Come along on my kitchen renovation quest as we explore a plethora of countertops, from natural stone to manufactured materials, weighing the pros and cons along the way.
Trendy and modern, concrete countertops create a clean, understated look, whether you’re going for a farmhouse or industrial vibe. Durable and hard, concrete is not easily chipped. Any cracks that do occur can be easily fixed. Concrete is one of the most customizable materials, as it can be formed to fit oddly shaped areas on-site. Personalize it to your liking with pigment or stain, stamps or texture, or even by embedding shells, tiles, glass, or stones.
Commercially available concrete countertops are more expensive than you’d think. At $70-$140 per square foot installed, these handmade artisan countertops cost about as much as granite or quartz. You can DIY, but there’s a lot to it. In order to be virtually indestructible, concrete needs to be cured and sealed with a food-grade sealer, which can take a few weeks. Concrete countertops can be susceptible to stains, so sop up spills asap. You would think you could set a hot pan on concrete, however the sealer is not heat-resistant. These long-lasting countertops are unlikely to ever need replacement and can last for the lifetime of your house. To maintain, simply reseal every one to three years.
Available in a range of colors from light to dark, it’s easy to find a granite countertop to go with any design scheme. Each slab of granite is unique. This durable, natural stone is comprised of many minerals, like feldspar or mica, that produce different hues and highlights. To ensure that color and veining are similar throughout, select slabs quarried from the same stone. Choose from a variety of edge profiles, including square, beveled, ogee (s-shaped), or half or full bullnose. This natural stone is heat-resistant, however, “some granites are more porous than others and may require periodic sealing” according to CounterTop Guides. Granite is so tough you could cut on it, but don’t try it unless you want to dull your knife.
Granite is easy to maintain, but it does require a little TLC and specialized cleaning products. Do not use ammonia, citrus, vinegar, or anything gritty like Bar Keepers Friend, which is only for non-stone surfaces. Be sure to use coasters to avoid rings.
Ranging anywhere from $15-35/square foot on clearance to $140/square foot installed including labor and supplies, granite is not cheap. Since a mishap could be expensive, most folks leave the installation to the pros.
Butcher block is known for its food-prep functionality, comparative affordability vs. stone, and decorative versatility. Pieces of wood, including cherry, maple, oak, walnut, teak, or even eco-friendly, sustainable bamboo are glued, sanded, and sealed to form a smooth, multi-colored slab. Instead of outfitting the entire kitchen, most people use butcher block as an accent on an island.
The thought of chopping sans cutting board can be alluring, but it can’t be used that way if the wood is sealed. Wood is porous and needs to be kept dry. “Without sealing, water can penetrate the butcher block and warp wood pieces, causing them to separate” according to CounterTop Guides, which adds that “Unsealed wood can also harbor germs.” Driven by Decor notes that “treating or sealing butcher block keeps it from drying out or staining.” Maintain it by oiling with linseed or mineral oil at least a couple times a year. Butcher block won’t crack or chip like other hard countertops and it also hides cuts and scratches well. When the surface is scratched below the finish, simply oil the area. After years of use, it can be sanded and resealed to look like new. Because of the different woods used, cost varies wildly, from $35-$200 per square foot.
High-end, upscale, and sophisticated, marble is both clean and contemporary. This natural stone comes in shades of brown, gray, green, and taupe and a variety of finish options, including honed or matte, polished, or leather. Marble is the ideal countertop for bakers—since its temperature stays low naturally, it’s great for rolling out and shaping dough.
However, marble is softer and more porous than other natural stones, making it prone to scratches, spills, and stains. Sealing and cleaning up spills quickly keep this high-maintenance surface happy. At around $40/square foot, elegant Carrara marble may be more budget-friendly than you assume.
Laminate has come a long way since the Formica that graced the kitchens of our childhood. Higher quality than ever before, this low-maintenance product is popular for its affordability, versatility, and variety of colors, designs, and finishes. High-pressure laminates (HPLs) can masquerade as wood or stone for a fraction of the cost. Hard particleboard core is layered with a plastic laminate that is bonded over the top, making laminate more durable than ever before. Not only is laminate one of the most affordable countertop options, but it’s also nonporous, so it won’t absorb bacteria, won’t require resealing, and is easy to clean with soap and water. Laminate seems may be the easiest to hide of any countertop pick.
These tough and durable countertops are perfect for families with small children. However, laminate can scratch and is susceptible to heat damage. It’s also hard to fix any burns, chips, or scratches. At $20-$50 per square foot, laminate costs loads less than stone countertops. according to The Spruce, the expense varies depending on whether you’re “having a custom countertop fabricated and installed; building your own from raw laminate, or installing prefabricated countertop segments (called a post-form countertop).” Top brands include Formica, Wilsonart, and Nevamar. Keep in mind that this budget-friendly countertop won’t add resale value to your home like other synthetic materials or stone, so it may not be best for a big reno, but works great for small projects or rental properties.
If you can afford it, quartz is the top of the line. Built to last, this engineered countertop option is composed of quartz dust or aggregate from the earth’s crust, combined with a resin binder and color. Available in a range of creams, grays, and brown, quartz looks and feels like granite or marble but is made to be more durable than stone. According to CounterTop Guides, “The resin creates flexibility, so countertops won’t chip as easily as granite, marble, tile or concrete.” The non-porous surface resists stains and bacteria and is easy to wipe clean with a damp cloth. Unlike its natural stone counterparts, quartz never has to be resealed. One of the toughest countertop materials available, quartz is extremely durable and incredibly hard, offering decades of durability. The hard surface is also scratch-resistant.
Since it’s man-made, slabs can easily be manufactured in many shapes and sizes for any kitchen or bath design. This is particularly helpful if you have large area as large natural stone slabs can be costly and hard to find. Seams are also less visible than concrete or stone. However, quartz isn’t as heat-resistant as concrete, tile, crushed glass, or granite. Direct sunlight can cause it to fade over time and can produce warping or cracking. All of the advantages of this material do not come cheap. Costing anywhere from $55-$100/square-foot, this high-quality product is among the most expensive countertops you can choose. Caesarstone is the godfather of quartz, but other popular brands include DuPont, Silestone, and Cambria.
A natural, non-porous stone, soapstone features natural, marble-like veining that varies from stone to stone. Sourced domestically from Appalachia or imported from Finland and Brazil, this material is even more expensive than quartz and granite. A naturally high concentration of talc makes soapstone soft to the touch. Available in shades of gray with undertones of blue or green, soapstone’s surface can take on an antique-looking patina.
One of its biggest advantages over its other natural granite and marble stone sisters is that it is non-porous, making it stain-, bacteria-, and heat-resistant. However, it’s soft surface is susceptible to damage such as scratching and chipping. As far as maintenance goes, Remodelista recommends oiling “the countertop once a month for the first year to allow the surface to oxidize and for the patina to develop.” Soapstone countertops cost $70 to $120 per square foot, not including installation.
Solid Surface Material Countertops
Offering many of the advantages of laminate, this versatile, durable, and affordable material is available in a wide range of colors. Made from solid synthetic material, “solid surface” is often called by its brand name, Corian, Swanstone, Avonite, but refers to a combination of acrylic and resin. An endless array of styles, colors, and patterns (many of which are meant to mimic marble, granite, stone, or quartz) are available. This versatile, mid-range option goes well with many motifs.
Like laminate, it is solid, tough, and non-porous, however, it’s harder, more durable, and better quality than its more affordable man-made mate. Although it’s not as heat-resistant as quartz or stone, it is seamless and stain-resistant. Not only is solid surface material easy to clean and maintain, but also most damage can be sanded out. Ranging between $75-$125 per square foot, this option is more affordable than concrete, stone, or quartz.
If it’s as attractive, durable, and heat resistant as its countertop form, the floor really may be lava soon. Quarried from actual volcano eruptions, lava stone is custom-cut and glazed with enamel, giving it a smooth, completely water-resistant non-porous finish. As the glaze cools, small cracks appear in a phenomena dubbed “crazing,” which makes each piece unique. The enamel can be virtually any color, with a glossy or matte finish. Just be sure you like the color you pick out because this countertop will last at least 50 years and can’t be refinished easily.
Although the priciest pick, lava countertops are a great choice for any design concept, from traditional to contemporary. They’re also easy to install yourself, so long as the sink and other cut-outs have already been handled. Obviously lava withstands heat, but this durable material also resists chips, cracks, stains, and fading. Because lava stone is imported, it costs more than granite or marble, at about $250-$300 per square foot.
How to Decide Which Countertop Is Best for You
You get what you pay for. Cheaper countertops that aren’t as durable will have to be replaced every 5 to 15 years, so you may be better off maintaining a more quality product. Eco-conscious consumers may prefer natural material like stone or wood that require less energy to produce and don’t use harmful products in the manufacturing process.
High-maintenance marble is impractical for families with kids. Instead, go for a non-porous material that won’t stain as easily. Although expensive, quartz is stain-resistant and adds resale value to a home.
Pricing varies on a range of factors, including material grade (discount, builder, premium, or designer), skill of the installer (DIY, handyman, vendor, licensed contractor, or contractor supplied by a designer), job complexity (more seams and edges = more money), and cost of living. While it may be tempting to cut corners with cheaper materials or by installing countertops yourself, experts recommend quality materials and a skilled, experienced installer. Always be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for countertop care and cleaning.