Countertop Options and How to Pick the Right One for You
Jul 13, 2020

Countertop Options and How to Pick the Right One for You

These days, there is almost an infinite number of options when it comes to selecting a material for countertops. In today’s blog we will go into some detail on the characteristics of different materials to help you decide what might be the best option for you and your lifestyle

Natural Stones

Granite

Granite is a familiar natural stone, well-known for its visual movement and durability. It comes in many different shades and colors, providing unique and varied options that only Mother Nature can offer. Of all of the surface options granite often offers the strongest visual “statement” for surface design.

The internal structure of the natural stone is not solid. It is porous, and therefore absorbent to some degree. Even though it is a natural stone, granite typically has a low porosity, which means it is less likely to allow anything to absorb into and potentially stain its surface. Usually, the darker and more uniform the granite, the denser and less porous it is. Depending on what granite you select your stone supplier will recommend a sealer to apply to the surface to help keep it more impermeable and guide you in how often to seal it – typically every 2-10 years - depending on the specific stone you’ve chosen. It’s a good idea to ask about maintenance requirements before finalizing your selection.

Granite is the perfect material for a kitchen or space that gets high traffic and usage. It requires little maintenance, so you don’t have to worry about staining or cracking, and you can live in your space relatively worry-free.

Marble

Marble is another natural stone most people are familiar with. It is known for its veining, and its shades of grey and white are among the most popular countertops in kitchens and bathrooms today.  It can also be found in shades of black, blue, and pink. Marble is a porous stone and requires some care to ensure that it wears well over time.

Marble has a level 3 on Moh’s scale of hardness, which is pretty low. This means it is easy to carve and likely to scratch. (This is why marble has been traditionally used for statues and in art applications for so many years!) Marble is also susceptible to etching, which means acidic things such as lemon juice, red wine, tomatoes, if not cleaned right away, may etch into the surface of the stone, creating a duller finish. But since marble is a natural stone, it can be re-polished, which can help take care of most damage

When selecting this material for a space, it is crucial to think about the qualities of the stone. If you are someone who prefers perfection, marble may not be the best choice. If you are a heavy user of your kitchen, for example, or if you have kids and your kithcen surfaces will see lots of spills, there is likely to be at least some noticeable wear and tear. If you are someone who does not mind that and thinks that “patina of use” adds character, then marble is an excellent option for you! Regular sealing - ideally every year or two - and a bit of attentive care – cleaning up spills as soon as they happen – are all that is needed to maintain a stunning marble top.

Quartzite

If you want a unique and show-stopping countertop, quartzite is a great option. It is a metamorphic rock that evolves from sandstone due to heat and pressure. Quartzite can give a similar appearance to marble without the same type of maintenance. It forms in a range of colors; white, grey and beige are popular choices for the home.
Quartzite gives you slightly more durability compared to marble, but it is not indestructible. It can still etch and stain and should be sealed regularly. Notably, some quartzites with very crystalline structures (as seen in the photo below) are more prone to cracking and chipping. And as with most natural stones, you’ll need to seal it in order to protect and prevent stains and etching. Again, your designer or countertop professional can help with specific advice. Finally, when selecting a quartzite slab, it is essential to ensure that it is a pure quartzite. Sometimes people in the industry use the term to describe stones more closely related to marble or dolomites.

This picture above is a kitchen displayed in our showroom. The countertops are a rare blue quartzite called, “Blue Iceberg”. The countertops tie together the blue range and blue detailing in the backsplash tile and also makes a stunning statement.

Engineered (manmade) Stone

Quartz

When talking with clients about countertop material we have found that most people confuse “quartz” as the natural stone and quartzite as the manmade surface when, in fact, the opposite is true. Both of these materials contain natural (quartz) stone, but the countertop material now commonly known as “quartz”, is actually made up of bits of quartz that are ground up and then combined with a manmade substrate.  It is the manmade substrate that makes “quartz” countertops non-porous. The result is a countertop that nicely mimics the natural visual beauty of granite or marble but requires no up-keep such as sealing, and little if any worry of staining or etching.   The one caveat is that “quartz” cannot be re-polished like a natural stone, so in the rare case of some damage, your options may be limited.

The picture on the left is a Bathroom designed by Ulrich designer Julia Kleyman.

It incorporates a “clean” white quartz that allows the other design details in the space to stand out.

 

 

 

 

As technology advances, the look of “quartz” is getting better and better. It has become a trendy alternative to marble. “Quartz” also has some other advantages over natural stone. The material is manmade and available in slabs of standard sizes: either 56” x 120” or in jumbo slabs that are 64” x 131”, whereas natural stone slabs come in a variety of sizes based on type and origin. “Quartz” slabs are also visually uniform, can be matched easier, and may not require your review and selection of a specific slab at the stone yard. It is essential to know that not every quartz comes in jumbo slabs, so if you have a long run, say, for a big island, you may still need a seam to achieve your look. If you have an experienced countertop installer, the seams will be minimal and should easily blend into your top.

“Quartz” is a perfect material for someone who utilizes the room heavily or if your space is a high traffic area - whether a kitchen or a bathroom. If you want the appearance of natural stone, like marble, without the maintenance or worry of staining or etching, “quartz” is also a great option. There is an abundance of brands (Aurea, Caesarstone, Cambria, LG, Silestone, and Zodiaq, to name a few) and a myriad of colors and designs to achieve whatever look you like.

Edges

After you select the material for your countertops, you need to choose the edge type for it. Below are images of different types of edging. Each one can create a distinct look - whether it’s traditional or modern - or anything in between.

Surface Finishes

When you think of countertop finishes, most people think of polished, but there are many more options. A polished finish creates a glossy mirror-like surface, and it creates a subtle highlight to the top. A honed finish is a matte finish that is smooth to the touch but has no reflection. A leathered finish is similar to the honed finish, but it’s not soft and adds texture to the touch.

All of these finishes can create a different look and appearance of the stone.  A leathered finish retains the natural color of the stone, whereas a honed finish can wash out the color of the stone. A polished finish creates depth to the stone and brings out the colors.  Many natural stones can also be enhanced to bring even more of their beauty to the eye.

 

An example of a leathered countertop. You can see the texture of the material and almost feel it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An example of a honed countertop. It has a matte smooth surface.

 

 

 

 

 

An example of a polished countertop. On the island you can see the mirror reflection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cost

Stones range significantly in price. They are usually priced in groups. Most people find a stone they like among Groups 2 – 4.  Group I is the lowest price point. In this group, you will find material that is readily available and more common in appearance. The higher the group, the more rare and unique the material.  In higher groups you will also find white backgrounds. Below are the general ranges of cost for each type of stone.

Granite is on the lower end in cost. Granite used to be the material of choice in homes, but that is no longer true. According to Home Advisor, granite costs approximately $40-$60 per square ft.; the price installed ranges from $75-$125. Marble is on the opposite of the spectrum, typically a higher-end price point. The cost of marble ranges from $40-$100 per SF. In marble, price varies a lot, depending on how rare the marble type is. For example, Carrera costs about $40 per SF; this is the most common type of marble. Calcutta, on the other hand, is around $180 per SF. It is more expensive because it is found in only one quarry, thus, a very rare material. The prices of quartz, on average, cost about $75 per SF (without installation) and can range from $50-$150 per SF. Based on manufacturer and source of material, on average, quartz costs $125 for stone with installation.

Other Options

We’ve talked about the most popular, but there are even more, creative options for countertops. Some examples are cement, limestone, semiprecious stones, soapstone, wood tops, and even stainless steel. The possibilities are truly endless! When you are selecting your material, make sure to speak with a professional to understand the pros and cons of the material to ensure it’s the best fit for you.

 

 

This kitchen, designed by Aparna Vijayan, utilizes (agate stone) inlayed in the island and custom hood and lit from behind to create a truly unique and show stopping kitchen.

 

 

 

Check back later when we talk about wood countertops and tables.

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