Kitchen interior design has come a long way toward a more upscale approach than in previous times. Plastic laminate was once the king of the kitchen.  Laminate is made with a thin layer of plastic resin covering plywood or particleboard. It is heat, stain, and   scratch resistant. Laminate is now able to mimic stone, metal, or wood countertops without the cost of natural materials, making it still the most affordable choice.  Plastic laminate was once the king of the kitchen. These days, however, most kitchen renovations move far past using laminate to variations on stone choices and other interesting materials. There is now no simple answer to countertop choice. The material choices available nowadays offer greater durability, look better, and have more interesting textures. grey granite counter with charcoal backsplashEach option has its own quirks and foibles, but each brings greater scope for design, and each has a range of advantages and disadvantages. It all depends on what the client desires in style and maintenance, as well as the client’s cooking habits and lifestyle. Some countertops have what is known as a “living finish”, that is, over time, they will develop a patina as it is affected by wear. This is beautiful to some clients, and abhorrent to others. Other materials look similar years later as the day they were installed. Some countertop materials are designed to maintain a like-new look over time, while others are intended to wear gracefully and develop a patina as they age. Some materials require the routine application of oil, sealer, or wax, yet others need almost no maintenance whatsoever. Natural materials are often in the higher maintenance category (photos courtesy of Better Homes), while man-made materials are more about showing off colours and patterns not found in nature.
Still other materials can be customized and formed more readily than others. The ideal choice of countertop is all about weighing all the characteristics of looks as well as function, so that neither area is compromised. Natural stone has now been the top choice for some time. Granite, quartz and marble are the stones most often used, but limestone and soapstone are also used.  Granite and quartz are the more durable of these and, years later, it looks the same as the day it was installed. Granite is so dense that it resists absorption of sealer. Quartz does not generally need sealing at all. Marble is much more porous, and it is recommended that an impregnating sealer be used. Even then, it can be etched by acids such as wine, lemon juice and vinegar. These will actually etch the surface. Limestone and soapstone are living surfaces and will show wear over time and use, and may also chip and crack. Often, clients who love marble, love the look of old, well-used marble. A honed finish reduces the worn look as the surface has the same sheen all over. Unsightly stains can be removed somewhat by using a poultice and re-honing the surface. Quartzite has the durability of granite but the light look of marble. CaesarStone and Silestone are engineered stones which are mixtures of  natural quartz with a resin binder to make extremely hard and durable countertops. These are very high performance and low maintenance materials; they are scratch resistant, heat resistant, and nonporous. They will look great for years. The design options are surprising with engineered stone. It can be made in colours and patterns that are difficult or impossible to find in nature. Because it’s a manufactured product, engineered stone offers some surprising design options, including patterns that would be difficult to find in a natural-stone countertop. The choices are endless, and the edge can be shaped in interesting profiles. It has great consistency of colour and detail because, unlike natural stone, where you have to choose each slab, and all will be different. Solid surface materials, such as Corian are made from acrylic and other plastics. They are easily shaped and routed and can be bonded seamlessly together. The backsplash and sink can be bonded together and will look like a solid surface. There are over 100 colour choices. Some resemble stone, others are hot, bright shades, and now there are metallic also. Corian does not require sealing and is non-porous. It can be damaged by heat and it can be scratched more easily than stone.. Blemishes are repairable as the colour goes all the way through the material. Metal countertops can be made by wrapping a sheet of the material over a waterproof fiberboard core. Many professional kitchens use stainless steel countertops because they are so durable. It doesn’t oxidize or stain.It is also possible to get countertops made from zinc and copper, which develop a patina over time. These have a charming antique look. Copper and zinc are softer so they tend to scratch. Some clients prefer a counter top which will not change over time. Copper and zinc definitely with react to whatever they come in contact with. Know which type of client you are. These reactive metal surfaces look nice in a wet bar or a pantry. Even less common, and more expensive, are pewter and bronze countertops. These are high end countertops but they are unique. Stainless steel does not react as much but is subject to scratching and discolouration by strong acids. Concrete is the new kid on the block. It is extremely strong and versatile. It can be shaped in any way that a mold can be made. It can be almost sculptural. It can also be coloured in interesting ways, from terra-cotta to turquoise. Cracking is no longer an issue because the material is vibrated to remove air pockets and increase density. It does, however require some maintenance because it is porous. An acrylic polymer sealer is applied to new counter tops, and then following up with a paste wax every few months to protect against staining.Wood is an age old choice and adds great warmth to the kitchen. End grain countertops have the  pieces of wood are arranged with the ends facing up, resulting in a checkerboard pattern. They are extremely durable, and, when unsealed, can be used as a food prep surface, no cutting board required. End-grain countertops also won’t dull knives. Wood, however, can be damaged by moisture, heat, acid, corrosive chemicals, and stains. It also shrinks or expands with extreme dryness or moisture. It is a less user friendly material in that it requires food-friendly sealing and routine maintenance.Less durable are flat-grain wood countertops but these highlight natural patterns, as we see in wide-plank flooring. Turning the boards on their sides produces an edge-grain countertop, has a durability between the previous two. There are a great many choices of wood from the pedestrian to the exotic. These vary in colour and hardness. Jatoba from Brazil is extremely tough, while butternut is quite soft. Butternut distresses easily and that is a look that a lot of people like. End-grain countertops that will be used as food prep surfaces require a monthly coating of mineral Other wood counters can be sealed and given a hard waterproof finish with polyurethane. IceStone is a terrazzo-like material made from concrete and recycled glass chips. It is a green product in that it makes use of glass that would have otherwise ended up in landfill. PaperStone makes another green product that is surprisingly durable out of recycled paper mixed with resin. Alkemi offers sparkle with recycled aluminum shavings held in a polyester-based composite surface. ECO by Cosentino uses recycled porcelain and mirror, in addition to glass. Each manufacturer has its own recommendations for usage and maintenance. bamboo is another eco-friendly choice. All of these are relatively easy to clean but bamboo needs regular sealing, recycled glass can chip or break, and paper based counters are prone to scratching and staining. Some of these eco-friendly choices may be difficult to find in some areas. We truly live in a Golden Age of choice. Call Mulberry Interiors now at (905) 849-6423 to book a consultation. We look forward to working with you to increase your enjoyment of your home.
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