Transform Your Kitchen (Almost) Overnight: Seven Choices for Countertops

Countertops are one way to update a kitchen without redoing the entire room, and improve resale of a dated space.

If you crave a major change for how your kitchen looks, you might consider replacing your countertops. Switching out the existing tops for new ones can give the room a transformative feel, and even improve your home’s resale value. Many buyers view an updated kitchen—new tops, appliances, or cabinets—as the most important room in a home.

 

Not sure what to use as a replacement material? Here are seven choices to consider that can turn a blah kitchen into a space that looks very different—and almost overnight. The following information was provided by Scott Jenkins, who worked as a project rep for architects for 12 years before starting his Countertop Investigator online business three years ago in Fairfield County, Conn.. His site is designed to help consumers choose the best countertop options and also connect them to local fabricators.

 

Granite

Kitchen with granite island and cherry wood cabinetry.

For purists, nothing beats the timeless natural stone known as granite. It has long appealed as one of the most popular materials for countertops because it is naturally stunning in an array of colors and patterns, fits many different decor styles, and has a luxurious feel. It may require more maintenance than manmade stone, however, since some slabs can be porous and stain easily if left unsealed. But sealing literally takes minutes to do, though it should be repeated every six months.

 

Its high heat- and scratch-resistance also make it a popular choice for busy kitchens, and its overall sturdiness makes it a practical choice for families that might abuse it with hard use. However, it’s also susceptible to chipping if heavy objects are dropped on it.

 

Granite countertops typically raise resale value of a home, and are fairly priced, starting at around $60 per square foot and going up to more than $225 per square foot for slabs that are rare due to where they are sourced. Beware of lower priced, inferior choices, mostly from China. Don’t expect to save money by installing granite tops yourself—granite should be fabricated and installed by trained professionals to avoid having ugly seams show or problems down the road.

 

Concrete

If you think that concrete countertops are boring—all gray and resembling a street, think again. The beauty of concrete is that it can literally be shaped, molded, colored, and personalized in numerous ways. You can have it embedded with objects like pebbles for texture, or have it inlaid with various design elements such as sea glass or shells. It’s also a popular choice for outdoor kitchens because of its durability in frost. It does require sealing (or could stain), but with a good sealant, concrete is a practical and stylish choice.

 

Because concrete is seeing a surge in popularity—probably due to its practical nature and low maintenance qualities—it should not cause problems with resale value. However, you need to have concrete countertops professionally installed to ensure you don’t have cracks emerge.

 

Expect your costs for concrete countertops to range from $65 to $135 per square foot, not including installation. This is for a standard 1½-inch thick countertop—costs vary with specialized and thicker designs.

 

Quartz

If you like the look of natural stone, but don’t want the hassle of having to seal it, quartz, a manmade or engineered material, is a wise choice. Besides the fact that it’s gorgeous and comes in a huge array of patterns and colors, it appeals now to many because it gives kitchens a clean, modern look. It’s also now among the most popular choices—a status choice—and often helps resale since it’s a bit more novel than granite. Many also consider it more low maintenance and forgiving than other natural stones like granite and marble since it resists chips and cracking.

 

Due to its forgiving nature, you could attempt a DIY install, but you’ll need all hands on deck. It’s heavy and may cause damage if you drop or bang it into a wall of your home. Beyond the positives associated with quartz, the biggest negative is the price. For a manmade stone, it’s pretty close to the same price as marble and more costly granite. However, if you’re not picky, you can find discontinued quartz sold as clearance pieces for as little as $50 per square foot. Mid-range pricing is around $95 a square foot, and high-end custom quartz can cost closer to $200 per square foot.

 

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel countertops. Photo courtesy of Scott Jenkins.

Stainless steel isn’t just for restaurant kitchens and shiny backsplashes and new appliance fronts. Stainless steel countertops are gaining in popularity, especially among homeowners who want a low-maintenance countertop designed for heavy use. It’s a material that is easy to install, won’t burn or rust, and looks great in newer homes. However, there are some negatives associated with the material.

 

The clanging of your pots and pans on stainless steel may get old fairly quickly, and you need to be careful not to slide metal objects across the stainless steel surface or you could get scratches. Stainless steel costs between $50 and $150 per square foot, depending on the gauge or thickness that you buy. The thicker the countertop, the more expensive it becomes, but it’s worth buying the thickest you can afford to avoid dents and scratches and gain a rich, lustrous look. Many like how it looks over time with wear, what’s called patina.

 

Laminate

One of the most commonly used countertop materials, laminate came into popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. It is the least expensive countertop choice, coming in at between $22 and $52 per square foot. However, it doesn’t add much positive in most cases to the resale value of your home. It’s also not the most durable material and is prone to scratches and chipping.

 

But it has its pros. Modern laminates can be made to mimic the look of wood or natural stone, though not heat resistant and seams can be unsightly. Still, for those on a budget, this easy-to-install countertop material offers a quick change without breaking the budget. Finally, there are many more choices in colors and patterns than there were in prior decades, so give it a serious look.

 

Glass

Glass countertops are not for the faint of heart. They can be simple and elegant, or they can be artistic and interpretive, depending on what you want. Because glass countertops aren’t readily available off the shelf, they add a bit of personality to a home. Unfortunately, this may or may not increase the resale value of your home since individual tastes can vary greatly. Also, glass countertops are not a DIY choice, since they have to be specially made and carefully installed.

 

Tempered glass is strong and fairly heat resistant, but if your kitchen sees a lot of use or you have small children in your family who may not remember to be careful with the counters, this probably is not a great choice. The cost of glass counters can also be off-putting. Depending on the size and thickness of your glass countertops, you could pay as little as $60 per square foot, or more than $300 per square foot. On the good news front, glass is a recycled material so in choosing it, you are helping to save the environment. (Editor’s Note: See http://www.idesignarch.com/glass-kitchen-countertops-by-thinkglass/ for some beautiful examples.)

 

Marble

Interior of a loft, kitchen with marble counter top.

Marble’s natural beauty makes it a prized material for kitchens and bathrooms, but buyers beware. As far as stones go, marble can’t take the abuse that granite or manmade stones like quartz can. It scratches, stains, and chips easier than some other materials, but some would argue that this only adds to its beauty. Because it’s porous, sealing marble is a good idea if you want to avoid stains. Marble’s porous surface can also harbor bacteria so thorough cleaning is important, too.

 

Marble is a favorite with bakers since it’s perpetually cool and ideal for working with dough. It’s also not as expensive as you might think. While some types of marble can be costly, around $250 per square foot, less expensive types do exist at about $120 per square foot. If marble is what you desire to fashion your version of an Italian trattoria, simply take your time to search the available array of choices.

 

Bottom line: Depending on your budget and daily needs, you can find it fairly easy to transform your kitchen using any of these countertop materials. Just be sure you know how you use your countertops and set a budget for the material, installation and care.

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