What Countertop Is Right For Me?
If you are thinking of replacing your kitchen counters, the good news is that you have a plethora of materials to choose from today.
HOUZZ recently published a study stating that 88% of work being done were about upgrading the countertops. HOUZZ also stated that in 2020, 51% of their remodelers chose Quartz, 29% Granite, 11% Butcher block, 7% Quartzite and 5% chose Marble. The most popular colors of 2020 were white (33%), multi-colored (25%), gray (15%), black (10%), and 5% were beige.
Additional countertop materials could be
Glass slabs (solid colors)
Ceramic slabs (solid colors or stone décor)
Solid surface (solid colors, patterns or stone décor)
Compact Material (solid colors, patterns, wood or stone décor)
Laminates (solid colors, patterns, wood or stone décor)
Concrete (solid or multi-color)
Most of them will be readily available, either to order, or by hiring the right artisan to create it for you.
While concrete and tile countertops were popular in the early 2000’s, today quartz is still by far the most thought after kitchen countertop material. Granite lost some of its appeal over the years, possibly due to the needed maintenance or inconsistency of color, which quartz eliminated.
While all countertops will need cleaning, depending on the surface, this may be an easier or harder task to perform. Some surfaces are slightly porous while others will be impermeable to stains. Some will be more antimicrobial than others, and some will be warmer or cooler to the touch.
Today, especially in modern kitchens, we see an increase of glass and ceramic countertops.
Ceramic slabs, made of pressed and sintered ground minerals, are fairly large in size, have the advantage of needing minimal seams and being non-porous. If you have an accident with a black marker for example – don’t sweat, it’s only on top of the surface and can easily be removed with the right cleaning solution. The sintering process makes it extremely robust, scratch resistant and impervious to chemicals. It is also food-safe and very easy to care for.
Ceramic is a material fired at high temperature, which tends to make it brittle and easy to chip.
Therefore, cut-outs and recesses are only available with a minimum radius of ¼”.
Tip: Make sure you hire a countertop sub-contractor who is used to working with Ceramic slabs and has the right tools for the job!
The German Kitchen Brand LEICHT offers back-painted glass slab countertops alongside its cabinet lines. Just like any glass, it needs no maintenance beyond standard cleaning with any common household glass cleaner. Possibly the biggest advantage of a glass counter is the huge variety of solid colors to choose from through the European RAL color system. ( www.ralcolor.com) If you are planning on a Ferrari Red kitchen, you could match your countertops in the same red!
This glass counter is largely shock proof (up to 180 degrees Celsius). But the glass could fail due to damage by an extremely hard and pointed object. However, injury is almost impossible since the glass would shatter into very small pieces.
Tip: Avoid putting a hot pan on the glass surface or it may cause damage and do not use abrasive
The basic materials being quartz granulate, color pigments and resins which are mixed and fused under high-pressure and then cured in an oven. The final surface treatment will give it its polished or matt finish. Generally, the more polished the surface, the easier to clean. While a Quartz counter can look like natural stone, it surpasses in mechanical resistance and is more protective against domestic liquids and acids. It is also non-porous.
While the color and patterns of a Quartz counter are man-made, the colors from batch to batch may still vary.
Therefore, make sure to purchase ALL the slabs needed are from the same batch.
Tip: Clean up any spills quickly, or if you have a more dried-in stain simply add a little vinegar to the water
for easy clean-up.
Granite is still widely used in kitchens because it is not only durable but also beautiful, and maintenance is minimal.
Marble on the other hand never became popular in the US. If you are not a fan of Quartz (man-made), but don’t like Granite or Marble, a harder natural stone may be the right choice for you.
Quartzite for example is a natural stone with veining, but on the harder side and therefore a little less porous.
It easily cleans with soap and water.
Natural Stone countertops will give you a warm look and feel like no other. Every piece you purchase is as unique as yourself, and no-one else will ever have the same. It is therefore important that you go shop around. Go see slabs in different yards to find the perfect piece for you.
Marble is a very soft and porous material and receptive to stains. However, Italy has used Marbles for centuries and seems untouched by these ‘faults’.
Due to the porous nature of natural stones, maintenance will be necessary once or twice a year by deep-cleaning and re-sealing your surface.
If you ever have to replace a partial countertop it may be impossible to find a match close enough to use.
Tip: When you find your perfect piece, make sure to buy it right away before someone else snags it from under your nose. And depending on the pattern of your slab, talk to your countertop contractor about seam location and if a book matched layout may make it ‘pop’ even more. If so, be aware that you may need to purchase more slabs.
Solid Surface Countertops have been around for many years and found a constant presence in the health and food industry due to its homogeneous and non-porous (anti-microbial) nature. While some older colors look dated, the new color choices can look perfect in a sleek modern kitchen.
Another huge plus is the virtually seamless look. You can have a 20’ long run, where after install, they simply polish away the seams or you can choose a seamlessly built-in sink of the same material. Or if you should find yourself with a scratched surface, your pro can easily polish it out.
Last but not least, this material feels much warmer and softer to the touch!
While the warmer touch may be nice, Solid Surface material is generally much softer. This will not allow for any cutting without a cutting board and a pot coaster is a must when putting down a hot pan.
Tip: Stronger stains through tea, food coloring, or fruit juices can easily be removed with bleach (max.
5 minutes on surface) then clean the surface with an all-purpose agent and rinse with water. Do NOT use Acetone or Methylene Chloride as it may discolor your surface.
A countertop made of Compact Material may be less known in the US, but is widely common in Europe.
It consists of a 10mm (0.39”) thick solid laminate with a décor top layer. It is fully damp proof and water resistant and its properties allow for a very thin thickness which presents a contemporary look.
Some colors are available in extra-long length (159”), allowing for less seams and the affordability of it can let us call this material the winner of VALUE ENGINEERING. When coming from Europe, the biggest difference will be, that you can order this countertop to size, with all needed cut-outs AND a fully built-under stainless steel or artificial stone sink. This procedure makes it fully water-proof, which is not available within a standard thinner laminate countertop or a Compact Material counter made in the US. Clean-up is easy with soap and water, or general household or laminate cleaners.
Because the material itself is only 10mm thick, you will need a sub-structure to support it, IF there are no cabinets underneath, at let’s say a desk area. While a laminate is a hard surface and will take quite a bit of abuse, it is softer than all the previously discussed surfaces and will not allow you to do any cuts or to put down any hot pans.
Tip: If a local manufacturer tells you they can install a water-proof sink, make sure to ask how they will achieve this. Chances are they will not be able to do it, since it is an elaborate and very specific process.
The single most affordable countertop will be a laminated one. The color and pattern choices of such countertops today are endless. You can find everything from solid colors, to just about any pattern from stone or wood imitations to metal or concrete looking surfaces.
Most home improvement retailers will have these ready to go for the do-it-yourselfers, or for a better-quality product or more color options, your local cabinetmaker or countertop contractor can manufacture it to size for your kitchen.
While the top layer laminates are pretty consistent in durability, the quality of a finished Laminate Countertop can hugely vary due to its sub-structure and manufacturing process. A common sub-structure used is particle board, which comes in many different qualities already. Then it depends on what adhesive is used to glue the laminate to the sub-structure and how it is pressed on. Ideally you want the highest grade particle board or plywood glued to a laminate on both sides, with a wood-glue and pressed on under a hydraulic hot press (not contact cement hand-pressed on)
Tip: When you buy a pre-made Laminate Countertop, look at the underside: do you see exposed particle board? If so you know it will not last very long as it will soak up any moisture over time. If you have one custom made, make sure to ask what material and adhesive they will use and how they will press them together.
Download LEICHT's Care and Maintenance Manual for advice to keep your countertops and cabinets looking new.