Know your options before selecting the perfect countertop for your project.

By Amanda Lauren
March 06, 2020
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

Choosing the right countertop is one of the most important aspects of kitchen design that goes beyond the aesthetic. It’s an investment you want to last for years to come, but your lifestyle is ultimately more important than your decorating style when it comes to picking the right type of countertop. Think practically and ask yourself the following questions. Do you cook lots of family meals in the kitchen? Is weekly meal prepping a part of your life? How about baking? If your countertop had a small amount of damage, would it bother you or would you even notice a tiny crack? Every type of countertop has its pros and cons in terms of hardness and durability, as well as heat and stain resistance.

In terms of design, do you insist on a natural stone or would a manufactured, composite material fit the bill even better? Do you even want a stone countertop? While you might have a color or style in mind, if the material of the countertop isn’t right, there’s a chance you’ll regret your choice.

Whether you have a modern, contemporary, or even traditional style kitchen, here are all the different types of countertops to consider.

1
Marble

Marble countertops have really come into prominence in recent years. “Marble is still king in terms of aesthetics and in high-end new development,” says agent Allison Chiaramonte of Warburg Realty in New York. It’s easy to understand why. This natural stone instantly elevates a kitchen, giving a clean, contemporary feel. There’s nothing else that looks quite like a bright white marble finish, but marble countertops are available in other colors as well, including shades of gray, brown, taupe, and even green. No two marble countertops are exactly alike.

This stone is certainly not the most practical choice, however. Marble is softer than other natural stones, so it’s important to be careful and invest in proper cutting boards. If you cut directly on marble, it will scratch.

Another issue with marble is that it’s porous, so temporary spills easily become permanent stains. This means those accidental red wine and lemon juice splashes need to be cleaned up fast. But luckily, technology is improving to make marble a little more durable. “New sealants are making this notoriously-risky countertop less worrisome for messy chefs,” Chiaramonte says.

One unique aspect of marble is that it maintains a naturally low temperature, making it ideal for people who enjoy baking. Marble is a great surface to roll out and shape dough.

This type of countertop can also be more affordable than you would assume. While marble looks upscale and sophisticated, some kinds of marble, such as Carrara, can be budget-friendly.

2
Quartz

Do you have a large family, cook a lot of meals or just want to make sure you invest in an all-around durable countertop that’s built to last? Then quartz could be the best choice for you. You might be surprised to learn that quartz countertops aren’t made of 100 percent quartz but rather they are a composite stone engineered from natural quartz combined with a resin binder. This stone is also non-porous, incredibly hard and never needs to be re-sealed.

According to Chiaramonte, it’s a smart investment. “We are seeing an increasing number of quartz countertops being coveted by buyers and sellers alike,” she says.

Because they’re man-made, quartz countertops are a great way to get the look of natural stones like marble or granite without worrying about durability. “The recent advances with the materials from higher end providers like Caesarstone that allow you to get the coveted non-glossy, honed marble look means we are seeing them more and more. This is especially true in big kitchens where finding a matching slab/set of stones may prove prohibitive due to cost or availability,” she says.

3
Granite

Granite countertops have been the standard for many years because it’s a natural stone with great durability. Granite is available in a range of dark and light colors with all sorts of flecks and variations. Another unique feature of granite is that it can be cut with a variety of edge choices, including square, beveled, ogee (which is an s-shape), as well as half and full bullnose.

Granite countertops require very little maintenance and are easy to take care of, but it’s best to avoid harsh cleaning products. Getting granite clean only requires a little soap and water. Some granites are more porous than others and my require periodic sealing in order to prevent stains.

Granite is heat-resistant, so feel free to take pots directly from the oven and place them on the granite counter. No trivet needed! However, it isn’t wise to cut directly on granite; this stone is so hard, that it will dull your knives.

Related: Granite Is No Longer the Most Popular Countertop—Here’s What Designers Think

4
Concrete

Made popular by Joanna Gaines, concrete countertops are a wonderful way to elevate a farmhouse chic kitchen or add a special touch to an industrial, modern kitchen. Concrete has a really bold, striking look. It is also almost entirely indestructible, which is why they use this material to make roads and sidewalks.

Commercial concrete countertops are available or if you are really skilled with DIY, you can make your own using a kit. However, keep in mind that concrete can take up to 28 days to dry completely, so it’s not ideal if you’re working on a tight schedule. It also needs to be sealed.

But concrete is far from perfect. These countertops can crack as a home settles or for absolutely no apparent reason at all. The good news is that cracks are very easy to repair. But, if you insist on having a countertop that will look Pinterest-perfect for years to come, it’s probably best to choose something else.

Related: The Countertop Look to Try If You’re Totally Over Granite and Marble

5
Butcher Block

Butcher block is an affordable alternative to stone countertops. It’s made from pieces of wood that are bonded to form a larger slab. Butcher block countertops have traditionally been made from all types of wood, including cherry, maple, oak, walnut, and even teak. However, bamboo is starting to come into favor because it is both eco-friendly as well as sustainable. What finish you choose depends entirely on the style of your home and kitchen.

Butcher block is also the only type of countertop surface that allows for direct cutting and slicing because it is essentially a giant cutting board. Butcher block countertops can be sealed or unsealed, however, once the wood is sealed, it’s no longer appropriate for food prep and must be used with a separate cutting board. This material is also porous, so spills must be sopped up quickly or you risk staining the wood. Unsealed butcher block countertops must be oiled twice a year, which is a commitment. 

Unlike stone countertops, butcher block isn’t always used throughout the entire kitchen, but rather the current trend is to install it to accent kitchen islands, adding a warm touch.

Related: Dreaming of a Butcher Block Countertop? Here’s What You Need to Know First

6
Soapstone

Soapstone is a natural stone that is domestically sourced from the Appalachian Mountains, or often imported from Finland and Brazil. It has a high percentage of naturally occurring talc, which gives the surface a soap-like or soft feeling.

When compared to marble and granite, soapstone has several advantages. It requires minimal maintenance and is entirely non-porous, so it is stain-, bacteria-, and heat-resistant. It also has a unique look to it and is available in a variety of gray shades with blue or green undertones. The natural, marble-like veining varies from stone to stone.

While soapstone is susceptible to damage, that only makes the surface more beautiful, giving it an antique-looking patina. In fact, it is recommended that homeowners oil the countertop once a month for the first year to allow the surface to oxidize and for the patina to develop.

7
Stainless Steel

Stainless steel has always been a popular choice for commercial kitchens, but it's now become a trend in residential as well. This type of countertop is an instant way to give your kitchen a chic, industrial look. But there are many pros and cons to this choice.

If you clean stainless steel properly, it’s easy to maintain. But the longer you leave a splash or spill, the harder it becomes to clean. You can clean stainless steel countertops with a little bit of soap and water or a product formulated specifically for this surface, like Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner ($6; amazon.com). Stainless steel also shows fingerprints and water spots easily, so it isn’t ideal for a home with young children.

Another pitfall of stainless steel is that it can dent and scratch. Over time, small damages become less noticeable. And while it requires professional services, it’s possible to fix larger areas of damage, so you don’t have to live with them. But for the most part, stainless steel is incredibly durable and entirely non-porous.

8
Laminate

Laminate countertops, which are often called by the brand name Formica, were incredibly popular during the 80s and 90s. While older laminate countertops can look dated, the laminate countertops of today are a bit different. Newer laminates can give the look of more expensive materials like wood and stone for a fraction of the price.

But cost isn’t the only advantage of laminate. This product is nonporous and won’t absorb bacteria. It also never needs resealing and is easy to clean with a little bit of soap and water.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind if you choose laminate. It is easily damaged by heat, so forgetting a trivet can ruin your entire countertop.

Furthermore, unlike other synthetic materials or stones, laminate won’t add resale value to your home. So while it isn’t ideal for large kitchen renovations, it is a great way to stay on budget for less important projects like small rental property kitchens, a basement bathroom, guesthouses, etc.

Related: Surprise—Laminate Countertops Are Cool Again, Thanks to This Designer Collection

9
Tile

Tile countertops had their heyday in the 70s and 80s, but they’re starting to make a comeback. If you’re good with DIY and need to stay on budget, tile is an option worth considering.

Tiles are available in a variety of sizes and shapes from classic squares to subway tiles and even trendy hexagons in different materials, including porcelain, ceramic, and even natural stones. Granite, quartz, and marble tiles are a more affordable alternative to large slabs.

Related: Porcelain vs. Ceramic: How to Choose the Right Tile for Your Next Decorating Project

While the maintenance and durability of tile depends on the material, all tile countertops have one issue in common, which is that grout lines can be a challenge to keep clean and fresh looking. So, if your kitchen countertop tends to get dirty, you may want to consider darker colored grout like gray or black.

10
Solid Surface

Made of a combination of acrylic and resin, solid surface materials, which are often called by their brand names Corian or Avonite, make great middle-tier options for countertops. A seemingly endless amount of styles are available, including some great dupes for granite and marble.

There are many benefits to choosing this type of countertop. It’s stain-resistant, seamless, and most damage can be sanded out. However, it’s important to keep in mind that solid surfaces aren’t heat-resistant, so make sure to have plenty of trivets on hand.

Advertisement