Kitchen Countertop Options: Pros + Cons

March 26, 2014

We’ve been doing a lot of research lately on countertops since the fixer we’re buying has 25 year old Formica tops in the kitchen which will need replaced – more details on the house coming soon! Seven years ago when we were choosing countertops for our own kitchen I exhausted myself researching all the choices that were on the market and finally settled on a marble countertop + wood on the island combo. I’ve never regretted it, I’ve loved those choices ever since. But seven years have passed and much has changed in the world of kitchen countertops.

We have other kinds of countertops in our home, white laminate in the laundry room, wood in the hall bathroom, and modern cultured marble in the master bathroom. All have performed well based on our expectations (images here). Innovation is inevitable, trends come and go, so the decision as to which countertop to choose in a kitchen remodel requires much consideration. Let’s start with a classic favorite.

Marble

Marble will never go out of style so for the price you pay, you do get the “timeless” label with the investment. Always elegant, it complements both Old World and modern kitchens equally; for bakers it’s a favorite, no surface is better for pies and pastries.

marble kitchen countertops

better homes & gardens

Properly sealed marble cleans up easily with a mild cleanser and cloth. Marble can stain so it must be sealed, and since it’s softer than granite, it can chip easily (we’ve suffered several small chips around our kitchen sink).

emprador marble kitchen countertops

christopher gaona

Any acidic food like citrus can etch the surface or leave white stains. There are two varieties of gray and white Italian marble that are similar in appearance, both milky white with gray veining, and they are Carrara and Calacatta. Carrara has more delicate, lighter veining; Calacatta is a rarer, pricier stone and has bolder more defined strokes, yet both are a desirable luxury stone. Calacatta Gold and Crema Marfil marbles have brown or gold veins and offer homeowners warmer tones. Prices vary between $40 and $250 per square foot based on the type of marble chosen.

 

Wood

Wood countertops are having a moment in the spotlight right now with butcher block being so affordable from sources like IKEA and many bloggers installing natural and stained versions in their kitchens. Wood countertops are higher maintenance than stone, they require sealing with various natural products like beeswax or mineral oil, or waterproof varnishes like Waterlox.

bhg wood kitchen island countertop

better homes & gardens

Wood countertops cannot withstand heat which requires the consistent use of hot pads or trivets. Water spills or rings can leave permanent marks if moisture is left too long, but they have classic appeal and add a warmth that no other countertop can compete with, especially in traditional, craftsman, or cottage style homes.

 

wood countertops bhg

wood kitchen countertops

better homes & gardens / the inspired room: wood countertop faqs 

The use of wood in any space brings character to your home and when cared for properly, wood countertops will remain useful and beautiful for years. Wood countertops offer an affordable option in comparison to pricier solid surface choices; they cost as low as $20 for butcher block to up to $100 per square foot installed for cherry or walnut based on the quality of the wood.

 

Engineered Quartz 

Quartz countertops are manufactured man-made surfaces with contemporary appeal created from pigmented resin and ground quartz chips. They are readily available in multiple colors and in either honed or polished sheens. Quartz countertops share the durability of stone but are easier to care for since they are non-porous and anti-bacterial.

quartz countertop

eddy homes

For the most part, you won’t find the natural variegation that you do in granite or marble products yet some natural quartz manufacturers like Cambria are mimicking them well. The resin compound makes them less resistant to heat in rapid temperature changes so the manufacturers advise the use of trivets to protect them. Engineered quartz ranges in price from $60 to $150 per square foot installed based on the manufacturers, see Caesarstone or Silestone for examples.

quartz countertop

better homes & gardens

 

Granite

Granite has been the countertop of choice for many contractors and homeowners since the 1990s. Many granites have a speckled or mottled surface with varied colors throughout but they are extremely durable. Although porous, when sealed granite resists stains, withstands heat, and is waterproof, hence the popularity. Granite can range in price from $25 to $100 a square foot installed.

granite kitchen countertops

the sky is the limit design

 

Solid Surface (Corian)

Solid surface countertops like Corian are artificial, made of acrylic and polyester; they are non-porous so sealing is not required. They can scratch or burn under extreme conditions but any mistakes can be sanded out so they are virtually maintenance free. Artificial solid surface countertops are available in various colors from neutral to vibrant an can be as pricey as stone ranging from $35 to $100 a square foot.

corian countertops

 

Limestone

Limestone is made of calcite and is shaped from sand and aquatic life (and fossils) over time. It’s softer than granite, yet heat resistant and moisture proof when sealed. Limestone is available in off white to sand tones and shows a beautiful patina with age.

limestone countertop

limestone kitchen countertops

better homes & gardens / mahoney architects

Limestone is often honed and because it is softer porous stone it can scratch easily and requires sealing. It’s slightly less per square foot than marble or granite, ranging in price from $20 to $50 a square foot.

 

Soapstone

Like concrete (see below) soapstone is growing in popularity as a kitchen countertop material of choice – when installed it’s often a medium gray tone that deepens over time to a more charcoal color. It’s composed of mineral talc and some slabs can have a green tint, the material is often used in labs because it is heat and chemical resistant. Soapstone is a softer surface like marble; it requires polishing to avoid cracks and can scratch or nick but it is water resistant. It varies in price from $40 to $90 a square foot installed.

dark soapstone countertops

better homes & gardens

 

Modern Laminates

Laminates are manufactured with a blend of resins and paper fused to particle board and they have been a budget smooth countertop surface for decades. In the past, laminate hasn’t always had a reputation as stylish, but that’s all changed, there are several reasons to choose laminate countertops as the newest designs mimic marble, granite, and limestone.

formica marble

In the past, laminate countertops required an overmount sink but as one reader pointed out (see comments), that’s not the case anymore. Laminate is difficult to repair if scorched or scratched, yet they’re extremely affordable in comparison to other solid surface and stone countertops, starting at $12 a square foot.

 

Concrete

This style is trending in the past few years and for good reason. Concrete is practically indestructible and is both heat and scratch resistant.

concrete countertops skonahem

skona hem

These countertops are either precast based on a template or poured on site, the labor intensity adds to the price per square foot which is often $100 or more, but look how fabulous they can be!

concrete kitchen countertops

austin architect

Read all about the pros and cons of concrete countertops at Better Homes & Gardens Style Spotters blog today…

There are so many other countertop products coming to market in recent years, how can anyone keep up !?  Zinc, recycled glass, stainless steel, the list goes on. What solid surface countertop(s) do you have in your kitchen? Are you pleased or displeased with yours?

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55 Responses to “Kitchen Countertop Options: Pros + Cons”

  1. Heidi says:

    We put in River White granite in our kitchen (http://jax-and-jewels.blogspot.com/2014/02/kitchen-renovation-finished-kitchen.html) and although it has only been a few months we absolutely love it. We seriously considered Cambria quartz, but in order to get the “natural variations” of granite it was actually quite more expensive than granite. We even picked an atypical slab in order to maximize the variation and movement in our granite. Sometimes mother nature really does know best!

    Part of me wanted to splurge for marble, but even after a few months I’ve already dropped a few pans near our sink and I know that if we had marble I’d have lots of chips over the years. I really do like that there are so many options out there now and really it’s a decision of what is best for your family and your house. Not a bad problem to have!

  2. Wendy says:

    We installed absolute black granite in a polished finish 7 years ago and it was the worst mistake we ever made. At the time, a honed finish wasn’t offered. The polished granite in black shows every water spot, every piece of paper towel lint and forget about splashing olive oil as the granite freckles with dull spots you need to soak up with cornstarch.

    We just looked at quartzite as it’s supposed to be one of the most durable stone counter tops and available in a warm white. I almost passed out when they told me it is $150.00/square foot. The salesman kept telling me the only thing that could damage it is citric acid left on it for a long time. If that’s the case, i swear I will bit the bullet and get rid of that hideous granite.

  3. Nancy says:

    This is a fantastic resource post. All the goodies in one ‘pin’ -thanks for sharing. I am in the market for new countertops. xo Nancy

  4. nancy says:

    great post! we recently reno’d our kitchen and used Caesarstone’s London Gray for the look of marble without the upkeep. I love it to pieces. wipes right up…even when my youngest decided to color with sharpies one day. it bled through the paper onto my newly installed countertop. I had a heart attack first then held my breath as I wiped it up with mrs. Meyers cleaning spray. wiped up without a trace. biggest fan ever!

  5. Maria says:

    We have quartzite counter tops. They looks like marble, but have the durability of granite. We constantly get compliments on them, and they haven’t scratched or chipped at all. They are a little hard to find, but are totally worth the legwork!

  6. Ami says:

    Hey Kate,

    I’m wondering why you say that “All laminate countertops require an overmount sink…”? I’ve done a lot of research on laminate countertops because I was so intrigued with how far they have come in stylish design. Formica, Karran, and Wilsonart all detail how laminate can be paired with an undermount or integrated sink. Am I missing something in my understanding? I definitely bow to you expertise! Thanks!

  7. Ashley says:

    We installed butcher block countertops last year and still adore them. We love the warmth they bring to our kitchen- especially paired with our white and gray tuxedo cabinets. Besides having to use trivets, we haven’t found them to be high-maintenance at all.

  8. lindsey says:

    To add to the limestone summary: we have Indiana limestone – it resists water unless it is trapped under something for a length of time, like a sweating water glass for example – that will leave a ring like if you had left it on a piece of wood. Luckily we sealed ours with a granite sealer that comes with a 10 yr warranty and they come buff it out. So we have to be very careful with things like vases and drying dishes to keep any structured patina to to minimum. If you are someone who leaves their counter wet all the time – this is not the counter for you. We bought it for the look and the ability to buy a 14ft single slab 2 inches thick for a long island.
    Soapstone: love our soapstone and any scratches can be sanded out and oiled to look like new. Also the same granite sealer can be used on it to give it the oiled look without the work. So if you were afraid of the maintenance required to keep it from looking chalky, this can be solved with the granite sealer and of course 10 yrs of getting to call them back just in case!

  9. Karen says:

    I second the quartzite comment. We have White Princess on our island and have had no problems with it. It is a beautiful alternative to marble. Great post about all the options available!

  10. CentsationalGirl says:

    Thanks so much Ami, I was unaware! See how much things change! Thanks so much for sharing that undermounts and integrated sinks will work with modern laminates!

  11. janpartist says:

    I’m thinking zinc.

  12. Stephanie says:

    We just had our 25 year old Formica replaced with acrylic LG himacs. (Product known as Corian). Love it! $40sq ft installed and a free under mount stAinless steel Sink. Wanted silestone but it was $100 sq ft installed. My research showed undermount sinks with laminate very expensive!

  13. Vanessa says:

    I second the installing under-mounted sinks with laminate, as we did that a few months ago using a quartz sink. Here’s how ours turned out: http://drewandvanessa.com/kitchen-countertops

    We love it, and haven’t had any issues with it thus far!

  14. wendy p. says:

    Love your article. I have always worried about making the wrong decision. This clears it all up for me.

    thank you

  15. Rachel says:

    We installed a quartzite with veining similar to marble (I forget the name) and it is gorgeous. I have 4 kids so marble was not an option and I’m happy to report after a year of heavy use it’s perfect. No stains no chips!

  16. Jerri says:

    I hope my question isn’t misplaced here but I would truly appreciate your opinion. We recently purchased a home with a great kitchen that has dark stained cabinets with black galaxy granite. The island counter top does not have an overhang, which means I can’t have counter stools for my boys at present. Since it is all a bit dark for me anyway, I was thinking that when I replace the granite on the island so I can add the much-desired overhang, that I would go with a lighter granite. I do not, however, want the expense of changing the entire perimeter of granite. I know that different color cabinets from upper to lower is big right now, but is having 2 different colors of granite still in? Thanks in advance.

  17. Chris says:

    Great summary, thanks! I’ve been eyeing Quartz for a sideboard counter. Seems like many are getting better at doing a marble look without the delicacy and stainability of real marble.

  18. Maria says:

    To Wendy who had quartzite quoted at $150 a sq. ft. We got our installed for $90 a sq. ft. It is the White macabus (and we are in the DC area). So definitely shop around if you can!

  19. I have IKEA Pragel countertops and I’ve been very happy with them. They are stain and heat resistant. And although they are laminate they have a stone/ corian look because of their rolled edges. A great price too– under $250. I have more info on my review if you are interested http://providenthomedesign.com/2014/02/11/love-kitchen-month-ikea-countertops/.

  20. Cindy says:

    About a year ago we had walnut countertops installed with an undermount sink. We sealed them ourselves with something called Vermont Naturals Polywhey, which is an all-natural finishing product.

    I admit I was a bit skeptical that something without harsh sealing properties (like Waterlox) could do an adequate job: our countertops are exposed to water daily. I have been amazed. They sealed extremely well with the exception of a few spots, and those were due to my error. And since the product is all-natural, there was no need to apply the product outside; we applied it with the countertops installed and were never driven out of our house by the smell.

    I would do my countertops again in exactly this way (minus the mistakes I learned along the way, of course!). They are the centerpiece of our small kitchen and, although not pristine, are absolutely gorgeous. I also love the fact that if they ever do need to be torn out, wood is a natural product and won’t sit in a landfill for thousands of years. Love them!

  21. CentsationalGirl says:

    Great point about the environmental impact Cindy, yes I’m amazed how well wood can do when properly sealed in a kitchen or bathroom, thanks for the tip on the all natural product!

  22. CentsationalGirl says:

    Thank you Tamara, I hadn’t researched those yet! Great review!

  23. CentsationalGirl says:

    Two kinds of countertops will work Jerri! It’s a great way to add interest to a kitchen, and sounds like it will add greater function for you too.

  24. CentsationalGirl says:

    Thanks Vanessa, looks fantastic!

  25. What a great post. It’s so great to not only get a breakdown of each option but to hear how people feel about their countertop choices in the comment section. I am hoping to get new countertops in a year or so and I will definitely refer to this post before we make a final decision.

  26. Johanne says:

    Excellent post, thank you. I am patiently waiting for Caesarstone to release their “Calacatta classic” that should replicate the marble, but I have a back-up plan in case the price is exorbitant. (I’m very happy to hear that Nancy is pleased with her London Gray.)

  27. Janice says:

    I too have been researching countertops for a kitchen redo and had been just about decided on granite. I have corian now and they have held up very well but are from th 70’s so need replacing. I am going to look into quartzite after reading some of the reviews. Thanks Kate you have put together a great review and I will refer to it when making my final decision and convincing my husband. ( he hates spending money and needs all the facts!!!!)

  28. Kristen says:

    We DIY’ed concrete countertops and we love them! We went with a product designed for counters, made forms and poured offsite. Ours are a wonderful dark grey with tons of variation on color. We even poured a one piece concrete waterfall counter, and it turned out better than I could have imagined. You can see the finished product here: http://www.storefrontlife.com/concrete-countertops-the-reveal/

  29. Mar says:

    I’d stick to good old granite. The range of colours depends on whether it’s national or imported. Hopefully you’ll find some nice stuff among the national ones you like enough.
    I’d never have a marble countertop, not in a million years. We have that as bathroom flooring at my parents’ and the thing cannot be cleaned with most cleaning products, has lost its original shine and cannot be polished to boot -we’ll be replacing it with porcelain tiles soon, as well as the whole kitchen (cabinetry + flooring)-. I’d stay away from any product that requires maintenance, incl. wood.
    As for Silestone, even if I’m throwing stones at my own roof, I don’t like it either. It is not as heat resistant as they say. My cousin has this as the countertop for both his homes and will tell anyone who asks how deeply he regrets getting those, as beautiful as they look.
    My sister has a laminate countertop and since she’s been very careful (heat), it’s as good as new.

  30. Mindy says:

    We put in the marble looking laminate (I affectionately call it Farble). Our remodel isn’t done yet, but the kitchen is functioning at this point, and I couldn’t be happier with them. I LOVE how they turned out. I’ve documented the whole gut/remodel, that started last summer, on my blog. You can see the most recent post, with the counters in, here: http://rindymae.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-kitchen-remodel-phase-18.html

  31. Mindy says:

    Thank you for the simple to understand summary Kate!

  32. great summary! perfect timing too, since i’m weighing countertop options for our new space as well! articles like these help convince the hubby :P

  33. Laura says:

    Had Zodiaq, It was great and even resealed after a crack appeared with a very hot pot- and then cooled. Also have friends with London Grey. Beautiful and low maintenance. Hope to see that new color soon of Ceasarstone, we are building this year and love to know our options.

  34. Vicki says:

    We are building a house right now. My husband built a countertop with two layers of Advantec, then we took them to a local metal shop and they molded stainless steel. Then we glued them down with liquid nails and installed them. They are spectacular and were very inexpensive, especially compared to granite or quartz.

  35. Jenoside says:

    Kate – I wish you had talked about the additives you can do with concrete countertops. You can add glass bits to get a more quartz-like finish and you can also either stain surface or add colorant to the cement and aggregate mixture. There are SO many options!

  36. CentsationalGirl says:

    Wow Vicki, they sound amazing, thanks for sharing!

  37. Linda says:

    I don’t know if you are aware but, when trying to access your site from the UK, a phishing alert comes up.

  38. Deryl says:

    I just recently did a kitchen renovation and installed a combination of an Off-White Quartz on the perimeter countertops and Recycled Glass (see link below) on the island and laundry countertop. My entire kitchen was actually designed around the Recycled Glass countertop color! LOVE them!!!

    http://www.vetrazzo.com/eng/products/view/Emerald-Coast/127

  39. Hey Kate the Great! Wanted to sound in really quickly on laminate. We are putting new laminate in our beach cottage-the faux carerra ;) It is $28/foot installed. The lesser quality laminates were still $23/ft. I was surprised that laminate isn’t cheaper than it is! If our cottage wasn’t five hours from the nearest Ikea, I would have investigated their awesome affordable butcher block that is all the rage in blogland.

  40. Suzy says:

    Getting the same error alert on home page….phishing….trying to access from Okla. U are probably aware of it.
    Love the info on countertops…so informative. Great job!!

  41. Michelle says:

    This is a timely post for me. I’ve been thinking about DIYing my countertops with concrete or with a kit to make them look granite.

  42. Helen Peterson says:

    I spent months weighing and balancing and finally decided on Cambria for a multitude of reasons. I was able to get a pattern that looked just like a granite, but it doesn’t stain, you don’t have to seal, as well as the benefit of no chipping or scratching. I was drawn to a white marble look(Praa Sands), but it was too grey for the rest of the kitchen, so I chose one with more earthen tones called Berkeley. Midway through the reno, I decided to do a built in bar and chose Rosslyn with has all kinds of jewel tones and glitter. I love my countertops. They were a bit of a splurge, but the neat part of Cambria is that they company prices everything the same, so if you want glitter, you don’t pay more than a plane pattern. The tradesmen who put it in were so talented, you can’t even see seams. Cambria licenses their tradespeople so you get a good professional look.

  43. Theresa. says:

    Hi Kate,
    I read your blog from Ireland and just use google to look in daily. Do you know that for about the last week there is a warning about your site being a “phishing site” I ignored the warning today so that I could leave you a note about it.
    I love reading your blog and hope you can get this problem resolved.
    Theresa.

  44. Centsational Girl says:

    I’m working on the problem Theresa, thank you!!!

  45. kathleen says:

    I have to vote granite. I have had it in my kitchen 13 years and it looks like new. So easy and durable. Never had to reseal it. I have limestone for master bath counters. I love it but I would not put it in my kitchen. Too porous and it absorbs oils. I have corian at my lake house and it does get stains so I have to be much more careful.

  46. Lesley says:

    We have Ikea oak butcher block and LOVE it! Beautiful and warm with the white cabinets and charcoal porcelain floor tiles. I tried a few different sealers before I found a product I really liked – Howard Butcher Block Conditioner. I highly recommend it!!!

  47. I have a modest home in a modest neighborhood and think the stone options are too expensive for my house. I currently have laminate (the house was built in 1988) and will do laminate again as it’s so easy to maintain. And no worry about breaking a glass if it’s set down too hard (which I’ve read on other reviews of stone products) or the laminate chipping if something is dropped on it.

  48. Maria says:

    My counter top is corian and I love it! But I paid 300,00 Euros per square meter ($390,00)! Very big deference between Greece and USA!

  49. Annie says:

    Great roundup of the options, thanks!

    One thing you might want to note is that Silestone has microban incorporated in it, something people might like to avoid in food prep areas due to toxicity and encoraging resistant popluations of bacteria.

    Sherwin Williams Duration is another brand which does thus. I buy antimicrobial paint for my bathroom, but it’s dangerous to have it all over your house! (I’m a microbiologist, the ubiquity of microban is scary!)

  50. jill says:

    We put in soapstone about 5 years ago and love it! Its such a warm, homey “black” with interest and depth, depending on the type and the slab. I wasn’t so sure the first year b/c I put a kitchen mineral oil on it to get the deep color i like, but it didn’t last. Then I bought a soapstone “wax” and now I love my soapstone. I wax maybe once per year and it looks beautiful even around the sink. And I Do it only b/c I like to wax it, it looks fine and functions fine without. There is a warmth to the soapstone that you don’t get with many of the other choices. (And we don’t have a single scratch, chip or other mark…which I could NOT say about our Corian that we replaced.)

  51. Marion says:

    Thanks for the helpful post and so sorry to hear of the hacking – you’d think people have better things to do, right? I just replaced granite tile (st. cecelia) with Cambria – not sure of the color name but it looks like concrete. I love it! I grew to despise (harsh, but true) my granite tile because of awful staining. I did every poultice out there and it was just a mess. I don’t know if tile is worse than slab but you could never pay me to have granite again. I have been so pleased with Cambria – no stains, even if things sit on it for a while. It’s been great. We are doing a second home and Cambria is not in the budget so we are planning on butcher block. Originally Ikea but since they’ve been out of it since December we’re now looking at cherry and walnut from Floor and Decor or Lumber liquidators. It’s really beautiful and we had butcher block in a previous home so I’m pretty confident it will hold up well, plus we’re leaning toward walnut because I think the darker color will help if there are any stains.

  52. Julia says:

    I have PaperStone counters in ‘Gunmetal’, made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper. We were aiming for the most environmentally-friendly options for our 2009 home remodel, and I’ve been really happy with the way the counters turned out–there’s some natural mottling to the color, so stains don’t stand out, and so far maintenance has been limited to keeping them clean and reasonably dry and wiping them down with food-safe mineral oil every other year or so. I was super happy to find something environmentally friendly that was equally well-suited to my bone-deep laziness. (I cleaned houses in college, which meant scrubbing loads of high-end counter tops, and I was stunned to discover that so many of the fancier options actually required so much effort to keep clean. The idea of paying more for something that then required MORE WORK blew my mind.)

  53. Heather says:

    Thanks for the post! I have been struggling (for multiple years) in deciding what replacement countertop and backsplash to put in the kitchen. We have a 25 year old house with laminate with the back lip and no backsplash (with an oak edging that looked custom when it was new, but now shows it’s age). I thought I wanted granite, but after reading this I will relook at the laminate countertop with undermount sink and a tile type backsplash.

  54. Angie says:

    We just installed Tropical Brown granite for $29 sq. ft and love it. It replaced some thirteen year old chipped laminate. I really wanted wood, but we have three sons and I didn’t want to stress over how they would treat them. We have an undermount sink that rocks my world every single day!

  55. Leah says:

    Lots of toxic CFCs released by concrete… indoors, maybe not such a great idea…

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