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of Countertops

Along with the cabinets, the countertop is the first thing that gets noticed in a kitchen or bathroom. Luckily there are many options to choose from to compliment just about any design and budget.

Laminates such as Formica® are the most popular choice for kitchen countertops. They consist of a layer of laminate material glued to a plywood or particle board base. They are inexpensive, durable, easy to maintain, and they come in a wide array of colors and patterns.

Avoid high gloss finishes on darker colors as this will show scratches more. You can also choose custom laminate which has the color going all the way through the countertop. This option is more expensive, but easier to repair if you should get deep stains, cuts or burns.

All of you do-it-yourselfers can buy Prefabricated Laminate Countertops, as long as your walls are fairly square, and your cabinets are the typical depth of 24". You can find them at any home improvement store. Be sure to get an end kit too, so you can finish the ends. The store should be able to cut them for you and make any miter cuts you'll need for the corners. They can also be special ordered if you want a deeper countertop, your walls are out of square, or you're making a more complicated design.


Solid-Surface Materials (such as Corian®) are also a good choice in Kitchens and Bathrooms. They come in a myriad of colors and patterns, some made to look like stone. Like stone, they have a clean, smooth feel, are very durable, and easy to maintain. With solid-surface materials the color or design is throughout, so stains can easily be sanded out (check with the manufacturer).

Solid-Surface can be custom cut and edged for a more designed look. It works well for incorporating a sink and/or backsplash into the countertop. As with laminates, avoid high gloss finishes on darker colors. And be aware that solid-surface material requires professional installation - the company will usually void any warrantee if it is not installed by a licensed contractor.

Cast Polymer is a popular choice for bathroom countertops. You can buy a cast polymer counter, sink and backsplash all as one piece and install it easily yourself. Cast polymer is inexpensive and comes in many colors, mostly whites and pastels, and some are made to look like stone.

Ceramic Tile is another popular countertop choice, and a great option for do-it-yourselfers. The vast array of colors, sizes, styles and textures (and the ability to mix and match) makes it easy to realize the exact look you're going for.

You can use wall or floor tiles for your countertop. Wall tiles come in more styles, but floor tiles are more durable. Just remember to choose something that is at least ¼" thick for best durability. If you're mixing and matching tiles made sure they are all the same thickness!

Most tiles will come with matching edging and accent options as well. Make sure you choose tiles that have a gloss or matte finish and avoid ones that absorb water.

Give special consideration to grout colors, since the grout can be the downfall of tile. In heavy use areas your bright white grout may not stay bright white for long. Whatever color you choose, make sure that you keep it clean to avoid stains. Be sure that your grout is fully cured and sealed before use. This will extend its life expectancy by leaps and bounds!

Granite is the stone used most for countertops because of its, smooth, cool surface, its beauty, and its durability. You can choose large slabs, which will be expensive or you can use smaller tiles as a cheaper option for nearly the same look. Smaller tiles also allow you more design options.

Granite is also a good choice for an inset (a small part of the countertop reserved for pastry making, for example) on another type of countertop, such as tile. Marble is not the best choice for an entire countertop, since it stains easily, but works well as a pastry inset also.

Butcher Block Countertops are made of strips of hardwood that are glued together. Hard Rock Maple is the Best Choice for its durable, tight fine grain. Red or White Oak and Beech are good options too.

A Butcher Block Countertop must be treated periodically with a good, non-toxic oil, such as pure tung oil. Butcher block is not a good choice for using next to sinks or other wet areas because it can stain and rot from water damage. It's very well-suited to use as a cutting board inset on other types of counters. Just make sure to clean it well after every use with vinegar or lemon juice to keep it sanitary.

Metal Countertops have gained in popularity in the last decade.

Stainless Steel is the most common because it's stainless. It's very durable and often used in commercial kitchens.

Copper, Brass and Zinc are all used and can give a wonderful contemporary look.

Metal is an expensive choice and can scratch easily. If you want to incorporate metal into your kitchen design, but are concerned about cost and scratches, consider using it as a range hood or backsplash (either solid or incorporated into a tile design) instead.

Concrete is another material that is gaining in popularity. It is very versatile and can be colored, scored, or textured to create many looks. You can make your own sculptural countertop by embedding small tiles, shells or anything that strikes your fancy into the concrete before it is sealed. Don't be fooled by its rustic-sounding nature though. In order to look good, and perform well, concrete must be installed by a professional.

Soapstone is another beautiful and unusual choice. It doesn't stain, but must be sealed with mineral oil from time to time to keep it looking good. It's soft, so prone to scratches. But you can place hot pots right on it.

Lavastone is enameled and fired. It resists water and scratches and can take the heat, but can be very expensive and hard to find.

It's important to give some consideration to the Backsplash when choosing your countertop. Although a backsplash isn't necessary, it's a great way to pull together all the elements of your design. The backsplash also protects the wall from food splashes and water damage. It should be stain resistant and easy to clean.

Some laminate and solid-surface countertops have a backsplash molded right on (usually 4 inches high). For a contrasting look, consider a tile or metal backsplash.

A Tile Backsplash is an excellent choice because of the range of colors, sizes, styles and textures. You can also mix and match tiles. Just make sure they're all the same thickness.

Grout is still a consideration, especially in high splash areas, such as behind the stovetop. But it's much easier to keep the grout clean on a backsplash, than on a countertop or floor.

Consider varying the height of the backsplash around your countertop. Behind the stove and in high splash areas, consider a taller backsplash. In lower splatter areas you could keep it shorter.

The Backsplash is also a good place to use color and design to tie the whole room together. For example, if you have copper knobs on your cabinets, or a copper sink, you can incorporate copper accent tiles into your backsplash to create a cohesive look. Or say you have a black granite countertop, you might choose a white tile backsplash to brighten up the room.

A Backsplash is also a great way of adding expensive-looking detail, without too much expense. Perhaps the tiles you loved, but were too expensive to use for an entire countertop, can be used as accent tiles in your backsplash.

If you're remodeling an older home and your walls are wavy or out of square, small or mosaic tiles may be the best choice, since they can "wrap" around uneven surfaces. You may also consider painting a difficult to cover backsplash area with a high-gloss, easy to clean paint. Whatever material you choose always remember to leave space in your backsplash for electrical outlets!

Whatever countertop and backsplash you choose, remember to design for yourself and your family. Are you tall, short? Do you like big wide countertops? Do you have children that need to reach sinks and see themselves in bathroom mirrors? Anything you can do to design for yourself and everyone else in your household will make the room easier to use and more enjoyable for all of you.

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