Apologies to subscribers/followers if you saw an earlier version of this post – it was inadvertently published before it was complete!
I’ve just completed what amounts to a crash course in countertops, as I’m in the midst of selecting them for our new home. I thought I would share some of my learnings, as well as my own opinions, in case they are helpful to you.
1. Where is the love for granite?
I have to admit, I had no idea until recently that there is a growing legion of homeowners who LOATHE granite. I mean really hate it. So much that they’ve got an acronym for it – ABG (anything but granite). It seems that we are seeing a backlash to the near-ubiquity of granite as a countertop surface in high-end homes and apartments in the 90s and 00s, and now is more mass market as prices fall below that of other surfaces. Perhaps it is a reaction in line with the rise of “McMansions” in suburbia.
Whatever the reason, I think the reports of granite’s demise have been widely exaggerated. Personally, I think discounting a class of surfaces altogether on the merits of (lack of) popularity is a bit short-sighted. Granite became popular for a reason. it performs great in a variety of contexts, and maintenance is relatively easy – just get it sealed every couple of years, and it’s pretty much indestructible, not to mention highly resistant to heat and stains. Sure, you may not love all colors and/or finishes, but there is such a huge variety that it’s highly unlikely a person could, speaking truthfully, say that “all” granite is ugly. It’s just not.
The ABG people can criticize me all they want, but I will be using Costa Esmeralda granite in my new kitchen. A sample of the material, and a beautiful kitchen (not mine) with CE countertops.
Photo Source: kitchens.com
2. Quartz is the new granite.
Quartz countertops are white hot right now. Though currently representing 5% of the total countertops market in the U.S., engineered quartz has taken other countries by storm (e.g. 82% market share in Australia!), and is poised to continue to chip away at granite domestically. The composition of quartz surfaces is primarily natural stone (quartz), which is among the hardest substances on earth, and synthetic resins that hold it all together.
Virtually maintenance free once installed (no resealing), Quartz is very durable, though may be a bit more vulnerable than granite to chips and cracks, as well as heat damage. Aesthetically speaking, quartz is very designer-friendly, and comes in a wide range of hues from natural-looking neutrals to candy-colored brights (think sour apple green and cherry pie red), and textures from coarse and varied to smooth and even as silk. You can even get patterns designed to mimic marble veining – and I have to say, they are gorgeous. However, going with Quartz is not going to save you money – in fact, costs are now generally on par with, or higher than granite.
For me, I loved the idea of a maintenance-free surface for children’s bathroom vanities. I hit the jackpot today in the remnant pile at the stone fabricator, and found two that were exactly what I was looking for – Silestone in Tigris Sand, and Viatera (LG) in Denali. I’m even considering Buttermilk CaesarStone for our master bath. Shown below in that order…
3. Marble is a classic.
It doesn’t seem like ‘marble overload’ has, or ever will set in, the way it has for granite. Marble still has a certain cache – even though some less expensive varieties, like Carrara, are often more economical than granite or quartz. However, marble is really a different animal – it has a certain delicate softness and classic elegance that is unlikely to go out of fashion. Marble countertops are a bit more fickle than other options, being highly susceptible to staining and etching (from acidic substances), so vigilant care is required to maintain its beauty. Regular, more frequent resealing is also required to prevent staining and damage to the surface.
I knew I needed a less fussy surface for my kitchen (which is why I am going with granite), but I think we can handle it in our master bath. We’re also thinking about CaesarStone, but since we’re using Crema Marfil and Statuary marble tile there, I’ve got those in the consideration set. Crema Marfil and Statuary shown below, in that order…
4. Soapstone: an untamed beauty.
My feeling about soapstone has totally changed in the past few days – from abject fear to a deep, abiding love for the surface. I realized that it’s all about using it in the right context, for your lifestyle. I knew it would not be the right surface for me in a kitchen, for example, partly because of the dark color, but also because it does not take a beating well (dents and scratches are likely, and hot pots could cause damage or discoloration). However, the more I looked at soapstone, the more beautiful it became in my eyes. And I realized that I could use it in places like our dry bar, and possibly the laundry room, without worrying about the drawbacks of the surface.
What is really unique about soapstone is the way you can tailor the color to your liking, through buffing and the regular application of mineral oil. The cool thing about this is, while it is maintenance, it’s something you can do yourself, which may be more appealing for some people (I liked that – I tend to put off bringing in the pros longer than I should…). Check out the variation in the pictures below. I have a slight preference for the dark, oiled look with a bit more creamy veining, but I think it’s all gorgeous – and particularly at home in an arts-and-crafts-leaning interior.
Photo sources: M Teixeira Soapstone, capitolgranite.net, soapstonecountertop.net, Houzz
I haven’t addressed synthetic surfaces like Corian, Formica, etc. because I didn’t really take a hard look at them.
I would love to know what other people think about these countertop contenders. Am I the only remaining granite fan in a world gone “ABG?” And what do you think of soapstone?