Practically maintenance free, engineered quartz countertops are stain, acid, scratch, heat and impact resistant and, thanks to their non-porous surface, don't need to be sealed like natural stone countertops. Available in a wide range of colors and patterns, quartz typically ranks close in popularity to the perennial top choice: granite. Browse more kitchen photos from HGTV Smart Home 2014.
Polished Granite Countertops
Still the top choice of most homeowners, traditional granite countertops offer a high-end look that adds to your kitchen's value while providing a durable prep surface. Because granite is a natural material, variation in the stone's pattern is common and, for most people, adds to its appeal but can make matching up slabs tricky. In most regions, the cost of granite and quartz are comparable but natural granite requires a bit more care than manufactured quartz to keep its good looks — wipe up all stains quickly, especially oils, wine, acids and soda, and follow a regular sealing routine — typically once a year.
By far the most budget-friendly option, laminate countertops are enjoing a resurgence in popularity thanks to new patterns that resemble natural stone, wood or even quartz at a fraction of the cost. Retro, mid-century looks like the ubiquitous boomerang and bright, saturated colors are other trendy choices to consider.Chris Amaral
For a warm, cottage kitchen look, opt for butcher-block-style wood countertops. Both decorative and functional, this hardworking surface is ideal for food prep — properly sealed, wood countertops are sanitary even for chopping meat. Unlike other budget-friendly options, like laminate, wood is highly heat-resistant so you don't have to worry about putting hot pots and pans on the surface. The Cousins on Call, Anthony and John, installed wraparound wood countertops in this cozy kitchen, but most homeowners choose to mix wood countertops with other surfaces like natural or engineered stone to provide a variety of prep surfaces.
The current darling of the design world, the gray-toned veining in Carrara or Calacatta marble isn't just aesthetically pleasing, it also helps to disguise wear and hide light stains. With timeless appeal, this stone gives any kitchen a decidedly high-end look and, although the cost is comparable to some granites, marble is porous so staining can be a problem. Regular sealing and special care with anything acidic to prevent etching will keep the creamy surface looking its best.
Honed Granite Countertops
A twist on popular polished granite, honed granite gives a soft, matte finish instead of the traditional glossy look. Like polished granite, honed granite is just as resistant to scratching, chipping, cracking and heat, making it one of the most durable kitchen countertop options around.
Stainless Steel Countertops
Stainless steel lends a modern, industrial look to this stylish kitchen designed by Andreea Avram Rusu. The metal surface coordinates with any color and is one of the easiest countertop materials to clean — just wipe off stains with a cloth and mild soap. The most appealing characteristic of this material is its ability to inhibit bacterial buildup, making it the most hygienic countertop available.
Aside from its sleek, streamlined appearance, glass countertops have many benefits. Glass can be cut into any shape and texture and the color options are endless. Although it's a pricier option, the popularity of glass countertops is on the rise thanks to its modern look. It's easy to keep clean and its non-porous surface makes it stain-resistant and one of the most hygienic countertop materials available. For durability, choose glass that's at least 1 inch thick and tempered.Photography by David Fenton
The eco-friendly choice, recycled countertops come in a variety of sustainable materials, including concrete, glass, paper, composite and plastic. Usually a mix of pre- and post-consumer products, recycled countertops are available in a wide range of colors and textures. This beachy kitchen by Massucco Warner Miller features IceStone terrazzo which is composed of recycled glass, Portland cement and resin for a durable, low-maintenance surface.
A thick concrete countertop is the focal point in this modern kitchen designed by Rebekah Zaveloff. Concrete countertops are highly customizable — you can choose any stain color and texture. Concrete mixes well with many different materials, such as glass, tile and marble to create a one-of-a-kind look. Aside from its eye-pleasing appearance, it is energy efficient — when the temperature in your home rises, concrete captures the heat and releases it when the temperature cools down.© Photography by Aaron Leitz
Highly stain and bacteria resistant, soapstone is a non-porous natural stone that's available in a range of gray tones from light to dark, all with subtle veining. Unlike other natural stones, it doesn't require yearly sealing but regular applications of mineral oil will help to disguise any surface scratches, add sheen and deepen the stone's color over time.
A creamy travertine countertop lends a classic Old World look to this neutral kitchen designed by Lisa Stanley. If you don't fill and seal its pitted surface, it can trap food and bacteria and absorb liquids, which makes it more high maintenance than other countertop surfaces. Despite its high maintenance, this material is one of the most aesthetically pleasing choices and brings a warm, inviting feel to any kitchen design style.
Tile countertops are a great choice if you want an inexpensive material that's easy to maintain. It's simple to coordinate with or mix and match with different design styles. Best of all, if you're handy, a tile kitchen countertop is a do-it-yourself project that you can tackle in a long weekend.