Oh, those kitchen gallery photos! Picture after picture of sparkling granite or polished ceramics tempts a homeowner into sinking big portions of the kitchen remodeling budget into one of those gorgeous styles. Trouble is, yielding to that kind of temptation may not only be expensive, but may not provide the function that the kitchen really needs.
Today modern manufacturing techniques have come up with dozens of fabulous options in worktops suitable for the kitchen space. There are still classic materials such as granite, natural stone and ceramic, but there are also new kinds of laminates, glass, stainless steel and even concrete.
This type of countertop is made of a base of composite fiberboard or chipboard topped with a melamine layer. Laminates are the least expensive type of worktops, both in terms of cost-per-foot and installation. Many homeowners experienced in kitchen projects can install laminate, provided they remember to use a template tool to properly install sections for the corners. Laminates resist impacts and require little maintenance; wiping with a damp cloth is often sufficient. The major drawback to laminates is its susceptibility to heat.
After laminates, natural stone worktops are the next most popular material. This class includes softer rocks such as soapstone and limestone, followed by the progressively harder tops of slated, marble, granite and quartz. None of these countertops should be installed by a do-it-yourselfer.
Soapstone has been much underrated as a finish for countertops. It’s now possible to buy matching sinks in soapstone, which gives a very contemporary, unified look to a kitchen. Soapstone resists heat (but it’s not heat proof) and stains can be removed by rubbing. Soapstone’s cousin in softness, limestone, will need sealing because it’s the most porous of kitchen countertops. The tradeoff is limestone’s natural weathered look, favored by those who want to give their homes a natural feel.
Slate is one of those materials that people either love or hate. It’s tough and durable, resists heat, doesn’t absorb stains easily, and has its own unique look. Next to slate, marble is a harder countertop, but it will absorb stains or burns and requires sealing to resist these hazards.
The hardest and most durable countertop materials are granite and quartz. Granite maintains its current popularity by being durable and scratch-and-heat-resistant. However it will absorb stains so it needs to be sealed. Quartz countertops offer the most robust qualities. They resist stains, scratches and other hazards, but are not heat-resistant. As might be expected, quartz countertops are the most expensive.
Worktops made from wood are either a type of hardwood such as Maple “butcher block” or Cherry, Teak or Walnut. Any wood product needs regular oiling and periodic sealing to preserve its surface. Over time, wood countertops will gain “character” from dents and cut marks.
Tile countertops are enjoying resurgence these days thanks to their variety of textures and colors. Countertops may be made of mosaic tiles, ceramic tiles, glass tiles or other materials. Discuss the durability of each kind of tile product with your supplier.
Contemporary designers today have made stainless steel worktops a must for their metallic shine and professional look. Stainless steel countertops usually are laid on top of a wood base, such as cabinets to strengthen them and insulate against metallic echoes. Like sinks, stainless steel countertops could scratch and dent, but they resist heat and stains.