Don’t take it for granite!

Cabinets are usually the first thing people notice in kitchens, but the big decision really is about countertops these days.

The choice of countertop surfaces has a huge impact on the overall scheme of your kitchen—and of your living room, in the case of open-plan kitchens.

With so many more options available nowadays, the decision of which countertop surface to choose is that much harder to make.

Materials for kitchen countertops vary greatly, and so do their properties, advantages, and disadvantages. Some are more durable than others, some more luxurious, and some more easily maintained. Some need to be fitted by experts, some are easier to install. Some are more costly than others.

Always consider function first: how often do you cook, and how do you use your kitchen, generally? What does the rest of the kitchen and house look like?

The choice of kitchen countertop for a country home of a large family that loves to bake won’t be the same as that for the kitchen in a sleek downtown apartment owned by a single professional who rarely cooks.

The kind of sink you have also matters: if you want an undermount sink, this can work with granite and quartz, but an integrated one will need solid surfacing or natural stone.

Here’s a quick breakdown to give you a solid overview of the most popular countertop materials to help you choose the most suitable for your kitchen.

Natural Stone

Natural stone looks amazing, and each slab has unique veining and coloring.

Natural stone countertops are very popular in kitchens around the US and in Oregon. They can be styled with a matte or gloss finish to match your kitchen’s look. They’re highly durable, but they have to be ‘sealed’ regularly because they’re porous.

Granite

Granite is stone formed from volcanic magma that has cooled: as you expect, it can withstand very high temperatures, including a hot pan placed right on top of it.

Granite is very durable and will resist chipping and scratching. It’s easy to clean with a mild detergent and generally resistant. But on lighter-colored granite, it’s better to wipe stains away quickly, especially damaging oil, wine, and citrus- or acid-based foods.

With granite, there’s an element of uniqueness: no two kitchen countertops pieces will look the same. You’ll have a huge amount of variation and options in design. As it’s a natural pattern, you’re getting more than one slab, the coloring may differ between them.

You’ll need a large budget and a professional fitter to install the counter. It needs to be treated and sealed regularly.

Granite is a sophisticated, popular, and beautiful choice, but an expensive one.

Properties

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Durable

Heat Resistant

Low Maintenance

Easy to Clean

Expensive

Marble

There’s a good reason Michelangelo chose this beautiful stone for his sculptures.

Marble is beautiful and elegant, and comes in a variety of decorative and natural colors, patterns, and designs. Like granite, the shade may vary between slabs, but this only adds to its appeal.

It’s also highly durable but needs to be sealed properly and more caution is needed. It’s a little softer and more porous than granite, and can more easily (and quickly) absorb damaging liquids like coffee, oils, acidic foods, and can get scratched easily. To prevent damage, you have to maintain and seal it every year

This doesn’t make it a great choice for busy kitchens (but bakers will love it).

Properties

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Durable

Not Heat Resistant

High Maintenance

Easy to Clean

Expensive

Soapstone

Soapstone is a natural stone that has become very popular in elegant Oregon homes of late. Soapstone is dark and beautiful with grey, green, and black tones. Some pieces have veining, but they’re usually much more subtle than either granite or marble, giving it a sleeker look.

Like granite, soapstone is highly durable and heat-resistant, so you can put your pans straight from the stove onto the countertop.

Soapstone is non-porous, so it’s more resistant to acidic stains than granite or marble, but it can scratch easily (and visibly). Soapstone is a hygienic surface that’s easy to clean – it just needs a little soap and water. Oiling it regularly brings out its dark, smooth beauty.

Properties

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Durable

Heat Resistant

Low Maintenance

Easy to Clean

Expensive

Engineered (Man-Made) Stone

Man-made or engineered stone (are mostly made by compressing natural stone and resin (‘quartz composite’), producing low-maintenance surfaces that are quite durable.

Quartz

As an engineered stone, quartz comes in a variety of beautiful, consistent, glossy colors and patterns. You can add a real pop of personality to your countertop with the choices of color.

Quartz is a much harder and highly durable material that won’t dent or scratch easily. It’s non-porous and won’t stain as easily as some of the natural stones will.

It doesn’t need maintenance, usually comes with a long warranty, and is really easy to clean.

With such qualities, you’ll wonder why it’s not used as much as it could be. The drawback? Quartz isn’t resistant to heat, and it can easily be damaged by hot pans or pots (or direct UV light) placed on it without a heat pad or trivet.

It’s not as expensive as natural stone, and in the case of quartz, you get what you pay for in terms of quality.

Properties

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Durable

Not Heat Resistant

Low Maintenance

Easy to Clean

Expensive/ Affordable

Many Color Options

Ceramic

Ceramic, which is made of clay fired up at high temperatures, is one of the oldest man-made materials (we’ve gotten quite good at making it, on the whole.)

Ceramic is very decorative and has a really nice homey feel to it. It comes in lots of different colors and shapes to suit all tastes, and you can truly personalize your kitchen with customizable patterns on the tiles. The pattern can be identical on every tile, so you have a smooth and consistent look.

Ceramic is quite hard, and although some ceramic materials are now more heat-resistant, they may crack under pressure direct impact or high heat – so not too much banging of the pots and plans, please.

Ceramic countertops are easy to install. The tiles are mostly low maintenance and won’t scratch or dent easily. But because of the uneven surface between the tiles, it can stain easily. These stains can be difficult to clean properly, and too much cleaning can leave the tile looking dull.

Properties

how-to-choose-countertop-durable
how-to-choose-countertop-not-heat-resistant
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Durable

Not Heat Resistant

Low Maintenance

Hard to Clean

Affordable

Many Color Options

Concrete

You might not immediately think of concrete as an option for a kitchen countertop, but modern innovations have made it an increasingly popular choice.

New concrete is much lighter than before, looks very modern, and comes in lots of color varieties, and you can extend that to integrated sinks or backsplashes.

It’s highly durable, as expected, and usually won’t scratch or stain easily if it’s been prepped with a sealer or finishing wax. Once sealed, it can resist heat quite well without a problem. It’s great for food preparation and looks beautiful paired with glass or glossy materials.

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Concrete is very affordable. It does need to be installed by a professional, though (or you need to really know what you’re doing).

Properties

how-to-choose-countertop-durable
how-to-choose-countertop-easy-to-clean
how-to-choose-countertop-colors

Durable

Can Be Heat Resistant

Low Maintenance

Easy to Clean

Affordable

Many Color Options

Laminate and solid surfacing

You’ll find laminate and solid surfacing countertops in plenty of American homes, including lots in Portland, Oregon.

Many of us will be familiar with the term Corian®, Formica® and Staron®, after the brand names. Laminate is a mixture of resin, paper, minerals, and colors formed over high heat and high pressure.

There’s a huge variety of color and design options, and some now even look like natural stone. It’s a great option for modern kitchens: you can get countertops that are really flashy, like spring green, fire-engine red, and sea-blue, which can give a real pop to your kitchen style.

Laminate is very affordable and super easy to maintain and clean (but harder to repair just one section), making it a great choice for rental properties.

Laminate is durable (though not as much as natural stone) and new varieties are much more scratch- and stain-proof than before.

You don’t need to be an expert to fit a laminate countertop: plenty of DIY enthusiasts install it themselves, but laminate can absorb moisture and warp if it’s not sealed properly around sinks and water sources. Properly installed, it gives a seamless wrap-around look to the entire kitchen.

Properties

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how-to-choose-countertop-colors

Not Durable

Somewhat Heat Resistant

Low Maintenance

Easy to Clean

Affordable

Many Color Options

Stainless steel

When you think of stainless steel kitchen countertops, surely you have an image of a restaurant or hospital kitchen.

Not so anymore. Stainless steel has become a popular option for modern kitchens. They look great in kitchens with an industrial look, especially combined with softer colors and materials.

Not everyone loves steel though, which can feel a bit ‘cold’, so think of resale value if you go for this type of countertop.

You can’t get more hygienic than a stainless steel countertop, so easy to clean, stain-proof, and very resistant to heat and water damage. However, you do have to keep removing traces of fingertips all the time!

Over time, stainless steel surfaces can collect scratches and dents, but some like the aged, natural look.

Properties

how-to-choose-countertop-durable
how-to-choose-countertop-easy-to-clean

Durable

Heat Resistant

Low Maintenance

Very Easy to Clean

Affordable

Industrial

Wood

Chefs love the wooden “butcher blocks” for an island or for a regular countertop. Solid wood countertops can warp over time, but butcher blocks, which are assembled hardwood, are much more lasting.

Butcher blocks give a natural, warm, traditional air to a kitchen, but wooden countertops work equally well in modern homes.

Wooden countertops are very functional and offer a great surface for cutting, but the cut marks may make it harder to clean.

Wood stains easily, and is prone to damage from heat and water so it’s best to use this material away from the sink and stove (use on an island, for example). However, you can sand and refinish butcher blocks relatively easily. It also needs to be oiled and maintained regularly.

A great choice for eco-conscious buyers, who can buy butcher block countertops from sustainably harvested FSC- accredited (Forest Stewardship Council) source.

Properties

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Durable

Not Heat Resistant

High Maintenance

Not Easy to Clean

Affordable

Traditional

Glass

For a modern touch, glass gives kitchens that wow factor. Glass reflects light and can make a space feel larger than it is.

As it’s non-porous and smooth, it’s easy to clean and very hygienic. Moisture won’t be an issue, though watermarks will show quickly and will need to be wiped if you want to maintain the look.

Glass is somewhat heat-proof if it’s made for the purpose, but it’s better not to risk direct heat and use trivets. Glass can be hardened to make it more durable and less prone to scratches (which can be polished).

Properties

how-to-choose-countertop-durable
how-to-choose-countertop-easy-to-clean

Durable

Heat Resistant

Low Maintenance

Easy to Clean

Somewhat Affordable

Modern

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how to choose a kitchen countertop