When renovating your kitchen or creating a whole new room, one the most important decisions you will make, both in terms of functionality and esthetics, is the choice of countertops. With a little research, you’ll find a wealth of information to help you choose the kitchen countertops that is right for you.
To help you weigh the pros and cons and to understand the differences between laminate, wood, stone, quartz, granite, composite and stainless steel, I have prepared a comparative summary of the most popular materials.
This article will give you a better idea of the advantages and disadvantages of every material. Before starting however, you should know that there is no perfect surface. It’s up to you to choose the material that will suit your needs, style and budget. The most popular countertops for kitchen surface—laminate, granite, wood, glass, composite stone and stainless steel—all have different advantages. So it’s important to consider all factors before making a purchase. Think of practicality for example, and how easy it is to maintain. If you have young children, a material that scratches easily, such as glass or stainless steel, might not be a good choice. If you love cooking, think of a material that is heat resistant on either sides of your stove top, such as granite, so that you can put your hot pots and pans directly on the counter. If you worry about hygiene, consider antibacterial material, such as corian or stainless steel. Remember that stainless steel can show scratches and scuff marks over time, creating a surface that looks worn, which some people really like. If you prefer a scratch-free surface, this may not be right for you.
Best usage: For surfaces used for food preparation and eating areas like islands and breakfast bars. Teak is ideal around the sink because it has a high oil content and is water resistant.
Best look: Goes well in any style kitchen, especially in industrial/rustic kitchens which are becoming increasingly popular. It can also be added to a contemporary style kitchen with glass or stainless steel to add warmth to the decor.
Maintenance: Wipe immediately to avoid stains. Once installed, seal the wood with Danish or lineseed oil every three months to prevent it from drying out.
Sealant required: With hardwood, you must follow a treatment schedule with an oil-based sealant. Apply one coat every day for the first week, then once a week for one month, then, once a month for one year.
Durability: If hardwood is properly sealed and well maintained, it should last a long time, but don’t use the surface as a cutting board and don’t place hot dishes and pans directly on the wood since it will burn.
Flexibility and installation: Wood is easy to cut and can be used in most areas of the kitchen. If you want a hardwood countertop, use it sparingly as a secondary workspace or on a bar (or table). Although you must give it care and use it carefully, the major advantage of this material is that it can be sanded and retreated in case of an accident.
Composite countertops are made of a combination of high performance synthetic resin and a mixture of crushed mineral materials.
A resin and stone mixture is transformed into reconstituted stone after it is compacted under high pressure and heat, then polished to obtain a very dense, perfectly smooth, non-porous and resistant surface.
[Photo via Ali Baba]
Also called reconstituted stone, they are made of a mixture of over 90% quartz and polyester resin and 10% colour pigments. The colour pigments added to the mix produce a wide range of colour choices. Furthermore, quartz has a consistent surface without veins that gives it a more contemporary look than granite. Compared to stone, this type of material is non-porous which makes it easy to maintain. It is also very shock- and scratch-resistant. But be careful. Very high temperatures (300°C) can cause stains and cracks. The other major inconvenience is the price. It is just as, and sometimes more, expensive than granite countertops.
Best usage: A beautiful and practical choice that can be used either near the stovetop or around the sink.
Best look: Dramatic colours such a dark grey and blue are striking in modern and contemporary kitchens. If your room is more traditional, choose more neutral tones like cream.
Maintenance: Wipe spills to prevent stains. Keep the surface clean with a damp cloth and mild soap.
Sealant required: No
Durability: Composite is very resistant and more durable than many other natural stones. Since the colour is seeped into the material, all scratches can be sanded.
Flexibility and installation: Using heat, this work surface can be moulded to create different shapes. Since it doesn’t have to be cut, the surface will be completely smooth surface without any joints.
Granite countertops are completely organic. Since granite is resistant to scuffs, high heat, stains and acidic products, this resilient, long-lasting material is a popular choice for kitchens. Whether you choose variegated, consistent or flecked surfaces, you will find a wide variety of colours based on how it was extracted. The only major disadvantage, other than the high price, is the extensive colour variations between slabs that come from the same quarry and even the same block. Each slab is original and unique which makes it hard to envision the final look of the countertop in your kitchen.
If the price of granite is preventing you from choosing this material for the entire room, don’t hesitate to mix it with other materials. This will often reduce costs and will make your kitchen look creative and original.
Best usage: Everywhere in the kitchen, including around the sink, stovetop and oven. A large lustrous granite top on the kitchen island has a stunning visual effect.
Best look: It is an expensive material that will never go out of style, and goes with both modern and traditional decors. Choose a classic polish or even a mat look for a more contemporary feel.
Maintenance: Requires little maintenance. Clean with a damp cloth and mild soap.
Sealant required: Granite requires that a sealant be applied initially and every 10 years after that.
Durability: The most resilient of all the natural materials, it can withstand high heat, spills and most stains—wines and citric acids must be wiped immediately.
Flexibility and installation: With modern technology, granite can be cut in a variety of shapes and sizes. However, it is quite heavy and hard to manoeuvre during transport and installation.
Laminate countertops, a top seller, are made of several layers of craft paper (between 0.7 and 1.2 mm thicknesses), pressed together with heat and glued on particleboard that is often water-resistant. Laminate countertops are currently the most commonly sold kitchen tops on the market. The advantages of this type of surface are the selection of colours and shapes, as well as the economical price (excellent quality/price ratio). As for the inconveniences, this material is not resistant to heat above 180°C, nor to scratches. Therefore, you should always use table mats and a cutting board on a laminate countertop.
Best usage: General usage, including areas where you prepare food, and around sinks and stovetops.
Best look: Can imitate other materials like granite, slate and wood. It can therefore blend into any modern or traditional decors.
Maintenance: Very little maintenance. Clean with mild soap.
Sealant required: No
Durability: Resistant to most stains and chemical products, but not to heat or vapour. It should not be used as a surface to cut or chop food. Choose a thicker, more pressure-resistant surface for greater durability.
Flexibility and installation: One of the only materials that can be cut and installed by an experienced do-it-yourselfer rather than a kitchen expert.
[Photo via Carolina Kitchen Cabinetry]
Stainless steel countertops are made of a stainless steel sheet in a 18/10 grade that is 1.8 mm thick pressed to a particleboard support. Mainly used in restaurants and hospitals, this material can resist anything—rust, heat and humidity. It is more hygienic than most other surfaces since bacteria cannot thrive on it. On a daily basis, stainless steel is not any easier to maintain than other materials. Wipe with a cloth and white vinegar to make your surface gleam. Never use bleach since it tends to stain the surface. This type of surface is great because it has advantages that are both functional and esthetic. Very contemporary, this material travaillé en sur épaisseur or moulded around the sink or cooking area will make it look like you have a professional kitchen right in your own home.
Best usage: Around the sink and the stovetop and on all surfaces where you prepare food.
Best look: Industrial- and contemporary-style kitchens. It can be used with other materials to make it look warmer.
Maintenance: Often the choice in industrial kitchens because of its antibacterial properties. It is very easy to clean using products specially formulated for stainless steel. Use baby oil to make it shine.
Sealant required: No
Durability: Very hard surface, water, and heat resistant, and to acidic products. Prone to scratches, however they won’t affect its antibacterial nature.
Flexibility and installation: Sinks can be installed in a stainless steel mould. Simple designs can be cut into a single sheet, avoiding any joints.
Josette Buisson, trends analyst