The sink might be the workhorse of the kitchen, but the countertop is certainly no slouch. Not only does it have to stand up to hot pans, things getting dropped on it and the occasional gouge, the countertop has to look great, too, no matter what.
Fortunately, there are only a handful of materials for countertops out there; it’s the color, pattern and edging choices that create a little havoc.
Stone – Easily the most expensive countertop material available, it’s also one of the most popular because of its association with high-end finishes. Granite, soapstone and slate come in a riot of colors and patterns, and can be cut in long slabs to minimize seams. Natural stone does require some maintenance like resealing, but also stands up to hot pans, isn’t easily scratched and doesn’t dent if something heavy is dropped on it.
Solid surface – Quartz is the industry leader for solid surface countertops because of its versatility and because it is virtually maintenance-free. Like other solid surface products from brand names like Corian, quartz is stain and scratch-resistant and stands up to heat and cold. Solid surface countertops are repairable and come in hundreds of color combinations, including those that look like natural stone.
Laminate – Tried and true, laminate – or Formica, as its known – continues to be a go-to countertop material because of its economical price point and the variety of colors, textures and patterns available now. Matte or fine matte finishes at 1/16″ thickness should only be used for countertops while 1/32″ can be used as a creative backsplash.
Wood – Butcher block is the most well-known of wood counters, but it’s not the only wood up for consideration. Wood slabs are used in kitchens but primarily for secondary surfaces like islands or butlers pantries. Both the butcher block and the slabs require a fair bit of maintenance, though, including regular sealing, and they don’t stand up well to heat, moisture and stains.
Eco-friendly – Recycled glass, bamboo and paper composite have a small foothold in the countertop market, but they aren’t the friendliest materials to work with. Glass can chip and break; bamboo needs to be sealed just like other wood; and paper is easily stained and scratched. Still, all three are easy to clean, and glass is both heat and scratch resistant.