Syllabus / Design 101
Introduction and pricing
The countertop is a crucial decision in a kitchen--it's the surface that you interact with the most, it'll get the most use (and abuse) of any surface in the house, and it's the visual touchstone of your kitchen.
The six most popular materials are:
- Granite: $200/square foot
- Marble, Caesarstone, Silestone: $175/square foot
- Soapstone: $200/square foot
- Concrete: $300/square foot, starting at a minimum of $10,000 for an average kitchen. The price reflects the labor involved, rather than the materials alone, since its a matter of having crews available to do all the work.
Granite is extremely durable--which can make it more costly, since it’s difficult to cut, though it has availability in every price range. Depending on what you select, it can be more or less expensive than other options. For example, stone that comes from a quarry in Italy is more expensive than Chinese granite. As a surface, it’s less likely to be damaged by things like tomato sauce and other acidic spills. It can scratch, but not easily. It's more difficult to polish, so re-polishing is more expensive.
Above: Granite countertops
While beautiful and natural, pure marble is softer, so it stains and burns easily, particularly if you put anything acidic on the counter. It also scratches relatively often. It can be less expensive than granite, but it’s far from the cheapest option. If you’re someone who cooks a lot, it's probably not the best bet. Overall, it’s a higher maintenance selection--it must be sealed before use and resealed every 3-6 months. All spills need to be wiped up immediately and cleaned with a neutral detergent.
If you love the look, be prepared to be vigilant. Choose a honed marble (satin smooth surface finish with little or no gloss) with a low absorption rate (less likely to absorb liquids or oils) and keep the paper towels handy.
Above: Marble countertops
This is an engineered stone made of quartz. It’s non-porous, scratch resistant and highly resistant to stains--in other words, it's designed to handle abuse. It has a simplified fabrication and installation process that may make it more cost-effective, but it can cost more than marble because it's synthetic and needs to be manufactured.
Above: Caesarstone countertops
This quartz surfacing material is similar to Caesarstone in durability (90% quartz) and price but with the addition of anti-bacterial properties, so it’s frequently used in healthcare as well as kitchens. Silestone and Caesarstone are two sides of the same coin, from the same general family of manufactured material.
Above: Silestone countertops
Soapstone is soft and easily fabricated. Like marble, soapstone requires maintenance--regular oiling and buffing recommended--and is not as heat resistant as granite, though it is resistant to acid etching. It does dent and scratch, though most scratches can be sanded away. Its color darkens with age (which may be a plus, depending on your taste).
Above: Soapstone countertops
While it may be counterintuitive, concrete can be more expensive than granite. On the plus side, there’s a lot of flexibility in how it looks, but it also requires care and maintenance. It’s prone to cracking, so expansion joints may be required to control cracks in larger surfaces. Installation should be done by a professional who has experience with the material. Like marble, it needs to be sealed, but once sealed it can stand up to heat just as well as granite.
Above: Concrete countertops