There's no design element more stressful than counter-tops. With all the options for material and color, the choices seem endless. While I believe you can have a great looking kitchen on any budget there are things to take into consideration, and navigating the selection of counter-tops requires weighing the pros and cons of each.
BIG BUDGET Nothing screams money in a kitchen quite like natural stone counters and it's hands-down the number one request. Stone looks and feels expensive because it is. The cost is easily the biggest drawback to this material. Ranging from $100 to $250 per square foot, stone counter-tops take a big chunk our of your budget. On the other hand, stone surfaces are unique, durable and heat resistant. They do need to be sealed periodically to avoid staining, but they can withstand a lot of wear and tear. Marble scratches and stains more easily, so it might not be the best option for a home with young children.
NEW OPTIONS When it come to counter-top options, sometimes it's worth thinking outside the box. More and more homeowners are choosing to make a bold statement with their counters, and the hard loft trend in condos and definitely opened up the door to new materials like concrete and stainless steel. They're not the cheapest options, but if you're going for a certain look, they can have a huge impact. For the Eco-conscious homeowner, bamboo and paper-based composites, as well as solid surface counters (such as Corian), are more environmentally friendly choices that won't break the bank. Just make sure you educate yourself on them before you install - some materials rank much lower on the durability scale.
SMALL BUDGET If you're working with a smaller budget or stone just isn't your thing, there are plenty of other options out there. Laminate is fail-safe and has come a long way in recent years. There are lots of laminates to choose from and a custom laminate counter is a fraction of the cost of stone. The downside? While laminate is durable and stain resistant, it isn't heat resistant like stone. Another inexpensive option is ceramic tile, which can cost as little as $10 per square foot. It comes in a wide variety of colors and finishes, so it's adaptable to any kitchen style. It's just not the best choice for avid cooks or bakers, as it's prone to chips. Butcher block also has become more popular in the last few years. People like the natural look and the character it develops over time, and many big box stores are now carrying it more inexpensively. That said, butcher block is relatively high maintenance, requiring frequent disinfecting and oiling to keep it safe and looking great. It's also prone to burns and moisture damage, so it's best to avoid installing it around a sink or a stove.
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
THE PEOPLE AND THE PURPOSE
Who will be living in the space and using the kitchen? Do you have young children? Do you do a lot of cooking, or is having a kitchen more of a formality than a room you actually use?
There are lots of choices at every price point, so be honest about what you have to spend.
THE RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Make sure your finishings match the value of your home. An expensive counter in an otherwise modest home isn't going to get you the return on investment you're looking for. On the other hand, expensive homes demand pricier finishings, so a higher end material will be expected and will pay off.