Kitchen Countertops 101

kitchen-countertops-101The success of your interior design is based largely on your ability to choose materials, finishes and textiles that satisfy both short and long-term design goals. If you do that, you’ll enjoy the updated home design year after year, and decade after decade.

Making the wrong material selection for a particular application can be a costly mistake. This is why I spend so much time making sure my clients’ kitchen and bathroom countertop choices are absolute – and not just a favorite flavor of the moment. Yes, countertops can be replaced – but it is both labor and budget intensive, and it’s not the most eco-friendly choice.

Which Countertop Selection(s) Make the Most Sense For Your Remodel?

Here is a quick rundown through some of the most common and popular countertop choices, as well as my two-cents about where they work best – and where you may not want them at all.


You’ll read all over the place that, “quartz is the new granite…” and it is. In my opinion, quartz is the new and improved granite. Quartz countertops straddle the line between the natural and the fabricated. Using quartz (one of the planet’s most prolific minerals), pre- and post-consumer recycled products that are all held together with resin and polymers.

The result is a non-porous, extremely durable countertop surface that is virtually impervious to scratching, staining, cracking, dents or divots. You can find quartz that mimics natural stone, as well as those that come in funky or crazy colors and patterns.

It is more expensive than the average quartz slab but not as expensive as the highest-tier granite and marble options. It works well in both kitchens and bathrooms. Because it’s non-porous, it is considered ultra-hygienic and there is no sealing required. Quartz is easy to clean and maintain.


While I appreciate the beauty inherent in a natural stone slab – quarry practices are not always honorable, which makes it a tougher sell in these eco-conscious times. Also, I’ve seen clients purchase amazing slabs – with amazing price tags – only to have an invisible internal fissure manifest into a full-blown crack during installation.

That being said, granite is still a durable and high-end finish, and it works well in just about every application – from kitchens and bathrooms to walls and floors. It’s one of the most expensive countertop options, but pricing varies according to availability and pattern rarity – so the final price depends more on your taste than anything else. Because it’s porous, granite counters should be sealed annually to ensure the pores don’t absorb moisture or acids – which lead to staining, etching, mold growth and/or the expansion of the stone’s natural fissures.


Wood countertops are becoming increasingly popular – especially in modern kitchen designs, where wood adds a warm texture. While butcher block countertop surfaces have long been popular on islands or on a section of perimeter countertop, I’m installing more and more solid wood countertops in my clients’ homes.

If you’re interested in going the wood route, know right up front that they are more labor intensive. They need to be sealed on a regular basis because wood is very porous and it soaks everything up like a sponge. Best practices require that you seal a wood countertop with a food-grade wood oil or special butcher block treatment once a day for the first week, once a week for the next month and then about once every month for a few years. After that, you can experiment. Once wood pores have absorbed their fill, you may rarely need to seal them at all.

Your dedicated maintenance result will be a wood countertop that looks gorgeous and lasts – potentially for a lifetime.


Corian is as durable and maintenance-free as quartz. It is also available in a range of colors and patterns and is heat-resistant to boot. Since Corian sinks are also an option, this is a popular choice for transitional and modern kitchen designs where a streamlined look is desired.

The only downside to Corian is that it rarely resembles natural stone – so if you prefer a more natural stone look – quartz is a better non-porous option. Many of my clients enjoy the best of both worlds by selecting a Corian countertop and then using natural stone options for the backsplash.

It is priced in the higher tiers, but since it will last a lifetime, you can consider it a one-time-only expense.


It may shock you, but laminate countertops are back – and with a vengeance. I’m a huge fan, especially for those on a smaller kitchen budget. The digital advancements of the modern era mean homeowners have access to laminate colors and patterns that seriously rival other natural and manufactured options –even patterns resembling real wood (you have to feel it, to believe it’s not real!). They are incredibly durable and – like quartz or Corian – they require no sealing.

Even high-end clients are using top-tier laminate countertop options because of the smooth and sleek finish laminate surfaces provide.

The good and bad news is that there are plenty of countertop surfaces out there – these just barely scratch the – well – surface. Work with an experienced kitchen designer to select a kitchen countertop material and finish that makes the most sense for your home design, taste and lifestyle.

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Kristina Wolf Design, Inc., Interior Decorators & Designers, Berkeley, CA