Design Directions

By Michelle Neels (Michelle Neel specializes in Interior Design and has successfully helped residents create their surroundings to fit their needs and styles throughout the Valley. She can be contacted at

Dear Michelle
We are remodeling our kitchen and bathrooms and I want to make sure we choose the right counter tops. We like the look and feel of granite but have heard that concrete is an option as well. Since we have a house full of teens and are avid cooks that love to entertain, we really need durability. Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks, Suzanne McNeil

Choosing the right countertop
Well Suzanne, this is a decision that takes some research. There are so many different types of countertop materials available today, that deciding which counter top materials are best for you can be hard. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks. There are several things to consider when choosing the best type of counter tops for your space. By answering some simple questions, the decision process should become easier.

What is your budget for your countertops?
This is the main indicator of what materials will be available to you. If you have your heart set on custom granite countertops, you will need a generous budget.

Are you planning on doing the project yourself, or will you use professional installers?
Another indicator of what materials you have available to you. Some countertop materials and designs require professional installation.

Will your countertops have to fit a specific style?
Example: You probably wouldnít want to put stainless steel countertops in a Southwestern designed kitchen.

Do you require countertops that are easy to maintain, or can you spend extra time on the care of your countertops?
Some materials require special care every 3 to 6 months depending on use.

How durable do your countertops need to be?
Suzanne has a house full of teenagers, and also is a big cook and entertainer. The countertops she chooses throughout her home are going to have to stand up to a lot of wear and tear. She will want to find some really durable materials to keep up with her busy household. I also bet she isnít going to have time to specially treat her surfaces every few months.

Great! You have completed the first part of the countertop decision process. Take this list of questions and answers with you when you go shopping, and it will help the salespeople point you in the right direction. Also, it will help you from being overwhelmed by all of the choices in front of you.

Your Counter Top Choices
Now let me give you some basic information on some of the most popular materials used for countertops.

Laminates: This material has come a long way. One of the best things about it is that it is inexpensive, both for the material, and for the installation. It is available in a large variety of colors, textures and patterns. It is stain resistant, and non-porous, and fairly resistant to heat and scratches. It is easy to maintain, and only needs to be cleaned with a mild cleanser. It is not however burn resistant, and is not easily repairable. It also does not resist mold and mildew very well.

Solid Surfaces: This material is made with acrylic or acrylic blend. You may be more familiar with this material from the brand name, Corian. This material is also available in a variety of colors and styles. One of the advantages is that it is very hard, and resists chipping. Solid surfaces are non-porous and are mold and mildew resistant, and donít need to be sealed. This surface is easily repairable and doesnít show seams. The disadvantages are that these surfaces can sometimes stain, and that hot objects will damage them. Solid surfaces are more expensive than laminates, and usually require professional installation.

Tile: Probably one of the most commonly used countertop materials is tile which has an endless selection of colors, patterns and textures. Some of the benefits of tile are that it is heat and stain resistant, easy to clean and doesnít require sealing. Only the grout needs to be sealed to prevent staining. Tile is more expensive than laminates, but depending on tiles you choose it can be less than some solid surfaces. For budget purposes, you can install tile yourself, instead of hiring a professional. It is not repairable, but is replaceable so always order more than you need for the job incase you have to repair it in the future. NOTE: There are natural stone tiles available that are unique and may require various types of care such as, ceramic tile surfaces.

Natural Stone: The most popular being Granite, is extremely durable, and comes in a wide array of colors. Other surfaces include travertine, limestone and marble. Travertine is the most porous, and needs to be filled to have a smooth surface. Limestone is somewhat porous, and comes in neutral beiges to browns. Marble comes in many colors and is known for its veining. Natural stone surfaces are very stain and heat resistant. Most of these stone surfaces need some maintenance, such as occasional sealing or oiling. Cleaning is easy with mild soap. This surface is hard to repair if damaged. These surfaces can be quite expensive, and typically require professional installation. A less expensive way to get the natural stone look is with natural stone tiles, which you can install yourself.

Quartz: This surface is quickly gaining popularity with homeowners, because it has all of the rich features of granite and other natural stone surfaces, but with none of the upkeep. This surface is created from a natural quartz material that is ground and pressed. There are endless colors and styles available that have the depth, radiance and cool solid feel of natural stone. This material is easy to keep clean, is scratch, stain, heat, and burn resistant. It also is non-porous, and doesnít require sealing. It can however cost as much as natural stone surfaces, depending on how detailed your countertops are. It is also like natural stone, hard to repair, and requires professional installation.

Concrete: Suzanne asked about concrete countertops as an option. Concrete has become quite a popular material to use with many homeowners, because of its durability and value. It can fit in many different styles of homes, because it gives you the ability to customize the design to fit your needs. Concrete can be colored and can have various materials added to give it texture and a very unique look. It is also very affordable, and you can install it yourself with some education. Concrete is very similar to natural stone in its characteristic, it is unique in the sense that it is so formable. You can virtually style it any way you want. Because it is like natural stone, it can chip. It is not good to apply too much heat on because it will damage the applied wax or sealer. It should not be used as a cutting surface, because you can scratch and gouge concrete. Concrete has the same porosity as marble, so it can stain from acids such as lemon juice or red wine. Also hairline cracks are an inherent characteristic of concrete.

Well Suzanne, I hope that this gave you a better idea of what is available. There are so many options, and I have really only just scratched the surface (pun intended). I am more than happy to delve deeper into this topic, so please email me with any further questions regarding countertops or any other interior design dilemmas.

I can be reached at Until next time, be well and enjoy the process.