Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The pros and cons of 10 non-traditional countertops.

When you walk into a kitchen for the first time, it’s probably the countertops that jump out at you. In fact, the right countertops can make – or break – the aesthetic of a kitchen, and luxury homeowners should understand the pros and cons – and costs – of all their countertop options. In part one of this blog we covered the pros and cons of the seven most common countertop materials and now we’ll take a close look at the countertops made of nontraditional, modern, and sometimes luxurious materials.

1. Concrete
Concrete may be traditionally known as a rough, course and unattractive building material, but it’s actually one of the hot new elements in modern design. Concrete flooring has long been a staple in trendy restaurants but now concrete is adorning countertops, too.

Since concrete is custom formed, its use is extremely versatile, shaping to fit any surface or frame you need. You can easily add patterns, rocks, shells, smaller tiles, polished glass or any other inlays. Concrete is durable and does well with heavy traffic and use. It can be stained or colored to create beautiful natural variations and really never goes out of style. People who have tile countertops (grout lines) or even granite (seems) will love the uniform form of concrete.

Concrete is porous, so it needs to be sealed frequently so it doesn’t stain, and it’s not particularly resistant to heat. As concrete settles over time it can crack, which can’t really be repaired without a noticeable fault line. Concrete is heavy so it often needs extra support in the cabinets or structure beneath. Installing concrete counters may not cost much in materials, but the quality of the finished product largely depends on the contractor or installer you hire, so you get what you pay for.

$75 to $125 per square foot, installed

2. Stainless Steel
Stainless steels used to be just for restaurants and service kitchens, but now steel is at the forefront of modern industrial design.

Steel is nearly indestructible, doesn’t chip or stain and is resistant to heat, making it perfect not only in form but function. Steel countertops are usually custom fabricated (or built-in with the cabinet) so they can match almost any kitchen design. A steel countertop lends itself to the serious chef or trendy urbanite. 

Steel countertops will show fingerprints and smudges easily so they will need to be frequently wipes down and cleaned to remain pristine. Steel can also dent, though that patina look doesn’t necessarily ruin its integrity. Some chemicals may stain steel so stick to cleaning products intended for steel.

$65 to $125 per square foot, installed

3. Butcher Block
Once popular in the mid 20th century, varnished butcher block was stain resistant but pretty impractical, while oil-finished wood counters resisted heat well but susceptible to stains. Neither of these made for great choices for countertops around sinks, cooking areas and islands, but today’s butcher block countertops have improved upon those flaws while keeping their natural appeal.

Butcher Block wood countertops are organic, inviting, and warm up any kitchen. Since wood is strong but malleable, scratches and dings will probably only add to the well-used charm of wood without ruining it. It’s also to resand and restain and seal old butchers block to give it new life.

Wood is porous so shouldn’t be left wet, and can also trap bacteria if not cleaned properly. It also may swell and contract slightly based on temperature and humidity, and it’s not the most heat resistant surface.

$40 to $100 per square foot, installed

4. Recycled Paper Composite
You can’t really make kitchen counters out of paper, can you? It may sound like the worst possible material for a kitchen that you actually use, but in fact, recycled paper composites are a lot more practical – and appealing - than you may thing.

Recycled paper composites are mixed with resins and pigments, giving it a wide array of colors, patterns and even textures that are available. It’s extremely cool to have this eco-friendly countertop material, is light and easy to work with, and surprisingly heat and water resitant.

Recycled composite paper countertops aren’t scratchproof and can discolor or become compromised by chemical damage. They do need some regular maintenance with mineral oil or even sanding. There are some cheaper options to install recycled paper counters but because they are a custom surface, it’s often hard (and expensive) to find someone who really knows how to work with them.

Cost: $40 to $125 per square foot, installed

5. Bamboo
Bamboo is a gorgeous, warm and natural building element, though still not very popular. It’s extremely strong but can warp with water or scratch, and may require some maintenance.
Cost: $40 to $100 per square foot, installed.

6. Copper countertops
Copper roofing and interior copper features have become popular design elements in luxury homes, but for the truly discerning high-end homeowner, copper kitchen counters will surely awe their visitors. Copper countertops may be difficult to work with and install, but they are easy to clean and maintain. Since it will color with new reds, greens and browns as it ages, and dents, dings or scratches only add to its character, copper is a truly unique investment.
Cost: At least $100 per square foot, installed

7. Recycled glass
Repurposed glass can be used in a dazzling array of designs, and when incorporated into a countertop is also heat resistant and not easily scratched. While the aesthetic of recycled glass on the counters is sure to impress, glass can chip or stain and may even develop settling cracks.  

Cost: $60 to $120 per square foot, installed

8. Caesar stone
Also called Engineered Quartz, Caeser stone combines the beauty of that natural stone with the durability and design options that come with engineered surfaces. Since it’s infused with pigments, Caesar stone can come in a wide variety of colors or designs and is nonporous and heat resistant.
Cost: $95 to $105 per square foot, installed.

9. Zinc countertops
Zinc is a rare material for kitchen counters, but is one of the warmest and most inviting metal surfaces Zinc’s storm cloud tones darken and change with time for a stunning effect, but it’s also extremely resistant to bacteria.
Cost: $100 and up per square foot, installed.

10. Salvaged wood

Repurposing old wood beams, doors, frames and boards is a spectacular option for luxury homeowners that want unique natural surfaces in their kitchen. It ensures that your kitchen will be truly unique, and adds instant charm and character to any kitchen. Salvaged wood always has a story to tell, and can be combined with just about any other design motif or material like brick, metals, tile, etc. and even match ceiling planks or other beams. 

Of course you’ll have to find the wood first and probably x-ray it first for any hidden nails, then replane and install wooden counters before applying a durable lacquer-like varnish. It can be one of the cheapest or most expensive options based on where you get the wood and the contractor or installer you’re working with, but an kitchen with salvaged wood has a story to tell that you’ll never grow tired of.

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