When it comes to kitchen countertops, it's hard to beat the beauty and durability of natural stones like granite, marble, limestone, slate and soapstone. But today they're not the only option when it comes to creating a luxurious, custom design. Today there's a big trend towards solid surfaces and environmentally green products, which offer durability and beauty.
As you investigate your natural stone options, consider functionality first, then decide if you want a stone that will look brand new 10 years from now or one that will take on the patina of age?
Granite is still the most popular choice for kitchen countertops, especially when money isn't a major consideration. Including a granite countertop in your design will add luxury and style to even the most modest of kitchens. They are available in a number of colors, are extremely durable (periodic sealing is a must) and resist chipping and scratching. Although there is some maintenance involved, granite kitchen countertops are elegant and timeless.
It's certainly a solid surface, but because marble is extremely expensive is not the best choice for a countertop. While marble is luxurious and instantly recognizable, it requires continual maintenance and stains easily.
Limestone is not the best choice for messy or regular cooks, because its porous nature makes it susceptible to staining and it's not as durable as other natural stones and solid surfaces. If you have your heart set on the unique weathered look of Limestone, consider Jerusalem stone, it resembles marble, but is much hardier than marble and limestone.
Used for centuries to create stylish weather resistant roofs, slate's natural beauty and strength are finding their way into the kitchen. Slate is durable and beautiful, making it a prime choice for homeowners looking to make a unique design statement. Its low absorption rate keeps stains at bay, but you may want to seal it regularly to add an extra dose of protection.
Soapstone offers a beautiful finish, particularly in Craftsman-style homes. It is typically dark in color and has a smooth and welcoming feel. It's also a great option to use as a sink material. The biggest drawback is that it requires regular maintenance, which include mineral applications to prevent cracking.
Insist on seeing the stone slabs you selected for your kitchen before they are delivered, because if they were prepared from different lots, the color of the stone you saw in the showroom may not exactly match the stone set aside for you. Make sure you are comfortable with any differences.
Also, know that you can choose from a variety of finishes. Common ones include polished (for a high-gloss surface), honed (smooth with more of a matte look), flamed (a blow-torch creates a textured surface) and tumbled (the stone itself is tumbled, resulting in rounded edges which are great for Craftsman, Old World or Farmhouse kitchens) and matte (not as smooth as honed).
Don't worry if natural stone isn't in your budget, you have plenty of other options to create your dream kitchen.
Engineered stone is a great alternative to granite. Engineered stone has all the pros of granite but is probably easier to maintain. Engineered stone countertops are composed of quartz particles and available in a wide range of colors. Its nonporous surface makes it scratch resistant and highly durable. Some popular brands on the market are DuPont® and Silestone®.
The advantages of solid surface counters are a wide range of colors and patterns and each countertop is custom-made to fit your specific design. Dupont® Corian® is the most popular 100% synthetic material on the market. Other leading manufacturers include Wilsonart® and Formica®.
Ceramic tile is extremely durable, relatively inexpensive and available in a number of different textures and colors. Ceramic finishes are excellent because you can place hot pans directly on its surface. The only downside is that the grout in between the tiles can be difficult to clean and the surface can end up uneven if poorly designed.
Laminate countertops are popular and affordable. They are made out of plastic coated synthetics with a smooth surface that is usually easy to clean. The biggest advantage of laminate finishing is obviously its affordability and range of patterns and colors. It's relatively durable and easy to replace if stained or damaged. Household names include Formica® and Nevamar®.
A contemporary and industrial look can be achieved with a stainless steel counter. Stainless steel is extremely heat resistant and durable, but it does come with considerable drawbacks. Fabrication is extremely costly and difficult. It shows scratches, fingerprints and dents. It can be rather noisy and clinical in appearance so be sure you absolutely love the idea of stainless steel because it's not something that is easy to replace down the road.
Hardwood countertops offer a rustic look and are available in a wide range of finishes and timbers. Hardwoods such as oak and maple are popular for countertops because they are durable, gorgeous and have the versatility of being stained and painted to coordinate with your kitchen décor. They can be damaged by water and stains if not properly sealed or oiled.
If your kitchen is an unusual shape then a concrete counter might be a great choice, but the elevated price tag may be beyond most budgets.