The Great Counter Debate: Contenders Duke it Out!

So you have your cabinets selected and now on to the next biggest decision – what to do for countertops. The trend in kitchen design as of late is definitely lighter, brighter counter choices. The big question is – Do you go with a natural stone or one of the many man-made engineered materials? Hopefully I will demystify some of the questions and concerns below that many of our clients have raise when selecting a counter with us.

Countertops are a vital component of any kitchen or bathroom remodel. They not only enhance the overall mood & style of a space but also take the brunt of many daily activities so it’s important to be educated on the pro’s and con’s of going with a particular material.

Many of our client love the look of marble. It’s beautiful white and grey veining looks great paired with the ever popular white painted cabinetry or the grey we are seeing so much of these days. Marble is a hip choice right now and can be seen in any one of the popular design magazines. Some of the kitchens below showcase this look. The pros of marble – it’s elegant, timeless and since it’s a natural stone the beauty lies in the organic and original patterning that is unique to each slab. As with any natural stone it is essential to hand select the slab to be sure that you know exactly how your counters will look. You can even go as far as to layout the template on the slab to capture the most interesting areas of the stone when it’s cut.

Photo Credit: Mim Design

Here the Cararra marble is used as a waterfall style counter treatment and also as the backsplash behind the range.

Photo Credit: Robson Rak Architects

There are many different types of marble – especially white.  The amount of white vs grey and the variation in veining determine the various types.  The two popular choices are Carrara – which is on the greyer side with a softer veining throughout (top image) whereas the Calacutta is whiter, bolder and has more dramatic veining (as in the above image).  Marble is mined in Italy, primarily Carrara hence the name.

Photo Credit: extraArchitecture

The marble for the island above has been “bookmatched”. The stone has been matched so the two adjoining pieces mirror one another and create the impression of an open book. Just another way to use the inherent beauty of the stone as a design element.

Photo Credit: Heidi Piron

Here the counters have been doubled to create an extra thick countertop.  The standard thickness of marble is 1 1/4″ so these counters have been made at 2 1/2″ for a more dramatic and luxurious feel complete with a matching farm sink.  The kitchen below designed by The Cabinetry also features double thick marble counters with a matching backsplash and stainless steel farm sink.

As you can see marble can be a stunning choice for counters however, although it looks amazing it is a very delicate & porous material. The stone must be sealed regularly to protect and maintain the stone. It is prone to staining and etching so beware of red wine and citric acid as they will leave their mark on your counters! You must also be careful not to scratch the stone since it is not as hard as a granite. Marble is best for the homeowner that is comfortable with the patina of time which is inevitable with marble. If you find that a leftover stain from a party the night before is not a happy memory of a good time but a dreaded imperfection, then marble is not for you (at least not in the kitchen!)

A great place for marble would be a master bathroom or powder room – the same rules apply of course but the likelihood of mishaps is less so we often recommend this option to many of our clients.

Photo Credit: AM Dolce Vita

This honed Carrara vanity top we recently installed is perfect with the white subway tile. The Ogee edge adds a delicate and feminine touch to the counter.

Love the look of marble but want something more durable that requires less maintenance? Granite, or a Quartz product may be the way to go. A popular granite choice has been the Super White or White Zito. It has a similar look to Carrara but is less likely to stain as it is a harder stone and therefore more resilient. It is a natural product so it will require some maintenance – periodically reapplying a stone sealant will protect and ensure the longevity of counters. Since it is a natural stone the individuality of the veining and patterning is a key element and more desirable to a client that likes the unexpected variations that occur.

In the kitchen above designed by The Cabinetry the clients wanted the look of marble but after seeing the Super White on display in our showroom decided that granite was the best option for their family lifestyle.

Here is another kitchen we designed were the client decided the Super White granite was the perfect choice for them. The rustic, reclaimed wood used for the island compliments the natural forms in the granite a perfect contrast for the clean lines throughout the rest of the space.

If you really want to be sure your counter will look the same long after it’s been installed than we suggest considering a man-made material. These counters are virtually indestructible, require no maintenance and have come a long way in regard to their resemblance to a natural stone product. Some of the popular brands for quartz products are Silestone, Cambria, Caesarstone and Viatera. Quartz countertops are engineered in a factory and made out of one of the hardest minerals on earth. The counters are primarily made of ground quartz combined with polyester resins and pigments. The patterns, textures and finishes have improved dramatically recent years so this option has become a very popular alternative for clients looking for a natural look minus the care. Quartz counters now come in not only a polished finish but are also offered in honed, sandblasted and embossed finish once only available when going with a natural stone.

A few of my personal favorites that have a marble-like feel are the Bianco Orion Silestone, and the Minuet & Cirrus Viatera by LG. There are also some great solid counters like the Kensho, a soft grey and the Unsui a nice taupe color. These colors are fresh and modern; perfect for the client who prefers a less busy or patterned countertop.

This island above we designed for Kris & Mike pairs the Bianco Orion Silestone counters with a Walnut Butcher Block counter from Grothouse. The Silestone had just enough texture and pattern for the client. They also loved the fact that it would hold up to all the entertaining and family gatherings – no need to worry about spills or scratches!

Minuet Viatera by LG

Cirrus Viatera by LG

There are also a host of other options as well for that marble look.  The Lyra or Helix Silestone, Torquay by Cambria and the Frosty Corrina by Caesarstone to name a few.  As far as cost – marble and granite are priced on their grade so a more exotic or rare the material the more expensive.  Expect to pay anywhere from $60-$160 a square foot.  Edge details also add to the cost – the more detailed the edge the more expensive.  Engineered tops also vary in cost so these too have a comparable price point to natural stone.  Often clients come in with the misconception that going with a man made stone rather than a natural stone will be less expensive but this is simply not the case.

Countertops are a big investment and it’s important to weigh all the options when considering what is best for you.  Look, feel, maintenance, lifestyle are all things to consider.  Hopefully you now have a better idea on which fit is right for you!

Posted by Tara L. Callow