The best kitchen counter material for our new kitchen
April 30, 2006 5:43 AM   Subscribe

We're trying to figure out the best kitchen counter material for our new kitchen. I know there are lots of great options, but we've narrowed our needs/wants down to a few important ones and have a shortlist we can't get past too easily, so are looking for some insight.

As far as features go, we will be getting an undermount sink. We just hate overmount sinks that much.

Secondly, we have stoneware dishes. They are great but are tough on counters, therefore scratches are inevitable, *but* can be minimized – or their appearance can be minimized – using the right material.

Finally, we cook with spices a lot. For some materials, this can cause stains difficult to remove.

Thus, our shortlist so far is:
Staron/Corian (slightly less expensive, great looking, but scratches can look terrible)
Granite (needs to be sealed regularly, scratches can be obvious)
Quartz (could be the best of both worlds?)

Other option we don't know much about:

Who's had experience enough to offer their thoughts? Much appreciated.
posted by iTristan to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I wish I had a link to this...
I was watching one of those home remodeling shows the other day (Hometime, maybe?) and they were installing kitchen countertops made by the same company that makes the tabletops in school science labs. Apparently the company has decided to branch out into the home. They're making the counters in a variety of colors. The stuff is incredibly durable and highly heat resistant (as in, no need for trivets or potholders to put under that hot skillet)
Sounds cool to me, anyway.

On concrete...looks cool. Has to be sealed (and re-sealed) on a regular basis. It's somewhat porous, so it is prone to staining. I don't know if it's a special grade of concrete that is used. Preferably food safe?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:23 AM on April 30, 2006

Concrete for a countertop has to be treated with a number of different chemicals before it can be used. You essentially need an expert to set it up although they do sell kits for sealing/staining yourself.

Quartz/marble is probably the best just for its' resistance to stains, easy to clean, and looks, although very pricey.
posted by destro at 7:54 AM on April 30, 2006

Thorzdad is thinking of these folks.
posted by piro at 8:02 AM on April 30, 2006

Actually, Thorzdad may be referencing epoxy resin or soapstone countertops.

I think Fireslate is a bit different, piro; I saw it in a show home 2 years ago and didn't care for its dull appearance. (In fact, it seems to have gained some detractors.)

Can't really help with your decision, 'cuz I'm going through the same investigation myself. Leaning towards quartz surfaces at the moment, but the laboratory tops thing is interesting...
posted by skyboy at 8:15 AM on April 30, 2006

I have fireslate counters. Great feeling/looking (I like the matte look), and perfect for putting hot pots on. However you really have to oil them every 3-4 months to even out the color. We mostly got them because a) they are lightweight vs stone and b) we could do the much biggger unsupported spans which we needed in our design. I have soapstone in the bathroom and there's no contest. If you want pictures or anything just let me know.
posted by true at 8:34 AM on April 30, 2006

We have a Silestone counter, which I love. I think it is made of quartz. We have been using the counter for a year, and we don't have any scratches that we know of. It doesn't need to be sealed. You can put hot things directly on it, except we are told not to put a crock pot directly on it since the heat is continuos and might crack the counter after several hours. The "Stellar" colors are my favorite.
posted by gearspring at 9:04 AM on April 30, 2006

My parents had Silestone (quartz) installed a few years ago to replace corian and they are really happy with it. They have not had to do anything to it since it was installed except wipe it clean with a damp cloth & maybe some mild soap. It still looks shiny and new and nice. They decided to go with it after hearing many of their neighbors complain about the upkeep of granite that they had put in. One of the other nice things about quartz is the bajillion colors it comes in.

My sister and her husband put soapstone in their kitchen recently. It also looks very very nice and probably will last a hundred years, but they do have to season it by gooping on mineral oil, letting it soak in, and wiping off the excess. You have to do it a lot at first and then I think annually afterwards. It is a nice tough surface.

Me? I'm poor. I've got formica.
posted by brain cloud at 9:07 AM on April 30, 2006

true, I'd love to see pics of your fireslate counters, and, if no one minds the pile on question, a little more on why it is better than soapstone.
posted by QIbHom at 10:05 AM on April 30, 2006

Concrete may do it for you, though it can be expensive. We've got concrete that is tough, unique, and doesn't seem to show scratches, though I managed to stain it. I've got the notion that our install may not be as good as it could be though, as the company that did our work was very new and then quickly went our of business. We're still happy with it almost 3 years in.
posted by john m at 10:48 AM on April 30, 2006

Marble and other stone stain horribly. My place had been a rental before the owner of the building converted it into a condo. He had his contractor put in granite counters and slate floors when he renovated, but didn't bother to seal them. This is the first place I've owned and I didn't realize that stone needed this treatment. I'm getting my kitchen remodeled--what the owner did doesn't suit my needs--and putting in quartz counters.
posted by brujita at 11:19 AM on April 30, 2006

Last time we did this (about three years ago), we ended up choosing granite.

I'd say we use our countertops in a fairly normal fashion, with no particular efforts made to avoid damage, and we don't have any scratches.

That being said, some of the other materials look a little easier to live with (no sealing). We went granite because the maintainance wasn't overwhelming, and we really preferred the look.
posted by I Love Tacos at 11:21 AM on April 30, 2006

Corian "works" like wood, so you can just sand out scratches.
posted by Merdryn at 11:40 AM on April 30, 2006

I saw a show the other day where the kitchen counters and sink were all copper. It's pricey, but looks great, never loses its patina and has the added benefit of being inherently disinfectant. When I build my kitchen I want copper. I found this FAQ.
posted by wsg at 2:37 PM on April 30, 2006

A couple years ago we took the cheap way out. We took the ceramic tile out of the kitchen and replaced it with granite floor tiles. The grout is a little less than optimal, but I haven't had any problems with the stone chipping, scuffing, scratching, staining, or anything like that. (knock on wood... er, stone) And being made of rock, I fear no hot pans. I usually just clean with windex, no sealing. It really looks nice when it's clean, and the patterned rock hides dirt well. It may be that the tiles came pre-sealed, as they were intended to go on the floor.

Previous house had relatively low-end solid granite counters. Similar performance, similar maintenance/cleaning. Only problem I ever had was that due to irregularies in the stone, it made a poor writing surface.
posted by ilsa at 3:21 PM on April 30, 2006

I'm about to have concrete counters installed. Its a little more expensive than granite or stone, so its not cheap. Basically because each counter is totally custom - the company will come out and measure and then build a mold to match your cabinets and kitchen walls. This means you can have your undermount sink, or even an integral sink if you want.

Finding a good company to do this is essential. Don't use a general contractor or someone who has done a bit of concrete work. The key to good concrete countertops is in the sealer. Bad sealers will stain with some items (oils, lemon juice etc). Good concrete countertop companies will have their own sealant recipe, which they probably won't divulge to you. You do have to re-seal every so often, as you do with granite and stone.

Concrete can stain or get heat damaged by very hot pans, but so can granite. The benefit with concrete is that it can be repaired - granite/stone can't. The company I am using offers a warranty on cracking and will come out and repair if you stain or burn it. Here's some FAQs you might find helpful.

I guess the short version is, if you were interested in granite or stone, and willing to look after it, then concrete is much the same.
posted by Joh at 4:26 PM on April 30, 2006

Another vote for Silestone. I have blue safita with stainless steel undermount farmhouse sink. It has held up to extensive cooking and works well for all the bread baking and pastry that I do.

Corian was real expensive and the countertop people said that granite could behave oddly if it is was in a sunny location. Concrete can also crack unless you get an absolute pro on the design, construction and install.

No matter what material you have calculate whether you are putting too much weight on the floor. basically, check the floor support for the new heavier counyrt, stove and other equipment.
posted by jadepearl at 6:31 PM on April 30, 2006

RE: laboratory counters, you might be thinking of Richlite.

We installed fireslate. It is made of cement, but cured under high pressure (I believe); it is premanufactured, made to order custom for your dimensions. It is workable on site. I am a fan, although it does stain slightly (nothing like the fire-slate web site), and does require oiling.

You can easily get samples for any counter top material you are considering. It is very helpful to have a hunk, outside of a showroom (scratch it, burn it, dunk it in lemon juice!).
posted by sgarst at 6:41 PM on April 30, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks all! Wow, your input has been helpful and insightful.

Because we're heavy kitchen users (no take out here!) and love cooking spicy foods from all over, stains are definitely an issue. And really, I do have a low tolerance for higher maintenance items (less sealing = good) as well as a preference for less-speckled patterns (my wife doesn't care though), so scratches would show more easily.

We almost had gone with Staron (Corian competitor) until some of these scratching issues came up. It's sounding like in terms of look, feel, durability, and maintenance, quartz may have the edge – though concrete seems to have fans out there.

Has anyone had "bad" quartz experience? Be interested to know any failing experiences.

Thanks again
posted by iTristan at 6:44 PM on April 30, 2006

Ok, here are the fireslate pictures. Before I get to them: this is THE WORST IT EVER LOOKS. We just did some drywall sanding in the next room and there's a fine layer of dust on everything. Full shot. Here's a closeup, which looks quite a bit worse on film since flash was used. With a quick cleanup this would look much better, but I didn't do that to give you an idea of how bad it can look if you really don't maintain it.Close up. We also haven't oiled it in 6 months at least. When you oil it it gets darker and much more uniform in color - the water rings etc are still there but can't be seen at all since the oil sort of acts as a stain on everything. The oiling process is kind of a pain though, since you have to take everything off the counter. We usually do it in sections though.

I may have been a little confusing in my previous post - I think soapstone is much better, fireslate is an acceptable alternative. We liked the matte soapstone look but went with fireslate for the following reasons.:
  • Weight. Soapstone is much heavier, and we have small joists in an old house.
  • Available single piece size. Since fireslate is man-made bigger sizes are available. Pretty much the entire counter in the big picture is a single el-shaped piece cut out of a 4x8 foot slab.
  • Unsupported span strength. The entire peninsula is supported by the two pipes at the end, that's not possible with any stone.
  • Cost. Fireslate is a lot cheaper.
We'd probably do it again, but it does require a little work to keep nice looking. As a functional counter it can't be beat - super strong, heat resistent, can be worked out with woodworking tools and any scratches can be sanded out. It does scratch though, mostly if a knife slips off a cutting board. We also installed it ourselves and it was not too bad at all.
posted by true at 6:56 PM on April 30, 2006

Oh sorry, my counters are soapstone--stains VERY badly.
posted by brujita at 7:52 PM on April 30, 2006

Recycled glass countertops are my number one fave. Tough as nails, looks boss as all get out. Also bamboo is surprisingly tough. Consider tile, if you're on a budget. Don't forget good old stainless steel, either. I'd avoid granite - yeah, it's pretty, but environmentally and financially it's just not worth the cost, and it comes in relatively boring colors unless you want to drop some serious cash.
posted by DenOfSizer at 2:39 PM on June 17, 2006

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