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How to Choose New Kitchen Counters

Advice on purchasing new kitchen countertops

By Jan Soults Walker

You've probably seen kitchen countertop materials that capture your attention in terms of appearances, but beyond looks, how do you select the right one?

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Elegant Traditional Kitchen
Jamie Herzlinger
"You've got to also analyze your overall kitchen for function, lifestyle, and the inevitable cost factor," says interior designer Cheryl Kees Clendenon, principal at In Detail Interiors, Pensacola, Florida. Clendenon poses these questions to help narrow down your choices:
  • How will I use my countertops? Some materials do better than others performing specific functions; make a selection that's designed to stand up to the task you'll perform in that area. Keep in mind, too, you can use a mix of countertop materials within the work core. "In a prep area, you may want a wood butcher block top if you do a lot of chopping," Clendenon says. "Near the cleanup sink where there's lots of water splashing, a solid material, such as engineered quartz, can work well."
  • How do I live? You may love a specific countertop material, but how much time do you have available for maintenance? "Are you too busy to seal stone or marble?" Clendenon asks. "Do you have the time to immediately wipe up every spill so marble doesn't stain? Will it stress you out to see cut marks on butcher block?" The good news is there are low-maintenance alternatives.
  • What should I spend? "You will have your kitchen countertops for a long time," Clendenon says. "Make sure you can live with your selection for years to come, but choose what makes sense with the space." For example, she says, if you can't afford quality cabinetry, don't spend $4,000-$5,000 on granite. Instead, find a balance with moderately priced cabinetry and countertops, such as a granite-look laminate or large-format granite tiles to keep costs down.
Don't forget about what coincides with your countertops:

As you shop, check out these popular kitchen countertop ideas:

Ceramic tile. Porcelain or ceramic tiles form a surface that resists moisture and water. Opt for large-format tiles to minimize grout lines and select dark grout so joints won't discolor with use. Choose from a wide variety of colors, shapes, sizes, textures, and designs and expect to pay from $20-$100 per square foot.

Concrete. Your contractor may cast these in the shop to better control the processes of curing and sealing the surface; or, the contractor may form the concrete countertops on-site to create a custom feature, such as radius edges or a curved corner. While concrete resists scratches, stains, and heat, it must be regularly sealed. Options include tints and insets, such as glass, coins, polished stones, and metal scrollwork. You can also create built-in drainboards and trivets. Expect to pay $65-$135 per square foot.

Glass. One of the priciest countertop materials, glass can make a big impact in just one small area of the kitchen if your budget allows. The material offers plenty of artistic express, from swirls of color and pattern to sleek, crystalline hues to embedded objects. Glass stands up to water and heat, but does scratch. Recycled glass (embedded in a concrete or resin binder) is an earth-conscious option. You'll pay $200-$300 per square foot for 1½ inch thick glass. Recycled glass countertops range from $55-$80 per square foot.

Laminate. Thin sheets of decorative paper saturated with resins and fused under high heat form the visible layer of laminate countertops. The laminate gains strength bonded to a wood substrate, such as particleboard. Choose from a nearly unlimited variety of solid colors as well as patterns and textures. Sharp objects can scratch laminate and hot pans can scorch the surface. Prefabricated laminate countertops with a backsplash cost $36-$45 per linear foot.

Metals. Prized for their good looks and resistance to stains and bacteria, metal countertops (which are thin sheets of metal applied over a wood substrate) often distinguish professional kitchens. Zinc and copper are options, but stainless steel remains the most popular. While metal countertops stand up to hot pots, scratches and dents are inevitable. Stainless steel countertops cost $50-$150 per square foot.

Open Contemporary Kitchen
Melissa Morgan Sutherland
Recycled paper. Made from post-consumer recycled paper saturated with resins and pigments, recycled paper countertops look similar to stone and are stain resistant. Scratches and scorches can be sanded out. Costs range from $35-$90 per square foot.

Find additional information about green interior design.

Solid-surfacing. This non-porous, plastic resin material can be fabricated with an integrated sink for a seamless installation that eases maintenance. Solid-surfacing resists stains and scratches can be sanded out. Costs are $40-$80 per square foot for 1½-inch thickness.

Stone/engineered stone. Natural stone, such as granite, limestone, marble, quartz, and soapstone, give kitchen a classic, permanent look. All are resistant to heat, but most stone countertops are quite porous and should be sealed regularly to prevent stains. Engineered stone, such as quartz, is composed of ground stone and resins, making it nonporous and more resistant to scratches. Stone costs $40-$120 per square foot, with engineered stone falling in the middle of that price range (about $60 per square foot).

Wood or bamboo. Butcher block or bamboo countertops lend warmth to your kitchen, and require oiling for stain- and moisture-resistance. You can sand out scratches or allow the material to take on a worn patina over the years. A 1-inch-thick slab of wood or bamboo costs from $25-$100 per square foot.

For more ideas, take a look at Your Guide to Kitchen Countertops.

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