Quartz: The New Countertop Contender
Ever since the invention of Formica in the 1920s, kitchen countertops in America have been simply covered in laminates. During the past decade, though, natural stone surfaces have landed in ever more kitchens: granite, marble, soapstone and even concrete. But now there's a new countertop contender on the design scene: engineered quartz.
Boasting the best qualities of laminate and stone (along with its own special features), quartz began appearing in U.S. homes just a few years ago after gaining popularity in Europe for the past decade. Today, quartz countertops are exploding in popularity, with U.S. sales increasing 60 percent in 2004.
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Although some quartz countertops are actually made of quarried slabs of the natural stone, the new engineered material is actually created through a manufacturing process that mixes approximately 95 percent ground natural quartz with 5 percent polymer resins. The result is a super-hard, low-maintenance, natural stone-look countertop available in a dazzling array of colors. And for many of the homeowners choosing quartz, those virtually unlimited color options are what sold them.
"Color was most definitely a huge factor," says Gay Lyons, a college professor in Knoxville, Tenn., who replaced the white laminate countertops in the kitchen of her 1970s rancher with blue quartz. "Our kitchen is part of a large area that includes dining and seating areas, as well as an adjacent sunroom. The countertops needed to coordinate with not only what was in the kitchen, but what was in those other areas as well. The color I chose coordinates perfectly."
Joe Everitt, an independent contractor who has spent the last decade remodeling New York City brownstones and lofts, says that homeowners love the fact that quartz allows color choices never before available in stone. But he says the best features of quartz are actually invisible.
"These countertops are close to indestructible," Joe explains. "They're so durable that most manufacturers offer a warranty, something you won't find with, say, granite. And quartz isn't porous like other stone surfaces, so these countertops are much more sanitary in a home kitchen. You can keep them 99.9 percent bacteria-free."
This durability also means that, unlike other types of stone countertops, quartz resists staining or corrosion from cooking oils, liquids and most household cleaning products — so there's no need for periodic resealing of the surface. Quartz can be damaged by excessive heat, however, so homeowners should use trivets or heating pads.
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.
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.
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. Anthony and John, the Cousins on Call, 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.
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.
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.
Quartz countertops allow for a variety of edging options, just like natural stone. Unlike stone, however, engineered quartz also offers other design possibilities. Because it's more flexible to work with and is held in place using glue and epoxy instead of screws, quartz can be used on larger vertical surfaces like backsplashes and even shower enclosures, without the fissures and seams often all too visible with natural stone.
Despite its many advantages, installation of engineered quartz countertops isn't a job for the average do-it-yourselfer; the companies that make and sell engineered quartz certify their own installation experts.
"Installation is a bit of a pain," says Gay. "You have to obtain it from a (certified) distributor. They send people to measure and then they send installers. There's a bit of a wait involved between each of these steps."
Also, because engineered quartz is significantly heavier than other stone surfaces, there are some special installation considerations.
"It's important to make sure that you look at structural issues before installing quartz countertops, especially on upper floors" says Joe. "The installer also needs to be sure that the cabinets are sound."
The cost of engineered quartz countertops appears to be dropping as they grow in popularity and as more manufacturers make them available. In general, however, they are more expensive than laminate and comparable in price to granite, ranging from $100 to $200 per square foot.
Common brand names include Cambria, Silestone and Zodiaq, and engineered quartz countertops are now available through most kitchen design firms, as well as the major home and garden centers like Lowe's and Home Depot.
Gay Lyons says she and her husband couldn't be happier with their decision to go with quartz.
"We know lots of people with granite, but we don't know anyone else who has quartz. We love the countertops. They are beautiful and indestructible."