Buying Guide: Countertops

By Alison Mercer


Kitchen countertops have evolved from a primitive animal pelt on the ground (it’s true!) to rudimentary wooden tables to the strategically positioned work spaces we enjoy today. Since countertops play a starring role in kitchen plans, expressing both our design sensibility and our lifestyle choices, keep these three things top of mind when shopping for a new countertop.

Sonya Kinkade Design

Traditional kitchen by Sonya Kinkade Design


Pick your material

Kitchen countertops are generally fashioned from one of the following materials:


Plastic Laminate: Laminate countertops became all the rage in the 1950s, and understandably so: they were smooth, durable and easy to clean, and came in various colours. The same benefits hold true today and laminate choices have improved immensely. Use laminate to create a beautiful, dramatic setting. At $21-$40 per square foot (installed), it is one of the most economical choices.

Quick tips: easy care; no heat tolerance.


Maranice Granite

Contemporary kitchen with maranice granite countertops via Houzz


Granite: There is no denying the beauty of natural stone. In the 1990s, the use of granite officially made the countertop a status symbol. Widely available stone, like Giallo Ornamental, can be acquired for around $100 per sq ft (installed). Looking for something a little more unique? A rare stone, like Black Marinace, will see the price point triple, but you’ll get a countertop with enough personality to warrant its own conversation.

Quick tips: timeless beauty; needs to be sealed yearly.


Formica Dolce Vita

Dolce Vita laminate countertop by Formica


Quartz: A manmade material consisting of ground quartz mixed with an epoxy resin, Quartz is non-porous and requires no sealing. Quartz is widely available from numerous manufacturers: Caesarstone, Cambria, Silestone and Zodiac are just a few. Unlike natural stone, quartz has a predictable and consistent appearance: you can safely choose a quartz colour from a 3" x 3" sample and know what you’re going to get. You can even get quartz that looks like marble, without the fear of staining or etching. Quartz starts at around $100 per square foot (installed).

Quick tips: maintenance-free, abundant choice of colours.


Other options

Marble: No countertop discussion is complete without mentioning marble. We see it everywhere in magazines; it is a stone of unmatched elegance, typically costing granite prices or more. Alas, marble in the kitchen can be a recipe for heartbreak. The stone’s porous nature will etch and stain easily, and that countertop you invested top dollar in can soon have an unwelcome patina.


Caesarstone quartz

London Grey marbled look quartz by Caesarstone


Wood: Wood offers unmistakable charm and warmth as a worktop material; it will satisfy the budget-conscious, for as little as $20/square foot (uninstalled) or can be bought, and upgraded at granite or quartz prices to provide a more luxurious feel.


Ice Stone: Made from recycled glass and concrete, it’s one of the growing number of green countertop materials on the market, produced without any petrochemicals or resins. Ice Stone starts at $80 per square foot (installed) and requires twice yearly sealing and waxing and a weekly polish application.


Solid Surfaces: This material is made from acrylic and provides a maintenance-free option. Corian is perhaps the best-known solid surface. The flexibility of solid surfaces allows for integrated sinks and a limitless array of edge options.


Joinery wood countertop

Bungalow kitchen with wood countertop by The Joinery via Houzz


Shop around

Unless you are going the DIY butcher block route, a fabricator will produce and install your countertop. Once your base cabinets are in place, the fabricator will come in and make a template of the exact size and shape the counter needs to be. They will then cut your counter from large slabs of the material you have chosen and install it. It’s a good idea to get at least three quotes from different fabricators, as prices can vary wildly; bear in mind that in order to request a quote, you will first need a scale drawing of your kitchen plan, showing the countertop area.


Countertop edges

Counter edge profiles by Kitchen Lab via Countertop Specialty


Get the edge

Do you want a bullnose, double ogee or straight-ahead square? The edge of your countertop will reinforce your design concept; it will also impact the cost. Use inspiration photos and make sure to let your fabricator know when you request a quote, so that you get the “all-in” price.


Get the best counter you can afford: you should be planning for this countertop to last for decades, bringing up your quality of life — and your home’s resale value.

Topics: Buying Guide, Countertop, Kitchen, Decorating, Inspiration

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