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The Skinny on Countertops – 2016

The Skinny on Countertops - 2016

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then perhaps the counter is the heart of the kitchen

Whether you choose from classic and natural materials such as marble, granite and limestone, or from a wide array of man-made materials and composites, it is the one element which can determine the style, level of luxury and functionality in a kitchen.

We all know that marble and granite are classic choices for a countertop, whether in a kitchen or a bathroom. They are both natural stones which must be quarried, leaving an environmental impact which must be considered when we make our choice. Though granite is virtually indestructible and heat proof, it can be very expensive and have a ‘heavy’ look in the space. With prices beginning at $50 per square foot and up, there are options for various budgets.

Marble provides a very desirable high end look and depending which strain of marble you choose, it has very good heat and waterproof properties, although it can scratch and stain unless it is professionally sealed. When choosing marble, you must be ready to accept that it will age over time and the ‘patina of your life’ will be reflected in the marble.

One of the most abundant minerals in the world, quartz is often considered the alternative to granite and marble. Available in numerous colours and now even in the look of marble and limestone, quartz’s non-porous quality makes it highly resistant to mold, bacterial contamination, stain, heat and all of life’s accidents making it a perfect choice for most residential or commercial applications. Because it is man-made, the availability of consistently sized and coloured slabs is a designer’s dream. Slabs of quartz are normally 55″ x 122″ and they are often available as jumbo sized slabs at 63″ x 132″, which is fantastic for design flexibility and often fewer cut lines. Priced from $80 per square foot, it is not inexpensive, but it is a perfect choice for those who want many customization options.

Soapstone is a metamorphic rock composed primarily of talc as well as magnesium, mica, quartz, chlorite and iron. It is very durable and has been used for centuries to create everything from fireplaces to sinks. It is coming into vogue these days because of its natural beauty and durability; hot pans, lemon juice and wine will not damage it. The colour ranges from light gray to black with random veining which gives it an ability to look great in rustic or traditional interiors as well as in modern and contemporary spaces. At about $80 to $100 per square foot installed, it is on the pricey side, but will provide a lifetime of enjoyment.

The desire to be eco-friendly makes recycled glass a perfect option for a contemporary space. Available in multiple colours and textures, it is perfect for a bar or as a secondary counter surface because it is easy to clean and resists heat and stains. Cement is often used with glass to create a textural look with various colours. At about $120 per square foot, it is easily customized and comes in multiple colours.

Semi-precious stone including quartz, iron, agate, petrified wood and fossils are high end options which add a luxurious and unique visual expression. Although this is a very costly choice, it will no doubt be the star of any space where it is used.

Solid surface counters can emulate just about any material because they are completely man-made. The ability to mould sinks, drains and creative shapes makes this a designer’s dream while the ease of maintenance makes it a wonderful investment for long term use.

Metal counters such as copper and zinc are not common, but they make a powerful statement. At about $100 per square foot and up, it is a creative choice which will patina over time and be the conversation starter in your kitchen or bar area.

Sustainably harvested wood will bring any serious cook’s kitchen to the next level with its natural beauty and ability to work as a built-in cutting surface. Maintenance of regular sanding and oiling will bring out a beautiful patina and enhance the inherent properties. Even though it is porous, wood has an inherent ability to protect from bacteria build up as long as it is cleaned regularly with mild soap and water. Prices vary from $35 per square foot and up depending on the type of wood and how it is fabricated.

Let’s not discount laminate counters as they are still the best option for budget conscious projects. Improvements in quality, fabrication, colour and textural choices make this a surprisingly good option when installed with no backsplash, simple edges and accented with beautiful tiles. Be creative and expressive in the design of the countertop by combining metal finishes and interesting translucent combinations, high gloss and t extural surfaces. With starting prices at around $8 per square foot, it is an attractive choice when your budget is tight.

Don’t reach for the obvious, consider the counter as a design expression which can complete and enhance the look and style of the space. The list is endless with options, make sure to research and explore the options based on your functionality, style and budget. By combining materials, finishing edges creatively, and considering ‘alternative’ choices, you will make your project stand out.


Recognized for her classic taste and eclectic style, Interior Designer EVELYN ESHUN has been providing innovative, forward thinking and consistently artistic design solutions for her discerning clients for almost 2 decades. A design personality on various television shows, including Take this House and Sell it, Evelyn is a regular contributor to local and national design publications.

For more information, visit evelyneshun.com.