Appliances aren’t the only thing that can make or break a property’s kitchen: countertops take up the majority of the kitchen space, affecting the look and feel of the room but also its functionality. In most cases, homeowners and property managers tend to opt for countertop materials that either look appealing or that are most affordable or easy to repair. While this is understandable, it is important to keep in mind that the best kind of home design - from furnishing and decor to basic construction - should aim to thoughtfully combine aesthetics, practicality and affordability. The following guide reviews the qualities of common countertop materials and their pros and cons to help you choose the best material for your kitchen.
Quartz (or Engineered Stone) - according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, manmade quartz (not to be confused with natural Quartzite) is now the top selling material for kitchen surfaces. This is likely due to the fact that it is more stain and scratch-resistant than granite, the second most commonly utilized material. Quartz is made by combining mineral fragments with heavy- duty resins; it’s durable and chip resistant, and it’s fairly priced at slightly above granite but still below marble. It’s also considered to be environmentally-friendly as it is created by combining waste stones and not mined. Overall, Quartz is functional, affordable and practical. The only downside to note is that some people find the look of quartz to be too uniform, which can miss the mark for those who like the natural irregularity of marble; this being said, new improvements in manufacturing technologies have actually allowed quartz production to become more advanced and create more sophisticated patterns.
Granite - Granite is a natural stone, which is appealing for those preferring its naturally occurring, more variegated look. Granite is not as durable as quartz, but it is still scratch, stain and chip resistant. Manufacturers explain that darker- colored granite is more dense, which increases its durability due to the fact that it is less permeable. For this reason, lighter-colored varieties might require sealing procedures, which also means that those varieties are going to be more demanding when it comes to upkeep over the years.
Marble - Marble is a timeless favorite when it comes to kitchen countertops because of the way it adds a unique touch of elegance. Marble is also fairly affordable - often being considerably cheaper than Quartz and Granite - and is widely available, which makes repairs and maintenance easy. Additionally, those who are passionate about cooking, baking and particularly pastry-making are drawn to marble’s naturally cool temperature. Unfortunately, marble is quite porous, which makes it vulnerable to scratches and permanent staining. Opting for marble countertops means having to be very careful and mindful of which foods and condiments one might want to avoid exposing marble to, and always ensuring that surfaces are thoroughly cleaned.
Solid Surface - Solid surface is specifically made to resemble natural stone while being actually composed of artificial polymers and resins that are mixed with mineral dusts. This makes solid surface affordable and easy to maintain, requiring no sealing procedures and with most technicians having access to readily available materials for replacements and patch-repairs. Unfortunately, solid surface countertops are vulnerable to high heat and scratches: manufacturers encourage paying close attention to what the countertops are exposed to, especially when it comes to sharp tools or hot cookware. Generally, scratches and surface damages can be repaired by buffing the surface, but this implies having to hire a technician on quite the regular basis.
Tile - Ceramic tiles are easy to replace when broken or damaged, and allow for plenty of customization. One of the main downsides to ceramic tiles is the grout in between them, which tends to easily collects dirt and stains that are often hard to successfully clean off. While they’re easy to replace, it can be easy for tiles to exhibit chipping and cracking over time and as a result of accidental impacts. Tiles are generally covered with a glossy protective enamel that can rub, chip or fade off over time, which is why it’s best to avoid aggressively scrubbing the tiles.
Laminate - Laminate became quite popular during the 1960’s and 70’s, when the idea of "plastic everything" started taking over. Laminate is created by layering sheets of paper and resins, with pressed Kraft paper layers (the same paper material as grocery bags) being the most common: it is inexpensive and extremely easy to replace on a tight budget. However, the advantages of low costs come with a series of disadvantages: laminate melts and scratches easily, and overall, opting for laminate countertops does not add value to the property. Laminate cannot be recycled and its production features the use of numerous chemicals, making laminate not very “green”.
Butcher Block - butcher block countertops bring the warm and rustic look of natural wood to the kitchen. To make butcher block countertops, thick slabs of wood - generally maple, bamboo, cherry or red oak - are assembled with heavy- duty glue, and their different arrangements create different surface patterns. Butcher block is very difficult to care for as experts recommend avoiding covering the wood with sealant, to both maintain the natural look of the wood but also to avoid exposing food to the chemicals used for sealing. The issue with having unsealed wood is that discoloration and even rotting can be very likely to happen due to water and moisture exposure. To best protect the wood, butcher block surfaces need to be oiled every six months: manufacturers warn against taking the “DIY” route as many have damaged their countertops by opting for cooking oils, instead encouraging the scheduling of regular oiling procedures by professional technicians. Even when oiled, wooden countertops are not scratch or heat proof: very minor damages can be fixed by sanding the wood and re-oiling the area - again, a procedure that is best left to professionals. Over time, they will develop a natural patina: some really enjoy the look of “aged” wood while others do not, so it’s important to keep this aspect in mind.