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Countertops 101: A Breakdown of What’s What in Surfacing

What is the right countertop material for your kitchen?

When designing your dream kitchen, or remodeling your current one, there are no shortage of tough decisions to make and with one decision impacting another, it can all seem quite overwhelming. Many find it easiest to first focus on countertops. Unfortunately, that raises even more questions! Specifically, what material and design do you want? What’s the right countertop material for your lifestyle?  Do you need an easy to maintain, stain resistant surface?  Or is style most important to you? For most people, the primary question comes down to which material is going to strike the best balance between beauty, style and maintenance. 

Luckily, there’s a vast range of options available that address durability and maintenance, and all importantly, the style factor.  However, with so many materials ranging from natural stone, quartz composites, stained concrete and even natural wood available, in practically any color, pattern or texture you could want, making the right choice can be tricky. And you might want to incorporate two materials into that space. Here’s the basic 101 on deciphering what’s what in surfaces. 

Here’s a quick look at some of the top countertop materials available today to help you choose the right options for your kitchen.


While it now has more competition than in the past, granite is still a top choice among homeowners.  Granite countertops offer both a high-end look and durability.  With granite being a natural material, it has variation in color and pattern which adds to its appeal. Granite is comparable in cost to manufactured quartz, but does require more care and a regular sealing routine.





With quartz being a manmade product it is practically maintenance free and far tougher than natural marble or soapstone.  It has a pre-sealed, non-porous surface, making it stain, scratch, heat and impact resistant.  It’s also available in a wide range of colors and patterns, giving perennial top choice granite a run for its money in recent years.


A thick concrete countertop can be the focal point of a modern kitchen design.  Concrete is highly customizable with many stain and texture options available.  It can also stand high heat very well and is scratch and stain resistant if sealed properly.  Concrete on its own can feel overly cold or architectural, so it’s often mixed with other materials and accents like glass, tile and marble to create a soft, one of a kind look.



A butcher block style countertop can create a warm, cottage style look and when properly sealed is highly heat resistant and ideal for food prep. While you may have one vision of this style countertop, there are many species of wood, including teak, acacia, cherry and American walnut, that can be used for this purpose.  It is also common for wood countertops to be mixed with other surfaces like natural or engineered stone to bring in the cozy element of natural wood while still providing a variety of prep surfaces.


Marble has timeless appeal, providing an elegant and sophisticated feel.  Available in a polished or honed finish, it is many people’s choice for a high end look. Marble is highly porous so staining can be problem without regular sealing and care. If you go for marble, expect it to weather with time. It will also stain, but it lasts forever. Think of the great marble facades in Europe. If you love those, then you’ll love this as a countertop.


Soapstone is a non-porous natural stone that doesn’t require regular sealing, making it highly stain and bacteria resistant.  Soapstone is more specific in its color variations, available in a range of gray tones from light to dark with subtle veining. It is a soft, natural material and is more prone to a variation of light and dark spots, as well as scratching. That said, it’s often a farmhouse favorite.



Stainless steel countertops are a popular choice for homeowners looking for that commercial kitchen look.  Stainless steel provides a modern, industrial feel that coordinates with any color.  It is also one of the easiest countertop materials to clean as well as the most hygienic being impervious to heat and bacteria.





Ultra-compact surfaces are composed of raw materials that include marble, quartz, porcelain and glass. This countertop option is extremely durable and can be used both indoors and outdoors without the risk of fading. Ultra-compact products are available in many colors and looks, including that of other materials such as marble, wood and concrete.


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