Choosing a countertop surface material that suits your lifestyle is the first step to a functional kitchen. Your counters are, after all, where the magic happens. We could also argue that your counters are the backdrop and the main event: They take up a lot of visual real estate. And the materials and options you choose, whether indestructible composite slabs or handmade tiles, are for utility as much as for style.
Ahead, you'll find everything you need to know about countertops. But before you invest or fall in love with any one thing, here's a checklist of things to keep in mind, according to Elizabeth Margles, VP of marketing at Ceasarstone, regardless of which material you use:
- Color and design (the style statement you want to make)
- Size and shape of material (thickness, length, and edge style of the slab)
- Integration with backsplash (if the materials will match)
- A kitchen island (whether or not you want one, and matching it with the counters)
- Durability and ease of maintenance (think about how you'll use the space)
- Total cost of ownership (not only initially, but also future cost for maintenance).
And with that in mind, read on to see how to make the best decisions for your space and budget.
This nonporous acrylic comes in endless looks, so it’s ideal for those who want to go wild with colors and patterns, whether that's a monochromatic statement or a playful design schemes. “It can shape itself into any design concept,” says Gerri Chmiel of Formica. New technology has made it tougher, but laminate is still a budget option.
While tiles are obviously a great backsplash option, they can actually work nicely for countertops, too. Tile countertops are great if you're after a retro look and want something more affordable. The downside is that they often require re-grouting to stay clean. White is the most obvious choice for grout, but “there’s an entire grout spectrum out there,” says Jake Rodehuth- Harrison of ETC.etera. Take your pick.
Where to buy it: DTile
"Solid surface is an artificial stone, mostly a mixture of natural materials (like stone) and an acrylic bonding agent," interior designer Dries Otten explains. Unlike natural stone that patinas over time, solid surface "will turn old and worn out," he says—but it's still very durable. And resistant to most household cleaning supplies! Plus, it's one of the least expensive countertop options.
Best for the low-fuss cook, quartz requires no sealing or polishing and has double the impact resistance of natural stone, but it’s still a bit sensitive to heat, so hot cookware shouldn’t be set directly on it. A blend of natural stone and synthetic resins, it's more resistant to household cleaning supplies and chemicals than natural stone options (so you can keep surfaces looking pristine at all times). Some high-quality quartz materials can be just as costly as natural ones.
Terrazzo is a composite material made of up chips of marble, quartz, granite, glass, and others, that are then poured into a chemical resin cast. It was super popular in the 80s and saw a resurgence in demand in 2017, proving to be an unexpectedly timeless trend. It's great as a continuous material stretching from countertops to the floor. Terrazzo also come in tiles, some bigger than others.
Where to buy it: Dzek Dzek Dzek
Arguably less popular than other countertop materials, but certainly on the rise, copper worktops are truly something special. As Helen Parker, creative director at deVOL Kitchens, says, they "add a certain something that can’t be replicated in any other material, a feeling of having something really quite special and practical all in one." Made to oder, they can be pricy, but not as much as natural stone.
Where to buy it: Coppersmith
Food can be prepped directly on the surface of a butcher-block counter, which is, to state the obvious, pretty convenient. An occasional oiling is worth it if you love the warm, rustic look. Use a special finish to make the surface more water- and heat-resistant.
Where to buy it: Grothouse
Or you could opt for classic wood countertops instead. Paul Grothouse of Grothouse Lumber says "wood kills bacteria more quickly than any other surface," which is ideal in a kitchen. Not only do they look timeless and classic in just about every kitchen, but wood surfaces are also pretty easy to maintain when sourced from good manufacturers with with high quality finishes. Sealing them makes them more durable, though they will show some wear over time. There's a pretty wide variety when it comes to pricing, so it really depends on where you get it.
Where to buy it: DeVos Custom Woodworking
For a distinctly industrial look, there’s concrete, which can be poured to suit or purchased precast. While obviously durable, concrete stains easily and is not for perfectionists (but a sealant will minimize this!). Cost-wise, it’s cheaper than marble but pricier than laminate. You can also use concrete paint on top of laminate to "hack" the look and there are some XXXL ceramic slabs that have a similar look.
Where to buy it: Concrete Network
Not to be confused with quartz, this highly precious and covetable natural stone is similar in look to marble and onyx. Along with granite, quartzite is one of the more heat- and scratch-resistant natural stones. And compared to marble and other stones, it's relatively nonporous. It comes in a ton of color options and tends be one of the more vibrant stones out there. The substance is actually created from grains of sand, an evolutionary process that takes a very long time, which makes it so precious.
Where to buy it: Aria Stone Gallery
As one of the hardest natural stones, granite can be on the pricier side (though Margles tells us it can be about the same price as a high-quality quartz). This means it's also the most durable, making it great for family kitchens that get a lot of use but still want that element of luxury. It's also one of the most scratch- and heat-resistant natural stones available. Granite will need to be resealed regularly to maintain its longevity. If you're wondering where it comes from, granite is basically the crystalized form of hot liquid magma. Cool!
Where to buy it: Artistic Tile
Marble has pretty much become synonymous with every type of natural stone (or humanmade composite) we see. But it's actually pretty specific. Interestingly, marble is a composite of a variety of minerals, including calcite, graphite, and more. It's one of the softer natural stones, which makes it a little less durable. It's prone to etching (“the first scratch is the deepest,” says Otten), but there’s no denying the luxe look.
Where to buy it: Il Granito
Iridescent and translucent, onyx originates in limestone caves and is formed from water dripping, which creates beautiful, unique veining. You can find it in vibrant shades of pink, green, orange, and more. It's super soft, even more so than marble (but as much as its cousin calcite, which sparkles with crystals)—that means it's a little less durable. But with the right sealant, it can become more long-lasting and resistant, though wear and tear should be expected over time. Travertine is very similar in makeup, as it also comes from limestone caves and hot springs. Calcite, travertine, and onyx are the only natural stones that can be backlit, which makes their natural glow even more beguiling.
Where to buy it: ABC Stone
Follow House Beautiful on Instagram.