Counter Fit

By Linda Pescatore

January 4, 2008 5 min read


Laminate tops the list of kitchen surface choices

By Linda Pescatore

Copley News Service

There have never been more options for the homeowner who's cooking up plans for new kitchen countertops. But too many choices can overwhelm, especially if you're not clear about what you want and need. Selecting the most suitable surfacing can prevent problems from, well, surfacing.

"If you're remodeling your kitchen because you're going to put the house on the market and you want something that's salable, then you want to get the most popular type of countertop in your region. Look at open houses to see what's selling," said Ed Pell, manager of market research with the National Kitchen and Bath Association. "You want a neutral that fits in well with a lot of people that has a wow factor.

"On the other hand, if you're remodeling your kitchen because you want to make it your dream kitchen, then you should go with the colors and styles you like and to heck with what the market is. If you like blue and you like lots of sparkles, you might want to go with a blue solid surface with lots of sparkles, even though that may not be popular."

So what is popular? Pell's organization recently surveyed 25,000 homeowners who remodeled their kitchen during 2007. For the approximately three-quarters of respondents whose projects including new countertops, here's how their choices break down:

- Laminates, 31.6 percent

- Real granite, 28.9 percent

- Solid surface, 15.5 percent

- Marble or other stone, 8.7 percent

- Ceramic tile, 6.9 percent

- Wood, 4.5 percent

- Other (such as copper, zinc, concrete, glass), 3.9 percent

It may surprise you that laminates, such as those made by Formica, edged out granite for the top spot.

"The main problem (with a laminate) right now is its familiarity - everybody's seen it and they feel bored by it," Pell said. "But it's still a great material for countertops. It performs well and there are lots of interesting styles and colors. You can get pretty much anything you want in laminate; you can get the granite look."

Once reserved for the wealthy, granite has become downright ubiquitous in recent years. It's easy to see why: The stone's rich colors, natural variations and smooth, gleaming seamlessness add sophistication to the most modest of cooking areas. Yet despite its desirability, granite has drawbacks.

Aside from expense, granite is tricky to transport and install. The porous exterior must be sealed regularly to keep spilled liquids from penetrating, which can cause mold to grow. And if you accidentally bang it or drop something heavy on it, granite can crack.

"It's very hard, but it's very brittle at the same time," Pell said. "Of course, if you crack it or bust it in any way, it's not repairable.

"Compare that to solid surface: You can repair dings with sandpaper and woodworking tools. You can put filler in it and fill any crack. It's a relatively forgiving material."

Solid surfaces are versatile, high-performance resin-based substances, according to the International Cast Polymer Alliance. Dupont Corian is one of the leading brands of solid surface.

Marble and other natural stones are similar to granite, except marble is even more porous. It may be better suited for small areas, such as where you might roll out dough, than for wide expanses.

In fact, mixing a number of surfaces is one trend Pell has identified. "If you're really a cooking maven, you might put a small marble countertop in an area where you're going to bake, and want to put butcher block where you're going to chop a lot."

Wood countertops include not only butcher block, but products like bamboo or hardwood planks. Be sure to learn what maintenance is required to keep liquids or knives from penetrating the finish.

Ceramic tile has waned in popularity, but Pell recommends using it judiciously. "The backsplash is a great place to put ceramic tile," he said. "The problem with ceramic tile is the grout is hard to clean, and the backsplash doesn't get the wear and tear that a countertop does, so it would hold up better."

The less-seen materials designated as "other" in the survey include copper, zinc and stainless steel, which lend a "commercial kitchen" feel.

Concrete and glass counters are often used in ultracontemporary settings. And so-called "green" options that include recycled or sustainable materials are storming onto the scene.

"We see a lot of interest on the part of dealers and designers," Pell said. "I think you're going to see that grow."

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