Countertop Buying Guide

By LINDA SMITH

When it comes to choosing countertops, you may feel like you’re drowning in a sea of stone. There’s just so many types, colors and materials to choose from that it can be overwhelming to even narrow it down to three options.

We get a ton of questions about different materials so we decided to put together a buying guide that will cover different types of materials and their pros and cons. That way it’s easier for you to at least get to the point of knowing what surface material you prefer. Color, on the other hand, is a whole different story.

This guide will cover just about every type of surface material you can get, so take some time getting to know each different type and what may best fit your lifestyle. Here’s a handy index to help you jump to the section you’re most interested in:

Granite Countertops

Granite is a time-tested favorite when it comes to homeowners upgrading their kitchen. It’s a high performance surface that gives any home a high-end, luxury look and feel. And with hundreds of colors and patterns to choose from, you’re sure to find the perfect combination.

What is Granite?

Granite is a type of igneous rock (which means it was formed millions of years ago by the cooling and solidifying of molten materials) that’s composed primarily of quartz and feldspar, which makes it one of the hardest materials on Earth. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions when choosing your kitchen countertop design and layout.

First, and perhaps most importantly, every granite slab is unique. That means you’ll probably want to visit the stone yard to choose the slab you want.

There are many factors that will affect the price of your slab. Sometimes it’s a very unique and highly sought pattern, or simply a matter of thickness. The thicker the slab, the more expensive is is. To curb costs, homeowners will sometimes choose granite tiles rather than a solid granite slab. This way they can incorporate cheaper cuts and save a little money with other intangible costs associated with transport, storage, etc.

Granite Countertop Finish

There are many choices when it comes to the finish of your granite slab. The finish refers to the final texture the visible surface will have.

  • Polished – A smooth and reflective surface that brings out the natural beauty and color of your stone. This is perhaps the most common finish you will encounter when choosing your stone. The only issue you may find with this finish is that it accentuates any imperfections in your stone and highlights messes that may be left behind by your kids. However, this slick surface makes cleaning a breeze!
  • Honed – This  smooth finish is very similar to a polished finish, but without the high gloss. While it doesn’t bring out the color of the stone as much as a polished finish, it is still very easy to clean and doesn’t produce as much glare as a polished surface.
  • Leather – One of the more unique finishes is a leathering, or roughing up, of the stone surface. By moving diamond tipped tools across the surface, manufacturers are able to create a “leather” finish that’s great for hiding imperfections.

Granite Countertop Maintenance

General maintenance is quite easy. A simple wipe down with a warm damp cloth is usually sufficient for everyday cleanup. Most mild household cleaners are usually okay for heavier messes or dried on food, but shouldn’t be used often. Granite does need to be sealed professionally and this seal should be maintained annually by trained professionals.

Final Thoughts on Granite Countertops

Granite is a timeless surface material that’s sure to remain popular for decades to come. It’s a great surface for nearly any home, and while it’s more toward the expensive end of countertop options, granite adds a great deal of value to your homes perceived value and will attract a broader range of homebuyers when it’s time to move to a different home.

Quartz Countertops

Quartz is an engineered stone that’s relatively new to the kitchen remodeling industry, but has quickly become a very popular option for many homeowners. Now, when you hear “engineered stone,” you may be thinking it’s some made up material invented in a lab. But actually, engineered quartz countertops are made up of about 93% natural quartz!

The “engineered” part has to do with the fact that when quartz is found in nature, it’s usually just small pieces of rock. These pieces of rock are ground into a powder and then put together to form a solid slab using resins and other bonding agents. Essentially, scientists took what would have otherwise been waste and transformed it into a beautiful, trendy kitchen countertop!

Benefits Of Quartz Countertops

Quartz has many benefits over natural stones. It’s a nonporous surface that doesn’t harbor bacteria and germs the same way natural stone does. It’s also heat and stain resistant. So unlike marble where you have to worry every time Aunt Beatrice spills another glass of wine in your kitchen, with quartz, you don’t have to stress about it. Simply wipe away any spills with a damp cloth and you’re on your merry way!

That’s why quartz is such a popular surface material for many chefs and bakers. It’s also incredibly easy to upkeep and doesn’t require sealing or routine maintenance. A quick wipe with a damp cloth will take care of just about any mess. Otherwise just use a mild cleaner and you shouldn’t have any worries.

Quartz countertops are also scratch resistant so there’s no need to worry when your toddler uses your countertop as their new favorite drum. The benefits are very robust. It hits just about every need our clients typically request. The only real downside of quartz is that some versions can get a bit expensive when compared to more traditional surfaces, but we think it’s totally worth the extra money.

Thickness & Overhangs

Quartz comes in half-inch, three-quarter inch, and one-and-a-quarter inch thick slabs, depending on the manufacturer’s process and your intended use. You can choose just about any edge finish you can think of – we know of at least 15 different types. And as for overhang, typically we design kitchens to have about an inch-and-a-half, which is industry standard.

Maintenance

Maintenance is virtually nonexistent! Quartz is by far one of the easiest surfaces to take care of. A simple wipe down with a damp cloth should be fine. There’s no need for sealing, waxing, or polishing. Ever. How’s that for worry free?

Final Thoughts On Quartz Countertops

Quartz is a stylish, super popular countertop and that doesn’t show any signs of changing in the foreseeable future. You can’t go wrong with quartz!

Marble Countertops

Marble countertops are the ultimate luxury surface material for your kitchen remodel. Its dominating presence and natural beauty helps any design style truly shine. But because of its high price and susceptibility to stains, many homeowners choose to restrict the use of marble to only the center island instead of the entire kitchen.

As with most natural stone surfaces, each marble slab is unique in its own way. It’s available in many different colors and styles from a mostly white finish with gray veins, to cream, black, green and even pink!

What is Marble?

Marble is a metamorphic rock, meaning it was previously a totally different type of rock/sediment and throughout a very long time, pressure, and exposure to heat, it transformed into what we know as marble today. Most marble started life as limestone or dolomite rock, and trails of mineral deposits give it beautiful veins of contrasting color.

Types of Marble

There are many different types of marble used in modern kitchen design. Perhaps most commonly seen, though, are Carerra and Calcutta.

Carerra is generally a white or bluish-gray primary with soft gray veins throughout.

Calcutta is generally white with very prominent and dark veins throughout and is sometimes in different hues.

Both Carerra and Calcutta marble are excellent palettes to build many different types of kitchens around. Because they’re a bit of a “blank palette,” they tend to pair well with just about any style and color appliance.

Finishes

Much like granite, marble finishes come in three distinct styles:

Honed (matte) – This finish gives the marble a dull look and is created by sanding the surface to give it a “soft” finish. It’s great for the “working kitchen” in that it doesn’t show as many scuffs or scratches, and the muted colors can tone down your kitchen design if it’s too bold for your taste.

Polished – Created by a series of grinding and buffing processes, polished marble is very shiny and smooth. It’s the best finish for bringing out the colors and natural beauty of your marble. However, it also is the worst when it comes to hiding blemishes.

Leather finish – Most commonly found on dark marble, leathering is a finish in between honed and polished. It’s satin without being overly shiny.

Thickness & Overhangs

Since marble is a relatively “soft” surface material, we suggest an inch and a quarter thickness. The standard overhang is about an inch and a half, and a flat edge is still the most popular option for edge finishing.

Care & Maintenance

Because marble is relatively soft and porous, it must be maintained often and extra precautions taken throughout everyday use. While it’s heat resistant, you should never set a hot pan directly on the surface. Instead, use trivets or cooking pads. Always use a cutting board when doing any chopping or cutting, and you must always clean up spills right away.

And since marble is so susceptible to etching, you must take care not to spill any acids such as citrus juice or vinegar onto the surface. For cleaning, simply using a rag soaked in warm soapy water will do just fine. Marble will naturally patina over time and there isn’t anything you can do to prevent this, so you should be prepared to embrace any imperfections that develop over the years.

You should use a penetrating sealant at least annually. While this isn’t a guaranteed solution to keeping your marble looking brand new for years to come, it does buy you a little time to clean up messes before the marble stains.

How to Shop for Marble

Because each slab of marble is very unique, you’ll probably want to choose the exact slab that your countertops will be cut out of. And because of that, shopping for the perfect marble slab is a time-consuming process. But if you take a bite out of the selection process by doing your research early and working closely with our designers, you’re sure to have an enjoyable experience finding that perfect slab. But for the DIYers out there, here are a few tips to help you out:

Know Your Specifications – Marble is purchased by thickness, ranging from three quarters of an inch to an inch and a half. We suggest going as thick as possible, but understand that budget constraints can sometimes limit the thickness you can afford.

Do Your Research – Choosing marble can be overwhelming. With so many color, style, and size options to choose from, it’s always a smart idea to do some research and start your marble search with a plan. But no matter how much research you do, marble is a natural stone and no two pieces are exactly the same. So have some flexibility in what you’re willing to accept.

Give Yourself Some Time – There are a LOT of local options for buying marble countertops. You’ll want to travel to as many local suppliers as you can to find the perfect slab at the perfect price, which leads us to our next tip.

Ask About Pricing Before You Select Your Marble – Marble slabs usually won’t have price tags attached. It’s not like running to your local corner store and picking up a gallon of milk. You’ll want to gather info from your sales rep who will work out final pricing with your fabricator.

How Much Does Marble Cost?

Marble is by no means “cheap.” It’s a luxury material that comes with a luxury price tag. Usually marble will have a very wide price gap from one supplier to the next, but you’ll typically find it priced between $125 and $250 per square foot, depending on the uniqueness and available supply on hand.

Final Thoughts on Marble

There are many pros and cons to choosing marble countertops. For one, it’s a luxurious surface that’s sure to give your home an extra oomph of show stopping power. However, it’s expensive and requires quite a bit of maintenance. In the end, you have to decide what you’re willing to give up in exchange for having the most impressive and beautiful countertops in your home.

Stainless Steel Countertops

Stainless steel is popular for its heat resistance, sanitization abilities, strength, and that awesome gourmet kitchen look. There’s a reason it’s the only surface you’ll find in a professional kitchen. Stainless steel can take a beating and keep coming back for more without having to worry too much about upkeep.

The reflective surface is also great at making small kitchens seem larger in scale. Since the light reflects off the metal, you can add dimension and depth to even the smallest space. It also gives your kitchen a modern look that’s hard to match, especially for the price.

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is just regular steel except that it contains chromium. This protects the steel from rust and corrosion.  That means your stainless steel surfaces will last for years to come with only basic maintenance and upkeep.

As with most natural stone surfaces, each marble slab is unique in its own way. It’s available in many different colors and styles from a mostly white finish with gray veins, to cream, black, green and even pink!

Other Metals Options

There are other metal types similar to stainless steel to choose from, but pricing can get pretty high so it’s not always economical. But alas, if that’s okay with you, here are a few options:

  • Copper– A distinctive surface to match pots and pans, copper gives your home an old-world charm and looks even better over time as it naturally develops a patina.
  • Pewter – Nonporous pewter is similar to copper in that it develops a patina, however pewter will turn a bit gray instead of the greenish brown that copper develops.
  • Zinc — Zinc is a soft metal that develops a bluish-gray patina. It’s not recommended in kitchens that are used often as it’s easily damaged.
  • Bronze – Bronze is another old-world style surface that will darken with age but gives your kitchen a truly luxurious look.

Thickness & Edges

Usually stainless steel is a thin sheet metal laid over a wooden base to soundproof the surface. The edge is bent to give the appearance of a thicker surface and to protect you from potential cuts from the edge of the steel.

This means your surface will look to be about an inch and a half thick with a standard overhang. You can find several different edge types, such as marine (no-drip), square, angled-back and bull-nosed.

Custom Options

Because stainless steel countertops all begin as a roll of flat stainless steel, it’s easy to order custom shapes and designs to fit the shape, size and configuration of your kitchen. Finishes include brushed, polished, quilted and hammered.

While a smooth surface can scratch somewhat easily, a textured finish will help camouflage these scratches. However, we find that homeowners who choose stainless steel surfaces are doing a lot of cooking and are okay with any sort of scratches that may develop over time. After all, that’s just added character!

Care & Maintenance

General maintenance just requires a quick wipe down with a soft cloth and warm water. To avoid streaks you can use a stainless steel cleaner. It’s also very easy to sanitize stainless steel countertops, any industrial strength sanitization chemical is fine.

Pros & Cons

Pros –Stainless is very strong and will last forever. It won’t chip or fade and it withstands heat and stains with ease. It’s an eco-friendly surface that’s easy to clean and requires no regular finishing or polishing that stone surfaces do.

Cons– Shows scratches and fingerprints very easily. And if it isn’t attached to a base correctly it can be very loud when anything is dropped on it.

How Much Does Stainless Steel Cost?

$120 to $160 per square foot when installed by a professional.

Final Thoughts on Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is best when used in modern or small kitchens. The phenomenal durability and ease of upkeep is great for heavily used kitchens. It’s a wonderful option for homeowners who tend to put function over looks.