Countertops 101: Selecting the Best Surface for Your Space

Selecting the perfect countertop for your kitchen depends on multiple factors: physical characteristics, price, appearance, and durability
By Kerrie Kelly, ASID

Countertops are the workhorses of the kitchen and need to stand up to a lot of wear and tear. There are a maze of choices available to you, the homeowner, for your kitchen counters. Since this ends up influencing many areas of the kitchen, it’s important to choose something that looks good, will hold up to day-to-day kitchen activities, and has a price tag that comfortably fits your budget. Beyond each surface’s aesthetic appeal, you will want to weigh its physical characteristics, too.

Kitchen surfaces should be water-resistant, durable, and easy to maintain. Before deciding, consider how you will use the countertops. Do you want surfaces for chopping or placing hot pans during holiday dinner preparation? Do you mind sealing surfaces? Would blemishes bother you or do you need a surface that won’t show fingerprints and water spots? All of these are important questions to ask before you start shopping for your countertop. By answering some of these design questions you will narrow down your search to a few reliable countertop choices, and then you can decide based on aesthetic and budget from there.

You might also want to consider mixing and matching surface choices in your kitchen. Granite may be your choice for the perimeter countertops while butcher block may be what you want on your prepping station. Another popular consideration that is both beautiful and functional is marble. Marble is great for kitchen islands that act as prep areas for members of the family that love baking or cooking. You can roll cookie dough on it or use it as an area to place serving trays and dishes for family dinner. Be careful though: while marble is beautiful, it is fragile. Acidic juices or certain liquids can stain the surface easily.

If practicality is your main concern in countertops, we suggest opting for quartz countertops. Stain resistant, water resistant, heat resistant—basically life resistant—quartz is a fantastic option for busy families, those who love to throw dinner parties, or anyone with an on-the-go lifestyle that doesn’t have the time or means to wipe down their counters or reapply sealant as often as they would like. Quartz countertops also come in a variety of styles that let the user choose a look that reflects their personal style and that of their kitchen.

Last, keep in mind the other elements in your kitchen when making a countertop selection. What style are you going for? Do you have a budget allocated for other parts of the kitchen, like cabinets and appliances? What sorts of functions and accessibility are you looking for? These are questions that should be asked when looking at countertops as well to help you stick within a style and budget from beginning to end. When choosing countertop surfaces, remind yourself of your style, your budget, and the style of the other design elements you’re selecting to help stay on track during your kitchen renovation.

Maybe the most visible selection in your kitchen space, the countertop is an extremely important design element. Both its form and function play an integral role in your kitchen’s design. What are some of your favorite options?

Some countertops to choose from are:

Quartz

• Because it’s an engineered product, it is available in a wide variety of colors and patterns
• Virtually maintenance-free
• Though susceptible to scratches and burns, it can easily be buffed or sanded

Marble

• One of the most elegant countertops to choose from
• Mildly heat-resistant
• Remains cool and is perfect for a baking station as dough will remain cool

Granite
• Because of its coloration and unique pattern, each slab of granite is unique
• Durable and easy to clean, this surface stands up well to nicks, scratches, and heat
• Because of its heaviness, granite requires a solid supportive structure beneath

Laminate

• One of the most affordable countertops available
• Low-maintenance and easy to clean
• Lightweight and doesn’t require the support of a thick cabinet base

Butcher Block

• Warm, natural appearance
• Though scratches are easily made, they patina beautifully and add a wood-worn look to the countertop; should you want to sand them out, butcher block is easily maintained through sanding and staining

Stainless Steel

• Sleek and minimalistic aesthetic
• Stainless steel is nearly indestructible and is resistant to bacteria often found in kitchens
• While it’s tough, it can be quite high-maintenance; fingerprints show, dents are common, and chemicals may alter its coloration

Kerrie Kelly is a Northern California interior designer and the founder of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab. She is an award-winning interior designer, multimedia consultant and an author of two books. She may be reached through Taylor Toledo at taylor@kerriekelly.com.

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