Sorry! This is not going to be that handy article about how to spot the best granite for bathroom counter tops, or how to find the best concrete countertops for your kitchen. That will come in a later article. Here we’ll just take a general look at the types of counter top products available for kitchens (and baths).
If you want your kitchen designer to help you select or create a custom counter, the possibilities are just about endless. It is common for a modern kitchen to include two or more types of counter surfaces—typically, one type for an island or service bar and another for the perimeter counters. For example, the perimeter cabinets might be finished with a granite counter top and the center island with a solid wood countertop. We see this frequently in DC and Maryland kitchen design.
Countertops for kitchens can be divided into two primary categories. Based on product composition, that would be either a manufactured (engineered) product, or one composed of natural materials.
Natural countertops come in a variety of wood species and stone types. Granite, marble, soapstone and limestone are most popular. For wood counter tops, cherry and maple run the show. Bamboo counter tops have begun to make an appearance on the spec sheet, too.
Manufactured countertops may contain synthetic, recycled or natural materials. Remember Formica? The countertop product, made of engineered wood and plastic, is still in use and still the “low budget” option. For years, the plastic laminate kitchen countertop provided a durable solution for kitchens as well as vanity tops in the bath. But times, and tastes, have changed. The call for granite kitchen counter tops has been non-stop. More recently, marble tops and limestone (both require maintenance) have gained popularity. As a result, laminate kitchen counter tops have fallen out of favor. They have become the “hand-me-downs” of the modern household. When a new kitchen is being built, the old cabinets and tops are often re-hung in the garage or basement for utility storage.
I am not suggesting that the natural granite counter top is the best countertop for the kitchen. There is a growing list of very creative engineered products on the market now.
This new generation of kitchen countertops draws upon a wide variety of man-made materials. Ingredients include polymer-based products (brand name Corian), ground quartz (brand name Silestone), concrete, glass, copper, stainless steel, ceramic tile—even recycled paper. When a kitchen counter is composed of synthetics or natural materials that are manipulated through a manufacturing process, there are several advantages. First, an amazing range of solid surface countertop colors becomes possible. Consistency is another strongpoint, for those who don’t care for the irregularity and unpredictability of natural stone. Further, you can work with your design consultant to create an original. Concrete countertops, for example, can be custom tinted. Minerals, stone or glass fragments may be added to the mix to make a truly unique surface. And, many solid surface products are easily maintained and don’t require sealing.
Upcoming articles will examine the pros and cons of some of the many engineered countertop products on the market.