By Paul Bookbinder, M.I.D., C.R.
Well, hardly new, but additional Dead Sea scrolls have been located in a previously unexplored cave. Archeologists have discovered (even before recorded history) when people lived in caves, that they had an area in their abode devoted to food preparation. Traditionally referred to as “The Kitchen”, the name stuck, and over the millennium this specialized subdivision of the household has developed from a simple stone work surface to the exciting kitchens of today. And, one of the most exciting parts of a new room is the countertop.
The countertop, and its vertical counterpart, the backsplash, can add to your kitchen’s distinctive style, but choosing a material for the surface is not as easy as it was a thousand years ago. There are so many types of countertops available today that it can be very confusing when you decide to get a new one.
Although certainly a factor, your kitchen’s work surface should not be chosen solely for its aesthetic value. When you’re ready for a new counter, find a contractor who will take the time to review your specific needs. What types of foods do you prepare? How much do you cook? Do you have kids? The answers to these questions will help determine the appropriate counter material for you.
The laminate counter, referred to by many as “Formica,” is the most economical of all the choices and, with proper care, can last a long time. Easy to clean with good stain resistance, it does have limitations: easily scratched, you can’t cut on it and it will scorch if you place anything hot on the surface. Once damaged it is difficult or impossible to repair.
The most popular countertops today are those made out of stone, which, by the way, is just what the archeologists found in the kitchens of yesteryear. The most popular stone materials are granite, marble and the new tops made up of crushed quartz. Granite, the traditional standby, is considered by many as the most beautiful surface available because it shows movement! Movement is the suggestion of motion in the elements making up the finished surface. The swirls and patterns created by nature cannot be fully duplicated in a stone that is fabricated. Both granite and marble are porous and should be sealed when installed, and at least once a year afterwards, to avoid staining. If you exercise a little care with these stones you can have a work surface that will last until some archeologist digs up your home.
Quartz (sold under the trade names of Cambria, Viatera, Caesarstone, Silestone etc.) is the second most abundant mineral on earth, and is a basic component of granite. In a typical quartz countertop, the raw quartz is crushed and combined with pigments to give it color, and resins (sticky stuff) to hold it together. The resulting process creates one of the most durable countertop surfaces on the market today. It is harder than granite, more scratch and stain resistant, and non-porous. For the geologists who follow the K&B Insider, quartz ranks #7 on the Mohs hardness scale! Only diamonds, sapphires and topaz are harder.
The newest offerings in countertops are eco-friendly which are great for the environment, however, as with most “green” products, they are usually more expensive than their traditional counterpart.
As with all decisions in upgrading your home, don’t rush in making a selection for the countertop. Investigate all the possibilities with your advisor and select a surface that’s not only visually pleasing but one that’s suited to your needs as well. And perhaps it will last until your locale is dug up in a thousand years!
Paul Bookbinder, M.I.D., C.R., is president of DreamWork Kitchens, Inc. located in Mamaroneck, New York. A Master of Design (Pratt Institute), and E.P.A. Certified Remodeler, he serves on the Advisory Panel of Remodeling Magazine. A member of the National Kitchen & Bath Assoc., he is also a contributor to eZine and Do It Yourself magazine. He can be reached for questions at 914-777-0437 or www.dreamworkkitchens.com