Your Guide to Selecting the Perfect Countertops for Your Home.
My mother, who sparked my passion for home design, proudly opened her custom built 1970’s home any chance she had to her friends and family. This little woman loved to entertain and our enormous kitchen was her favorite room in the house.
As in most homes, the kitchen was where the action was. Her lady friends would gather along our extra-long peninsula savoring scrumptious handmade delights, drink in one hand and cigarette in the other, like a typical scene straight out of Mad Men.
Amidst the fun times shared in this kitchen, and the many stories my tween ears wished they could un-hear, is another vivid memory about this home-the God awful orange formica countertops.
“It was the thing back then; even the Brady Bunch had it.” My mother tells me over the phone as we stroll down decorating disaster, memory lane.
Countertops have come a loooooong way since the horrid home design style of the 70s. Although formica is still a pinch hitter in the home building and remodeling game, it is not a top contender like the many beautiful natural and man made materials we see going into homes these days.
Because there are so many colors and styles to choose from, homeowners can become completely overwhelmed and not sure which material is best for their home or family’s lifestyle. And the #1 burning question I get the most-what in the WORLD is the difference between granite and quartz?
Countertops 101 starts now.
Pros: Timeless and beautiful, adding marble can give any room a high end look. Italian Carrara and Calacatta marble have become hugely popular over the past 5 years and remain a top choice for homeowners who seek an upscale remodel or build. Both are light with gray veining with Calacatta being a bit whiter with bolder dramatic veins. Marble matches well with almost all colors and design styles.
Cons: Because of its calcium carbonate makeup, marble reacts to acids that are found in fruit juices, alcoholic beverages and carbonated drinks which can eat away at the surface. Marble is also extremely porous so stains can be a major issue as wells as scratches. Using a neutral pH cleaner is recommended for fast cleanup and a protective sealer fills in the pores and helps to repel stains. QUARTZ Pros: Scratch resistant, stain resistant, heat resistant and karate chop resistant makes Quartz a desirable design choice for busy families with little to no maintenance needed. Just wipe and go.
Unlike marble, quartz is nonporous and does not need to be sealed nor will it house bacteria or viruses and has endless colors and pattern choices.
Cons: I had to think long and hard about any negatives of using this engineered stone other than the price. You can expect to pay more for this durable material which is competitive to higher end granites.
Pros: High quality, good ol granite is still at the top of the list of desired materials for kitchens and bathrooms. The luxurious, natural look of granite comes in a wide variety of colors, patterns and can be moderately priced depending on your selection. When properly sealed, granite can be stain and heat resistant which is great in the bathroom when using heated hair tools.
Cons: Granite is porous, so you will need to properly seal your countertop at least once a year for best results.
Pros: Oh the things you can do with concrete. Using pigment, you can choose any shade you desire and by using stain, one can achieve the look of natural stone. You can get really creative and add glass, stones or other items you treasure to produce an artistic conversation piece in your kitchen.
Cons: Whew! Labor intensive! It is best to plan out a healthy budget for concrete countertops and a strict maintenance regimen. These countertops need to be sealed at day one and resealed every 2-3 years thereafter. Not properly sealed, vino, coffee and oils become its kryptonite.
Pros: The least expensive of the countertop crew and now available in patterns that mimic natural stone and quartz. Laminate countertops can be used in retro designs that call for a fun solid pop of bold color. Great for business break rooms, smaller kitchens and bathrooms.
Cons: A lot can go wrong with laminate countertops. Hot pots are a no, no, and using sharp knives without a cutting board will surely give you a scratch that cannot be fixed without removing the entire surface. The other con is the same as its pro-it is inexpensive-which can carry the stigma of cheap design.
Pros: Wood countertops add natural warmth to a kitchen and design speaking, looks great when an island is the designated spot for this countertop.
Butcher block style wood countertops are highly functional and the perfect spot for food preparation when properly sealed. Wood countertops are a good mix with almost all home design styles.
Cons: When not sealed properly, wood countertops can house germs due to being soft and porous. Over time, the wood will begin to age and the surface may need to be sanded and refinished. Some homeowners may see this aging process as a design pro because the reclaimed wood look is the latest craze in the home design arena at the moment.
Pros: Stainless Steel is one of the easiest countertops to clean and the most hygienic countertop material around. Heat resistant, stain resistant and considered the no germ zone with regular cleaning. Stainless steel is a perfect countertop for busy families with small children that love to help in the kitchen. Great for prepping food and letting your little cook be as messy as they want without the mommy, clean up stress.
This beautiful bit of bling matches any color in the fan chart and can go from extreme modern design to relaxed cottage.
Cons: Scratches and dents! I hate to break the news, but that perfect, shiny new counter won’t last long. Normal wear and tear of pots, pans, and cutlery hitting your countertop can lead to imperfections over the years. When considering a stainless counter, ask about gauge (thickness) options.
Pros: Soapstone gets its milky appearance from the talc that is in this natural, quarried stone. Many homeowners choose this material due to its warmth and subtle veining. Soapstone is as hard as granite but is certainly more pliable which means it is less likely to crack. Clean up is a breeze with this non-porous, sanitary top and does not require sealing.
Cons: Even though soapstone is non-porous, it is fairly soft and you need to be careful not to cut on it. Although beautiful, this material color selection is limited to whites, off-whites, and variations of grays.
Pros: A member of the limestone family, this gorgeous natural stone is usually light in color and has very similar characteristics to marble countertops. This countertop is available in honed (satin/matt finish), polished and tumbled (rough texture) and is favored in both traditional and modern design.
Cons: Another similar quality travertine shares with marble is its sensitivity to heat and acidic liquids. Travertine is porous, so spills must be wiped quickly, and hot pots and pans cannot have direct contact with this top. Sealing is a must if you plan on going for the honed or tumbled look.
So what does all these pros and cons boil down to?
For the active, busy family: Stainless Steel, Quartz, Granite, Soapstone and Laminate countertops are the perfect selection for the family constantly on the go.
Mindful of Maintenance: Marble, Concrete, Travertine and Wood are great countertop material for your kitchen and bathroom, especially if your custom home design calls for this particular look and feel.
I hope this helps clear the air with any countertop confusion.
As always, If you ever find yourself in a home design dilemma or would like to discuss a project you are working on, feel free to contact me anytime.
Lisa Willard is Ashley’s Building’s co-owner and chief designer. She is a dedicated wife and mother to her big, beautiful, blended family. She is never to busy to stop and smell the roses, and loves all things that uplifts the mind, body, spirit and the home. She can be reached at Lisa@Ashleysbuilding.com.