Thursday, September 1, 2011

Rebecca Ryan Design - What's your favorite kind of counter top?

I've been asked this question twice in the past month. Maybe it seems like a perfectly normal question, but to my ears it carries the same ring as asking me which one of my children I like best.  I would answer that they are "each special in their own ways - each excels in certain criteria".

I mean it. Every individual, every design, every budget needs to consider the uniqueness of their own situation. I can honestly say I love and use all of the different types of counter tops you know about, and some you may not have considered.

 I am especially fond of using several different types of materials in a single space. This adds depth and complexity.

Granite: Natural stone is created over millions of years under intense heat and pressure. If you are worried about "sealing" it and staining and putting hot things on it - don't be. A good rule of thumb is that the darker the stone, the denser the stone, and therefore the less maintenance required.  Most homeowners don't leave a spill of red wine on the counter overnight. If you do, then periodic applications of sealant should be yearly. There are about a dozen "standard colors" of granite that can be purchased very inexpensively - $55/sf and the price goes up from there to about $350/sf for the rare and exotic types. 

Soapstone w/ integrated drain board

Soapstone is in a class of its own because it's inert. This means it does not react with acids and bases (like lemon juice). It has been used by science as lab tops for hundreds of years specifically for this reason. Not to mention it cannot be damaged by high heat. It comes in dark charcoal type colors, often with a soft white veining. It does not need to be sealed ever, and it is not polished. It has a lovely soft matte finish that can be darkened with mineral oil.

Other natural stones that often get lumped in the category of granite are quartzite, marble, travertine/limestone and soapstone. While these are all natural stone they are significantly different in their cost and maintenance requirements. Quartzite is the strongest and densest of all, and tends to be more expensive than granite. It can be found in colors that are hard to believe naturally occur in nature. Marble, travertine and limestone are all extremely porous, brittle and inclined to chip or crack along natural vein lines - when compared to other types of stone. At the end of the day they are still stone and still make gorgeous, functional countertops for the right areas of the kitchen or bath. 

Quartz: Man made stone consisting of 99% quartz and 1% resin. There are at least 7 different manufacturers of this type of material. Some of the more common name brands are Cambria, Silestone, Zodiac, Caesarstone, and Hanstone, but there are others. Quartz in general does NOT look like granite. I t runs between $65-$100/sf. The main benefit I see for this material is that it is completely nonporous. It cannot stain and it is antimicrobial. I think it looks best when it is used in one of it's more solid colors and isn't trying to pretend to be granite. Quartz manufacturers have been trying forever to simulate the look of granite, and some claim to have done so. I disagree - not even close. Dont' be fooled. Acrylic is not cashmere, quartz is not natural stone. 


Solid Surfaces/Plastics: Corian is probably the most well known in this category, but some others are Avonite and Wilsonart Solid Surface. These products have taken a backseat to the stone type products in the minds of the general consumer public. They just are not perceived to be as "sexy" as stone or some of the other choices. But I would counsel people to take a second look. There are literally hundreds of new colors and patterns to choose from that are unique and sophisticated. They are very easy to maintain, although hot pans cannot be put directly on them. Stains and scratches are rare, but can be sanded out in the even they do occur. One of the best things about them is that they are warm to the touch. Unlike stone, which literally feels cold and hard, plastics are truly soft and warm (as warm as the air around them). For this reason they are great in offices, as well as kitchens and baths.

Contemporary styled wood tops

Wood: The possibilities here are as endless as the species of wood. Wood tops can be flat grain like a table top, or end grain or edge grain like a butcher block top. They can be light in color or dark, or a combination or pattern of both. They can be thin or super thick, rustic, oiled or finished in a matte, semi gloss or high gloss finish. 

Wood Vanity

With the right finish, they can even be used in water environments, like islands with sinks or even in showers. Grothouse Lumber makes a patented Durata finish specifically for this application. Wood adds visual texture and warmth to any space. 

Mahogany top with ogee edge

Wood tops can be built from any wood species, any thickness and any edge detailing.

Concrete: Starting about $100/sf, concrete is like art. It can be poured/molded into any shape or size, including integral sinks. It can have pigment added for custom colors. It can have glass, marbles, money, anything you wish, added to it for further customization. It has a "cool" factor that speaks to a certain kind of individual. It is very hard and heat resistant. It can stain and form small hairline cracks, which we in the design biz refer to as "patina".

Shattered Glass - Great drama and texture

Glass: Glass is the current belle at the designer's ball. This is the hot trend countertop. It works well with almost every other type of material and it can be cut, shaped, molded, crackled, colored, lit up, embedded with stuff and the list goes on. Because it's so customizable, the pricing is all over the place - it really depends on the specific application. Glass is durable and easy to clean (although it needs to be cleaned often as it does show dust and fingerprints).

Offset glass vanity top with chiseled edge detail
Custom Color Glass Island Top

Zinc Top

Stainless Steel: This material is durable, flexible, easy to clean and antimicrobial. That's why its the first choice in restaurants and public kitchens. It can be mixed with more traditional materials to create an eclectic or transitional environment. Sinks are easily integrated into these tops. People who want customized sink sizes and configurations benefit from stainless steel counters. You can expect to start in the $100/sf range for stainless steel tops.

Copper Top
Other metals that work great for countertops are zinc, pewter and copper. Pewter is extremely expensive, but if money is not an issue, it may be for you. If you love the metallic look of stainless or other metals but can't afford the price tag, laminates are a great facsimile. There are some that you would never know the difference. Try Chemetal brand.


Laminate: This is not your grandma's laminate. The print and patterns are much more sophisticated, the colors are endless, and let's face it - not every area of your home warrants spending $50+/sf for countertops. Laminate can go from about $16/lineal foot to $35/lineal foot depending on color, backsplash and edge treatment. The material is durable and easy to clean, but you can't put hot stuff on it.

Paperstone: Made from recycled paper, this is a great "green" choice. It has a soft matte surface and resembles soapstone. Unfortunately it only comes in a few dark colors. But one good thing is that the color runs all the way through the material. This means scratches are harder to see. If you do get scratches they can be easily buffed out. This isn't cheap, starting at about $110/sf.

No comments:

Post a Comment