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Countertop Overview: The Basics

They are not all created equally

By Nikki Luttmann, Interior Designer

Let’s talk countertops. One of my favorite upgrades in any kitchen or bathroom often starts with countertops. Nowadays there are so many options out there you can choose almost any look, but all countertop surfaces are not created the same!

Stone countertops are very popular. Stone ranges in all kinds of looks and colors, from super-simple Absolute Black, to classic Carrara Marble, to swirly-twirly Typhoon Bordeaux. As well, the surface of stone can be polished, honed or even leathered, creating options within options, which can be even more daunting when it comes to the selection process. However, I will say this: Often when it comes to natural stone, and granite in particular, my clients experience something akin to love at first sight—they’ll see a slab and just know that that is the rock they want in their house.

Stone is quarried all over the world, but there are several talented fabricators and sales centers right here in Washington. Natural stone is dug out of the quarry, then split into manageable slabs, then sent to local distributors and then purchased by the fabricator, who cuts it to size, adds details like edging and specific cuts, and then it is installed. It is a tedious process that is all the more difficult because the fabricators are working with massive slabs that weigh thousands of pounds and can break easier than you might think!

Quartz is fabricated roughly the same way as granite, but it is a man-made substance, not pure stone like granite. It’s called quartz because the manufacturers take quartz rough material, grind it down finely, and mix it with binders and pigments to get an end product. It can look wild with lots of variation, or subtle with little to no variation, and can go with a variety of interiors. Many people labor under the misinformation that quartz is more durable than granite, but often times, that is not the case as it can be more brittle and heat-sensitive. Because it is man-made, the material is only as good as its manufacturing process, and different manufacturers have different processes. A good fabricator or sales center can help you determine the right quartz brand for you, as they often have their favorites that they have good working history with.

There is also tried-and-true laminate, which has come a long way since the glossy blue marbled look of 1985! The new laminate materials from Wilsonart and Formica are gorgeous—some of them look very close to natural stone, and others looking sleek and ready for an uber-modern interior. Edging has also improved. Gone are the days when wood or laminate tape was the only option for countertop edging. Integrated Corian edges look fantastic, and some places can do seamless rolled edges as well.

In addition, there are new composites like Dekton, which works for both indoor and outdoor use and is very dense, and fun, environmentally friendly options like compressed paper, which comes in a variety of colors and looks like stone or even leather.

I’ve done Terrazzo countertops, concrete countertops and even natural Linoleum countertops. All of them are different and all of them have pros and cons. Bearing that in mind, do some research and then ask questions of your sales person! They can be a wealth of information and can help you find the right product for your home.

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