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COUNTERTOPS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE SELECTING YOURS


Remodeled kitchen with wood floors, dark blue cabinets below, white wall cabinets, and a large island with a waterfall quartzite countertop.

Counters are one of the finishes in our home that we interact with multiple times a day. They are an investment that (we hope) can last for decades, help set the tone for the spaces they are in, and withstand heavy daily use. There are many factors to consider when selecting countertops, so let’s dive in!


MATERIALS


Broadly, most countertops fit into one of two categories: natural or manmade. Natural counters are products like marble, granite, quartzite, and wood. Manmade counters include quartz, porcelain, and concrete. Here are some of the pros and cons and requirements for each material.


Granite

Granite is a natural stone that is highly durable, resistant to scratches and heat, and is safe for indoor or outdoor use. It is available in a variety of (mostly darker) colors and patterns, making it a popular choice for homeowners. However, granite is porous and requires regular sealing to prevent stains and bacterial growth.


Black leathered granite on the outdoor kitchen at our West Bellevue Custom Home Project


Marble

Marble is a natural stone known for its beauty, elegance, and wide variety of colors. It is also highly heat-resistant, making it a good choice for baking and cooking. Marble is very porous and can easily stain or scratch, which is a deterrent for some, while others consider the patina with age a charming feature. It requires regular sealing to prevent damage.


Quartzite

Often confused with quartz, quartzite is one of the hardest natural stones available, making it very resistant to damage and scratches. This stone can withstand high temperatures and has a natural and unique look often compared to marble. Quartzite's cost can be more budget-friendly unless highly customized. Quartzite requires regular sealing to prevent staining and etching.


Leathered quartzite counters in our Education Hill Addition project.


Soapstone

Soapstone has a natural and unique look that can add character to any kitchen. Like quartzite, soapstone can withstand high temperatures. Because it is non-porous, it is resistant to staining and bacteria. However, it is a relatively soft stone, which means it can scratch and chip more easily than other materials. Soapstone requires regular oiling to maintain its appearance and is only available in a limited range of colors.


Butcher Block

Butcher block counters are made from wood and are a popular choice for those who like the natural warmth and beauty of wood. Butcher block is also relatively affordable and easy to install. They are great for food preparation, as they are gentle on knives and can be sanded down and resealed. Butcher block does require regular maintenance with mineral oil to prevent drying and cracking and is susceptible to damage from heat and moisture. Butcher block counters also need frequent cleaning to avoid bacteria growth.


Quartz

Quartz is a man-made material that is composed of crushed quartz stone mixed with resin. It is non-porous, making it resistant to stains and bacterial growth. It is also available in a variety of colors and patterns and consistent slab sizes. However, quartz is not as heat-resistant as granite and can be more expensive.


Solid Surface

Made from acrylic or polyester resins, solid surface countertops are available in a wide range of colors and patterns. Like soapstone, solid surface is non-porous, which means it is resistant to staining and bacteria. Scratches and chips can easily be repaired by sanding and buffing. However, solid surface countertops can be damaged by high temperatures. Over time, solid surface countertops can discolor from exposure to UV light.


Porcelain

Porcelain counters are made from a type of ceramic that is fired at a very high temperature. They are extremely durable and resistant to scratches, stains, and heat. They are also non-porous, which means they don't absorb liquids or bacteria. Maintenance is relatively easy, as they can be cleaned with soap and water or a mild cleanser. However, porcelain counters can be expensive and difficult to install. They are also prone to chipping and cracking if heavy objects are dropped on them.


Laminate

Laminate countertops are made by layering paper or fabric with resin and then applying it to a particle board or plywood base. They are lightweight and easy to install and come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. However, they are not as durable as natural stone and can easily scratch or chip.


Concrete

Concrete countertops are a popular choice for modern and industrial-style kitchens. They are highly durable and resistant to heat and scratches. They can also be customized with different colors and patterns. However, concrete is porous and requires regular sealing to prevent stains and bacterial growth.


White concrete countertops with a walnut butcher block island, via Chris Loves Julia


INSTALLATION CONSIDERATIONS


The counter material(s) selected set the tone for the style of the space, but the installation specifications fine tune the look and feel. Here are just a few of the details to consider.


Finish

Most counter materials come in polished, honed, or leathered finishes. Not all counter materials are available in all three finishes and each finish requires different levels of maintenance.


Polished counters are shiny and smooth with a reflective appearance. They offer a more formal and modern look. The finish makes them easier to clean, but can also be highly reflective, especially in spaces with direct sun exposure. Aside from butcher block, most counter materials are available in a polished finish.


Honed countertops have a matte finish that offers a more natural look and are popular in traditional spaces. Honed countertops are less slippery and hide scratches and etches better than polished surfaces. However, they are more porous and thus more prone to stains. Most natural stones, many quartz, porcelain and concrete are available in a honed or matte finish.


Leathered countertops have a textured finish that is achieved by brushing the surface with diamond-tipped brushes. They are popular in contemporary and modern designs. They are also ideal when a non-slip surface is required, such as wet bars and outdoor kitchens. Leathered finishes hide scratches and etches better than honed or polished counters, however, they are more porous and prone to stains if not properly sealed. Currently leathered finishes are limited to natural stones like quartzite, marble, and granite.


close up of the texture of black leathered granite
Leathered granite detail from our West Bellevue Custom Home Project

Thickness

Natural stone, quartz and solid surface slabs come in standard thicknesses of 2cm or 3cm. These are minimum thicknesses, however almost all materials can be specified at a greater thickness. Stone, or stone-like materials can be mitered at the edge to give the appearance of a thicker slab. Concrete and butcher block can be specified at various thicknesses.


Different thicknesses are appropriate for different styles and applications. A slim 2cm slab is more of a traditional look, but is also making more appearances in sleek, minimal kitchens. A 3cm slab is the most common across materials and provides a sturdy, substantial surface. Extra thick edges are ideal to make a design statement and in modern applications.


2cm honed marble (left, via Grit & Polish), 3cm quartzite (center), 4" thickened granite (right).


Edge Profile

The final key consideration is the edge profile, which is the shape of the edge of a countertop. Square edges are most commonly used currently. They are especially appropriate in contemporary and modern designs. Waterfall edge profiles extend down the sides of the counter, creating a continuous, flowing look.


Ogee profile on walnut butcher block vs. square edge waterfall profile on quartzite.


Beveled edges feature and angled edge, often cut at 45-degrees. Bullnose and half-bullnose refer to a rounded edge that is popular in traditional style countertops. Ogee is a more detailed edge profile that lends an elegant, traditional feel. The edge profile you choose should reflect the style of your home, cabinets, and spaces the counters are being installed.


Countertops are a great way to bring character and lasting impact to your space! Which materials you select will depend on the style of your space, budget considerations, and what kind of maintenance your household is comfortable with. We hope this summary of popular materials and installation considerations helps with making this important decision. To view more of the countertops shown here, visit our West Bellevue Custom Home project or our Education Hill Addition project.

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