How To Choose a Kitchen Countertop: Materials, Colors, and More

Photo of kitchen area

Kitchen countertops come in a variety of materials, from classic granite and formica to more non-traditional concrete or recycled glass. Whether you are building a new kitchen, or remodeling an existing one, you'll need to give careful consideration to your choice of countertop materials. Your countertops will be the first thing that people notice about your kitchen, and they can set the tone for your whole design scheme! 

But with so many choices now available from which to choose, where do you start? Why, right here, of course!

  1. Material. Naturally, when you are choosing a kitchen countertop, the material of which it's made will be your first, and most important, consideration. To find the ideal material for your kitchen, determine how it will be used and how much you have to spend.
    • Granite countertops are the classic, enduring choice. The advantages of granite counter tops are many - it doesn't chip easily, it's heat and stain-resistant, is more low-maintenance than other natural stone materials and offers a depth of design that's difficult to match with synthetic materials. However, there are disadvantages. If you do damage your granite countertop, it's very difficult to repair. It's also the most expensive option of all the materials listed here. And, even though it's considered relatively low maintenance, it will need to be sealed once a year to prevent it from absorbing stains and odors.
    • Marble countertops are another classic choice. It's softer than granite, so it needs to be sealed more often - usually twice a year. However, if you are a baker, a marble counter top is almost de rigueur. These materials unparalleled in its ability to maintain a cool temperature even when you are working on it. Like granite, marble is very resistant to heat. Another way that it's similar to granite is in price - but expect to pay even more for marble.
    • There are also other natural stone options, such as slate, limestone and soapstone countertops. Depending upon the look that you want for your kitchen, you may want to investigate these options, also. They tend to be less expensive than granite or marble, although still more expensive than man-made materials. In general, most natural stone tends to be heat-resistant, although not to the same degree as granite or stainless steel.
    • Engineered stone is a relatively new option in countertop material. This process takes small fragments of natural stone and bonds them together with a plastic polymer. The material is then extruded into slabs of countertop material. Although the look of engineered stone is more uniform than natural stone, it still gives your kitchen a more upscale look than solid-color laminates. If you have children in your home, it's also a more kid-friendly material because stains and scratches can be easily removed. A disadvantage to engineered stone is that it can be damaged by heat, so you cannot set hot pans down directly on it. Engineered stone is sold by the names of Zodiaq and Silestone.
    • Solid-surface countertops are a man-made plastic-based material. Because the countertop can be custom-made to the proper length, there are no seams. Another advantage is that since the color goes all the way through the countertop, you can simply use a bit of sandpaper to gently sand out scratches and stains. You can find solid-surface countertops in nearly any color imaginable, so if you're looking for something out of the ordinary, this may be the choice for you. A unique feature of solid-surface material is that you can have a sink made of the same material that is seamlessly integrated into your countertop. You can find solid-surface countertops under such names as Corian and Swanstone. They tend to be less expensive than natural or engineered stone, although they are also more easily damaged by heat.
    • Stainless steel countertops proclaim to the world that you are a serious cook. They are non-porous, and therefore do not absorb odors, stains or germs, which also makes them easy to clean. They are not damaged by high temperatures, so you can set hot pans down directly on the countertop, without bothering to use a trivet. The disadvantages are that they show fingerprints easily, are expensive and will look out-of-place in all but the most contemporary kitchens.
    • A fairly new concept in countertop surfacing is concrete counter tops. All of the qualities that make concrete ideal for your garage floor also make it suitable for kitchen use - it's very durable, highly resistant to damage and non-porous once sealed. Rest assured, though, your kitchen counter won't look like your garage floor! Concrete countertops can be colored nearly any color you'd like, with a variety of finishes. So, if you like the gray, industrial look, go for it! But, if you'd like a highly polished, smooth jet-black countertop, you can do that with concrete, too. The disadvantages of concrete are that all of your countertops will have to be custom-made, which can be quite expensive and it has to be sealed regularly. Like other natural materials, concrete is not easily scratched or damaged by heat.
    • If you'd like a bit of an artistic look to your kitchen, ceramic tile countertops may be the choice for you. You can find tiles in an array of colors, and you can arrange them in any pattern that your heart desires! They are heat-resistant, easily cleaned and best of all, installation is within the abilities of any determined do-it-yourselfer. The down side is that the grout and sealant must be reapplied annually and the tiles can chip or become scratched. Also, the grout can be stained easily, so you must take extra care to prevent spills on your ceramic tile countertop. Ceramic tile is generally heat-resistant, but you may want to avoid placing hot objects directly on top of handmade tiles. Given the low cost of ceramic tiles and the possibility of doing the installation yourself, ceramic tile is a very reasonably-priced countertop option.
    • Laminate countertops have been the tried-and-true option for many homeowners for several decades. They consist of many layers of particle board, which is then bonded to a plastic, colored veneer. Laminates are very inexpensive, sturdy and come in a wide range of color options. However, they do have visible seams, and if they are damaged, they're almost impossible to repair since the color is on the very uppermost layer only. Most likely, a damaged laminate countertop would have to be replaced. Laminate countertops are not at all resistant to heat, so you must always protect the surface from hot pots and pans.

      If you can't decide on just one countertop material option, it's perfectly acceptable to use more than one. You may have a baking area with a marble countertop, an island with an engineered stone countertop, and a stainless steel countertop around your stove.

  2. Color. Once you've decided on a surfacing material, you'll need to choose a color. If you think that resale value may be a consideration at some point in the future, you'll want to keep your choice fairly low-key. However, if your only goal is to have your kitchen reflect your personality, choose any color you like! If you choose a countertop in an unusual color or create a boisterous ceramic tile mosaic, make that the focal point of your kitchen and keep other furnishings neutral. Also, consider whether your kitchen is visible to other areas of the house. Although a kitchen with bright red countertops may make a bold design statement, this may not be the first thing you want visitors to see when they enter your home. Then again, it may be exactly the tone you want to set - just make that decision before the countertops are installed!
  3. Other questions. Other factors to consider when choosing a countertop are how well they will blend with your cabinets and flooring and how appropriate a choice is compared to the style and architecture of your home. For instance, even if you love the look of stainless steel, it probably won't blend in well in your traditional, farmhouse-style kitchen, and turquoise-blue laminate countertops will never look right with your dark cherry cupboards.

Before you make a final decision on any kitchen countertop, inspect the exact piece that will be installed in your kitchen. Natural stone, especially, can vary widely in color from one piece to the next. This is also the only way to determine that a piece is undamaged before it's installed. Choosing a countertop is an opportunity to let your personality shine in the kitchen you've designed, so remember to enjoy the process!


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