The world of kitchen countertop materials can be a baffling one. There’s just so much to consider—from the type of look you want for your space to the material that’s going to function best for your home, family, or cooking style. Countertop selection is also uniquely individual—while there are trends that come and go, ultimately selections must be tailored to the designer, client, or homeowner choosing them. “Many materials come with a long list of upkeep demands, while others are extremely resilient,” says Remodelista’s Christine Chang Hanway. “Be realistic about how much effort you’re willing to put into the care of your countertops.”
Everyone has their own idea of what they’re willing to sacrifice or bend on when pulling together those oh-so-important details. When redesigning the kitchen of our 1820s colonial, my husband and I wanted a “living” countertop material that felt genuine to our home’s provenance and would patina beautifully. After much deliberation, we went with marble countertops and a soapstone island—and we haven’t stopped hearing about it since. While everyone admits they’re beautiful, many are of the opinion that tender stones and high-maintenance marble have no place in a home with a young family. I disagree: their imperfections are what I love most about them.
To help you make sense of the many options out there—and the perks and pitfalls associated with them—we turned to some top industry pros to share their countertop favorites, and included some picks of our own. Warning: Lots of beautiful inspiration below!
Many designers feel that nothing can replicate the effect that real marble has in a space, and they’re right—after all, there’s a reason the natural stone has had a place in kitchens, restaurants, and workspaces for centuries. Modern homeowners may be wary of telltale signs of aging—such as stains, etches, and chips—but with proper care (which, as per this useful Remodelista cheatsheet, includes regular sealing, daily cleaning, and the removal of stains and etching), marble countertops can wear beautifully for decades to come.
“In my opinion, nothing rivals the natural beauty of marble,” says designer Nicole Salceda. “From the muted tones, vein patterns, and different varieties, marble is a classic that will stand the test of time. Carrara marble has more gray tones and lots of smaller veins, while Statuary marble has a brighter white background and thicker vein patterns. We also use a lot of Calacatta marble in our projects and love the warmth and uniqueness it provides.”
“I love marble—specifically Imperial Danby—because not only is it beautiful and natural, but it’s also sourced in America so it’s a more sustainable choice,” adds designer Laura Hodges. “Marble isn’t for everyone, since it develops a patina over time, but I have yet to find anything else that really replicates the innate beauty of real stone.”
Granite countertops are perhaps most familiar to the majority of homeowners, and have been a popular choice for the past few decades or so. The versatile material has gotten a bad rep, thanks in part to its telltale “speckle” and popularity in fast-flip homes. Still, there are many perks to choosing a natural stone like granite for your kitchen countertops (it’s affordable, heat and stain-resistant, and extremely durable) and, when erring on the side of simplicity, it can also be a perfectly stylish choice.
“When it comes to granites, I prefer to stick to the simple ones, which are often dark: Absolute Black, Negresco, Steel Grey and Forest Black,” explains designer Killy Scheer. “You can really change the look and feel by changing the finish—we love to use flamed or leathered finish to bring out the texture in the stone.”
Described by Remodelista as “a countertop stone that looks like marble but wears more like granite,” quartzite is a family-friendly alternative for homeowners looking to go with a natural stone but worried about the wear and tear of daily life. Quartzite is typically seen in shades of grey, tan, and white, but can also be found in more unique combinations like pinks, reds, and blues.
“A kitchen countertop can be functional and a stunner all at once,” says designer Jill Howard. “We used a gorgeous "Crystalized Blue" quartzite for one of our projects—it does require some maintenance, but it's so beautiful, it's worth it.”
“People often confuse quartzite with quartz, but quartzite is a natural stone (versus quartz which is a man-made material) with organic movement and attractive color variations,” adds designer Clara Jung. “Although it does require sealing once a year, it is fairly painless. It's not invincible, though—I can't think of a countertop material that is—and the slabs often have imperfections, which is part of the appeal.”
Perhaps one of the most recognizable (and beloved) countertop materials, quartz is lauded for its easy care, accessible price point, and wide array of styles. “Quartz is a manmade product, composed of 90 to 94 percent ground quartz and 6 to 10 percent resins and pigments that are combined into durable and nonporous slabs,” says Remodelista’s Janet Hall.
“If practicality rules the day, I always select quartz,” explains designer Jill Howard. “It’s less porous, and therefore less likely to soak up that ring of red wine left behind. Quartz does come in options that mimic the veining of marble, but I like to stick to the simple variations of quartz, often going for solid white, black or gray."
“Quartz is one of my favorite materials because it can come in so many colors and varieties,” adds designer Rebecca Hay. “With proper care, your surface will stay shiny and smooth without the need to ever seal, polish, or condition your quartz countertop.”
Butcher block countertops are a great way to add the natural warmth of wood into a kitchen’s design, which can sometimes suffer from feeling too utilitarian. Butcher block is made from, as this article explains “straight cuts of wood glued together into thick slabs that provide a particularly sturdy and stable work surface in a kitchen, whether as a cutting board, tabletop, or counter.”
If you appreciate the ability to prep on any surface without a second thought, butcher block countertops are for you. “I love a massive wooden butcher block counter because you can chop directly on the surface,” says Ellen Bennet, Founder and CEO of Hedley & Bennett and author of Dream First, Details Later. “You can also get an oversized Boos block to mimic the same appeal.”
“I love using a birch butcher block for budget-conscious areas like a laundry or mudroom, or a super lacquered mahogany top to match the cabinets in smaller areas of the home,” says designer Kate Towill of Basic Projects, while also adding, “Be sure to finish it super well—lots of water or hot pans and wood tops don’t mix.”
In many ways, soapstone is the hardest working countertop of the bunch. It’s dense and nonporous, allowing it to hold its own against liquid, stains, and acidic materials. It’s also heat resistant, so you can place a searing hot pan atop it right out of the oven with zero stress. It’s typically mined in smaller pieces, which makes it especially popular for islands—any large expanses of countertop will require material that has visible seaming. Here’s the best part: while soapstone is soft and therefore susceptible to scratching (say it with me now: character!), the marks can be easily buffed out with sandpaper.
“Soapstone is another gorgeous natural stone that is heat resistant,” says Salceda. “From black to dark blue to gray, it comes in many different tones with thick white veining. We love the contrast it provides next to painted and stained wood cabinets.”
Terrazzo went through some rough growing pains in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but it’s back—and better than ever. Beloved for its high heat resistance and durability, terrazzo is a composite countertop material that combines a cement base with shards of marble, glass, granite, and more, creating a unique, and often colorful, one-of-a-kind countertop material.
“We took a chance on using terrazzo on the countertop in our 1950s cottage,” says designer Raili Clasen of the stunning project above. “We’ve been so happy with the durability, and especially the way the greens in the slab pull the cabinet colors into play. Since the base of the terrazzo is cement, spills can be buffed out from the polished surface.”
Food writer and cookbook author Emiko Davies fell in love with the idea of using stone terrazzo for the renovation of her 221-year-old kitchen in Italy. “It disguises any little stains and it’s so easy to clean and work on. The only problem I have come across is that it does have a similar problem to marble in that certain acidic foods can eat into the surface if not wiped up immediately, changing it from shiny to matte, but there are special cleaners for this. I also recommend using a daily cleaner that is made specifically for stone/marble/resin surfaces, too,” says Emiko.
While we tried to cover the most popular options, there are plenty of less common and up-and-coming countertop materials out there that could work great for your kitchen. If you're considering a material like copper, stainless steel, tile, and more, tap a contractor, designer, or another expert to make sure you're clear on the care requirements.
Now that you know, which material would you choose? Tell us in the comments below.