Bathroom Design Guide

Beautiful, Durable Bathroom Counters

Today's bathroom countertops come in just about any material you can imagine. We've got the counter intelligence you need to make the right selection.

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Today's bathroom counters have to do more than just look good, they've also got to stand up to abuse. Lipstick, nail-polish remover, toothpaste and shaving cream and, of course, the occasional hot curling iron all can present hazards to your counter's good looks. So it's important to consider a material's durability and maintenance requirements, along with its cost, when making a selection for a bathroom remodel.

Material options
As with just about every other product category you'll come across when planning your bathroom-remodeling project, your options abound when it comes to bath countertop selection.

"There are lots of options for bathroom countertops," says Sara Ann Busby, vice president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) and owner of Sara Busby Designs in Elk Rapids, Mich. "Because they're used differently than kitchen counters, you can get away with a larger variety of surfaces."

Granite is tops for traditional baths. It's available in a variety of shades and several finishes: polished, satin and honed. A polished finish results in a shiny look and often darkens the appearance of the stone, while a honed finish is soft and matte. A satin finish falls somewhere in the middle. Costs for granite depend on many variables, including color, finish and origin of the stone.

Other natural stone materials, such as marble, limestone and soapstone, are softer and more porous than granite, and therefore, are more prone to staining. "Some of those materials are a little more fragile and a little more high-maintenance," Sara Ann says. She recommends them for use in low-traffic bathrooms like powder rooms. All stone countertops must be sealed periodically; the frequency will depend on the stone.

Engineered stone countertops come in a wider variety of colors than natural stone countertops; they are more durable and require no maintenance. However, engineered stone won't save any money over granite. The two materials cost roughly the same.

Solid surface is another popular choice for bathroom counters. The material allows for an integral sink, which makes mopping up water and cleaning a snap. Solid surface comes in countless colors, is seamless, resists stains, and scratches to it can be buffed out. However, heat from curling irons, straightening irons and curlers can scorch solid-surface countertops.

In the past, composite marble, which is made from marble and a polyester resin, only came in a glossy finish. Today, a matte finish that mimics the look of solid surface is also available. While it lacks the durability of solid surface, composite marble is a good way to go if your budget is tight.

Another option is concrete. "Concrete gives you the ability to fully customize your sink and countertop," Sara Ann says. Indeed, with a concrete countertop comes the option to add colored pigments, shape the edge any which way and add creative inlays. But care must be taken to remove damp washcloths left on the counter because they can discolor the surface. To keep a concrete countertop looking its best, it's advisable to seal it two to four times per year and wax with a paste every two to three months.

Wood countertops, especially when used in combination with furniture-type vanities, are yet another option. Because water can cause damage, Sara Ann usually relegates wood to powder rooms.

Laminate is the most affordable countertop material on the market and comes in an array of colors and designs. Though it's maintenance-free, curling irons and other hot appliances can scorch the surface.

Tempered glass countertops fit nicely in contemporary bathrooms, but even with its polished edges, it may not be the best bet for bathrooms with kids.

One material that's not used as much any more is ceramic tile. "People don't like the grout lines," Sara Ann says. "Except on the West Coast where they're getting around that by installing larger tiles with fewer grout lines."

Depending on the countertop material, decorative edges such as bullnose (rounded), bevel (angled) and ogee (S-shaped) are another way to customize a bathroom. "In a more traditional, more elegant bathroom, we'll put some detail on the front edge. We'll do a real heavy ogee to follow the theme of the moldings or something that's happening in the room," Sara Ann says. "When we're dealing with clients who might want something cleaner, we'll put on a square edge and just knock it off a little bit, so it's very clear where the edge of the counter is."

Vanity height
Years ago vanities stood as low as 28 inches tall. Today, most bathroom countertops measure between 32-1/2 inches to 34-1/2 inches because people are taller. "When you think about how you use a countertop in a bathroom, you're bending over generally if you're using the sink," Sara Ann said, and taller countertops tend to be more comfortable.

Countertops have a habit of collecting things, which can detract from the attractive surface you put so much effort into choosing. The key to cutting through this kind of clutter is to have a customized storage plan, says Max Isley, owner of Hampton Kitchens in Raleigh, N.C. Before he designs a bathroom, Max surveys clients' toiletries to assess their storage needs. When the decks are clear, you'll be able to fully appreciate the beautiful, durable countertop chosen for your bathroom remodel.

To find out more, see the HGTV Beginner's Guide to Remodeling Your Own Bathroom, Getting Started: 10 Steps to a New Bathroom.

Sara Ann Busby
NKBA President-Elect, 2007
Sara Busby Design
Elk Rapids, Mich.

Max Isley
Hampton Kitchens
Raleigh, N.C.

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