We’re surrounded by counters — particularly in the kitchen, home office and bathroom. We take them for granted and don’t realize the impact they have on us. Their colors, patterns and textures affect our feelings daily. Choosing the material is a decision based on style, function and cost, whereas the design decision is based on your preferences.

Taking this a step further, we coordinate our cabinets with our countertops. We might even match the walls and accessories with the color of the countertops. When I work with a client, we generally begin the design of the room by choosing the countertop. Your counters can be the most dramatic feature, as well as the choice that affects you the most. 

For example, while working in the kitchen, you’re constantly looking down and seeing the counter. You’re surrounded by the mood-altering energy of the color and pattern. So countertops are more important than you realize.

When choosing countertops, consider how they’ll be used and who will use them. Are there children at home? Do you want to use a cutting board? Do you want to put hot pots on the counters? Do uneven surfaces bother you?

Today you have a variety of choices:

Granite is one of the more durable and still the most popular countertop choice today. Plus, there are a multitude of colors and textures to choose from. Check out the leather finish, too.

Marble is beautiful but more porous, so it’s more apt to stain or etch than granite.

Engineered quartz, such as Caesarstone, Cambria or Silestone, are man-made materials using 90% ground quartz and added resin. They are more durable than granite and are similar in price to mid-range granite.

Tile comes in many colors, is durable and can take heat, but the grout is porous, needs to be sealed and is difficult to keep looking good. The surface may be more uneven. Vertically, hand-painted tiles can create beautiful and interesting designs as backsplashes.

Cement is smooth and heat-resistant, but it’s porous and can stain or crack as it cures.

Natural stone, which is honed until smooth, must be sealed. This creates a rustic and earthy look.

Stainless steel and/or stainless combined with copper are more sensitive to scratches, yet resistant to heat and stain. This look is often used in more contemporary-looking kitchens and can emphasize a theme with stainless appliances.

Solid wood is warm, rich and elegant, and when sealed properly, has a long life.

Once you determine your material, you have to decide how the backsplash will look and how much of a backsplash you want. They can continue to the upper cabinets or they can be the standard 4 inches. You can use the same material as the countertop or introduce a new material such as tiles or mosaics. Combining materials creates your signature look.

Lighting changes the way your countertops look. Under-cabinet lighting, be it fluorescent, halogen or LED, will highlight the countertop material and emphasize the theme for the room. In the evening, your countertops could be the only glow in the room.

So how do you make this difficult choice? Cost is a factor, of course. Durability is your next consideration: How hard a surface do you need? Finally, consider what you want to look at every day.

Counters are there to serve you. And remember, rooms have no feelings. But you do! JN


Barbara Kaplan, IFDA and Allied ASID, is a Phoenix-based interior designer and the CEO of Barbara’s Picks, an online resource for interior design. Visit barbaraspicks.com for more information.

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