The kitchen is so often the heart of a home, that it is not surprising manufacturers make the effort to constantly improve and add to the choice of kitchen countertops.
Yet new trends in kitchen countertops are not limited to the offerings of commercial businesses; they are also a result of design innovations and ingenuity. So when you consider kitchen countertops for YOUR home, look carefully at home you will use them and what they will ultimately look like, as well as how they will perform.
Countertops in any kitchen need to be able to work hard – passively that is. They need to be heat resistant, reasonably waterproof, easy to keep hygienically clean and tough enough to withstand the pressure and sharp edges of the many utensils and varied equipment we use for preparation and cooking. In addition, both aesthetics and cost will be factors that homeowners will want to consider.
Kitchen countertop design
The type of kitchen units chosen will determine, partly, what countertops are suitable. The obvious choices are:
- units that are built according to the design of the room, which usually ensures best use of the space available, or
- units that are purchased off the shelf and then configured to the space and room size available.
Within both these categories there is further choice between appointing a contractor or manufacturer to do the installation, or either paying a sub-contractor or doing the work yourself. Usually this choice is dictated by budget, although there are many people who actually enjoy doing the work themselves, and who are able to do it as well, and sometimes even better than qualified professionals.
But how adventurous do you want to be?
Traditional materials for countertops
Whether you use traditional materials or bright new products for your kitchen countertops, it is vital to ensure that the units used are suitable for the countertop material chosen. The most obvious reason for this is that the shell or cupboard carcass must be strong enough to support the counter. If, for example, tiles are to form the finished surface, there will also need to be a solid top of some sort that can be tiled.
If units are made from lumber, typical traditional counter top materials might be:
- solid wood,
- some sort of laminate like melamine or more expensive Formica (which is a registered product),
- ceramic or quarry tiles, usually laid on board that forms part of the structure of the unit,
solid marble or granite, or tiles made from these types of mined stone.
Solid wood can look wonderful and it is a hardwearing material. However it needs to be custom cut and finished if it is to be used for counter tops.
If you want wood that is eco-friendly, you might want to look around and find some of the more popular and reliable companies in your area. For Canadians, the Canadian Heritage Timber Company (www.canadianheritagetimber.com) that recycles old building wood; Second Wind Timbers (www.secondwindtimber.com) which produces a remarkably large range of recycled timber building products; or Logs End (www.logsend.com) that harvests new FSC-certified wood and also rescues timber felled generations ago that has been perfectly preserved in rivers underwater, are tree excellent resources. Search the Internet or even your local Yellow Pages for companies in your area (and of course country).
For decades, laminate tops have been particularly popular for mass-produced counter units. Depending on the exact material used, they are tough and heat resistant. Cheaper materials do, however, eventually disintegrate and peal. Post-formed work tops have been a favorite since they were first launched, because manufacturers are able to round corners and to mold the laminate onto the counter surface using various heat treatments.
You'll find laminate tops at stores like Lowes (www.lowes.ca) and Home Depot (www.homedepot.ca). Both companies offer installation services, or you can buy their products and either do the installation yourself, or simply supply your builder with the materials.
Both also stock and install granite and other more trendy, 21st century products.
Trendy kitchen countertops
While the traditional materials are still universally available, there are a selection of more exciting materials that we can use for our kitchen counters. Some of these incorporate the use of recycled materials, which is of course an eco-friendly, and so therefore in itself a trendy option.
New trends in kitchen countertops include materials that use recycled glass, quartz combined with resins, new-age composite materials made using concrete and recycled glass, natural stone including slate, and new-improved laminates, to name just a few possibilities.
Whilst some of the new materials around today can increase your building bills quite dramatically, by shopping around, and checking out , for example what the Lowes-type stores offer, you will find that there are some quite interesting and cost effective options. But you will need to do your homework and check prices against what is offered.
You should also remember that certain generic types of counter top are sold under certain trade names. For example, lots of people talk about their Corian counters. Corian is a registered name for a laminate product that is supplied by DuPont (www2.dupont.com) in the US and Canada. But you can also find it at the likes of Home Depot or Lowes. Corian countertops are made in a number of finishes, some of which look like granite and other types of stone. They are stain, heat and bacteria-resistant, but clearly not as strong or resistant as the real thing – or in fact as strong as any other engineered stone, for example Silestone.
Silestone (www.silestone.com) is made from durable quartz, rather than more expensive granite – although both are, of course made from natural stone that is mined from the earth. Quartz is considerably cheaper and easier to source than granite or marble (the latter of which is in any case not ideal for kitchen counters because it is quite soft and stains easily). And, according to the manufacturer, Silestone is the only product of its kind to have built-in "bacteriostatic" production, which is probably why it is one of the premier new trends in kitchen countertops.
Then there are green products, including those that are recycled.
One of the most exciting recycled North American products – or rather products that utilize recycled materials – is Vetrazzo (www.vertrazzo.com) which incorporates a large glass aggregate in its manufacture. In fact as much as 85% of the material is made from recycled glass, making it one of the most eco-friendly kitchen counter tops you're going to find. Now promoted as "Vetrazzo by Polycor" (because the company that bought out Vetrazzo), these kitchen counters are amazingly strong and durable. If you do want to go green, it will also matter to you that this particular product won the very first annual Green Log Home & Lifestyle Award in the countertop division. You can read more at www.precisioncraft.com.
Another "green" countertop product that is exciting home owners in North America is Granicrete (www.granicrete.com). But unlike those we have been talking about, this is an overlay product that is manufactured to cover an existing counter top. It looks like granite or marble but is half the price, without looking cheap. This, and another product called Aurastone, must be applied using a trowel onto existing countertops by a trained installer.
There's lots of choice and lots to think about. It will also pay you to do ongoing homework to keep up with changing trends in kitchens as a whole, and kitchen counters in particular.