How to select kitchen counter materials

Kitchen counter tops not only add beauty and interest to your kitchen, but they add value to your home as well. So many new and unique materials are available, in addition to the more traditional yet still beautiful granites and marbles. Since your kitchen is a working space where the possibility of stains and spills are high, beauty is not just enough. Durability is a key factor when selecting your kitchen counters material.

  • Do you cook often? (3 or more days a week)
  • Do you use a lot of red sauce or red wine?
  • If you have children, do they also cook with you?
  • Do you prefer a very low maintenance up-keep?

Here are some different types of materials that will increase the unique look of you kitchen, while also letting you know what maintenance you will need in order to keep it looking great.

The Natural Stones
General Information:
Natural stones or rock materials can be very special in kitchen counters. Generally, they need moderate care, like wiping with a soft cloth. It is also recommended that they should be sealed before using. When selecting a natural material, they are chosen by slabs. If it is possible to view and pick the slabs before hand, it is always a good idea. This way, you can be sure that natural variations and coloring in the slab are properly spread throughout. If it is not available for you to see, speak to your installer or person buying the slabs, in order to let them know what look you prefer. Some people like a lot of natural contrasts and irregularity, whereas others prefer consistency and uniformity throughout. Sometimes, a photograph of the slab can be sent to you for approval as well.

Installation Process:
When using natural stones, your kitchen cabinetry should be installed before a professional comes to measure for your counter installation. This process is called templating. When the installer comes to take the template for your counters, it is important that you have your appliances and fixtures such as sinks and faucets available. This way the installer knows how the countertop needs to be cut and placed.

Examples of Natural Stones:

  1. Granite: (Red sauce welcome with care) Granite needs moderate care and up-keep. It is a durable surface that can look beautiful when selected properly. It is a porous material however, and will need to be sealed before use. Re-sealing it once a year will help keep its strength. When taken care of, granite should last well beyond 10 years. Check out this website to see some examples of granite and granite care.
  2. Marble: (Red sauce welcomed with caution) Marble needs heavier care than granite. It is more porous, and can be susceptible to water and food stains. It can also look very beautiful and dynamic if selected with a good eye. The Marble Institute of America has many listed reputable marble fabricators. They also show some samples of different types of marbles, and give recommendations on how to properly care for you marble. Check out the link below for more information.
  3. Limestone: (Keep the red sauce away and switch to white wine) Traditionally limestone is a very porous material that absorbs spills quickly. It needs heavy upkeep in order to keep it from staining, and is not recommended for people who cook often, or tend to be a bit more on the messy side. (keep that red sauce away!) Make sure you keep heavy chemicals away from the counter. If a spill occurs, wipe it up with plain water, or use a standard, non-alkaline household cleaning product. Make sure you re-seal your counter ever 1-2 years for the best maintenance. (Please note that some limestones like Jerusalem Gold for example, contain minerals which make it more durable than a standard marble or limestone.)
  4. Soapstone: (Red sauce welcome with care!) Soapstone needs light care and provides a great look for a kitchen. It tends to have a light grey, green cast to it before it is treated. It should be treated with mineral oil, which often deepens its color to a charcoal grey. ( Soapstone resists staining, water and heat. You can put hot pots and pans directly on it without worry. Soapstone looks great in country kitchens when used with red as an accent somewhere. (cabinetry etc.) It can also be used for a more contemporary look when combined with stainless steel appliances and cabinetry hardware. The website below is a source for both information on soapstone as well as for purchasing it.

Other Counter Materials

  1. Tile: (Red sauce welcome, but watch the grout) Although a ceramic or porcelain tile can be very durable and less expensive than natural stone, because of the grout lines, it can actually cause more of a headache regarding upkeep and cleaning. Often, food or stains can get into the grout lines making the counter dirty looking. In order to prevent the staining, the grouting will have to be sealed regularly, even though the tiles are durable. Also, with tile you won’t have a smooth counter surface for rolling dough etc. Tile is however a more common option for backsplashes in the kitchen. The grout will still need to be cleaned, but it will not have the same upkeep needs as if it were a counter. There are many beautiful options for tile backsplashes. See the below link for some beautiful splash designs.
  2. Concrete: (Don’t use red sauce and only white wine!) Up until a few years ago, concrete was only thought to be used on sidewalks, buildings and other industrial areas. Over the years it has begun to make its way into residential homes and is becoming an increasingly unique and interesting new way to add interest to your countertops. Concrete however is a very porous material, and should not be used without caution. Spills must be wiped up immediately and it’s best to keep the red wine and sauce away! The good thing is that if you love the slick, attractive look of concrete, but are afraid of the durability, many companies can customize your concrete color by tinting or mixing in color to the concrete before casting it. By coloring it, you may be able to hide stains better. If you like when things patina and weather, concrete can be an excellent option for you. For installation photos of concrete counters, see the below website for inspiration.
  3. Laminate (Red sauce and red wine welcome!) Laminates need light care and most kitchen stains will wipe up easily with a gentle cleaner or water. Laminates are also one of the most inexpensive options for a kitchen counter. Although it has traditionally been a frowned upon material in the design world due to its lack of style, there are more and more interesting and fun patterns and colors that are being produced for a very slick look. Although laminates traditionally tend to imitate natural stones like granite and marble, it can be more interesting to find patterns and colors that are not natural looking, and therefore do not end up looking like a cheap imitation. Check out the website below for a few options of laminate designs.
  4. Solid Surfacing: (Red sauce and red wine welcome!) Last, but certainly not least is solid surfacing. This material has many different brand names, one of the most identifiable being Corian. These surfaces are heat resistant and easily maintainable with a damp cloth or light cleaner. It has the consistency and inexpensive quality that marble does not, plus the added durability. It is a man made material that looks great when installed properly. Similarly to laminate, it has the option to look like a natural stone or it can be customized into a variety of colors and designs. Unlike laminate however, this has a much richer and higher quality look to it. Visit the below website for a listing of popular solid surfacing manufacturers and more information.

When selected properly, your counters will create a dynamic look in your kitchen, as well as complimenting the rest of the interior. Make sure you review magazines, websites and any other images of countertops before selecting one. This way you have a better idea of the styles and designs you will enjoy living with.