From the classic look of creamy marble to the sleek desirability of stainless steel, countertops are style statements, but they also need to suit your lifestyle. YAM talks to the experts about how to make the most stylish, functional choice for your kitchen.
If you’re in the market for kitchen countertops, hunting down the perfect material is a visceral experience — and when you find the right one, you just know it. From marble islands swirled in elegant greys and timeless whites, to the contemporary sheen of stainless steel, kitchen countertops can be works of art when you approach them with an eye for masterful design. Wood, glass, stainless steel, marble? Can’t decide? Well, whoever said you had to pick just one?
Countertops as Art
Claire Reimann, who designs kitchens for Jason Good Custom Cabinets, suggests incorporating two or more countertop materials to enhance the design. By dividing your workspace into zones used for different tasks, Reimann says you can employ each material in a way that makes it shine, yet still be practical. “Consider marble if it’s a baking zone,” she suggests, “or wood if it’s an eating area or desk; stainless if it’s a prep or wash zone; and glass if it’s a display or accent feature area.”
Just make sure the look coordinates with adjacent rooms. “Countertops are a significant part of your home’s colour palette, especially as we move increasingly toward open concept living,” she adds.
Reimann also likes to introduce new materials whenever counter height changes. “Take advantage of the natural divide between the island and perimeter cabinetry by changing the countertop material or colour,” she suggests.
“By subtly muting the perimeter with a solid colour, this can draw the eye to a stunning one-of-a-kind granite or marble slab that becomes your kitchen’s ‘eye candy.’ This is a great way to make your kitchen unique, and showcase a fabulous stone that you love.”
Imagine counters embedded with ocean fossils. How about enamelled lava stone in raspberry or French blue, or an eat-in island topped with a slab of golden-veined onyx or blue-flecked quartzite? Or maybe you prefer a soft, white background all sparkly with glass, reminiscent of the beach.
Before you get carried away with esthetic possibilities, consider the practical points of kitchen counters. Countertops may be works of art, but they also have to stand up to hot pots, sharp knives and all manner of acidic liquids.
First of all, says Giovanni La Fauci of Stone Age Marble & Granite, forget everything you’ve ever heard about each material, and shop with an open mind. Don’t be scared by stories of, say, granite’s tendency to stain or the horrors of fingerprints on stainless steel — get the scoop directly from the company that will fabricate your counter. They see, touch, cut and polish this material every day, so they know how each material behaves
in a variety of situations.
Think carefully about how you use your kitchen, La Fauci advises. Do you trust every member of the household to use trivets under hot pots? Do you regularly spill lemon juice and forget to wipe it up? Do you need a surface that can hide crumbs? How much UV will your countertops be exposed to? What about applying sealants? Based on your tastes and the way you use your kitchen, pros like La Fauci can help guide you toward the best choice. Let’s explore some popular options.
Perhaps you, like Parisian bakers of old, desire marble in your kitchen so you can knead out only the best brioche. At the same time, you’ve been warned of the dangers of marble’s softness. (And you really don’t want your marble countertops coming into contact with lemon juice! Gasp.)
La Fauci might ask, “Are you okay with patina? Can you relax a little and enjoy your slice of Old Italy, knowing that although you will take due care of the surface, you must also embrace the marble’s natural aging process?” Well, consider finishing the kitchen island in, say, classic bianca Calacatta with a honed finish. “A honed finish takes the sheen away,” explains La Fauci. “It’s easier to restore and bring back to life, yet is as stunning as polished marble.”
Granite, onyx, limestone, soapstone and travertine are natural jewels cut from the earth and polished to reveal endless variety in pattern, veining and colour. Stone can be cut just the way you like, in curves or waves or squares; even wrapped over the edges and down to the floor — all with your choice of edge profile. You can cut out trough-sinks, opt for an extra-thick mitred edge or go super-thin for an Euro minimalist look.
“Every natural stone will stain, and every slab requires different amounts of sealer,” cautions La Fauci. “Sealers are crucial. You have to research your sealer carefully, and follow proper instructions, too.” Beware of cheap sealers. They don’t do any harm, La Fauci says, but they don’t do any good, either.
How often you need to reseal depends on the porosity of your slab and the quality of the sealer. “I installed my own granite counters nine years ago,” La Fauci says, “and have never had to reseal …”
Quartz counters are made from a combination of crushed stone and polymers, making for a tough surface that doesn’t require sealer. Along with its famous durability, quartz is characterized by a uniformity of pattern and colour, which appeals to those going for a clean look. The downside? If you’re the type who’d be scandalized if another woman showed up at the party wearing the same dress as yours, the limited selection of pattern and colour may bother you.
Stainless steel is not the best choice if you have kids with greasy fingerprints, but you can chop and prep right on the surface without a cutting block, and you can buff out scratches or simply live with them, allowing the steel to soften to a satin sheen over years of use. It looks sleek in a contemporary kitchen, yet pairs equally well with white Shaker cabinetry. Plus, it’s super easy to sanitize.
Looking for the unique (and eco- friendly)? How about handmade counters crafted from the crushed beer bottles from Phillips Brewing Company? At Vittrium Building Products, co-owners Des Carpenter and Kees Schaddelee smash up the colourful glass and mix it with resin to create an ultra-strong material called Environite. You can even have your counters made from the same colours you’d find in beach glass. The product is lightweight and large slabs can be cast in a single piece so there are no seams. When light shines on the surface, the counters glimmer.
“I like to use wood countertops in the phone/desk area of the kitchen,” says Reimann. “It is a great option because it brings the look of warmth to the room and is also warm to touch.” Sort the mail, jot out recipes, catch up on emails … wood features well here, safe from water damage. That said, hardwood butcher block is popular for food-prep zones. Knife marks can be sanded out, along with most stains, and regular applications of mineral oil keeps butcher block looking new.
The Right Choice for You
If, by now, you’re still overwhelmed by all the choices, take heart. As La Fauci says, “A countertop is like a good suit; it needs to fit properly and be comfortable.” The selection process isn’t about finding which material is the least likely to stain, chip, crack or scratch; it’s about finding the countertop that makes you happy. Choose the counter that makes your heart sing, and you will have chosen wisely.
By Adrienne Dyer