Nothing attracts attention like fabulous natural stone counter tops, but choose carefully because these surfaces take a lot of abuse. For true durability, quartz is king. You can cut on it (if you don’t mind dulling your knives), and set hot pans on it unlike granite and marble. The old quartz tops were solid and unglamorous. Today, quartz is coming in from all over the world and contains beautiful veins of crystal formations.
We all love granite and with so many options, you can find a full array of colors from neutrals, to reds, golds, blacks, greens and even blues. The price grades are loosely based on the amount of movement in a slab. Movement is the wavy patterns of mineral deposits that set higher end slabs apart from the old fashioned speckled versions. Consider a new waterfall edge or a simple mitered or square edge over an old bullnose or ogee shape. Remember that the edging is a substantial part of the labor cost along with the sink and faucet cutouts as they need polishing to accommodate under mount sinks. You can find ready-made slabs that come in from places like China that are available in standard 24” widths and finished with a simple edge. You only need to cut to length, do the sink and faucet holes and install with your new creative back splash. For real budget minded projects, 4” matching back splashes are available along with matching island pieces. A 6’ slab starts at $199. Don’t get too excited yet – until you figure in the measuring, delivery, labor, installation and proper fitting.
If granite is not your thing, consider marble. Some really beautiful marbles can come in at a lower grade granite price range. Food acids and chemicals can dull and etch soft marble tops and stain them deep into the stone. If the pattern is busy enough, staining may not be a concern. I love the Rainforest marble for its natural color ways of greens, golds and browns and is a gorgeous cost effective material.
Similar in softness and beauty is onyx. Use the same cautions with this or save it for your bathroom and furniture tops. It can be really cool inserted in a table top or vanity top that can be light from below, showing off its translucence.
Moving down the scale of practical materials is limestone. You can seal these but need to be diligent about keeping up the process. The soft creams and grays are perfect for today’s modern décor but be very careful even using limestone in the bathroom.
For the eco conscious decorators – think solid surface with recycled glass bits. It’s bright, funky and fun. You can find some colorful options like red, blues, greens and yellow pieces in a neutral background.
Butcher block wood tops are making a big come back, but not just in the original 70’s light oak look. I love the end cut walnut that crates a checker board design with the growth rings on each block. For a really practical cutting top, use hardwoods like maple or cherry, but for really interesting options for the island or tables, check out Bocate, Bubinga, Zebrawood or Wenge. Edge options are very important to the prices as well as shipping costs if you are ordering from out of town.
With so much talk about renewable resources, bamboo is a hot material. Born and raised in a rain forest, this wonderful tree grows fast and often. In dry climates like Phoenix, I recommend Bamboo with caution to avoid it drying out, splitting and warping. The warm tones and stripey effect is great looking.
Concrete has come on strong in recent years as a modern and flexible counter top. It can be colored or left natural gray, depending on your desired effect. Don’t plan on this being a cheap alternative because it’s labor intensive to get an even texture on long runs of countertops. The other cautions are that concrete is porous and stains easily if you do not maintain the sealer plus precision forms need to be made because concrete doesn’t trim and sand down easily.
The synthetic blend stone products like Silestone are a very practical, beautiful and flexible option. Just don’t pick one that looks like the 90’s “corian” tops. You want a fresher, newer color and pattern. My favorites are White Platinum, Zirix, Zirconium and even Green Fun.
For bathrooms, cultured marble is back and with a major face lift. It now resembles granite and natural stone, at a fraction of the cost. You can even do slabs for the shower walls and avoid all those nasty tile grout lines to clean. I think you will be impressed with its new, updated look for counter tops and walls.
At the lower end of the cost spectrum are mica and tile tops. For more great DIY ideas – get my new decorating guide. If at all possible, tile grouts lines on counter tops need to be avoided. Save that fun tile design for the back splash. The mica tops are a truly affordable option for updating a kitchen. The new patterns, colors and edging options are interesting and mimic the real stone materials very well. When deciding on where to splurge, countertops may be a good option.
For other Eco friendly counter top options, see my video called “Save the Planet”. It’s loaded with new and innovative options for all your renovating materials.