Natural Counters Rise to the Top

When it comes to kitchen countertops, tile has been replaced by natural stone, solid surfaces and environmentally friendly alternatives.

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Contemporary Country Kitchen Granite is a popular choice for kitchen countertops.

"Homeowners are moving away from tile countertops, which are difficult to maintain, in favor of natural stone, solid surfaces and environmentally friendly 'green' products," says Margaret Began, owner and showroom manager of Stoneworks Ltd. in Bedford, Ohio.

Granite is still the biggest thing out there, notes Margaret, but less common materials like marble, limestone and soapstone are becoming more popular countertop choices.

"For years we've been instructed to avoid these particular materials because they were said to stain, scratch and etch," Margaret says. "But they are much more durable than we have been led to believe."

Greatly improved sealers and a routine maintenance schedule are all it takes to turn these elegant natural heirlooms into rough-and-ready countertops.

For homeowners looking to jazz up their modern kitchens with bright, bold countertops, Margaret recommends quartz.

"Quartz may not be as durable as granite," she says, "but it comes in colors not typically seen in natural stone, like lime green and electric blue." For those who may not appreciate stone's natural pigment variation, quartz offers consistent color from top to bottom and side to side.

"We're seeing a new trend in natural stone countertops that combines different textures," says kitchen designer Lindsay Davis, of Naples, Fla.

To get this exciting look, designers use stone with two different finishes, one sandblasted to a matte finish, the other polished to a smooth gloss. Lindsay says that a typical application might be to use one finish for an island or raised snack bar area and the other for the rest of the kitchen countertops.

Wood adds a warmth and beauty to kitchens that no other material can match. So it's no surprise that more and more homeowners are opting for wood countertops over hard, cold stone. Exotic woods like teak, tigerwood and Brazilian cherry are popular choices, as is arranging the wood in an eye-catching checkerboard pattern.

"Homeowners are putting in beautiful butcher block islands that you can actually cut on," Lindsay says.

"Anytime we can incorporate recycled products into the home the better it is for the environment," Lindsay notes. Recycled glass and recycled paper countertops are two products that satisfy both the designer's eye and the homeowner's conscience.

Made of post-consumer recycled glass and concrete, these products offer an environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-based solid surface countertops. Surprisingly durable and heat resistant, recycled paper countertops like PaperStone, made from 100 percent post-consumer wastepaper and petroleum-free resin, prove that being "green" can be a beautiful thing.

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