Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Collecting the Evidence on Countertops

Cooking and trying out new, bold cuisines at home has seen a huge surge since cooking shows (main offender: Top Chef) have begun to dominate television programming. Thus, it is only natural that people would want to focus on home improvement projects in their kitchens, turning them into laboratories where they can experiment with recipes.

The first thing that comes to mind when undertaking a remodeling project in the kitchen is the countertops. Whereas cabinets are often the face of your kitchen, countertops are where all the work gets done; following the metaphor, countertops are the body of the kitchen whereas the refrigerator would be the brain. Okay, enough with wordplay…down to business.

·      Wood/Butcher Block: Maple and oak are the most popular materials in this situation and they look gorgeous. It is easy to maintain their inherent smoothness, as they can be easily sanded and resealed. These types of countertops are very easy to clean, but they can be damaged by water and can stain without proper care. In addition, they are prone to scratches and cut marks, the degree of which depends on where you order them.

·      Stainless Steel: Stainless steel allows for a very modern, industrial look that often conveys discipline and precision. Again, these are very easy to clean and are not sensitive to heat, unlike wood. They are, to be honest, a bit pricey and can be especially noisy, especially if you live with sensitive sleeper. Stainless steel countertops also can dent and are very easily scratched by knives.

·      Ceramic Tile: This is a great option, especially considering the relative inexpensive cost of a tile project. There’s also a very “Mom’s kitchen” feel to a tile countertop. There is a slight issue with unevenness and easy damaging, but these are relatively minor considering how easy these are to clean, not to mention the innumerable amount of choices you have in color and texture. Lastly, they handle heat very well.

·      Laminate: Another particularly inexpensive choice. Laminates, made of plastic-coated synthetics, come in a wide range of colors to suit your personal style, are incredibly easy to clean and maintain, and are also remarkably durable. That being said, if you do chip or scratch laminate, it is often going to be there for good and front edge choices can run you a pretty penny, if you are at all particular.

·       Granite: Prices are dropping quickly on this option and it is a viable choice when it comes to remodeling. They are essentially permanent, extremely hard to damage, need very little maintenance with new sealers, and are immensely attractive to homebuyers. Make sure you get a good contractor on this job, however, as a lousy installation is the only thing that can really botch granite countertops. Try not to cut on it, as your knives will dull. On the flipside, granite holds up to heat and there are literally thousands of color choices.

·      Soapstone/Concrete/Engineered Stone: Soapstone has a rich, classic look and is smooth to the touch. It is ostensibly stain resistant but it takes a bit of effort in the way of maintenance, needing regular applications of mineral oil. If you have the income, concrete is a good alternative, as it is heat and scratch resistant, offers decorative finishes, and boasts a unique look. Most cracking or problems with porousness can be easily fixed. Similarly, you could go with engineered stone, which is a bit more expensive, but is resistant to stain and acids. They also require very little care.

·      Marble/Solid Surface: The aesthetic value is extremely high with marble. These surfaces also handle heat very well and are basically waterproof. Then again, they can be pricey, are prone to stains, and need periodic resealing. For a good alternative, look into solid surface, which are stain resistant, seamless and offer an array of colors. The only big flaw is that solid surfaces are a bit sensitive to heat. As with granite, be sure to get a good contractor with good standing with this option, as installation is a key component.

If you’re going DIY home improvement with this, best of luck, but this is the sort of project that even if you were to take it on by yourself, you would want to consult with a professional contractor or service provider. Putting in countertops are one of those projects that, if not done right, isn’t worth doing. So, be smart about it and think about what you really want from your kitchen. My favorite kitchens tend to have wood countertops, not only because of all the positive uses, but also because of the homey, almost rustic look they exude. There’s warmth to wood that is impossible to replicate. When it comes to the kitchen, however, everyone has a different opinion of how it should look and what should be done in there.