Twenty-five years ago, choosing a countertop was easy. You picked from a dozen or so colors of plastic
laminate and then moved on to decorating another room in the house. But there’s been a counter revolution
in this country sparked by consumers wanting more functional, stylish and luxurious countertops. The
counter is no longer just a work surface, but an integral design element in the kitchen.

Manufacturers around the world have met consumers’ desires by offering multitudes of styles, surfacing
materials and colors.

Weighing the pros and cons and making a reasonable decision is easy. Here’s a descriptive list of
products to help you find your top countertop:

Plastic Laminate: $25 to $50 per linear foot, installed.

Plastic laminate countertops have been around since the beginning of the modern kitchen. This common
and least expensive countertop material by a considerable margin, laminate is available in just about any
color and texture you can imagine. The four major manufacturers -- Wilsonart, Formica, Nevamar and
Pionite -- each offer more than a hundred colors and patterns. The latest rage is having your plastic
laminate custom-designed to your own color, texture and style, but be prepared to spend a few bucks here.
Laminate is a breeze to clean because of its smooth surface, but chips and scratches are very hard to
repair. An entire laminate counter can be installed for somewhere between $600 and $1800 in the average
kitchen. Note: If you want your backsplash to match your countertop, tell your installer now so he orders
enough material and maybe even works in a discount.

Ceramic & Porcelain Tile: $50 to $80 per linear foot, installed. Plain-colored tiles cost from $2 to $40 per
tile, with hand-painted tiles running from $5 to $75 each.

Ceramic and porcelain tile is probably the most versatile material that you can use on your countertop to
create a specific style or look. Contemporary, retro, traditional, rustic, country, Tuscan and everything in-
between is possible when working with ceramic tile. Most tile supply stores have showrooms that display
vignettes of different types of tile installations to provide you with ideas. There is currently a trend towards
rustic, timeworn, and stone-look surfaces. If you are selecting this type of look, be sure to ask your
salesperson or designer if you can see several pieces of tile from the same lot in order to see how the color
can vary from piece to piece.

If you know that you are very hard on your countertops and want a surface that will wear well and still give
you the styling of ceramic tile, look for porcelain tiles. Porcelain tiles are a bit more expensive, but since
porcelain is the hardest fired product that you can find, they can be worth stretching the budget.

The only drawback to using tile is the grout lines, which require regular maintenance and elbow grease. On
the flip side, the tile itself is heat resistant and easy to clean.

Solid Surfacing: $75 to $150 a linear foot, installed.

The most widely available and widely known 100 percent synthetic countertop material is Corian by Dupont,
but other manufacturers -- including Wilsonart, Formica and Avenite -- also make these tops in a wide
range of colors and textures. Known in the building and remodeling industry as solid surfacing materials,
these are either a pure acrylic product or a polyester-acrylic mix. Some of the materials are solid colors, but
most have flecks that give it a textured look that resembles real stone (that will run the cost up). The solid
surfacing materials are scratch resistant; but if you do get one you can sand it out (not as easy as you think).
Should you get deep scratches or gauges, the damaged area can be removed and a new piece installed.

Concrete Counter (cast or poured in place): $80 to $120 per square foot

Yes, that’s right! A new buzz in surfacing involves a very old material -- concrete. It’s available in pre-formed
sections or poured and formed on-site, which is great for unusually shaped counters. Concrete
Countertops are not as expensive as they appear. Many Concrete Countertop companies don't charge for
the extra details that granite and marble companies do. Such as edge detail, thickness, color, surface
aggregate, and color. Concrete can be molded into any shape or form you can imagine, such as an
integrate sink or multi level counter.

Granite: $25 to $200 a linear foot, installed.

Granite slabs are the most expensive of all countertop surfaces, but this is one product that holds it weight.
Not only does it greatly increase the value of your home, it is timeless and will never date your kitchen the
way that some tile products can. The expense of granite will vary greatly, depending on the type, quality and
availability of granite that you select, as well as the finished edge that you choose. When getting a price
quote from your granite fabricator, find out what style of edge they are including. One of the more popular
edges is a 1 1/2 inch bullnose.

This high end product is surprisingly practical because it is nearly impossible to damage the surface stone.
As the literature says, you need to use a cutting board to protect your cutlery, not the granite!

If you just can’t resist the look of granite and your purse is stretched, try going for granite tiles. The 12?
granite tile has all the same scratch and heat-resistant properties that are found in solid slab, and you can
reduce the size of your grout joint by butt-jointing them. If you use dark colored granite with a dark colored
grout, you can come very close to achieving the look of a solid surface countertop.

Composite Stone: $60 to $250 a linear foot, installed.

The hot new thing in countertops (and a big rival to granite) is a stone-synthetic composite made of about
90 percent quartz particles and 10 percent acrylic or epoxy binder. Some of the composites look like natural
stone, but not one that you could identify. Others are so close to real granite that you’re left wondering if it’s
real or not. Since the composites are manmade materials, they do not have the unexpected variation of
granite or marble and they do not need to be sealed. The five major choices – Cambria, Silestone, Okite,
CaesarStone and DuPont’s Zodiaq -- all use the same process. The only differences between them for the
end users are the colors and textures offered. Cambria is the only quartz surface produced in the United

Taken together, the four companies offer more than 130 countertop choices. Fabricators who work with
them say composite is as scratch resistant as granite.

Butcher block: around $30 per square foot.

Butcher block is usually made from rock maple because of its tight grain, as well as oak and cherry. It can
also be made in mixed and exotic species. Its surface is great for cutting and chopping. A word of caution:
knife marks will show on this surface and it’s also prone to water damage, so it shouldn’t be placed near a
sink without several coats of sealant.

Stainless Steel: around $150 per linear foot and higher.

If you’re looking for a professional, restaurant-style kitchen, then stainless steel is worth considering for the
countertops. It’s alloy steel that contains a splash of chromium to make it rust resistant. A relatively thin
product, it is attached to plywood to provide strength and soften its sound. This is one product where you
want to weigh the pros and cons, because fabrication is costly, difficult and difficult to change down the road
if you tire of its look. The benefit of steel is that it won’t stain, can handle heat and is easy to clean. On the
flip slide, it shows scratches, fingerprints (not a great choice if you have small children) and dents and it can
be a rather noisy work surface.

Soapstone (Steatite): starts around $55 per square foot.

Often seen in kitchen sinks in historic houses, soapstone has returned to modern kitchens as both a
countertop and sink material. Soapstone is generally dark gray in color and has a smooth feel due to its
high concentration of talc. It is somewhat resistant to stains and burning, but needs to be treated regularly
with applications of mineral oil.


Every year kitchen dealers and designers put their heads together to decide what’s hot for kitchen. This
year, kitchens are getting all sorts of new and exciting work surfaces. A big change is that laminate has
stopped mimicking other material like wood and stone and opted for a high tech look all its own. Another
big trend is the increased use of metal, especially stainless steel. But a real big trend is the mixing of many
types of materials to achieve a highly personal, custom look such as granite tops with tile backsplashes
and laminate islands with gleaming metal counters. Granite, marble and solid materials still remain big,
but the latest in cutting-edge counter technology are countertops made out of cement.

Countertops, Countertops, Countertops

To complicate matters further, a typical kitchen of 2004 might have not just one countertop but several. For
example, a granite-topped island, a marble baking station, and a stainless prep area with built-in butcher-
block cutting board. The design pros call such mixing and matching “surface synergy.” And it’s not enough
for counters to sit around looking pretty -- they must work. Counters are becoming ever more functional, with
such features as integrated drain boards and hydraulic lifts that let you vary the height for maximum comfort.

A Bit of Last Minute Practical Advice

In the end, function will matter much more than looks. A kitchen must be well designed and include enough
practical counter space or cabinets.

Keep in mind that no countertop products are trouble free. Solid surfacing and plastic laminate will scratch,
granite requires periodic resealing, and all them will stain if food spills, especially if such common staining
agents as mustard, red wine or strawberries are left to dry for any period of time. The only foolproof counter
top material that absolutely won’t stain or scratch and is a cinch to maintain is stainless steel, but it’s not a
look for everyone.

Since granite is a natural material, its color range is wide and it can be marked with irregularities. The
degree of variation will not show up on 4 X 4-inch sample, so to avoid any unpleasant surprises on this
score, you should visit the fabricator and pick out the slab yourself.


Now that you’ve selected your countertop, it’s time to decide how decorative and unique you want your
backsplash to look. A backsplash started out as a functional convenience -- an easy-to-clean surface that
protected kitchen walls, especially those behind the cooktop, sink and prep area. It didn’t take long for
homeowners and kitchen designers to realize that a distinctive backsplash could help enhance the overall
look of a kitchen. The great thing about designing a backsplash is that are no real rules, just tips and
creative ideas.

Here’s a roundup of how some popular backsplash materials measure up when it comes to cost and

Ceramic Tile starts at $2 per square foot for 4-inch, machine-made tiles and can easily top $20 per square
foot for handmade tiles. Mass-produced tile murals may cost as little as $45 for a six-tile pattern, but you
can also spend thousands of dollars for hand-painted tile murals. Labor varies from state to state but
averages from $2.50 to $8.50 per square foot.

Ceramic tile is the most versatile backsplash material because it offers the most options for color, shape
and size. Tiles are sold in a matte finish that adds a subtler look, and a gloss finish that is shiny. Some also
have raised edges or other textured areas to add another dimension to the design. Simple tricks like
rotating tiles to look like diamonds, varying and combining different shapes and sizes and adding the
occasional accent tile can really spice up your kitchen (and won’t break the bank).

Stone Tiles (granite and marble) start at $10 per square foot and just keep climbing. Natural stone like
granite and marble come in a wide range of colors and textures. Tumbled marble in 4-inch squares is
becoming the favored backsplash because it has a worn, pitted surface and its colors have been softened
and muted by abrasion and acid wash.

Solid Surfacing costs $25 to $30 per linear foot for a loose backsplash, $45 to $50 for an integral covered
backsplash, and as much as $75 per linear foot for a full-height backsplash.

If you had a solid surface countertop installed, don’t be shy about asking your fabricator if he has enough
material left over to make a backsplash, because he might throw it in for free. The reason for the high cost
is that there is a lot of material waste involved when fabricating a solid surface backsplash.

Metal and Metal Laminates are expensive. A skilled metal worker can fabricate a backsplash out of virtually
any sheet metal on the market (copper, stainless steel, zinc, brass and even nickel) and provide a range of
surface textures (hammered, ribbed and even quilted, like in the old diners) but it’s difficult to find a shop
that specializes in sheet-metal backsplashes. A sheet-metal backsplash is probably the most expensive
option -- clocking in at $140 to $160 per square foot for copper or zinc. Stainless steel starts at around $20
per square foot depending on the fabricator, while the metal laminates start at around $8 per square foot
(that doesn’t include fabrication and installation, which will run you another $10 per square foot).

Make A Splash!

A hot new trend is a backsplash wall that runs from counter to cabinets and even up to the ceilings using
spectacular materials and designs. Look at the space above your counter as a blank canvas waiting for
your artistic touch. Working closely with a designer you can now choose from endless textures and
materials, such as glass, hand-painted porcelain, luxury tiles, gleaming metal, raised dimensional
designs, and natural stone such as slate, marble and granite.
Kitchen Countertops A to Z
Designer Concrete Counters
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