For most people, the kitchen counter is the crown jewel of a home renovation. It is the surface you’ll interact with most in your home (aside from the floors), so matching your selection to your needs, your look and your lifestyle is imperative. But with thousands of materials and colours to choose from, how do you know which countertop will fit? Luckily, Spruce has researched the options — from marble and quartz to metal to wood, and even Formica — so you can make the best choice for your kitchen. (Pictured above: Cambria’s Swanbridge marble)
A Question of Colour
It might seem like a surface-level way (pun intended) to start the conversation, but experts say colour preference should be the launch pad in your countertop quest. Not only will colour dictate your options for materials, it will help you make a call on the tone of the room.
“When it comes to the style of a kitchen, the countertop is going to do a lot to dictate the mood, and it should be almost the last element chosen,” says Morgan-Lee Kliman, showroom manager for Colonial Countertops’ stone division.
Rushing the choice of a countertop before the other elements are chosen, she adds, is a bit like putting on your jewelry before dressing. “You want to feel secure with your cabinets, flooring, even the backsplash — then you make the counter work with those elements.”
And with price tags between $2,000 for laminate materials to over $20,000 for higher-quality stones, most homeowners want to choose well because a countertop is not the kind of “accessory” you’ll want to have to change.
Kliman has a few tricks to narrow the options. Dark-coloured countertops will close in a space and make it feel more intimate, which can work in large kitchens or those with high ceilings. Very dark or black shades, however, can show off debris, grease and handprints, so they may not be the perfect choice.
Light-coloured counters increase the feeling of space and can enhance the height and dimensions of a room. Keep in mind, light will play off this surface and white counters risk being overwhelmingly bright. They can also become a showcase for messes.
Stone tones and patterns with veining are popular for these very reasons, says Kliman.
Although countertops in greys and whites have been trending for the last few years, taupes, golds and brown-greys are in play for 2018. “There’s a depth that comes to a room when you have a natural stone counter, or something that looks like stone, so we’re seeing a lot of this,” says Kliman, whose home is outfitted with Caesarstone quartz countertops in Alpine Mist — a colour displaying white veining on a light, brown-grey backdrop.
Nearly as important as colour is the finish. The look of countertops transforms through gloss or matte options, and the choices have expanded. Kane Ireland, owner of Abstract Stone, says suede and honed finishes are growing in popularity.
Flat mattes, textured, brushed and even leather finishes now outweigh high-gloss, and many materials can be treated to preference. Ireland always encourages people to take sample materials home first for the real test.
Like Kliman, Ireland agrees natural materials are dominating the countertop world and the appeal of real stone is hard to beat. “We live with so many artificial and plastic things in our homes now, and people want to bring an organic element into their kitchens, so stone countertops are an obvious choice,” he says. “People are often surprised the price step between manufactured and natural materials is not that high. If it fits your lifestyle, it can be a worthwhile choice.”
Ireland is quick to point out that all materials come with pros and cons. Engineered quartz, made from quartz chips and resin, remains popular for its impermeable nature, durability and vast colour options. This material is also a sturdy choice for its consistency in pattern, since it isn’t like natural mined quartz, with its unreliable fault lines and imperfect shifts in tone.
However, the material isn’t heatproof — most quartz countertops can withstand only up to 275 degrees Fahrenheit — and not all quartz is created equal. The percentage of natural elements used can vary from 50 to 90 per cent.
Organic stones, from quartzite and marble to granite and soapstone, come with other intricacies. Naturally created colour patterns add distinctive appeal to your home. Marble — along with select softer materials like soapstone — remains an elegant choice for people with the right lifestyle, who love the patina that forms a lived-in look. Granite and quartzite are excellent choices for homeowners who rely on durability but want something that feels real. While some stone requires treatment, Ireland cautions there is plenty of propaganda about the “trials” of stone.
“The truth is, any counter is going to give you some challenges, and you just have to decide which material makes sense for you,” he says. “You factor in what you want from your kitchen: if you’re a family with five kids, or an older couple, if you cook big meals or eat out, if you’re a purist who needs organic materials, or if you just want something low maintenance.”
Stone isn’t the only material to gain popularity in modern kitchens. Caribou butcher-block wood countertops, manufactured exclusively in Edmonton, have become popular in Canada. These counters are sealed to be food-safe and impact-resistant, while preserving the traditional sheen of an oiled butcher block.
Homeowners seeking an industrial look may be drawn to stainless-steel countertops, either as a full perimeter wrap or as an accent island. Metal counters appear in copper, brass, nickel and artisan-cast textures, even riveted sheet metal. For a new approach, counters sealed with an overlay of pennies, small tiles or other textured items make for a standout feature in any home.
When it comes to countertop possibilities, there are few limits. From live-edge and reclaimed wood to glass, concrete, even resin, there are plenty of materials that stray from the typical. “Smart” countertops are emerging in the industry as well, offering touch-screen heating and recipe guides built into the surface for an entirely futuristic approach to the kitchen.
One of the surprise trends for 2018, however, is a resurgence of Formica. This original laminate countertop, created in 1912 and made popular in mid-century kitchens, was featured at last year’s IDS West in Vancouver as a trend to watch. The material brings a retro feel to any modern kitchen, and pairs endless colour options with striking affordability. Formica can be polarizing, however — not everyone appreciates the look.
Derek Ballman, branch manager for FloForm Victoria, believes the laminate comeback is due to innovations in textures, which can now mimick stone, wood and other solids almost flawlessly. But laminate is also the perfect choice for homeowners hoping to create a vintage kitchen with bold colours that aren’t available in other formats — like turquoise or bright orange.
“It’s impressive to see the options laminates can now offer,” says Ballman. “In many cases they look like true stone, but you’re spending $2,000 on a full kitchen, as opposed to almost $10,000. And, this is a material that lets you break outside the box to do something really different with your kitchen.”
Despite materials or price tag, Ireland says the best move you can make when choosing a countertop is to go with your gut. “The kitchen is the hub of the home, and it’s a place where you will spend much of your time, so you want something you’ll love,” he says. “I encourage people to take stock of what will fit their lifestyle, because this will transform your home. A countertop is an investment, but it’s also a functional piece of art.”
Choosing a Backsplash
A backsplash is the accent wall of the kitchen, so selecting the right look is essential for tying your design together. Morgan-Lee Kliman of Colonial Countertops says the backsplash should be selected even before the countertops to align with the cabinets and the rest of the kitchen.
Consider using materials that mirror other elements of the home, like the trim around the fireplace, the island or an adjacent accent wall.
One classic option is using the countertop material as a full or partial backsplash, but a more dynamic look will be created by using a complementary material for an overall effect. Think high-gloss counters with high-shine tiles or a metal backsplash or matte stone counters with a low-sheen wall pattern, textured glass or mirror finish.
Choose carefully — this will become a focal point of your kitchen. Above all, experts say to invest in good grout because this is one accent wall that has to hold its function, even above fashion.