The final verdict on 7 kitchen countertop trends

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | September 20, 2012

Kitchen design evolves constantly, but some countertop styles stay popular. These countertop materials offer both pros and cons, but they have weathered the changes in kitchen trends, and they should remain top choices in the future.

Without further ado, let's look at seven kitchen countertop options, as well as the prices you might expect for each, as of August 2012. Keep in mind that all cost estimates are just that -- estimates. For a truly accurate idea of countertop costs, consult a professional kitchen contractor.

1. Ceramic tile
ceramic kitchen tile

Tile has been used in homes for thousands of years, so it makes sense that it would be at the top of the list for longevity among kitchen countertop materials. Very popular in Mediterranean kitchens, tile has a versatility that means it fits in with almost any style.

Ceramic tile is easy to install, a snap to keep clean and very durable. But the unique nature of each tile can lead to uneven surfaces, and while the tiles rarely stain, the grout between them certainly can. Tile isn't the best at impact resistance, but you can replace single tiles if necessary, rather than the entire countertop.

The cost is a huge selling point for tile; expect to pay as little as $3 to $5 per square foot. The pricier tile might go as high as $150 per square foot -- or more.

Final verdict: Very versatile and affordable, but could lead to maintenance headaches.

2. Concrete
concrete kitchen countertop

No longer just a material for sidewalks and driveways, concrete has become a classy addition to both traditional and modern kitchens. Concrete can offer a wide variety of customization, from embedded rocks to any color of pigment. It can also allow you to seamlessly integrate a backsplash.

Concrete can handle the heat, but not too much -- countertops have been known to crack under intense heat or abrupt temperature changes. A very smooth surface, concrete must be sealed and waxed on a regular basis to keep it looking great.

Concrete can set you back between $85 and $150 per square foot, though custom options can cost much more. Since concrete can mimic the look of many other materials, this can save money for those who crave a pricier option but have to stay within a budget.

Final verdict: A boon for creativity, concrete needs tender loving care but offers reasonable prices.

3. Laminate
laminate counter

One of the most common materials, laminate is made of layers of paper pressed together, covered with a layer of plastic, and attached to a plywood or medium-density fiberboard backing. This product became the rage in the 1950s, and today meets the needs of those who are seeking a budget-friendly kitchen countertop design.

The hardy plastic covering means that laminate resists stains, and the manufacturing process allows for a wide variety of colors and patterns. The price is among the lowest of all countertop options: Expect to pay as little as $2 or $3 per square foot, or up to $30 per square foot installed.

But there are cons: laminate can buckle and warp under high heat, and the seams where pieces meet are almost impossible to hide. It can also be seen as a lesser option and isn't likely to wow potential buyers when it's time to sell your home.

Final verdict: A very affordable option but one that doesn't do favors for your resale value.

4. Solid surface
solid surface kitchen countertops

Solid surface is exactly what it sounds like -- it can easily integrate your backsplash and entire countertop for a seamless look. Solid surface became popular in the 1960s with the introduction of Corian, the first solid surface brand. Today solid surface countertops can look at home in virtually any style kitchen.

This molded resin is non-porous, stain resistant and available in almost any color you can imagine. Though scratches can be buffed out, deep cuts from knives or scorch marks from hot pans are there to stay.

What about the cost? Look for solid surface to cost anywhere from $35 to $200 per square foot, though most will fall in the $100 to $150 range.

Final verdict: Not a showpiece for your kitchen, but nicely serviceable.

5. Stainless steel
stainless steel counters

These sheets of metal are virtually indestructible, which is a big reason why you see them in large, industrial kitchens that get heavy use. Stainless steel as a kitchen countertop material came into fashion after the industrial revolution and has since become a mainstay in modern kitchens.

Heat-resistant and non-porous, stainless steel also has the advantage of fighting bacteria, which is one of the many reasons restaurants love the material. It is prone to scratches, however, and fingerprints seem to linger forever unless you choose the brushed or matte finish.

Expect stainless steel to cost between $70 and $300 per square foot. Since stainless steel can look great for many years, you might be able to salvage an older stainless steel countertop for much less.

Final verdict: A durable, reliable option that might strain your budget at first, but can pay off with longevity.

6. Stone
stone countertops

Though natural stone has long been used for countertops, engineered stone is a more recent entry in the world of kitchen design. While stone can blend with any decor, it is most often associated with modern, traditional or transitional styles.

The type of stone can help determine durability and longevity; for instance, granite is generally tougher than marble, and engineered stone is often the toughest of all. Most natural stone can be scratched by even the most basic acids, such as those found in fresh fruits and some cleaners. Natural stone needs to be sealed on an annual basis, while engineered stone can go naked and still look great.

Costs for stone vary, depending on the product and the size of your kitchen. Here are a few ballpark estimates for price per square foot:

  • Marble: between $40 and $100, installed; customized countertops could cost between $100 and $400
  • Granite: between $40 and $400, experts suggest an average price of about $250
  • Engineered stone: between $45 and $150
  • Soapstone: up to $150

Final verdict: Pricey and needs regular maintenance, but can't be beat in the looks department.

7. Wood
wooden kitchen counters

Butcher block ranks as one of the most durable and recognizable alternatives. Maple is very common, but homeowners also appreciate red oak and teak. Solid slabs of walnut, maple, oak, cherry or teak can give a kitchen a comfortable, down-home feel. Wood has been a countertop material for thousands of years; it has stood the test of time.

But wood must have tender loving care; it can scorch and stain easily, and must be properly sealed on a regular basis. Since wood absorbs bacteria, it also requires meticulous cleaning.

The cost of a countertop can vary widely, depending upon the type of wood you use and how customized you want the final product to be. Look for costs anywhere from $40 to $200 per square foot for most woods, but the price for exotic species could go much higher.

Final verdict: Incomparable beauty -- as long as you are willing to maintain it.

Kitchen trends that fit your style

Your choice of a countertop depends on factors such as your budget, personal style and goals. The materials listed above are likely to remain popular for years to come. Before deciding on a material, think about whether you plan to live with your choice for another decade or more, or intend to sell the house soon, then find a kitchen countertop that suits your needs.

About the Author

Shannon Lee has written professionally for two decades on a wide variety of topics, including medical and health issues, home repair, education and relationships.