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Ultimate Guide to the Perfect Kitchen Countertop

The kitchen in your home is often a central meeting place for friends and family to congregate and enjoy great food, great wine, and even better company. The kitchen can also have a huge impact on the resale value of your home when the time comes to sell. Since our kitchens have such a meaningful impact on our lives, both emotionally and financially, ensuring the design is right when building a home can lead to years of happiness. A key part of any design is the materials used. The proper material for your kitchen countertop will appeal aesthetically and be functional based on how, and how often, you use your kitchen. Choosing a material for your kitchen countertops can seem overwhelming with so many options to choose from; but it doesn't have to be. Explore the different types of popular kitchen countertop materials below so you can make the most informed decision possible.

Quartz

For years, granite has ruled the kitchen countertop landscape. While it still checks in as the most popular and requested material, the high demand for granite may not last much longer. Quartz countertops are increasingly popular due to their durability. The primary ingredient in quartz countertops is ground quartz, at about 94%, combined with polyester resins, pigments, and often, small amounts of recycled glass or metallic flecks for appearance. The benefits of having a quartz countertop include:

  • Durability as a result of being made from one of the hardest minerals on earth.
  • Eye-catching beauty with a wide array of color options and sparkling or veining effect of granite, marble, or other natural stone.
  • Versatility with a variety of of finishes including honed, sandblasted, and embossed.

Early on, before their immense popularity today, the lack of color and pattern variations was one of the biggest drawbacks. Now that the popularity of quartz countertops has taken off, manufacturers offer multi-colored slabs with colors, patterns, and finishes that make them look and feel like a natural stone counter. 

A quartz countertop in a light off-white color with grey veining adorns this kitchen island.

A quartz countertop in a light off-white color with grey veining adorns this kitchen island.

Granite

Still the reigning "king of the kitchen," granite countertops remain the most popular option in new home construction and renovation. Granite is an igneous rock that contains at least 20% quartz by volume, but can also contain some feldspar and mica. Granite is a very labor-intensive stone to mine, and quarries can be found all over the world in countries such as India, China, Norway, Italy, Brazil and the United States. If you decide to choose granite for your new or current home, expect the following benefits:

  • A unique or one-of-a-kind feel since it's a natural stone.
  • A durable, hard, and scratch-resistant surface. 
  • Protection against stains, heat, and water when properly sealed.
  • The ease of cleaning.
  • Peace of mind knowing granite is still a highly coveted feature of homes and can increase resale value. 

While it still reigns supreme, granite is not without its flaws. Because it's a porous, natural stone, in order to be impervious to stains, heat, and liquid, granite counters require sealing when they're installed and then resealing on an annual basis. The demand for granite has also been in decline due to the increasingly environmentally conscience consumer. Granite is a very labor-intensive stone to mine and requires significant amounts of energy to transport. Countries that mine granite have also been accused of having unfair working conditions for those mining the granite. This has led consumers to pursue recycled materials or other manufactured stone countertops as an alternative.

Granite countertops remain the most popular option for kitchen countertops due to their aesthetic and functional appeal.

Granite countertops remain the most popular option for kitchen countertops due to their aesthetic and functional appeal.

Laminate

Retro and mid-century designs continue to grow in popularity. Along with the furniture and clothing designs, laminate countertops in kitchens have also seen a resurgence.

Laminate is an incredibly tough sheet made of paper and plastic resins that is formed by applying heat and pressure. Laminate consists of three layers:

  • Kraft paper, the bottom layer, which is a stiff backing saturated with resin that sticks well to adhesives. Some types of laminate have no backing.
  • Decorative layer, the middle layer, which is usually printed on paper or foil and gives laminate its outward appearance.
  • Melamine resin, the top layer, which is a protective layer that is transparent, allowing the decorative layer to show through. 

Laminate may not be as durable as manufactured or natural stones, but it does score pretty comparably. Consumer Reports tested 14 countertop materials and concluded that laminate resisted stains, heat, and impact almost as well as other materials that cost much more. Laminate is also one of the cheapest countertop materials available today, and knowledgeable DIY'ers or weekend warriors can install some laminate themselves.

If you're considering laminate, be aware that while they may resist stains, heat, and impact as well as more expensive material, they are easily scratched with common kitchen tools like knives and scissors. Since laminate cannot be repaired, this lack of durability could be a concern.

Laminate is one of the most budget-friendly kitchen countertop materials available today and improvements have allowed laminate to closely resemble higher-end materials. 

Laminate is one of the most budget-friendly kitchen countertop materials available today and improvements have allowed laminate to closely resemble higher-end materials. 

Wood

Wood countertops continue to maintain their niche popularity and their selection is typically dependent on the look a homeowner is trying to achieve. Constructed from pieces of hardwood laminated together with glue for strength and stability, wood countertops warm up a space and are perfect for a home with a cottage kitchen look.

The bold appearance of wood countertops can be an eye-catcher and conversation starter. But, they're not just beautiful. Wood countertops also provide functionality, including:

  • Easily and safely prep your food with ease. Sealed wood countertops are extremely sanitary, even for chopping raw meat.
  • Safely place your hot pans down without worrying about damage. Wood countertops are highly heat-resistant.
  • Boldly mix your wood countertops with other countertop surfaces like a natural or engineered stone for a unique look and a variety of prep surfaces. 
  • Sand and refinish your countertops in the event of any knife scratches, gouges, burn marks, or other unfortunate damage.
  • Go green with wood counters that are easily recycled and last for years.

While they may not be as popular as manufactured and natural stones, the ease of maintenance and very few drawbacks have allowed wood countertops to enjoy their comeback. If you choose to go with wood counters, be aware that they could move with changes in moisture in the atmosphere (as all wood is prone to do), and any spills will need to be wiped up quickly to prevent them from penetrating the wood.

Wood countertops are one of the most sanitary options for a kitchen countertop material and are also highly heat-resistant.

Wood countertops are one of the most sanitary options for a kitchen countertop material and are also highly heat-resistant.

Marble

While granite continues its market dominance with casual homebuyers and renovators, marble is enjoying its time in the sun as the darling of designers across the country. Current designer favorites include light or white marble with grey veining in Calacatta or Carrara marble.

Marble, much like white cabinets, is said to have a "timeless" appeal. Meaning, your countertops will never go out of style (not for very long anyway). This timeless appeal is derived from the decidedly high-end look, even though the cost is somewhat comparable to some granite countertops.

Marble is very porous, so staining can be an issue without regular sealing and care.

A Carrara marble countertop on this island provides a nice contrast to the darker countertops in the rest of the kitchen. Carrara marble is a current favorite amongst designers. 

A Carrara marble countertop on this island provides a nice contrast to the darker countertops in the rest of the kitchen. Carrara marble is a current favorite amongst designers. 

Stainless Steel

Looking for a countertop that's virtually indestructible to anything or anyone besides Superman? Stainless steel countertops might just be right for you. Perfect for a homeowner seeking an industrial style and look, stainless steel countertops have also enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity along with wood and marble.

Stainless steel countertops are made from a combination of steel, chromium, and nickel, however, they also often contain a large amount of recycled materials. The hard materials make stainless steel countertops heat and stain resistant, durable, easy to clean, and are the only countertop material that can be safely bleached.

Despite being incredibly durable, stainless steel countertops are also susceptible to scratches. Due to their shiny and clean appearance, the first scratch on your new counter may make you want to cry, but over the course of their life, stainless steel countertops will acquire a lot of scratches. After a while, the countertop will begin to patina and the effect may just make it look that much better. The scratches will eventually blend together and give your countertop a natural look.

Stainless steel countertops can also dent. Often, a professional installation will include setting the countertop tightly over a piece of wood to keep dents and dings to a minimum. Before purchasing a stainless steel countertop, be sure to discuss your gauge options. A gauge is a measure of the thickness of the material. The higher the number, the thinner the material is. A gauge measure of 16 is recommended for residential countertops.

You may also want to ask yourself one final question when decided on a stainless steel countertop. "Is anyone in my house a midnight snacker?" Stainless steel countertops are very noisy and something as simple as dropping a spoon from your Ben & Jerry's ice cream at 1:00 AM could wake up the entire house. 

A stainless steel countertop on top of a wooden kitchen island blends the industrial feel of stainless steel with the rustic feel of wood to create a unique design. 

A stainless steel countertop on top of a wooden kitchen island blends the industrial feel of stainless steel with the rustic feel of wood to create a unique design. 

Other options

The list above is by no means all-inclusive. Hopefully it provides some insight into the pros, cons, and other factors to consider when selecting a new countertop for your home. While the above countertops are today's most popular, with home design trends and advances in technology and manufacturing processes, countertops are constantly evolving. 

Other popular choices available today include glass countertops, recycled countertops (often made from a variety of materials), concrete countertops, soapstone countertops, travertine countertops, and tile countertops

It's important to consider how your family uses the kitchen, how often they use the kitchen, and the type of design or look you'd like to achieve in your house when selecting a countertop material. Be sure to talk to your homebuilder or contractor when making the decision and let them answer any questions you have and help you make a selection.

Interested in seeing some of the kitchen work that we've done at Fortin Construction? Click here to check out some of our favorite kitchen designs. 

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