Could granite’s 30-year reign be coming to an end? We can’t say for sure. In fact, we think granite remains a solid choice. After all, it’s both durable and attractive - and it’s become increasingly affordable too. But there’s just no denying granite’s seeming decline. As homeowners opt for more modern kitchen designs, they’re also opting for more understated countertop alternatives.
Perhaps granite’s top competitor, engineered quartz offers the beauty of stone without the maintenance. It’s tougher than granite, and it’s highly resistant to scratching, cracking, staining and heat. Unlike granite, which offers the unique qualities of natural stone, engineered quartz is largely uniform; because it’s engineered, there’s no choice of one-of-a-kind slab. There are, however, a number of colors and designs available — from stark modern whites to options closely resembling marble. And, because engineered quartz is non-porous, it never has to be sealed like natural stone.
Increasingly, homeowners seek and appreciate natural wood countertops — particularly easy butcher blocks and those custom-created by quality craftsmen. While wood countertops can add warmth, balance and beauty to any modern home, they also require a fair amount of maintenance. Because wood is susceptible to damage from heat and moisture, it must be sealed about once a month. The best part about wood, though, is that it can be refinished in the event that damage does occur.
Soapstone is an attractive, natural quarried stone that ranges from light gray to green-black in color. While the material is soft and pliable, it’s also nonporous (i.e., it doesn’t require regular sealing like granite). Soapstone is also resistant to stains and acidic materials. The downside to soapstone is that it is susceptible to scratches and deep indentations. Light gray soapstone will also weather and darken over time, occasionally developing a patina finish. The material comes in smaller slabs, so seams will be visible in soapstone countertops longer than seven feet.
Concrete countertops came onto the scene in the 1980s — and they’ve evolved a lot since. These days, precast concrete countertops are available in a number of different colors. Generally, they’re flat and smooth, and they can run from 1.5 inches to 10 feet long. While concrete countertops have historically cracked and chipped easily, recent innovations have made them less prone to damage. Concrete is naturally strong and heat-resistant, and slabs can be sealed to prevent staining.
There’s a reason restaurants use stainless steel countertops in their kitchens. It’s heat-, rust- and stain-resistant; it’s easy to clean; and it won’t absorb or harbor even the toughest bacteria. The downside to stainless steel countertops is that they scratch easily — and they show it too. For this reason, it’s best to use a cutting board any time you’re prepping food on a stainless steel countertop. Also, it’s a good idea to choose a brushed stainless finish that will help conceal any marks. At first blush, you may think that stainless feels ultramodern or cold, but a balance of stainless steel and wood can create a warm, timeless and uber-functional kitchen.