A new countertop can dramatically alter the look of a kitchen, but with choices ranging from stone to porcelain and laminate, what are the pros and cons of the materials available?
Words by Natasha Were.
Extracted directly from the ground, sawn into slabs and polished to a smooth finish, natural stone has an earthy quality that is instinctively appealing. In addition to being hard, heat-resistant and naturally cool-to-the-touch, perhaps the greatest attraction of stone is that no two pieces are alike.
Marble: A material that is synonymous with luxury (with a price tag to reflect it) marble ranges from pure white through pinks and greens to black, with unique veining running through every slab. It’s timeless beauty delivers a powerful ‘wow factor’ and can last a lifetime, even adding to the value of a home, but its vulnerability to staining does not make it the best choice for high-traffic, busy kitchens.
Granite: Available in endless colours and embedded with crystals that cause it to sparkle, granite adds an elegant dimension to any kitchen, whilst also being extremely hardwearing. Because of its natural porosity, however, it can absorb spillages which lead to discoloration, so re-sealing may be required.
Although sometimes categorised as natural stone, quartz countertops are in fact roughly 90% natural quartz mixed with pigments that lend it colour and pattern and polymers that bind it together, creating a material that is harder, stronger, less porous and lower maintenance than natural stone. Often referred to by a brand name, such as Caesarstone (available at ITC) or Cambria (available at Stafford Flooring) quartz countertops are available in plain colours or with flecks and swirls that mimic the look of granite, slate or marble.
An increasingly popular option, porcelain – made from China clay and finished with a matte or high gloss glaze - is no longer limited to small tiles in a grid of grouting. The large slab format (available at ITC) allows for seamless installation and a continuity of pattern not possible with natural stone. In addition to being heat, scratch and UV resistant - making it suitable for outdoor as well as indoor applications - a major advantage is that being just 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, ceramic slabs can be installed onto existing countertops, eliminating the cost of taking out the old, before putting in the new.
Forget the 1960s Formica look. Today’s laminates are a far more sophisticated version of the same basic product: layers of bonded particle board or craft paper, topped with a decorative film and sealed with a layer of resin. These days, however, that decorative layer is available in hundreds of options, and printing technology delivers a very realistic appearance, giving home owners the high-end look of granite, stainless steel, wood, concrete or slate (available at A. L. Thompson’s) without the high price tag.