Friday, October 20, 2006
New countertops can add pizazz
By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
Here's a quick and easy way to upgrade your home: install new countertops. In the right situation, new countertops in a kitchen, bath or elsewhere can make a big splash without causing a big headache. Installing new countertops does not require moving walls or making structural changes or imposing drastic disruptions to your life. New countertops can often be measured before the old ones are removed, and the actual disruption can be limited to just one day of switching out the old and new.
But as we always mention, it's important to have the big picture in mind before making even small upgrades. If you need to make larger changes, like replacing cabinets or reconfiguring the kitchen, it would be unwise to start with new countertops. Countertops are not flexible — they can rarely be reused in a different location or with different cabinets. But if you plan to keep your cabinets and configuration for some time to come, then new countertops might be the perfect update to your home.
Let's look at some of your options. Be sure to keep the function of your space in mind so you can choose the material that will work best for you. Consider issues of durability, maintenance and the general aesthetic impact associated with how you use your countertops and what each material has to offer.
Because you have so many choices of materials, we are going to make this column a true two-part series. We'll start with some of the more common options this week, and next week we'll look at some options you might not have thought of.
Ceramic tile is a popular choice and can make a nice do-it-yourself project. Tile is impervious to heat, and it won't stain if it's glazed. Tile comes in a wide variety of colors, shapes and special accents, so it easily accommodates individual design. Sealing the grout is required to keep it in mint condition. New epoxy grouts are expensive but far less apt to absorb dirt and stains. Tile can also be unforgiving with glassware and china, and the surface will not be perfectly even. The cost is $20-$100 per square foot installed.
Laminate counters are commonly called Formica because this was one of the first manufacturers to produce the material. Laminates are made by binding layers of printed paper and resin under high pressure to create a rigid sheet that can be cut, shaped and glued onto medium-density fiberboard. Many patterns and colors are available, including some that mimic stone or wood. Laminates are easy to clean and maintain but are susceptible to cuts, scratches and burns. At $10-$20 per square foot installed, this is by far your least expensive choice.
Solid surface counters have been around since 1966 and offer a luxury look with low maintenance. Often referred to as Corian (an early brand name), this type of counter is manufactured by blending acrylic polymers and stone-derived materials. Solid surface counters are not heat-resistant, but the process produces a finish that is resistant to staining and can be renewed by professional polishing if an accident does occur. Many colors and designs are available at a cost of $40-$100 per square foot installed.
Next week we'll look at some of the less common but increasingly popular options for countertops, such as wood, steel and concrete. Stay tuned for part two. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.