When choosing a kitchen countertop material, many homeowners who might have gone with granite or marble are giving quartzite a second look. Before you bring this material into your kitchen, take the time to learn the pros, cons and special considerations to see if it’s right for you.
The basics: Quartzite is a metamorphic rock formed from sandstone. The transformation happens when sandstone is heated within the earth’s crust and shifting tectonic plates supply pressure. The resulting stone has pleasing streaks, rich colors and eye-catching patterns. Colors range from white to black, with shades of blue, green, yellow and brown.
Popular quartzite varieties include:
White Macaubas (has an elegant translucent gray or white background with darker gray or blue veining)
Mother of Pearl (has a similar look to marble, with gold, green and gray veining)
Taj Mahal (a natural-toned stone often described as having a translucent quality)
La Dolce Vita (a popular beige stone with moderate movement)
But be aware that the industry is loose about names and what is categorized as quartzite. “There are many varieties,” says stone fabricator Alex DiPietro. “You want to distinguish between the soft and hard quartzites. Ask your fabricator if they have worked with the specific stone before, and they will tell you their experience.”
And don’t confuse quartzite with quartz (also known as quartz composite), a manufactured product crafted from resin and quartz chips tinted with various colors.
Cost: Around $80 to $200 per square foot installed.
Advantages: “To me the greatest advantage is that it’s a beautiful stone with wonderful tone and variety,” says designer Sarah Robertson. “A vein-cut quartzite will have streaks that are very linear and have a contemporary vibe, while a cross-cut quartzite has diagonal lines with a more organic look to it.”
Quartzite stands up to heat, but prolonged heat exposure can cause problems. Using trivets for hot pots and pans is a smart way to protect your quartzite counters.
Disadvantages: While very strong, quartzite counters are costly and not indestructible. The quality of quartzite varies, and heavy use can cause etching, staining or scratching.
Maintenance: This varies depending on the type of quartzite you choose. There are varieties of quartzite that don’t have to be sealed every year, some that don’t have to be sealed at all and others that require regular sealing. Check with your stone fabricator for information on the quartzite of your choice.
To keep your quartzite counters in top shape, clean up spills quickly and be careful with grease and acidic foods. You can use a damp, soft cloth to regularly clean the surface and use a mild spray disinfectant when needed. When in doubt, check with your stone fabricator for the best cleanser for your particular quartzite.
Special considerations: Quartzite is a very heavy stone that requires professional installation by a licensed contractor. Looks vary from stone to stone, and since varieties often go by more than one name, make sure to examine and view each stone slab carefully.
And consider asking for samples, says Robertson. “You can get a chunk of the stone from a fabricator and do the stain testing yourself at home. If you’re really concerned about what vinegar or lemon juice will do to the counter, try it out yourself.”
Consumers play it safe and practical when choosing kitchen countertops
If you had to sum up current kitchen countertop trends in a few phrases, you might use the following: durability, generational preferences, clean and simple and ice cream sundaes. When taken together, they reflect prevailing consumer attitudes about kitchen remodels (and perhaps home improvement projects in general). Sure, they’re renovating for themselves but hey, let’s not get too crazy.
This sentiment may explain why many of the trends may seem familiar and why performance remains a key concern in purchasing decisions, even as aesthetics have assumed more of a leadership role. “The recession had changed people’s attitudes about experimentation,” said Kelly Morisseau, a Walnut Creek, CA-based designer and author of popular industry blog Kitchen Sync. “I see quartz countertops going as strong as ever but less demand for materials like concrete and stainless steel.” In Ambler, PA – David Stimmel – of Stimmel Design Group, still uses concrete countertops in much of his work but agrees engineered stone is king, its popularity no doubt buoyed by its ease of maintenance and durability.
But all is not engineered stone. White marbles, such as Carrara and Calcutta Gold, continue to have their admirers, and thanks to a flood of lower-cost varieties from overseas, granite has not completely gone away, noted Chad Seiders, executive director of Artisan Group. A softer, warmer alternative, solid surfacing has also regained its footing, especially among those with a taste for the sleek, contemporary and even monolithic. “It’s a better-performing material in that you can do more with it,” said Thomas Perich, North American marketing manager for surfaces at DuPont, citing advantages such as a lack of seams and ability to create coved backsplashes, integral sinks and thick edges. “You just have a lot of flexibility.”
Safety in Colors
As to color, the selections are vast and many, yet consumer preferences still tend toward the conservative. “A lot of clients want to go for the bold colors, but in the end, they never really do,” Stimmel said. Most play it safe with earth tones, such as creams and caramels, or what Morisseau calls “ice cream sundae colors.” Summer Kath, senior director of business development and strategic partnership at Cambria USA, also sees interest in grays, browns, black and, of course, white. Not surprisingly, a recent best seller for Cosentino North America, noted Lorenzo Marquez, the company’s VP of marketing, resembles white marble.
In fact, Martinez said, “We’re finding that homeowners and designers are seeking options that offer the aesthetic of, say, a marble or granite,” a trend borne out by the latest quartz offerings from Consentino and Cambria. Nature-inspired, the designs are rich in veining and dramatic in movement – a look favored by the older Boomer set whose kitchens are more traditional, said Morisseau. The younger, contemporary inclined are apt to choose calmer options with smaller particulate or, if they live in cosmopolitan areas, solids, which are emerging in Europe, said Perich.
Mixing and Edging
Where self-expression lets loose is in the mixing of materials and colors – although that, too, can depend on geography – and the varying of countertop thickness, which can range from ½ inch to 1½ inch to 3 inches. Most industry experts agree simple edges and mitered corners are in, but some still field requests for ornate, classic treatments. Also being specified are chiseled edges on engineered and natural stone, as well as wood tops with “a naked or bark edge” that appears as if just sliced from a tree, Stimmel said. Perich has also noticed that in Europe and, to a lesser degree, on these shores, contemporary kitchens are moving toward ultra-thin countertops with virtually no edge.
Developments to watch for? Maybe. Much depends on factors beyond the realm of kitchens and baths – politics, economics, culture – and their impact on consumers’ mood. There will always be curiosity and demand for the next big thing, but if the present is any indication, form and function still go hand in hand.
Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer Ed Sheats
Replacing a kitchen or bathroom countertop can be a relatively inexpensive part of a total remodeling job, costing as little as $550 for 55 square feet (about 18 linear feet) of laminate counter. Then again, you can spend 10 times that on costlier materials. Whichever once you choose, buy enough the first time out. Delivery is expensive, color and veining vary from sample to sample, and materials bought separately may not match.
Traditionally, the more exotic countertop materials have been used in the kitchen. But more and more materials such as concrete, granite, limestone, marble – and yes, even stainless steel – are migrating to the bathroom. Though bathroom counters typically see less wear and tear than kitchen counters, you might want to limit materials that need TLC to powder rooms or lightly used guest bathrooms.
Each material offers distinct advantages and disadvantages. We tested more than a dozen popular types to see how well they resisted stains, heat damage, cuts, abrasion, and impact.
Tiny samples make it hard to visualize how the finished counter will look. Check manufacturers’ websites for brochures or smart phone and iPad apps that can help you match the counter to your cabinets. And look for online guides that let you try various materials and colors in virtual settings. Engineered stone, recycled glass, laminate, and solid surfacing are likely to match the samples you see in the store. If you’re set on stone, however, go to a stone yard. You’ll find significant variations not only from one slab to another, but even within the same slab. When you find a slab you like, put a deposit on it.
Start with the Sink
A waterproof material such as concrete, solid surfacing, stainless steel, stone, or quartz is essential if the sink is under mounted – in other words, if it’s raised into place from below the counter, rather than lowered from above so that its edges overlap the countertop. And keep in mind, each of these materials except quartz and stone can be matched to the sink.
Tricks of the Trade
Besides being on the lookout for sales, you can shave the cost by mixing materials. Complement a large, modestly priced run of laminate on a kitchen island with a small but exquisite piece of stone. Since bathroom counters are typically smaller, cut costs by using less expensive stone or quartz remnants – essentially left over pieces from other jobs.
Let the Fabricator do the Measuring
All measurements and templates should be made by the fabricator or installer including cut-outs for the sink and faucet. Then any errors are the pro’s responsibility, not yours.
Types of Countertops
We found significant strengths and weaknesses among materials, but few differences among brands. Here are the types of countertops to consider.
Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring
Also known as engineered stone, quartz is a blend of stone chips, resins, and pigments. It’s an ideal material for high-traffic applications. It comes in many vibrant colors and styles that mimic granite and marble.
PROS: It survived a gauntlet of spills, hot pots, knives, and more with top scores and it doesn’t have to be sealed for stain protection. Because it’s waterproof, it’s a sound choice to be paired with undermounted sinks.
CONS: Quartz won’t resist impacts as well as granite, and its edges can chip. Some patterns can appear unnaturally uniform, although manufacturers are trying for a more random look closer to natural stone.
Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring
It’s still what you’ll see in magazines and real-estate ads, but fancy faux materials are giving granite serious competition. Granite is a good choice for areas that get a lot of use. It comes in many colors and variations and provides a natural stone look.
PROS: Like quartz, it survived our gauntlet of spills, hot pots, knives, and more with top scores.
CONS: Unlike quartz, it needs periodic sealing for stain protection. Color and grain may differ from store samples.
Ceramic Tile comes in an almost limitless selection of colors and patterns. It mixes nicely with other materials, and it works well on a backsplash or island top.
PROS: Tile is inexpensive and relatively easy to install. It offers good heat resistance, so it’s a good choice around stoves. Buying a few extra tiles will allow you to repair localized damage easily, one tile at at time.
CONS: Poor impact resistance is a sore point. The grout is likely to stain even when it’s sealed. Darker grout can help.
Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring
This material generally consists of layers of paper or fabric impregnated with resin over composition wood. Laminates are inexpensive and relatively easy to install. Use them in areas of heavy use but minimal abuse. This material is available in hundreds of fun patterns (try boomerang), interesting colors (hollyberry, anyone?), and detailed edges. Laminates typically show seams on the front edge and between the backsplash and counter. Post-forming is a process that melds adjoining sections, making them look continuous, but it offers fewer color choices.
PROS: Laminates excelled at resisting stains, impact, and heat; they also withstood our abrasive pads nicely. They’re easy to clean and relatively easy to install. Though laminates are no longer trendy, they still appeal to remodelers on at tight budget.
CONS: Most versions have a colored top layer over a dark core, which shows at the edges. Water can seep through seams or between the countertop and backsplash, weakening the material beneath or causing lifting. Laminate is easily scratched and nicked and can’t be repaired. Textured finishes are better than flat finishes at hiding imperfections.
Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring
Made of polyester or acrylic resins combined with mineral fillers, this material imitates concrete, marble, and other types of stone, as well as quartz (essentially an imitation of an imitation). Solid surfacing comes in various thicknesses and can be joined almost invisibly into one apparently seamless expanse. It can also be sculpted to integrate the sink and backsplash, and routed to accept contrasting inlays.
PROS: Resistance to heat and impact are pluses, and scratches and small nicks can be buffed out and repaired. Because the surfacing is waterproof, it’s a sound choice for an undermounted sink.
CONS: Solid surfacing scratches easily, and prolonged heat can cause discoloration. Cost can rival that of quartz and granite, which are much tougher and more authentic looking.
We tested a version from Richlite, which says that its paper-and-resin countertops are green, in part because the paper comes from renewable resources.
PROS: The product did well at resisting stains and heat.
CONS: It was only fair when it came to cuts and abrasions. What’s more, it doesn’t use recycled paper, and its resin is petroleum-based and non-renewable.
Concrete countertops can provide a unique look. This exclusive material is typically custom-formed by local fabricators, so quality may vary.
PROS: Concrete can be tinted and textured and can include stone chips.
CONS: It chips and scratches easily and can develop hairline cracks. Topical sealers can protect against stains but not heat; penetrating sealers can handle heat, but not stains.
It lets you integrate countertops with stainless appliances for a sleek, professional kitchen look. It can be welded, ground, and buffed away to get rid of seams.
PROS: Resistance to heat and stains is a plus. Because stainless steel is waterproof, it’s a sound choice for an undermounted sink.
CONS: Steel dents and scratches easily and shows fingerprints. (If fingerprints are an issue, consider faux stainless laminate instead.) Drain cleaners and hard-water-deposit removers can discolor steel.
Limestone provides a stone look without heavy veining. It’s attractive but impractical. Use it only in low-traffic areas.
PROS: Limestone resists heat well.
CONS: Scratches and dings from our dropped 5-pound weight marred the surface of this soft, porous stone. And even a high-quality sealer didn’t protect against stains. Twelve of the 19 substrates we applied left permanent marks after they were left on the surface for just 24 hours.
These hardwood countertops provide a country kitchen look. Maple is most common, but you’ll also find red oak and teak.
PROS: This material is useful for food preparation such as chopping and slicing. It’s relatively easy to install and repair.
CONS: Damage from heat, cuts, scrapes, and impacts make for high maintenance. Butcher block countertops must be treated regularly with mineral oil or beeswax. Varnished butcher block was extremely stain-resistant, but terrible at everything else. Butcher block with an oil finish was better at resisting heat, but stains spread and were impossible to remove. Fluctuations in humidity affect wood, making butcher block a poor choice for over a dishwasher or around a sink.
This material provides a traditional look. Consider it for areas with medium traffic.
PROS: Small nicks and scratches can be polished out.
CONS: Marble chips and scratches easily. And you’ll need to seal marble periodically to protect it from staining. Most stains that marred and unsealed marble wiped away with water on sealed samples. But hard-water-deposit removers left a permanent mark, even on sealed stone.
Take shards of recycled glass, turm them into a countertop and the result is an infusion of color and style.
PROS: Best for a contemporary look when it’s made with large shards, or it can resemble solid surfacing when it’s finely ground. Resistant to heat, cuts, and scratches.
CONS: But chips and stains can be a problem. Unlike other recycled-glass counters we tested. Cosentino’s Eco line developed a thin crack during our heat tests.
You’ll have to rub the soapstone with mineral oil to reveal and maintain its beauty.
PROS: Best for adding the beauty of stone to a low-traffic kitchen. It withstands heat very well, and small scratches can be repaired. Slabs vary, so go to a stone yard.
CONS: It’s easily sliced, scratched, and nicked. Stain resistance is so-so, and it needs to be periodically rubbed with mineral oil.
While bamboo may be eco-friendly, it isn’t user-friendly.
PROS: Best for show rather than daily use. It’s available in several styles, including a parquet pattern.
CONS: It’s easily stained, scorched, sliced, and nicked. The maker might warn against using it around a sink, because moisture can warp the material. It may darken over time.
Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer Amber Albrecht
Best and Worst Kitchen Appliances, Countertops, Flooring and More
Got a bottomless budget for your dream kitchen? You could pay for the sleekest pro-style appliances the most luxurious stone countertop, and the trendiest hardwood flooring and still end up paying again to fix things that break down, crack, or dent. Or you could use our advice to make every dollar count by sidestepping high-priced pitfalls in the first place.
And if your budget is more in the $15,000-to-$30,000 range that most homeowners spend on renovations, relax: You can have a beautiful kitchen that’s functional and efficient, and only looks expensive, like the example here. It combines semi-custom cabinets, quartz countertops, and vinyl flooring to achieve an urban sophistication befitting its city setting.
KitchenAid KDRU763V $6,000 (Photo: Consumer Reports)High End: A pro-style, 36-inch range with high-Btu burners; a built-in refrigerator with panels that match the surrounding cabinetry; and whisper-quiet dishwashers are expected in today’s luxury homes. “If buyers walk into a high-end home and see apartment-grade or even midrange appliances, they’re going to wonder what else is missing from their wish list,” says Jim Hamilton, regional Vice President of the National Association of Realtors.
Separate steam ovens, which can cost several thousand dollars and are pitched as a healthful way to prepare vegetables, fish, and even desserts, are a popular trend in high-end appliances. “Restaurants have been steaming food for years. Now the technology is finally coming to the residential market,” says Laurie Haefele, a designer-architect in Santa Monica, CA. Some models combine steam and convection cooking to lock in moisture while browning foods that require it.
But not all high-end appliances deliver. Though we recommend KitchenAid dual-fuel ranges, its electric and gas models have been repair-prone, as have Jenn-Air’s electric ranges, wall ovens, and cooktops. And some of Viking’s Professional-series built-in refrigerators are at the bottom of our ratings.
For Less: Many mainstream brands have upped their styling with “faux pro” features, including beefy controls and a stainless-steel finish. And they equal or surpass their pricey counterparts when it comes to cooking and reliability. GE’s $1,500 Profile PGB910SEM has sleek styling, and it’s our top-performing gas range. Or consider an induction range or cooktop,which uses electromagnetism to deliver pinpoint heating and control. Among refrigerators, cabinet-depth models offer the streamlined look of built-ins for thousands less.
High End: Wood has warmth and elegance and can be used in adjacent rooms, creating a seamless flow between spaces. “Plus if you drop a teacup on a wood floor, the cup has a fighting chance,” says Kelly Stewart, a National Kitchen & Bath Association-certified kitchen designer in Stamford, CT.
Mullican St. Andrews Solid Oak Strip 10930, $6.30 per sqft (Photo: Consumer Reports)Antique wood floors, milled from timbers reclaimed from centuries-old buildings, have character, but they’ve been particularly prone to wear and tear in our tests. Performance-wise, you’re better off with solid wood flooring with a factory finish, which costs more up front than unfinished flooring but lasts longer and eliminates the mess of on-site finishing.
Even the most durable wood floors are no match for heavy traffic, especially if it includes sandy shoes and dog’s claws. Durable stones such as granite and quartzite offer more protection and a sense of permanence. “People subconsciously associate stone with stability underfoot, so its a natural choice for flooring,” says New York City architect Leonard Kady.
Quick-Step Perspectives Ansel Oak UF1259, $4 per sq ft (Photo: Consumer Reports)For Less: Engineered wood flooring, which has a veneer or real wood over substrate, can be floated over the subfloor, saving on installation costs. The downside is that most can be refinished only once, whereas solid flooring can be refinished multiple times.
Tile is an all-natural option that realistically mimics costly materials. “Antique limestone floors from a mansion in France are marvelous, but you can use ceramic tile to achieve a similar look for a fraction of the cost, and they’re a lot easier to maintain,” Kady says. Vinyl flooring is another less expensive option with some very convincing faux patterns, including wood and natural stone.
White Carrera Marble, $150 per sq ft (Photo: Consumer Reports)High End: Authenticity is the catchphrase in countertops. That means natural stone for top-tier designers, though many are moving away from speckled granites such as Uba Tuba in favor of wavy marble, especially in popular white kitchens. But given its susceptibility to staining and scratching, marble is not for everyone, cautions Jonas Carnemark, a design-builder in Washington, D.C. who is certified by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
“Designers talk about patina, but you have to remember that’s just a fancy term for scratches and stains,” he says. If, like many homeowners, you want things to stay looking new, consider quartz, a highly durable engineered stone that can resemble natural stone. All white-quartz countertops are also popular thanks to improvements in technology that give them the purest tone.
Formica IdealEdge Laminate, $16 per sq ft (Photo: Consumer Reports)For Less: For example, shop around for affordable stone slabs. If you can fall in love with a Danby marble from Vermont instead of one of the more expensive Italian imports, you’re going to save at least 20%. There are even bigger savings out there with granite, especially if you choose from remnants at the stone yard. Some granite has wavy marble-like veining.
Laminate, the most affordable countertop option by far, has come a long way. The latest printing technologies result in faux patterns that look like real stone, or you can choose a solid white that’s suited to contemporary kitchens. Formica has even eliminated the unsightly black line along the edge of the countertop that used to be laminate’s telltale sign.
Fieldstone Custom Cabinet, $475 (Photo: Consumer Reports)High End: In the most expensive kitchens, cabinets are custom-built to the precise dimensions of the room. The result is a fully integrated look that’s in keeping with the current taste for clean, minimalist design.
The good news is that this style is inherently less expensive – and easier to clean – than the once-fashionable country kitchen, which called for cabinetry with elaborate moldings and applied detail. The bad news is that custom cabinets of any description cost tens of thousands of dollars. “It’s half the cost of the kitchen,” says designer-architect Laurie Haefele, recalling projects for which the cabinet bill alone ran to six figures.
For Less: If the layout of the existing cabinets works and the units are plumb, square, and sturdy, you could refinish them with a fresh coat of paint or reface them by replacing the cabinet doors and drawers and applying veneers to the face frames and ends. Retrofitting the cabinets with pull-out drawers, lazy Susans, and retractable trash cans can improve their function.
If your cabinets are too far gone, you can save 30% or more by choosing semi-custom units. Stock units save even more, without necessarily sacrificing style. Ikea Stock Cabinet, $330 (Photo: Consumer Reports)
“There are a plethora of showrooms where you can get the full kitchen from Italy or Germany, but we’ve been able to integrate Ikea cabinets for budget-minded clients that offer a similar look,”says Chicago architect Pam Lamaster-Millet. “The trick is finding a skilled installer who knows the tricks for making the units look built-in.” That might include applying a toe kick to base cabinets or a valance to upper cabinets to conceal the undercabinet lighting.
Whether semi-custom or stock, the features that held up best in our cabinet tests include solid-wood or plywood doors; boxes made of ½- to ¾ -inch plywood;solid-wood drawer sides with dovetail joints, full-extension glides, and a plywood bottom; and adjustable, ¾-inch plywood or medium-density fiberboard shelving.
Spending Traps to Avoid
Poor Planning – changing the design after the project is under way is guaranteed to break the budget. Proper planning, including showroom visits and meeting with professionals, will take a couple of months.
Skimping on Labor – sooner or later the cracks will show with poor construction. Invest in quality, especially for cabinet installation and tile setting, where small mistakes can lead to big disappointment.
Paying More for Pointless Features – smart appliances are supposed to save money by powering down when electricity rates are highest. But you’ll only reap the rewards if your home has a “smart” meter and your utility company offers time-of-use rates. Otherwise, you’ll be paying more for a technology that may be years away.
Expecting a Fridge to Prevent Spoilage – Food preservation features are the latest thing for marketing. But the claims are hard to measure. What you can do is find a refrigerator that delivers top temperature performance in our tests.
Falling for High-Priced Fixtures – stainless steel sinks top our ratings, even in less expensive thickness. Popular pullout sprays are available on entry-level faucets. As for lighting, the illumination that matters most comes from inexpensive – and hidden – undercabinet fixtures.
(Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer: Clay Bernard)
You have many options when it comes to beautiful, long-lasting natural stone for your home’s interior and exterior: Slate, granite, marble, quartz-based stone, soapstone, and limestone, just to name a few. Choosing a natural stone for your home is a very personal decision, much like selecting wallpaper or artwork. While there are scores of natural stones to consider, some are better suited than others to particular uses in and around the home. The team of experienced design specialists at American Cabinet & Flooring can help you explore your options and offer guidance on the right stone for your home project.
Factors to Consider in Selecting a Natural Stone
Natural Stones are available in a beautiful spectrum of colors. Colors in granite and marble, for instance; can range from soft beiges and pinks and classic black-and-whites to rich corals, greens, and multi-colors. Marble traditionally features swirls and “veins” of colors, while granite has a flecked or pebbled appearance. Unlike the repetitive uniformity of materials produced by machine or assembly line, natural stone’s varied appearance has wonderful character and creates a one-of-a-kind effect everywhere it is used.
Natural stone can be polished, honed, or flamed for a distinctive appearance.
A polished finish has a glossy surface that reflects light and emphasizes the color and marking of the stone. This finish is typically used on walls, furniture tops, and floor tiles.
A honed finish is a satin-smooth surface with relatively little light reflection. It is generally preferred for floors, stair treads, thresholds, and other areas where heavy traffic will wear off a polished finish.
A flamed finish is a rough-textured surface used frequently on granite floor tiles.
The harder the stone, the more it resists abrasion. One measure of natural stone’s strength is the Measurement of Hardness (MOH) rating –> 1 the softest and 10 the hardest. On the MOH scale, most marbles rate “3” and quartz-based granites rate “7”. Using a softer stone simply requires the homeowner to use gentler cleansers and more frequent dusting to prevent scratching.