Kitchen Countertops: Let Me Count the Options

Marge: I can’t count how many times your father’s done something crazy like this.
Lisa: It’s 300, Mom.
Marge: I could have sworn it was 302.

– The Simpsons

We’re sort of in the market for a new countertop. I say “sort of” because we’ve been kicking the idea around since 2006. Don’t blink — things move fast around here! Our existing laminate counters (UK: worktops) took a beating when we had tenants in the house, and we’d like to replace them with something long-term. We only have about 21 square feet (1.95 square meters–that does sound small!) of counter space; on a square-foot basis, this must be our most drawn-out house decision of all time.

Formica "Crayon" 7226

Formica “Crayon” (7226)

I’ve got nothing against laminate! It’s homey and durable, scrubbable and generally lovable. I would go for laminate in a heartbeat if I could find any that I liked or that I thought was appropriately priced.

As you’ll be able to discern from the laminate we have (left), I prefer laminate to be what it is. I don’t really care for the laminate that is trying too hard to look like something else, be it stone or metal or wood. Laminate makers, however, seem hell-bent on either replicating something or being self-consciously retro. I do like a few options from the Wilsonart HD line — some of them are less stone-like but still have pattern and depth. But for cripe’s sake, they are proud of it! For my money, it’s too high-priced for plastic bonded to particle board.

With laminate out of the picture (probably), we considered and rejected many other options — the granites we like are expensive, soapstone is too dark, solid surface and quartz are too uniform (although we almost bought quartz a couple of years ago, so it’s not completely ruled out), tile is too grouty. Given all that, there are three major finalists under consideration.

1.  Wood

I have a big ol’ crush on dark wood countertops. If I were in high school, wood counters would have long hair and wear a lot of Drakkar Noir. Wood would totally be in a band, and drive a restoration project 1968 Camaro.

I love it with an ogee (routed) edge as well.

via

Ok, yes, this is a bathroom, but look at the edge! (via Centsational Girl)

I like the dark wood–walnut or another wood stained dark–because our cabinets are a light wood and so is the floor. If we go with wood, the countertops need to be a different color or it’s going to look weirdly same-y. Also, if we stain we could use the countertop to pick up the deep woodwork color that runs through the house. I bookmarked this tutorial about staining and sealing butcherblock years ago in case we went that direction.

Pros:

  • Affordability (I’m estimating under $500 for the whole kitchen, including stain and sealer).
  • DIY-ability (some cutting, sanding and sealing, plus installation).
  • Appearance (organic and somewhat authentic to the period, should patinate well).
  • Workability (if it doesn’t patinate well, it could be sanded down and refinished).

Cons:

  • Durability (can it stand up to my level of messy cooking and general hard kitchen use?).
  • Woody-ness (wood floor, wood cabinets, wood countertop…that’s a lot of wood).
  • Color (our kitchen is small and north-facing; a dark surface might not be the most brilliant idea in there).

2.  Zinc

If wood were my high school crush, then zinc was that young comparative lit professor. He had incredible blue eyes, had lived in Europe, and was sooo deep. Years later, I’d realize that zinc was stoned in class most of the time and that was probably why zinc didn’t get tenure.

Zinc is one of those “living surfaces” designers talk about. It’s a reactive metal, so over time scratches and etches give it a soft-focus finish. But it can also be pre-aged or waxed to give it a more uniform look.

Pros:

  • DIY-ability (zinc sheet can be bought and formed around plywood substrates; as a former blacksmith, the Kev would be killer at this, and tool purchases would be minimal).
  • Affordability (NOT affordable bespoke–yikes!–but reasonable if DIYed; I estimate around $650 for zinc, plywood, and tools).
  • Appearance (like wood, it’s authentic to the period and should patinate well).

Cons:

  • Doability (this is DIYable, but could be a fussy business — would we actually finish the work before the zombie apocalypse?).
  • Color (not super reflective for a metal, and with patina might be too dark for our kitchen).
  • Durability (how much patination is too much patination? and what about dents?).

3.  Marble

Oh, marble. I place it on a pedestal made of a lesser stone. Marble is my daydream countertop. In the crush pantheon, marble is…

Bond. James Bond.

Understated. Timeless. Veiny! Gorgeous, but even better looking with a bit of age.

JAMES BOND

All other thing being equal, my vote would be for marble. People are fond of wringing their hands over marble — it etches! It’s fragile! It’s soft! To quote Greg from The Petch House:

It’s a freakin’ rock, people!

The marble vs. granite (and everything else) debate will rage as long as there’s an internet, but if you are ok with patina (and if you live in an old house, it’s likely you are), marble is a good option. Petch House’s famous staining test (and my less-famous marble cleaning test) show what can happen, and it’s nothing drastic. Because it’s a rock. And what a rock!

For many months, I’ve played around with the idea of finding salvage marble somewhere and cutting it ourselves (I’m told it can be done with the right wet saw), but it seems ALL the stars would have to align for that to happen. There are also large-format marble tiles, but there’s still a grout issue. Slab remnants (since our kitchen is small) would seem to be our best option.

Pros:

  • Appearance (oh-la-la! also house-appropriate).
  • Durability (aside from the etching, which doesn’t bother me).
  • Color (white marble would certainly lighten up the kitchen).
  • Function (of all three options, marble is the one that would actually be useful just because of what it is — I bake, and marble is ideal for rolling out dough).

Cons:

  • Cost (tiny kitchen = lower cost, but unless we find some salvage marble somewhere, the right remnant piece and installation would be roughly $1200…certainly not terrible, but it’s about twice the cost of zinc).
  • Durability (maybe half of the internet is right about the fragility? I don’t think so, but I needed another con).

I would love any thoughts on any of these options, particularly if you have (or had) any of these counters. I’ll let y’all know about our decision-making progress, and I promise not to use the verb “to patinate” quite so often in future updates.

UPDATE: We chose countertops…but surprisingly not anything on this short list.

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2 Responses to Kitchen Countertops: Let Me Count the Options

  1. are you anti-concrete? I’m eying the ardex feather-finish approach, but full-thickness concrete looks very diy-able too.

    • Stacey says:

      I’m not anti-concrete at all — I should have mentioned it in the post as an option. I followed the DIY of the countertops at Storefront Life very closely, and I like how theirs came out (see all the posts at http://www.storefrontlife.com/tag/concrete-countertops/). That Buddy Rhodes product (http://www.buddyrhodes.com/) looks great, but if we did concrete, we’d probably want a light color, and most of the light colors I’ve seen have an undertone that isn’t speaking to me. It might be my monitor, though — I should definitely seek further information. I am a little intimidated by the process, though!

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