The kitchen may be the heart of the home, but it’s the countertop that’s the heart of the kitchen. While it may be easy to feel swayed by a bright white marble or stunning slab of granite, when it comes selecting the perfect surface for your space, it’s important to go beyond aesthetics.
“Be realistic about your cleaning and visual standards when it comes to wear and tear,” says Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of Sweeten, a free renovation service that matches homeowners with vetted general contractors. “Don’t get soapstone countertops if the inevitable water rings are going to make you crazy. You’ll then drive your friends crazy with coasters, and you don’t want to be that person.”
Because we want you to love your counters (and not resort to hiding them), we ran through the pros and cons of some of the most popular materials on the market to help you nail down the right option for your space, budget, and lifestyle. Consider this your essential—and alphabetized—guide to kitchen countertops.
What is it? Butcher block countertops are thick strips of wood glued together to make sturdy slabs that can double as a strong and stable work surface. While maple is probably the most popular type of wood, cherry, oak, birch, and tigerwood are just a few other great surface options that can introduce a fresh sense of color to a space.
Cost: Approximately $55 to $200 per square foot. Generally, butcher block is a fairly affordable option, although price may vary depending on the type of wood and grain construction (edge grain, or wood cut into long strips and laid lengthwise, is the most popular option).
Pros: Butcher block can introduce a much-needed sense of warmth and soft rustic character to a basic kitchen. The biggest pro, of course, is that you can chop and cut directly on it (note: you should only do this if it is an unsealed surface). Bonus? It ages with grace and mixes well with other types of materials.
“A professional chef who renovated his own kitchen used entire sections of cherry butcher block as prep space, while quartz surrounded the sink area for easy maintenance and to keep the wood from getting water stains,” notes Brownhill of this fun (and functional) combo.
Cons: Butcher block is not heat or stain resistant and excessive wetness can cause the wood to rot. It will show nicks over time, but if you care properly for your wood you can usually get it to look new again.
Care: Requires oiling every six months. This may vary depending on how much stress and use your countertop endures.
What is it? Ceramic tiles are created from clay, fired in an oven, and then glazed. With an infinite range of colors and designs to pick from, your countertop can essentially be as expensive or as cheap as you’re willing to make it. Whether you go all in on a multicolored mosaic or opt for a long and modern look, tiles tend to extend a sense of texture and depth to a space.
Cost: Although you can pull off ceramic tiles for as low as $5 per square foot, custom tiles or complex mosaics can get pricey (think $50 per square foot).
Pros: Cheap and simple to install, ceramic tiles are definitely the way to go if you’re a determined DIYer. Plus, they can often be customized to fit into peculiar shapes and corners, and, although they may crack, damaged tiles can often be replaced.
Cons: The biggest issue people will find with ceramic countertops is the grout seams. Not only does it create an uneven surface to work and prep on, but it will also attract and collect food over time, often making it more difficult to clean.
Care: Wipe down the counters with a store-bought surface or tile cleaner. To get deeper into the grout, you’ll want to scrub the seams with a grout cleaner or mild bleach solution. Tip: A toothbrush will come in extra handy.
What is it? Concrete is one of the trendiest materials to use in the kitchen right now, particularly if you’re going for an industrial-farmhouse look. Although this cement-and-sand mix (which is typically poured and cured off-site) makes it a durable choice, concrete counters require frequent maintenance and are often more expensive than you think.
Cost: Approximately $75 to $145 per square foot.
Pros: Much like ceramic, concrete offers plenty of room for personalization. Because it can be cast into a myriad of shapes (and even tinted or stained in a handful of shades), it’s an ideal fit for a quirky kitchen layout—not to mention, a design-forward chef.
Cons: While having your countertops sealed after they’re installed will effectively protect them from extreme wear and tear, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not going to show spills and scratches over time.
Care: To keep your concrete looking healthy and strong, you’ll want to have your countertops resealed every one to three years. Avoid harsh cleaners and lots of scrubbing, and consider waxing your surface from time to time to prevent stains.
What is it? A savvy solution for renters—or, really anyone who hates the look of their dated countertops but isn’t ready to commit to a full makeover—contact paper is the ultimate temporary fix. Just ask blogger and designer, Anita Yokota, who’s been living with her faux marble paper over a year ago.
“I would 100 percent say with bold confidence that this is a great longterm solution while you’re renting or saving up for a big reno like me,” says Yokota. “It is very easy to peel and use. The best part is that if you make a mistake, peeling it off and re-positioning it was a breeze. In addition, I also used the leftovers to line cabinet shelves, and covered a bar cart tray for a more refined look. The possibilities are endless.”
Cost: Depending on how much space you’re looking to cover, contact paper can range from $40 to $200 total. For her DIY, Yokota snagged this self-adhesive gray marble film from Amazon and completed her project for just $40.
Pros: Aside from being a seriously affordable way to elevate your space, contact paper doesn’t look as fake as you think it would. “When my friends and family came over to see it for the first time, I did not mention anything. They all thought I got new countertops. At close look they could see that it was contact paper. From even arms distance, it looked real to them,” notes the designer.
Cons: Though it goes without saying, contact paper won’t increase the value of your home if you’re looking to renovate and sell. Yokota shares two other big caveats to living with contact paper. “One: It’s not heat conducive, so appliances like the toaster must be placed on a cutting board or something to withstand heat. Two, the water from the sink has worn down the glue a bit. But, elsewhere, water has been an easy cinch to wipe up. In fact, greasy messes seam easier to clean than on a typical countertop.”
Care: For the most part, contact paper holds up extremely well and can be wiped down with your favorite household surface cleaner. “Overall we’ve treated it like any other surface and it has withheld the test of time,” Yokota tells Domino.
DIY: While you can find step-by-step instructions on her DIY guide here, Yokota shared a few tips to keep in mind during the process:
- “For rounded edges, use a heat gun to mildly heat the contact paper. Then, stretch and pull delicately and cover the round edge.”
- “Patience is key for this project. I am not half as patient as my husband, who diligently took time to make sure there were no bubbles underneath the contact paper while applying. In this case, doing it right will pay off.”
- “It is easy to re-position, so if you make a slight mistake, you can just peel it off and start again.”
What is it? Along with soapstone and marble, granite is one of the most popular natural stone options for kitchen countertops. Primarily composed of quartz and feldspar, this oh-so-popular pick is sliced and sourced from a quarry. Later on, the slab is cured in an oven and polished and buffed.
Cost: Approximately $50 to $100 per square foot. Opting for granite tiles (instead of a slab) is a great way to save money.
Pros: People love granite because it looks high-end and is one of the most durable surfaces on earth. With hundreds of patterns and colors to choose from, picking granite for your kitchen is not unlike hanging a one-of-a-kind work of art in your home, as each slab is totally unique.
Cons: While there aren’t any major cons to granite countertops, know that they can crack under heavy weight and strain.
Care: Much like concrete, you’ll want to have your granite counters resealed annually. For day-to-day cleaning, wipe down with warm water or a mild surface cleaner.
What is it? Laminate is comprised of layers of paper and plastic resins that have been pressed together under extreme heat and pressure. As one of the cheapest countertop options, it’s a great pick for anyone who is on a strict budget or in the process of making basic improvements before listing their home.
Cost: Approximately $15 tp $45 per square foot.
Pros: Affordability aside, laminate is an incredibly practical option for a number of reasons. Not only does it stand up to stains, scratches, and water, but, more recently, it’s become available in a wave of fresh styles that aim recreate the look of pricier materials like marble, soapstone, and slate.
Cons: Beware: Laminate is prone to chipping and is more sensitive to heat than natural stone countertops.
Care: Clean up spills immediately so water does not cause the surface to swell. Use mild household cleaner and warm water to wipe down.
What is it? It’s an igneous rock that’s formed by the cooling and solidification of molten magma on the earth’s surface. Unlike granite, marble is softer and more porous, thus it is more likely to absorb liquids and stain. Although white marble is riding a wave of popularity right now, don’t let its beauty fool you: Marble countertops are no walk in the park.
Cost: Approximately $75 to $250 per square foot. However, it really all depends on the type of marble. For instance, Carrara marble (a grayer stone sourced from Italy) is actually one of the cheapest options on the market due to the fact that it’s readily available. On the other hand, Calacatta marble (which boasts a brighter white surface with rich, dark veins) is more rare, and thus more expensive.
Pros: Marble of any design or color is incredibly eye catching. Its ultra-luxe, gleaming surface will reflect and amplify the light in your space.
Cons: Because marble is softer, more porous, and full of calcium carbonate (which means its highly reactive to acidic solutions), it’s more likely to stain and scratch than, say, granite or laminate. However, that’s not to say that some homeowners don’t love the worn and weathered look that can develop over time.
“An architect and his wife recently selected Carrara marble for their kitchen renovation knowing full well it would show its age quickly,” says Brownhill. “They actually loved the idea that every scratch, etch, and stain would give it character over time.”
Care: If there’s one thing to remember about marble it’s this: seal, seal, seal! A quality sealer (a non-toxic option like Akemi Nano Effect is a great pick), will keep your marble from absorbing liquids and etching. If messes are cleaned up quickly and your counters are sealed every six months, your countertops will be virtually unaffected. Check out our complete guide to marble countertop care here.
What is it? Also known as engineered stone, quartz is a man-made combination of binding resins and pigments and crushed quartz and was only introduced to the market 50 or so years ago by Italian purveyor, Breton.
Cost: Approximately $60 to $150 per square foot.
Pros: If you’re not into the veining and inconsistent patterning of a granite or marble countertop, you’ll love the uniform and symmetrical nature of quartz. A solid choice if your kitchen is prone to big messes, quartz is a tough, low-maintenance, and a good-looking pick for the kitchen when you want the look of natural stone without all the upkeep.
“One busy mom who described herself as a ‘clumsy cook’ said a quartz countertop was a ‘must-have’ for her new kitchen and even decided this before choosing a general contractor,” shares Brownhill.
Cons: Depending on the size and make of your slab, seams may be visible.
Care: Quartz requires little to no maintenance and zero polishing or sealing.
What is it? Like granite and other natural stones, soapstone is sourced from a quarry. It’s primarily made up of mineral talc, giving the stone its famous milky, matte texture and typically comes in off-white or gray tones.
Cost: Approximately $75 to $150 per square foot.
Pros: This hardy material is loved for its incredibly smooth surface, which is not likely to crack under extreme weight and does not scratch easily.
Cons: Soapstone is not as heat resistant as a granite.
Care: Because this stone is non-porous, it’s fairly simple to clean (a mild soap and a dish rag will suffice). However, your counters may regular oiling and buffing to maintain its ultra-soft texture.
What is it? Like quartz, solid surface countertops are man-made (it’s comprised primarily of acrylic, polyester resins, and marble dust), non-porous, and were designed to mimic the look and feel of natural stone. Swanstone and Corian are the two leading brands that sell solid surface countertops.
Cost: $35 to $85 per square foot.
Pros: Stain-resistant, strong, and easy to repair, this study option is a dream if you have little ones running around but want to achieve an elevated aesthetic. Though it is not real stone, compared to laminate, solid surface countertops more closely resemble the look of high-end materials like marble and granite.
Cons: Solid surface counters are not eco-friendly (as they’re made almost completely of non-renewable resources) and are seriously heavy, so be sure to hire a qualified contractor to have them properly installed.
Care: Use a standard dish rag or microfiber cloth to wipe down with mild dish soap and water.
What is it? A longtime favorite amongst chefs and serious cooks, steel counters are a reliable option for those who spend most of their time in the kitchen or want to achieve a polished, contemporary look.
Cost: $80 to $225 per square foot.
Pros: Stainless steel is a super forgiving surface. It’s a non-porous material (meaning liquids and other substances won’t penetrate and stain its surface) and can handle water and heat with ease.
Cons: Though it might seem virtually indestructible, note that it’s not immune to dents or scratches.
Care: While certain manufacturers do make dedicated stainless steel cleaners, washing your counter down with water and a little dish soap should do. Buff dry to prevent any water spots or streaks from forming.
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