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What to do about your counter tops

The surface that means the most in your kitchen can be the most dramatic and beautiful style statement you can make in your home. Or it could be unobtrusive and functional. The counter with flair also has to be functional. I want to discuss the benefits and pitfalls of the different materials and other options you may find in today's market. These days you have so much selection available to you that you might feel overwhelmed when it comes time to make a choice for the material, color or shape of your countertop.

Quartz is sometimes described as the ultimate in reliability, durability, and beauty. All of these benefits are present, with some cautions.

These tops are not heat proof. You need to keep the good practice of using a hot pad to spread heat out and disperse it under small countertop cooking appliances. Trivets for hot pots are also essential.

Honed versions that bring a special matte look are attractive, but require some elbow grease to get clean.

Even with the consistent colors and textures quartz tops offer as a manmade product, you still need to look at the large slab before you purchase your tops to be sure the patterns suit you. What looks amazing on a 4x4 inch color chip can be terrible in the big picture of a 3x5 island top.

Granite is a natural hard stone that can be ideal for your tops. It is a bit more maintenance, in that it has to start sealed with specialized coatings that can over time need to be reapplied. The reapplication is not terribly hard, but the sealants can be a bit more expensive than people realize.

Even when sealed, granite is porous, and can be stained by oils or pigments commonly present in the kitchen. It can also harbor germs. I still like granite though, it has authenticity and is heat proof.

Corian tm and other acrylic tops have had their heyday. Their integral sinks and less visible seams are still a nice advantage. However, you will find that this material is easily scratched. While it is repairable, believe me, that is a dusty process accomplished by well paid professionals. I don't want to shell out significant sums of money every time I find ugly scratches, and I am betting you don't want to either.

Laminated tops with brands like Wilsonart and Formica are sometimes a decent value. They can be very attractive, and long lasting. They will scratch or melt with any mistreatment, so use care and remember to protect them.

Butcherblock and other wood tops are very attractive. They are not a good idea for the area where your sink is, but they make a nice top on and island or dry section. They need to be resealed regularly with food grade mineral oil. If you use them in the traditional way by actually cutting on them, they will be pretty rustic starting on day 1. Some wood tops have been sealed with polyurethane, and they are not appropriate for cutting on. I have no objections to butcher block except that you will have to expect a lot of maintenance and their looks will continuously change as they are used.

With all these options you can have curved or square edge treatments at the front and sides of your counters. Some of these can be elaborate, such as an ogee edge, which might really suit a super traditional kitchen. I must be a bit of a minimalist though, because to me a square edge with just the sharp part eased and polished down is the look that says quality and timelessness.

Some examples:

Don't take this too literally, some materials just won't be compatible with all these shapes. Different companies that make countertops will call these different names, and some specialty edges are considerably more expensive than others. This little chart has "no charge" notes which may or may not apply in your market.

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