When we reached out to members of our Architect/Designer Directory to take an informal poll on the best countertop picks for budget projects, we underestimated how tricky the question would turn out to be.
“Honestly, we struggle these days for a budget countertop material,” said Tara Mangini of cost-conscious firm Jersey Ice Cream Co. “I don’t have any sources I can strongly recommend.”
Ouch. But we hear Tara’s complaint. First off, “budget” is entirely relative—one man’s “cheap” is another man’s astronomical. Plus, many factors will affect the price you’ll pay for any of the materials listed here—where you live, the quality you’re after, whether you’re willing to purchase a discontinued color, etc.
Know that every material here will require some shopping around, but keep this in mind: More than 15 architects and designers responded to our query, and the most popular budget recommendations were wood, engineered quartz, and stainless steel. As for the downright cheapest option? Good old laminate.
Our architects make the case for their favorites.
Above: Portland, Oregon–based Melody Emerick of Emerick Architects makes the case for wood countertops, saying they are “generally half the price and softer to the touch than a lot of the stones or metals.” Though wood requires maintenance, she says, “a solid wood can always be sanded and re-oiled, and wood tends to take a little patina better than some of the stone countertops that can stain or show every ring you leave on them.” She used wood countertops in her own beach house (shown) in nearby Seaside, Oregon, in which “everything we did was on a super strict budget.”
Sonoma architect Amy Alper says that the obvious affordable choice is standard maple butcher block, but suggests walnut as an alternative—”it’s richer in tone and a more unique choice.” Though more expensive than maple, she says it’s “still a bargain.” She says John Boos & Co. and Lumber Liquidators are good sources.
Above: Ikea was recently a good choice for solid maple butcher block, but we got some useful (though unfortunate) intel from Tara Mangini of Jersey Ice Cream Co.: “They sadly stopped making those Ikea countertops in solid wood, so we can’t really recommend them to anyone.” The firm used Ikea’s formerly solid-wood countertops in Remodelista editor Justine Hand’s kitchen (shown), featured in Rehab Diary: Dream Kitchen for Under $3,000.
Above: According to interior designer Alison Davin of Jute in San Francisco, “Composite quartz is super budget-friendly as well as family-friendly, durable, and good looking.” Composite—or engineered—quartz goes by several brand names including Silestone, Zodiaq, and Caesarstone, the last of which several of our designers called out by name.
Says SF designer Kriste Michelini, “I love Caesarstone because it is uniform, clean, versatile, and bulletproof.” Here, a Caesarstone countertop in a remodel by Elizabeth Roberts, featured in A Whole-House Overhaul in Brooklyn with a High/Low Mix.
Above: NYC architect Lauren Rubin echoes the merits of engineered quartz: “Our go-to for durable and beautiful countertop slabs that are not expensive is Caesarstone,” she says. “We love the amazing array of color options as well as the fact that the slabs are large and are easy for the contractor to cut and install. They have the feel and properties of real stone slabs but are man-made quartzite and, therefore, local and less expensive.” Rubin used Caesarstone in espresso for this kitchen featured in Weekend Spotlight: Combining Two New York Studio Apartments. Photograph by Alyssa Kirsten, courtesy of Lauren Rubin.
Above: Lewis Butler of Butler Armsden Architects in San Francisco chose stainless steel for his budget pick: “This material wins every contest when it comes to price and durability,” he says. Shown here, stainless steel countertops in a kitchen featured in Steal This Look: An Exotic Tiled Kitchen by LA Design Firm Commune. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.
Above: LA architect Oonagh Ryan puts her own twist on stainless: “Our favorite budget countertop is a sheet of brushed stainless steel with an exposed, clear-sealed multi-ply plywood edge. We often integrate the sink into the countertop, too, for a seamless look.” Here, Ryan used stainless steel in a Santa Monica apartment remodel. “It’s a really terrific countertop from a cost, durability, and maintenance perspective. And it only looks better with age and use,” she says. Photograph copyright of Eric Staudenmaier, courtesy of Oonagh Ryan Architect.
Above: Laminate is making a comeback—or, in the case of this Owego, New York, farmhouse—it never went anywhere at all. Owner Abbey Hendrickson wanted to replace her 1950s Formica countertops, but her strict budget necessitated that she learn to love them instead. “They add a certain charm,” she says, “and I’ve convinced myself that if we had nice, brand-new countertops, they’d make the rest of the room look like complete crap.” See the rest of the project in Kitchen of the Week: A DIY Kitchen Overhaul for Under $500. Photograph by and courtesy of Abbey Hendrickson.
Above: Says Sam Gnatovich of SIMO Design in LA, “We have not used it often, but we like limestone. We like that you can get it light or dark, and while it is not completely immune to everything like a granite or engineered stone, it ages nicely and the imperfections add to the charm.” Here, LA firm DISC Interiors used limestone in the kitchen of A Spanish Colonial Revival Home Transformed, LA Edition. Photograph by D. Gilbert, courtesy of DISC Interiors.
Above: Kanan Prasse of Kananshree Interiors (formerly Ka.Va Design) in Brooklyn likes IceStone, a composite of recycled glass and cement, which she used in this apartment renovation in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Photograph courtesy of Kanashree Interiors (formerly Ka.Va Design).
Above: Surprisingly, black granite can be an affordable option. It’s generally—though not always—less expensive than marble, and San Francisco designer Nicole Hollis picked it as her budget option. She likes it especially “with an unexpected twist in a honed finish.” Here, it’s used by architects SIMO Design, featured in A Masculine Midcentury Revival in LA.
Above: “Solid surface” can mean many things but generally refers to engineered composite materials such as Corian. In addition to butcher block and Caesarstone, SF architect Jeff King recommends Corian for budget projects, which NY architect Lauren Rubin used in the oak wood kitchen shown here.
Choosing the right countertop is hard. Find more information in 10 Easy Pieces: Remodelista Kitchen Countertop Picks and our Remodeling 101 guides.
Finally, get more ideas on how to evaluate and choose your kitchen countertop in our Remodeling 101 Guide: Kitchen Countertops.