When it comes to choosing a countertop, the “best” selection is completely dependent upon the preferences and expectations of those who will be using the surface. With so many options available, from white marble, to quartzite, to porcelain slabs, it’s important to understand how the countertop will be used and how those using it feel about the appearance over time, as well as ease of maintenance. Some people prefer a surface that will remain relatively unchanged over time, while others enjoy the inherent imperfections that come along with many natural materials, and do not mind the maintenance that goes along with it.
So, which type of countertop material is right for you? Would something upscale and elegant suit your image of the perfect, or do you prefer the homier look. Do you like something more traditional or contemporary in style, or perhaps rustic, or retro? What are your priorities – a countertop that requires little to no maintenance? Are you looking for a kid friendly or cook friendly countertop, or the style is more important to you?
What finish, which backsplash, what about a sink. So many questions.
Ultimately it is an entirely personal decision. It is a process of reconciling your aesthetic preferences with your performance expectations, your maintenance tolerance, budget and lifestyle.
An informed decision is always the best. We have created this and comprehensive guide to help you choose the right countertop for YOU. It will help you make educated choices and help you throughout the process.
LOOK & STYLE CONSIDERATIONS
What is the effect you are trying to achieve with your countertop? The perfect, clean and somewhat impersonal look of engineered stone or porcelain, or the “imperfect” perfection of natural stone, where each piece of stone has its own look and personality
Are you looking for the calm and subdued look of limestone, the elegant veiny marble look, the upscale look of quartzite, the grainy earthy look of granite or the rustic weathered look of soapstone? When it comes to style there is no right or wrong style. It is the style that you like – the one that will make you happy.
However, when you are selecting the material that gives you the right look, you should also take into consideration how it will age over time and the maintenance required to maintain that look.
What are your expectations regarding your countertop performance? Do you expect your kitchen countertop material to remain looking relatively the same over time, or are you comfortable with your kitchen countertop developing some patina over time? If you want your countertop to stay perfect over times, how much maintenance are you or are you willing to do.
What happens if a customer looking for a for a pristine countertop in his pristine home selects marble for his kitchen countertop. An excellent choice, if the customer is that that marble will scratch, etch and stain over time, and keeping the pristine look will require intensive maintenance. However, if this customer was not aware of how marble will perform in the kitchen and selected it only for the marble look, he will be very disappointed with his selection, and possibly frustrated with the maintenance required to restore his marble over time. He might have selected a marble alternative, such as porcelain or quartz, both of which perform well in the kitchen and remain relatively unchanged over time with minimal maintenance. Or if he was set on natural stone, he could have selected quartzite, which has the sleek, upscale look of marble, patina over time as much as marble will.
How do you decide which material is best suited for your needs, and what qualities you are looking for to ensure the material will perform well in your kitchen? Quartz, porcelain or stone, and if stone which type? The answer to these questions lies in the difference in the identity of the various materials – their chemical composition, hardness, porosity and acid sensitivity. We will briefly discuss these qualities in this article, but if you want to get more detailed information please review Material Consideration Guide, Application Guide and All About Natural Stone. These articles will help you understanding how each material will perform over time in a specific application, and how much maintenance your countertop will require. Making an educated selection will ensure that you will love your countertop and will be happy with its performance over time.
Materials used for countertop application have their own qualities, or their own identity. These are the most important qualities to consider when making a choice.
Scratch marks and abrasions will appear on most materials, but some are more prone to scratching over others. Some materials will keep their pristine look with minimal maintenance, while others will patina over time.
Considering that kitchen countertops are exposed to utensils, pots and other abrasive materials it is very important to select material with high abrasion resistance rate. Materials with low abrasion resistance rating, such as marble, onyx, limestone, travertine and soapstone will patina or dull over time as a result of this scratching.
Always use a cutting board for countertop applications.
Kitchen countertops are exposed to liquids, such as water, wine, oil, coffee etc. Selecting a material with a high absorption rating will reduce staining and required maintenance.
Materials with a minimal absorption rating such as quartz (i.e. Techno Quartz) or porcelain slabs (i.e. Laminam, Technogress ) are virtually non-porous. No sealer is required, they are less likely to stain, and they are typically easier to maintain. Materials with low absorption rating, such as granite, soapstone and some quartzite are resistant to staining, but not impervious. They should be sealed for better performance. Materials with a moderate absorption rating, such as dolomite and some quartzite are somewhat resistant to staining but may stain over time. If you must use a marble for kitchen tops, dolomite will be the preferred choice. Materials with highly absorbent rating, such as marble, limestone, onyx, travertine and sandstone are prone to staining.
All natural stone should be sealed after installation.
Acidic foods or liquids such as lemon, vinegar, tomatoes etc. will acid etch materials that contain calcium or magnesium carbonate. Materials rated with low acid sensitivity are least prone to etch when exposed to acid. Materials rated as Materials with medium sensitivity will patina over time and have higher maintenance requirements. Materials highly sensitive should not be used on kitchen countertop applications.
Do you have a short list of potential countertops you’re considering after reading about appearance, pros & cons? Perhaps you can narrow it down a bit after considering what you want from a countertop.
Your lifestyle is a factor in how much maintenance you’re willing to put into your countertops and how heavily they will get used. Each has implications for what materials you should consider and which you should stay away from.
What’s your Lifestyle?
Do you have kids?
If so, you may need to choose kid-friendly countertops for the kitchen and bathroom, counters that will stand up to the wear and tear that children dish out. Read more – Kitchen Friendly Countertops.
Are you a serious cook?
If so, the right countertops will have to withstand the heat around the stove or cooktop and the occasional placements of hot pot or pan being placed directly on them. This rules out wood, laminates and most quartz countertops.
Secondly, you be working with oils, wine, lemon juice and other liquids that can etch and stain your countertop.Therefore, marble countertops should be excluded from consideration.
Thirdly, you will be handling metal utensils and pots that can sometimes scratch the countertop surface. So, exclude materials that scratch easily.
Finally, the right countertop for the cooking enthusiast will need to be easily sanitized. Raw vegetables, meat and fish may have bacteria on their surface that can be left behind on countertops. Wood and the very porous materials can harbor the bacteria and mold too.
So many things to consider …, if you like to cook please read Countertops for the Cook.
What is your tolerance for maintenance?
Are you a person on the go who isn’t a big fan of housework? If so, choose a low-maintenance product. Porcelain, quartz, and stainless-steel countertops require very little extra effort to keep them in pristine condition.
How much do you want to spend on your kitchen? If you have a higher budget you may consider a pricier kitchen, such as quartzite, high end marble or stainless steel. Mid-range options include granite, soapstone, some quartz and porcelain countertops. Those on a limited budget can still find very nice kitchen countertops with level 1 priced granite, butcher block, laminate, solid surface and even tile, especially if you could install the tile yourself if you’ve got good DIY skills.
So, you have decided which stone and finish will best suit your project. Next you will need to select the actual slabs to be used in the fabrication of your project. We recommend that you visit our warehouse to physically select the slab, particularly if you are using natural stone.
Stone is a natural material, extracted from the earth as an identifiable type, but with significant variation in color and pattern and content. Also, some materials are called different names by different vendors. Even materials with the same name differ from lot to lot.
Once you select the slabs in our warehouse, we will reserve (“tag”) them for you. We are reserving the selected material under the name of your fabricator and communicate your selection respectively. If a stone fabricator is specified, we will hold the material for 30 days. If no fabricator is named and you are still searching for one, we will reserve the material for 7 days. It is your responsibility to contact us with the name of your selected fabricator. If we do not hear from you within 7 days, we will remove the “tag” and proceed to sell the material.
SELECTING THE FINER DETAILS
Find a reputable stone contractor/fabricator to install your countertop. He can advise you about the finer points of your selection and installation details.
Selecting Material Finish
Slab material for the kitchen comes in variety of finishes. With a few exceptions you can use polished, honed or leather finish for your countertop – your selection depends on your personal preferences.
A high gloss surfaces. Less water absorbent than honed and textured finishes. Appropriate for any countertop.
There 2 circumstances when recommend using honed or brushed finish because of practical considerations.
- Marble countertops show etching more readily on polished finish. It is not wrong to select polished finish; it will only require more maintenance.
- Outdoors kitchens weather and patina over time and may lose their gloss
Honing removes the gloss from the surface, creating a soft matte look. Surface remains smooth to the touch.
Variety of methods are used chemical (acid wash) or mechanical to achieve a textured surface. There are different levels of brushing – from the subtle satin or leather finish to deeper brushing, creating a different effect of texture. We stock the fine leather finish, because of hygienic and absorption considerations.
- When rough brushing is used to finish the material surface more pores are opened and material may absorb liquids more readily. The finer leather finish is achieved with an initial finer brushing of the surface and then soft smoothing of the textured surface, with fine brushes, thus closing the finer pores.
- If the surface is deeply textured and rough to the touch it will be difficult to clean. Fine food particles may be caught in the crevices and cause bacterial growth.
Blow torched for a rough textured surface, more appropriate for exterior applications. Surface is usually brushed after flaming, when used for interior application. Not recommended for countertops but may be used as a wall accent in your kitchen or bathroom backsplash.
Various designs are etched into the surface of the stone using water jet. It is usually a custom finish, not a standard offer. Not recommended for countertops but may be used as a wall accent in your kitchen or bathroom backsplash.
Selecting the Proper Edge
Selecting a proper edge adds beauty to your project and integrates the stone into the overall design. Check with your fabricator to learn about the various edge treatments. Communicate any specific requirements in the stone fabrication and stone treatment to your fabricator. He can advise you on how to best integrate the various aspects of your project.
Selecting the Proper Sink
There is a huge variety of sinks available on the market that you can select from – consult with your fabricator or designer. Depending on the size of your countertop and how you are going to use it you may select the size of the sink, the material it is made of and how it is mounted undermount ( mounted under the countertop) or overmount (sitting on top of the countertop).
Selecting a Backsplash
Your kitchen backsplash is a personality piece. Refined, neutral or loud: What’s your style? The material you choose to spruce up the wall space between the countertop and cabinets and above the range, should showcase the color scheme and theme of your kitchen, whether contemporary or traditional. Ultimately, that backsplash is a focal point. And it’s an opportunity to be creative. There is a wide variety of options – consult your fabricator or designer.
- Slab backsplash – you may use slab material from the countertop or different, complementary material. It is usually the priciest option.
- Tile backsplash – you may use wall tiles in varying size and material, same or different from the type of material used on the countertop. Visit the Tile section of our website to make your selection.
- Mosaic backsplash – mosaic offers a beautiful and diverse way to decorate your backsplash – they come in a variety of color, texture and material mixes. View the Mosaic we are offering.
Most Natural Stone needs to be sealed. Sealers can provide insurance against most staining agents. Ask your fabricator whether your stone needs sealing, which is the most appropriate sealer for your project, and how to maintain the surface and integrity of your stone after the finished product is installed.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE CONSIDERATIONS
Countertop material requires varying degree of Care & Maintenance. Quartz and porcelain require minimal care over time. Natural stone needs to be sealed, regardless of the type of stone. It is originally sealed after installation but will require routine resealing over time.
Educate yourself on the care and maintenance requirements of various material. Make sure you can live with your selection’s maintenance requirements over the long run.
Which of these categories resonates with you? Use your answers to narrow your choices – it will make the ultimate decision that much easier! A wide array of materials, colors, patterns, styles and prices mean that there are great kitchen countertops made for every home.
In this section we will briefly discuss the pros and cons of the more popular countertops. We offer a detailed review of the countertop material we stock as well as comparison of the pros and cons of some of the materials. Please specific countertop article for more detailed review of the material of your choice, granite, marble, porcelain etc.
There are many reasons why granite countertops are among the most desirable option for the kitchen and bathroom countertops. Their popularity seems to have a staying power, more and more new granite countertop options are made available in the market.
Granite is highly resistant to abrasion and does not scratch easily. It’s second only to diamond in terms of the harness of natural materials. When properly installed, it will be the last countertop you ever need. If you replace it down the road, it will be because you want to and not because you must. It resists chipping, scratching and cracking. Granite is also heat resistant, but we do not recommend placing hot pans directly on the surface, use trivets and matts.
- Pros: Rich, luxurious look, durable, minimal to none scratching and staining. Does not etch. Affordable.
- Cons: Require regular sealing, otherwise pretty low maintenance.
Marble countertops boast traditional beauty that is unsurpassed. The stone comes in a range of hues including lovely pinks, greens and neutral tones, as well as the classical white Calacata and Carrara marble
- Pros: Stunning good looks
- Cons: Not commonly used in kitchens due to probability of staining, etching and scratching. Needs to be sealed properly and frequently. Will patina over time and if like to keep them looking new, they will require occasional restoration. Some white marbles can be very pricey.
If you absolutely love the look of white marble at least select a dolomite, which is a harder, less porous marble which does not etch as bad as the traditional Calcium Carbonate marble. We stock several beautiful dolomite marbles, such as Brazilian Calacata, White Princess, Arctic Princess. The best option will be to select porcelain or quartz, which come in a variety of white marble look, or if you must have a natural stone, select quartzite, which has the beautiful marblesque look but is much more durable than marble. Read more in White Marbles and Their Alternatives.
The colors of soapstone are rich and beautiful. They convey calmness. If you should put in a soapstone countertop, you wouldn’t want to cut on it. Soapstone is very soft. It’s so soft it can be scratched with a fingernail. Over time, the edges will soften, and you’ll start to see small nicks, scratches, and indentations. If you like the aged antique look, the patina of this natural stone might be perfect for you. It will age gradually and gracefully. If you don’t care for all the small nicks and scratches, a little mineral oil or a light sanding will smooth out the stone.
Pros: Warm, rustic look. Almost non-porous and does not etch, so it will not stain. Heat resistant, reasonably priced.
Cons: Will scratch and patina over time and require frequent refinishing if you do not like the patina. However, easy to maintain by the homeowner.
There are many choices in quartzite color tones. There are creamy neutrals and warm subtle earth tones, where the colors are soft and earthy. Lighter creams, ivories, and smoky gray blues. Even pastel shades of yellow to pink are available. They lend themselves to a more contemporary look, very reminiscent of some of the understated and lived in look of limestone.
Then, there are those quartzites that are marble looking, with distinctive elegant veins, making unexpected swirls. These quartzites have quite a palette of unique colors. Starting with the white and gray and then going into dramatic blues, reds, green, yellows, mauve, nearly black with sweeping veins running through, giving the stone its distinctive, rich look. The color and veining of each quartzite stone is unique….
Pros: Sleek, high-end look and good alternative to marble. Will not scratch, etch or stain easily, but requires sealing.
Cons: Pricey. Requires sealing.
Porcelain countertops can be stunning. Since their patterns are executed with ink-jet application, they can perfectly mimic natural stone look. Laminam is our preferred porcelain for slabs. It is a high-quality porcelain which is almost scratch resistant, you may cut directly on it. Non-porous – does not stain and does not acid etch. It is also heat resistant – you may place hot pans on top of the surface. They are one of the most durable and maintenance free kitchen countertop option currently available on the market.
- Pros: Variety of color options, tough and strong finish, non-porous, non-scratch non-etch, heat resistant, easy to clean
- Cons: Medium to high priced.
Quartz countertops are another elegant choice. This engineered material is pigmented in many colors, each one polished to a bright surface. Quartz is a good choice in traditional kitchens but looks good in contemporary space too.
- Pros: Strong, color options, easy to clean, doesn’t require sealing, resists scratches
- Cons: Some options may be costly, not very resistant to heat.
Butcherblock Countertops are made of smaller and larger pieces of wood. The traditional smaller pieces of wood produce a casual, somewhat rustic appearance. When the wood is cut in longer strips, the look is still rustic but in a more contemporary way.
- Pros: Warmth of natural wood, several “looks” available, affordable
- Cons: Must be sealed and oiled properly and fairly often to prevent water damage
Concrete Countertops sound cold and drab, like a sidewalk Well, they are quite hard, obviously, but the look of most is anything but dull. The concrete can be pigmented, but most often it is acid stained and then polished to a brilliant gleam. In the end, many concrete countertops resemble natural stone like granite, but the look can be easily customized too. They are an excellent choice for high-end, elegant kitchens.
- Pros: Beauty and elegance, natural stone look and other appearances with fewer hassles, durability
- Cons: Pricey, unforgiving on dropped glass items, proper sealing required to prevent stains
Laminate Countertops are available in an impressive range of colors and styles, many mimicking more expensive materials such as natural stone or tile. Laminate gives you the look you want at an affordable price. Most countertop dealers have dozens if not hundreds of samples to show you.
- Pros: Great style range, affordable, easy to clean
- Cons: Some look cheap, not resistant to heat, scratch somewhat easily
Reclaimed Wood Countertop
Reclaimed wood countertops is among the most popular ecofriendly countertop materials. Wood planks and slabs are milled again and resurfaced to produce profoundly beautiful countertops that work well in country, traditional, Old World and contemporary designs.
- Pros: Warm and beautiful
- Cons: Expensive, require sealing, limited choices
Recycled Glass Countertop
Recycled glass countertops are produced from crushed glass and a clear binder that allows the beauty of the glass to sparkle through. The crushed glass might be of one general hue or a rainbow of glasses can be used. The look ranges from retro to modern.
- Pros: Each is unique, easy to clean, tough and strong
- Cons: Limited styles, expensive
Solid Surface Countertop
Solid surface countertops are another synthetic material that is pigmented to produce many different styles from solid colors to a look like natural stone. Depending on the appearance of solid surface material, it works in kitchens that are traditional or contemporary/modern.
- Pros: Many color options, easy to clean, tough and durable
- Cons: Poor heat resistance, costly
Stainless Steel Countertop
Stainless steel countertops give any kitchen the look of cleanliness and order. They are embraced by those who do a lot of food preparation and want a material that assists them in their efforts while continuing to look fantastic. Traditional, retro and modern kitchens employ stainless steel countertops.
- Pros: Beautiful, easy to clean, scratch-resistant, durable
- Cons: Somewhat sterile in appearance, expensive
Looking for an Eco-Friendly Material?
Recycled materials are now making their way into kitchen countertop designs. Recycled glass countertops use up to 90% recycled material. Other solid countertop types are made from a high percentage of recycled paper, particle board, wood and metal. There are very attractive options with each recycled and repurposed material that are also very friendly to the environment. Glass requires little maintenance; the others will consume a bit more of your time to keep them in top shape.
Caring for Your Natural Stone
To ensure a long-term satisfaction with your project, it is essential that natural stone is properly cared and maintained after the installation is completed. Please take the time to review information provided in the Care & Maintenance section and establish a proper maintenance program for your stone. Natural stone is easier to maintain than you would expect. With proper care, it will last for generations.
We want your project to be a success and have the knowledge and expertise to help you. Please do not hesitate to call us with questions.
Please note that the information on this page is a general summary of industry-accepted standards and tips regarding natural stone considerations, applications and care. We have compiled this information to help you in your stone selection and care. MGSI is not involved in geological testing and has no formal proof of the information presented in the article and relies on industry wide information and standards. MGSI will not be responsible for any direct or indirect claims and damages, resulting from the improper application and/or interpretation of this information. Please note that natural stone varies substantially. Ask your stone specialist what works best for your project