March 2, 2012

Counter Intelligence

Tips and tricks for success when hunting for the right kitchen countertop

It’s not contagious, but it’s strangely common among kitchen renovators: Countertop-itis.  Symptoms can include everything from confusion and indecisiveness, to budget-bashing and general feelings of denial.  Hunting for the right kitchen counter top can drive anyone a little over the edge, especially since it’s one of the last ingredients needed in what is often a stressful and expensive renovation project.

The cure?  As a recent sufferer, I’ve found that a little counter-intelligence goes a long way.

Countertops are no longer background items, so they really shouldn’t be renovation afterthoughts; or items on a last-minute shopping list. The sooner you start hunting, the better.  Choosing the right one counter requires a little research and time, says Andrew MacLeod of FloFlorm Countertops in Burnaby.  It’s more important than ever to choose the right counter for your home, he says, since more and more people have open-concept spaces with large, multi-tasking kitchen islands.

These need to be topped with something both durable and attractive.  “People live in their kitchens more than ever before,” says MacLeod, and countertops are front and centre when it comes to creating a stylish and comfortable home.  It’s all about looking at your needs, style and budget.

“There’s so many different options and there’s so many different price points,” says MacLeod.  Countertops can be a big investment, with prices ranging anywhere from about $30 per square foot for laminate, he says, to about $110 square foot for a stone top, like granite or quartz.

There’s also a huge range in cost and quality, he says, adding it’s a good idea to do some research on your supplier and ask questions about things like installation.  “I tell people, ‘you’re buying a car,’ ” MacLeod says. “You might want to look around.”

Greg Prommaz of Caprice Countertops in Richmond agrees, adding resources like the Better Business Bureau are great places to start. Look online too, he says, where you can scout out different brands and styles even before you leave your house.  He also encourages buyers to do some pre-shopping self-evaluation. Consider what styles you like, he says, as well as your kitchen needs and how much money you plan to spend.

“You sort of have to budget the two, between the look and the functionality,” says Prommaz.  It’s worth it in the end.  After months of consideration, my husband and I opted for a clean-looking, white quartz, a stone composite with an even tone, and square edging for a contemporary look.

It cost about $100 per square foot — a good deal more than we had planned to squeeze out of our budget — but it’s a durable finish, good for our busy life.  It looks great too, even though the white finish shows every little spec of sauce or splatter of red wine. It wipes away easily enough. And I think it’s perfect, smudges and all.

Here’s a quick look at some of our counter intelligence:

Laminate 

This budget-friendly option offers plenty of choices in colour and textures. Easy to change and install.

Con: It can scratch or even melt.

Cost: About $10 to $40 per square foot

Quartz 

Made from stone chips, resin and colour, this engineered stone option is more popular than ever thanks to its durability and good looks. It’s heat and stain resistant and it doesn’t need sealing.

Cons: Edges and corners can chip.

Cost: About $40 to $150 per square foot

Butcher block 

Nothing looks as warm and inviting as wood, and this option works nicely combined with other countertop ingredients, like granite or stainless steel. Also, look for eco-friendly reclaimed wood options in tougher finishes.

Con: Scratches easily and needs maintenance, like resealing.

Cost: About $40 to $100 per square foot

Solid surface 

These hearty toppers are made from resins and other materials that come in a wide range of colours and finishes, with a nice seamless option. This includes Corian by DuPont.

Con: Watch for scratching.

Cost: About $35 to $160 per square foot

Granite 

A natural stone with lots of variation in look, including polished or matte finishes. It’s tough enough for a heavy traffic kitchen, and looks great, too.

Con: Needs maintenance, like resealing.

Cost: About $40 to $110 per square foot

Marble 

Another attractive option, marble is a natural stone that comes in many different hues and finishes.

Con: It’s porous so can stain; needs maintenance.

Cost: About $50 to $150 per square foot

Concrete 

Great for a modern or industrial look, this works nicely when combined with something like stainless steel or wood. It’s also flexible since it can be dyed or even textured.

Con: Can develop cracks; needs to be sealed properly.

Cost: About $60 to $120 per square foot

Stainless Steel 

Industrial-looking and hip, stainless looks great in contemporary kitchens.

Cons: It scratches easily, shows dents and fingerprints.

Cost: About $50 to $150 per square foot

Some material from Consumer Reports

 

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