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No Wrong Answers
By Tracy Dickinson
KITCHENS & BATHS June/July 2017
home :: home & garden :: kitchen & bath

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Finding the right countertop starts with asking the right questions.

Finding the right countertop starts with asking the right questions.

If you’re in the market for new countertops, whether you’re remodeling or building, the decision-making process can feel more like a bad game show experience.

“I’ll choose countertop #1, Bob.”

“Oh, too bad. That beautiful countertop will cost more than your new car, and it will be pock-marked and stained by Christmas, thanks to those three children and your brother-in-law’s amateur sous-chef skills.” Picking a winner is easier than you might think. The only wrong answer is the one that doesn’t fit your life.

You just have to be honest and ask the right questions of a knowledgeable professional.

What should I spend?

Before you even start comparing products, get serious about your budget and how much you want to spend.

According to Rob Walker of Beisser Lumber, “Pricing on cabinetry or countertops could affect selection on other elements in the design, so it’s important to know your budget. If the homeowners just fall in love with a countertop material that’s more than they planned to spend, it can mean cutting back in some other area, going over budget, or having to settle for a product that’s not their first choice.”

Cabinetry and countertops are the two priciest elements in a kitchen design, so having a firm budget before shopping can help your design professional narrow the selection for you.

Rowat Cut Stone & Marble’s Teresa VanVleet-Danos says, “If homeowners have their heart set on something in particular, like a large island counter with no seams, that limits their selection and can affect the budget, too. Many man-made materials are limited in size, so to get a seamless oversized island, you have to go with a natural product, which can be more costly.”

A kitchen designer can also walk you through the budget process, advising you on the typical percentage of budget to dedicate to cabinetry, counters, appliances, and other big purchases. This framework not only helps you determine where to splurge and where to scale back, but it enables your designer to offer more targeted product selections to help you stay within that budget. By providing as much detail as possible on your likes and dislikes, you can make the entire process easier for you and your kitchen professional.

What do I need?

More than any other question, determining what you need may be the most important.

Chris Nordin of Sunderland Brothers says, “Ask yourself, ‘How do I use my countertops?’ ‘How do I clean my countertops?’ ‘Is maintaining them an issue?’ These are all very valid questions.”

AIM Kitchen & Bath’s Corey Gersdorf agrees. “When you’re choosing your countertop, you want to think about how much you use your space. If you cook quite a bit, you will want to go with a surface that is pretty durable. In a bathroom, you might be fine with a solid surface product or a cultured marble.”

How you live and maintain your space makes a significant difference in the products that are right for you (see “Which material is right for you?”). So being honest about your needs is crucial. You may love the look of soapstone counters, but if you have a house full of kids and low maintenance is a necessity, that may not be the right answer for your kitchen.

Nordin explains, “People do need to take into account the use of the area and then the durability of the materials they choose and/or the potential maintenance that may be involved and whether they are prepared for the upkeep of softer materials or materials that may be subject to staining or scratching.”

What do I want?

Once you’ve acknowledged the needs your countertop must meet, you can start asking the “fun” questions, such as what do I really want?

  • Style: Deciding on a particular look doesn’t necessarily mean you have to limit yourself to a specific material.

    “Our number one product right now is a quartz that looks like marble,” says Cheryl Arganbright of Woodharbor. “And we have a quartz company that offers a ‘concrete’-style product, so you can get the industrial look but with the benefits of a quartz or man-made material.”

    Manufacturers are introducing man-made products that look like natural stone, natural granite that is sealed to reduce maintenance, concrete that can be customized in numerous ways, and even woods that are treated to resist stains and water damage.

    And in bathroom applications, solid-surface products are available in nearly any style, with the sink and counter poured as one unit, to avoid seams and allow for ease of both installation and cleaning.

  • Color: “As in everything right now, grays, blacks, and whites are very popular,” says Beisser’s Walker. “Whatever style homeowners want, there’s a product for them in a color they’ll love.

    Some natural products have a lot more movement in their color, with grains and lines that can make it appear to have more color.”

    And with materials such as concrete, manufacturers can even inset glass, stone, or other materials for added color.

  • Contrast: “In a larger kitchen, I often suggest using a different-color cabinet and counter on the island to add punch,” VanVleet-Danos says. “The back counter can almost serve as a backdrop, with the island being the showstopper in the center.”

    “Using wood on the island can enhance that furniture-style look,” even if the kitchen is smaller, Arganbright says.

    Gersdorf adds, “That’s a fun way to incorporate different materials. You can use quartz for color without much movement for the main countertops, then use quartz or granite with more movement for the island.”

Each of these professionals echoes what Arganbright says: “There really isn’t a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ answer. It’s more of a preference. All the elements in a kitchen or bath need to work together, and they need to work with the homeowners’ life."

Which material is right for you? Check out this expert advice before you shop.


  • Nordin: “Shows wear quicker, but is super clean and offers more design options than laminate.”
  • Arganbright: “Often softer, so it scratches easier.”


  • Overall comment It’s inexpensive, has multiple design and color options, and is typically considered less upscale.
  • Walker: “It’s less expensive, but if homeowners are remodeling, they typically want to upgrade to a stone or natural-look product.”


  • Walker: “This is still very popular and at a good price point.”
  • Gersdorf: “Granite is going to have a lot of designs available as well as being a little more affordable.”
  • Nordin: “Truly one-of-a-kind designs that only nature can create.”


  • Arganbright: “Some patented finishes are impervious to water and stains. Most wood products require regular maintenance.”
  • Walker: “Along with soapstone, this is an unusual choice, but it can be beautiful in the right application.”


  • VanVleet-Danos: “Honed marble is more serviceable than polished marble. It’s not impossible, but not typically recommended for kitchens because it’s more challenging to maintain.”


  • Arganbright: “It’s 90% natural stone and nearly maintenance-free.”
  • Nordin: “Because it’s nonporous, it hits the biggest buzz word: the no-maintenance countertop option.”
  • Gersdorf: “The only downside is that it’s going to be one of the more expensive surfaces out there.”
  • VanVleet-Danos: “You can find both man-made and natural, and there’s not really a downside to either.”


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