Between a rock and a hard spot: solid surface countertops that aren’t granite

Between a rock and a hard spot: solid surface countertops that aren’t granite
27th Feb 2024

Solid surface countertops. They no doubt started long ago, when cavemen laid large flat stones on a raised surface to make tools. Of course, back then, maintenance and cleanliness were not big concerns.

For some time now, the most popular solid surface countertops have been granite — a surface that got less and less expensive as it became imported from countries all over the world. It trickled down from high-end custom homes to production homes to today's remodeled kitchens and baths. If you are or were a tract home loan pre-approval dweller of the 1990s in the western U.S., you no doubt painted your original honey oak or pickled oak cabinets white, black or grey, removed the builder's 6 x 6-inch tile counters and slapped big slabs of granite down. An easy-peasy update.

Many of today's designers and homeowners are simply done with granite after seeing it appearing in some of the most budget-minded apartment buildings or prefabbed onto stand-alone bathroom vanities sold at big box stores. The thrill is gone. What's next? The good news is that you have LOTS of choices in countertops these days.

One contender is butcher block — much cheaper than marble or granite, lending warmth to white cabinet-clad kitchens and available through some low-price leaders like IKEA. The downside? It can stain and you'll need trivets for hot pots and plates. Regular oil treatments can keep it in great shape, though.

It may be hard to believe, but now marble is cheaper than granite. It's gorgeous and has never really gone out of style. The biggest drawback is maintenance. Marble is softer and more porous than granite and can stain or etch very easily. But if you love the look, it may be worth it to you to be super vigilant about cleaning up red wine and lemon juice.

Soapstone is a natural quarried stone — a metamorphic rock that got its name from the soft, or soapy, feel of its surface. This dark stone with light veining has a beautiful, old-world feel while being easier to maintain than marble. Many agree that it is the material of choice for countertops — a durable and hardworking natural stone that is virtually maintenance free. Unlike granite and marble, however, it's typically quarried in smaller slabs, meaning that for counters longer than seven feet, several pieces (and visible seams) are necessary. Cost can be a factor as well, similar in price to a high-end granite but less than marble. Soapstone's downside is its softness, which makes it susceptible to scratches and nicks, although these can be buffed out with sandpaper.

The most popular (and now one of the most expensive) solid surface countertops these days is engineered stone countertops, made of little bits of quartz mixed with a binder and then molded into countertop shapes. The result is something that looks like stone and is super-durable. If you like the look but not the maintenance of marble, this might be a good choice for you. Quartz countertops are also a solid choice if you're going for minimal clashes with backsplash designs or competing detail from cabinets. You can order it up in solid colors with no veining or opt for the varieties that imitate marble. It surged in popularity almost the moment "Corian" lost its patent and has been improved upon ever since.

Quartz counters are not to be confused with quartzite, however, which is an entirely natural type of rock. Quartzite is often as highly prized as marble or limestone, with natural veining patterns and blotches of gray or white, making it a heavily sought-after material for many different renovation projects. No maintenance required and it's one of the hardest countertop choices known to man. Don't drop a water glass on it.

No longer within the domain of only restaurant kitchens, stainless steel countertops are durable, easy to clean, with an industrial-modern feel. The downside? They're pricey, and they scratch, but it's often that weathered look that people find interesting.

Speaking of weathered, concrete countertops have a lovely, raw elegance, offering the movement and natural feel of stone, with the industrial edge of stainless. Much more common now than they were just a decade ago, concrete craftsmen can pour these countertops in any thickness you like. They take a beating, but if improperly installed can crack and cure with a mottled appearance. Do your homework and check out seasoned concrete countertops any company has completed before making your choice in contractors.

Granite? It may just become a distant memory.

Source: apartmenttherapy, sebringdesignbuild, Realtor, TBWS

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