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.  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. Each 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. The kitchen below has a granite countertop. grey granite counter with charcoal backsplashGranite and quartz are extremely durable. Granite is nearly unscratchable once sealed. 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. Granite has a more natural appearance than quartz because it is natural stone as opposed to quartz which is man made. A more time worn look is available in granite. The stone surface is aged by applying extreme heat. The grain of the granite bursts and colour variations are created. The kitchen below has a quartz countertop.clean lined grey kitchen with frosted glass upper doors, white subway tile, farmhouse sink, white quartz countertops, and brass hardwareStill 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.  Tumbled limestone tile is used on the bathroom counter below.tumbled limestone bath countertopMarble 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. The countertop below is marble.upscale kitchen with light grey cabinetry, white marble countertop, and marble mosaic tile backsplashQuartzite is a hard, non-foliated metamorphic rock which was originally pure quartz sandstone. Non-foliated rocks form when pressure is uniform, or near the surface where pressure is very low; they do not have aligned mineral crystals. Sandstone is converted into quartzite through heating and pressure usually related to tectonic compression within orogenic belts. It is a natural material. Natural materials are not always better than manufactured materials. Quartzite is formed slowly over time and as a result, is more porous than quartz. This means that quartzite will absorb spills and stains and it will also pick up and store grime and bacteria. Because it is so porous, quartzite will also need to be sealed properly to help prevent wear that results in pitting, scratching, staining, and other degradation. Quartzite must be sanded and sealed every year. When used in a hard working kitchen, it may need this treatment more often to remain looking good. If a heavy object is dropped onto a quartzite counter it will likely be marred and will need to be sanded and sealed again to repair the damage. in a kitchen that gets heavy use, the maintenance cost with a quartzite counter could really add up over a few years. Quartzite has 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.
Soapstone is less common than other countertop materials. It is high functioning and is a non-porous natural stone, so it resists staining better than granite or marble. Soapstone lends a sense of rusticity, as well as urbanity. A soapstone counter is elegant. It is made from steatite stone, which occurs naturally and contains chlorite, dolomite, and magnesite. It is not damaged by vinegar, wine or coffee. It is highly resistant to cracking, so it is more durable than other natural stones, but it does scratch very easily. It can go a long time without needing to be sealed, since it is non porous, but it needs regular oiling to maintain its beauty. It is easily cleaned with soap and water. It is very heat resistant and is not damaged by having a hot pot put on it. Soapstone counters are easier to install than other natural stone counters, but the slab, itself, is more expensive than other stones. Soapstone comes in only a few shades of black, blue and grey, and it is difficult to match slabs. Oily substances can leave dark patches on a soapstone counter. Spreading mineral oil on the counter will darken the stone and prevent irregular dark patches. The downside to this remedy is that the mineral oil may change the texture of the stone to a leathery, soapy feel that cannot be changed back. Compared with quartz, quartz is a more elegant finish and, as long as youclean pills immediately off quartz, quartz may be the better choice. Also, soapstone comes in very few colour choices, while quartz comes in many choices. While soapstone is charming and very interesting, quartz is a more modern finish, which may appeal to some.farmhouse kitchen with soapstone counter and sinkMetal 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. The countertop in the kitchen below is copper.upscale casual kitchen with charcoal cabinetry and copper countertops 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. The counter on the island below is stainless steel.stainless counter on islandConcrete 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. The countertop below is concrete.elegant rustic urban chic kitchen with barn board cabinetry, concrete counter tops, open shelving, and long velvet draperiesWood 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.relaxed contemporary bathroom with cool grey colour palette, live edge wood countertop, and grey strip tile wallLess 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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