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Remodeling 101: A Primer on Kitchen Countertops


Remodeling 101: A Primer on Kitchen Countertops

May 2, 2019

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  17
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  18
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  19
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 shelv 20
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 mel 21
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 count 22
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 townho 23
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, 24
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:

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.

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Frequently asked questions

What are the different types of kitchen countertops available?

There are various types of kitchen countertops available, including granite, marble, quartz, laminate, butcher block, stainless steel, concrete, and soapstone.

What factors should I consider when choosing a kitchen countertop?

When choosing a kitchen countertop, consider factors such as your budget, durability, maintenance requirements, aesthetic preferences, and suitability for your cooking and lifestyle needs.

How do I determine the right countertop material for my kitchen?

To determine the right countertop material for your kitchen, consider factors like your budget, desired aesthetic, level of maintenance you're willing to undertake, and how the countertop will hold up against your cooking habits.

Are granite countertops a good option for kitchens?

Yes, granite countertops are a popular choice for kitchens due to their durability, heat resistance, and natural beauty. However, they require periodic sealing and can be relatively expensive.

What are the advantages of quartz countertops?

Quartz countertops offer several advantages, including durability, resistance to stains and scratches, low maintenance, and a wide range of colors and patterns to choose from.

Can I use marble countertops in my kitchen?

While marble countertops are stunning, they are more prone to staining and scratching compared to other materials. They require regular maintenance and are best suited for homeowners who are willing to embrace the natural patina that develops over time.

Are laminate countertops a good choice for a budget-friendly kitchen remodel?

Yes, laminate countertops are a cost-effective option for kitchen remodels. They come in a wide range of colors and patterns, are easy to clean, and can mimic the look of natural stone at a fraction of the cost.

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