warranty that apply to non-standard surfaces.
Silestone is made by Concertino, a 70-year-old Spanish company, and claims to dominate the U.S. quartz countertop and to offer the only written 10-year, transferable warranty. It understands and caters to its luxury-minded audience – one of its ads won the Cannes Golden Lion award. Silestone formulates its quartz countertops to resist bacteria as well as damage from utensils, cast iron pans and cat claws.
Silestone countertops come in polished, matte and rugged finishes and 60 colors, including subtle neutrals and bright reds. You might like the deep blue Atlantis from its Ocean collection or Silestone’s Tritium quartz countertop in its Stonium series.
Cambria quartz countertops are American-made by a family-owned company headquartered in Minneapolis that also owns a title company and a mortgage company. In 2007, Cambria earned the #4 spot in Entreprenur’s Hot 500 list of fastest growing companies.
You may like Cambria’s Waterstone Collection, inspired by the effect of water rippling over stones, and a website feature that lets you find a Benjamin Moore paint to complement your countertop choice. Cambria quartz countertops are non-porous so do not collect bacteria and have been certified by GreenGuard as a “low emitting product” for indoor air quality.
Expect to pay $40 to $100 per square foot for quartz countertops, including installation.
Quartz countertops are most often compared to granite. If you want the real thing – natural material and colors unique to your slab – granite costs about the same and holds up to heat, cuts and scratches equally as well as quartz. Granite requires some after-installation maintenance as you must periodically reseal it to keep it stain-resistant. Edges and corners can chip and require professional care. You also sacrifice color choices – don’t expect to find a solid aqua in granite.
Antolini, founded in Verona, Italy more than a half century ago, provides the one-of-a-kind countertop attributes that luxury-minded naturalists enjoy as well as peace-of-mind to those who worry about bacteria seeping into the crevices of stone surfaces. Antolini applies a proprietary product called A zerobact to granite slabs, and it seeps in without affecting sealants or the color of the stone. The treatment has been approved the U.S. EPA and by European Union for food safety handling.
Revuu features several samples from the Antolini granite collection. You can read the reviews about granite countertops or add your own.
Antolini has a dozen or so showrooms in the United States, including the East and West Coasts, Colorado, Texas and Illinois.
Looking for more accessible granite countertops? Places such as Home Depot carry them, and Home Depot says its granite countertops come pre-sealed.
The price of granite ranges from about $40 to $100. Rare veins cost more and thinner slabs cost less.
Marble is beautiful, expensive and high maintenance. It can run as much as $150 per square foot and, because it’s porous, it stains fairly easily. Frequent resealing can help stave off stubborn stains. Although white is the classic marble color, it comes in a variety of shades, including pink, blue, gold and brown.
Sanded marble has a matte finish, buffed marble looks polished and leather-finished marble includes an extra layer of texture on a honed marble countertop.
If you love the look of marble but put your kitchen to a chef-worthy performance test every day, you may prefer to use marble for a bathroom countertop.
But some serious chefs like the aged patina of marble and feel that the occasional lemon juice stain or scratch adds to its charm. And marble is ideal for cold-friendly tasks such as kneading bread dough, rolling out sugar cookie dough and shaping fudge.
Grades of marble vary considerably, so seek advice from a reputable designer or installer before purchasing. Marble is subject to heat damage, particularly in lower quality slabs. And, if you really want marble just for the purposes of making candy, you can buy a marble tile for less than $20 at Home Depot.
Soapstone and Limestone Countertops
These natural stone countertops cost about the same as granite — $40 to $100 a square foot. Consumer Reports rates soapstone as “superb” at resisting heat damage. It is prone to scratching, but minor flaws can be fixed with sanding and mineral oil. Limestone is nearly as good at resisting heat and features veining.
Don’t buy soapstone or limestone if you insist on pristine-looking countertops. Both can sustain stains that do not wash away and their tendency to sustain nicks and cracks means you may have to add repair costs to the price of material and installation or take pride in the weathered look of your countertops.
Soapstone comes in shades of gray, including blue and green-gray – and its color will darken as it ages or if you use mineral oil to remove scratches. M. Teixeira Soapstone is a leading U.S. importer of Brazilian soapstone.
Limestone comes in lighter shades, which makes stains more visible. It is typically recommended that you have limestone professionally sealed at the time of installation and once yearly afterwards and to avoid using traditional kitchen cleansers. Mild detergents and soft cloths are best for cleaning. If you’re prone to leaving kitchen duties to the morning after, you may find limestone frustrating – it’s much better suited to careful housekeepers or people with live-in help.
M. S. International, headquartered in Orange, CA, is a major importer of limestone. It sells primarily to the trade but has distribution centers in 16 states.
Solid Surfacing Countertops
Want your countertop to look like the store sample? If you like a variety of colors and patterns – and no surprises when your countertop is installed – you might like a solid surface countertop.
The price varies from about $35 to $100 a square foot.
At the top of the class in this category is Corian by Dupont. You can use it for counters, sinks and backsplash with near seamless joints. Not too many years ago, Corian was as highly regarded as granite. Granite is trendier now, but Corian retains a high degree of visual appeal. If you use Corian in your kitchen, keep in mind that it may scratch and cut easily. Use a cutting board. It is also suitable for bathroom countertops.
Corian is non-porous, resisting bacteria and stains. If you’ve tried Corian, please review it here, and let us know whether you’d recommend it to a friend.
Recycled Glass Countertops
For an environmentally-friendly (but pricey) countertop, consider recycled glass. These countertops are made from either large shards or finely ground glass mixed with cement, concrete or resin. Anticipate paying $60 to $120 a square foot for an installed countertop. In Consumer Reports tests, most recycled glass countertops resisted stains, cuts, scratches and heat although one brand developed a thin crack during heat tests.
Vetrazzo, which has been featured on The View, HGTV and the DIY network, was invented by a Berkley, CA glass scientist in 1996. The company was bought out in 2010 by Polycor Inc., and its manufacturing plant is now located in rural Georgia. Its designs include a bright and bold Colbalt Skyy and a more neutral Alehouse Amber.
Did we miss your favorite type of countertop? Are you passionate about your butcher block or stainless steel countertop? Did you want to learn more about laminates or stainless steel?
Please comment below, fill out a feedback forum or – even better – add a Revuu about countertops you’ve loved and lost or the ones you wish would suffer an early death.