Whether you have replaced your old cabinets with a set of new fine cabinetry or just need an updated work surface atop your existing setup there are a few choices that need to be considered before choosing a new countertop for your fine cabinetry and making your final decision. Plastic laminates, solid surface material, granite, quartz, and concrete are the most popular choices today when considering new or replacement countertops for a fine kitchen upgrade. Each surface has it's own set of pros and cons to take under advisement before a conclusion is reached so that it blends with your lifestyle. Remember that any samples of materials that you see are only small representations of any larger piece when choosing products. Furthermore hotpads and cutting boards should always be used no matter which top you choose.
Nonporous plastic laminates have been around for many years which is a testament to their durability. We've come a long way since the days of harvest gold and avocado green but some of this original material still exists in kitchens today. We now have different grades of laminate and the HD grade offers interesting designs and textures that help to hide scratches. Heat should never be introduced and the use of hot pads is a necessity. Seams are also a consideration when choosing laminates because they are still visible even when using today's matching seam fill products. Color caulks offered by the laminate manufactures matching their laminate colors are used where the top meets the splash for flexibility. Drop in sinks are preferable when using plastic laminate but now there are some undermount units available. There are also many edge profiles produced today to enhance the look of your new laminate surface. Never use abrasive cleaners on any plastic laminate surfaces because they dull the existing finish.
Solid surface materials like Corian are also composed of nonporous plastic where the color is continuous throughout it's thickness. This material will stain and scratch but due to their makeup the solid surface tops can be reworked by professionally buffing the the affected areas. Remember that the darker the product the more evident the scratches. These tops do appear seamless and are more bacteriostatic than stone. The pricing varies for groups A-E with the solid color A group being the least expensive. The higher priced groups give you many more color choices and variations. A matte finish with a low sheen verses the higher glossed finishes found on granite is typical. There are no limits for the edge profiles and different colors can also be used as an accent. (see photo below)
Granite is a natural stone coming right out of the mountain so no two slabs are exactly alike. Many natural colors are available and usually lighter tops are preferred over darker stained cabinetry. The stones are cut and polished to a high gloss finish but this can be altered to produce a more dull surface by a process known as honing. There are different edge treatments available limited only by the fabricator. Seams are visible and accepted and only avoided by using larger pieces to limit the number of joints. One downfall of granite is it's porosity. Granite tops require maintenance and must be sealed frequently. The duration between coats is directly proportional to the amount of use your top gets. A good rule of thumb is to see if water still beads up when you place on the surface. If not, reseal.
Quartz is a man made product consisting of 93% stone pieces held together by resin and dyes. It is the newest material available today having bacteriostatic qualities and it is technically maintenance free due to it's nonporous surface. In its beginning this product contained small pieces of stone but now larger pieces are being used to create more interesting patterns. The overall look is a more uniform pattern than that of granite. It is the most scratch resistant choice out there but things do happen. The joints are not seen. Like granite there are no limits to the sinks that can be used.
Concrete tops are poured in a mold outlining the face and edge profile. The varying colors of the substrate are accomplished by adjusting the variables within the mix like cement colors, the type of sand(s), or by the add mixes used during the mixing process. Many factors can produce shade, hue, and tone contrasts like acid etching stains used on the surface once it has been poured and set. More creative and interesting contrasts can be achieved by using additives in the mix like stainless steel filings, glow in the dark materials, or colored glass chips. Once the slab is polished it must be sealed at the rate needed per use. This process lends itself to a patina with age.
A Solid Surface Example with an Accented Edge