Design Expert: Kitchen Counterculture
From natural to man-made surfaces, a guide to choosing a stylish, hard-working countertop on every budget
The counter top is of premium concern for any homeowner working on a kitchen renovation. Even if you’re just “sprucing it up,” the counter makes a huge impact. Beyond the wow-factor lies the more practical use as your food preparation area. But with so many products on the market, how do you know which is best for you? Everyone wants the combination of beauty and performance that suits their budget, but that means a different thing to everyone. Let’s explore a few of those options so you can make the best choice that suits you.
The most typical natural-stone choices are granite and marble. Granite is a slightly harder product, while marble is somewhat more porous, making it a little more vulnerable to stains. You do need to seal all natural-stone products but the process is simple. The product will age slightly over time, but that makes it unique. These stones are mined from the earth, cut into slabs and usually polished to give them a high-gloss shine. They’re as individual as fingerprints as no two pieces are exactly the same. You can find marble and granite in a variety of colours and patterns, and they’ve been the surface of choice for literally hundreds, if not thousands of years. Unpolished stone or a matte finish has been increasingly popular, which also solves the problem of marks from acidic foods. The costs vary depending on the uniqueness of the stone, but on average you want to budget $1,500 to $4,000 including installation.
Laminate counters were the rage after the Second World War when the product first appeared on the market. The colours and patterns are endless, ranging from stone looks to polka dots in neon colours, and everything in between. Laminate is very durable and long-lasting, impervious to stains, easy to clean and is highly cost-effective. The laminate is usually adhered to a substrate of chipboard to keep it rigid. If the chipboard gets wet, it will swell and fall apart. It’s the preferred choice for cafeteria tables, cottages and university dorm rooms. Typically, you can get it installed for about $500 making it the overall budget-friendly choice.
Quartz countertops are a manmade product that combines crushed quartzite (a very hard, natural stone) and a variety of polymers to produce a durable, non-porous surface. The colour possibilities are vast, however, most manufacturers produce a natural- stone look. It’s perfect for people that want the counter to look the same on the last day they owned it as it did the first day it was installed. These surfaces require no effort to maintain outside of soap and water to clean them. There are a bunch of manufacturers that create a very similar product, although some provide more selection in colour and pattern. Most man-made countertops are quartz, however, they are often recognized by their brand names.
“You can find MARBLE AND GRANITE IN A VARIETY OF COLOURS AND PATTERNS and they’ve been the surface of choice for literally hundreds if not thousands of years.”
Wood has been the choice of butchers for as long as I can remember, although most homeowners are not looking for a butcher’s block in open-concept kitchens. If you combine with a cutting surface, a warm wooden work surface warms up a kitchen in a way that stone cannot. Walnut has naturally occurring anti-microbial properties, perfect for a kitchen. The surface is sealed and simple soap and water will clean this up perfectly. This kind of surface will typically be less expensive than stone but is mainly ideal for a kitchen island.
One of the newest products on the market is Dekton by Cosentino. It’s a man-made product that seems to have taken the thousands of years’ process of natural stone, and squeezed it into 48 hours. The combination of extreme heat and pressure mimics the natural creation of stone, however, because it is man-made, the look can be predetermined and consistent. It becomes a decorated stone, which is also where it got its name. The distinctive element of Dekton is its ability to survive the outdoor elements, making it suitable on both sides of the front door, unlike other man-made products. It’s slightly less costly than natural stone but the fabrication process may be slightly more costly until fabricators are more familiar with the product.
Ultimately, there are no wrong choices, but it is valuable to understand how one product compares to another, so that you can make an informed choice.
Extensive experience in residential, commercial and hospitality design. Principal of design firm Grafus Design Build, Glen Peloso is frequently in the media as design expert on the Marilyn Denis Show, and CHCH Morning Live, a contributor to Global Morning News, Breakfast Television Toronto, past series with HGTV and the Food Network, along with Radio and Blogs. Reporting on design trends from around the world, his work has been featured in various print publications throughout North America. Twitter: glenpeloso Instagram: glenpelosodesigner