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Countertop Selection Guide

There are so many options for countertops, today, it can be overwhelming.  At Starr Kitchens, we have installed every one of them!  We know the pro's and the con's of each material, so we can help you to make a well educated decision for your home! 

Laminate Countertops
     Quite often referred to as "Fomica countertops," laminate countertops offer the widest range of patterns available.  With patterns ranging from solid to wood grained to simulated stone, laminate countertops can add a beautiful finishing touch to your new kitchen.  Manufacturers include Formica, Wisonart, Nevamar, and Pionite, each with many patterns, textures and qualities.  Several laminates mimic natural granite in both pattern and texture.  Laminate tops are the most cost effective choice, as well. 
     The surfacing materials used in laminate countertop fabrication have come a long way in the past few years.  The pattern is still only one layer thick, as shown, below.  However, the top layer (or protective layer) has been vastly improved to "resist" scratching.  If the pattern is scratched or chipped away from a laminate top, the only way to repair it is with a solid colored product called, "Seamfil," which may be quite noticeable, depending on the pattern.
                                                            
There many edge styles available, as well.  Visit our showroom to see a sample of each of the edges listed, below:
              
                  "No Drip"                              Waterfall                          Double Wrap                 European or Bullnose

                                      
                            Square or Self Edged                       Beveled                                Oak edged

                                                      
                                                                Amore'                                     Vida

By adding an under mounted stainless steel or acrylic sink to your laminate top, Starr Kitchens can
help you to have "affordable luxury."  With no more "lip" or "ring" around the edge, you can simply
wipe the crumbs off your countertop and into the sink.  There are several styles to choose from.
Let Starr Kitchens help you make the right selection for your home!

                                                                        
                                                      Undermounted stainless steel              Undermounted acrylic

                                        The "Pros"                                                    The "Cons"
                           Most affordable option.                                   Can be scratched.
                           Largest selection of patterns.                          Some stone patterns look very artificial.
                           Several edges available.                                 Susceptible to water damage.
                           Sinks can be undermounted.                          Cannot be "renewed," or repaired.
                           Can be installed by "do-it-yourselfers"            Seams are readily visible.

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Solid Surface Countertops

     When asking for a Kleenex, one typically is asking for a tissue.  The most popular brand name has become the default name for the product.  The same has occurred with solid surface countertops, as well.  Corian is the oldest solid surface manufacturer, and when a home owner asks for "Corian countertops," they typically mean solid surface.  When Corian was first introduced for residential countertops over 40 years ago, the color options were white or white.  Since that time, the color and pattern options have grown into the hundreds.  There are many options for solids surface, such as decorative edge styles, coved backsplashes (similar to laminate countertops) and fused or seamless sinks.  Manufacturers include Corian, LH HiMacs, Formica, Wilsonart and many others.  Some are solid acrylic, while others are a blend of acrylic and polyester.  The solid acrylic materials tend to be more durable, but the polyester brands tend to be more affordable. 
      Solid surface materials range from 1/2" to 1 1/2" in thickness.  Unlike the surfacing materials used in laminate countertops, solid surface materials can be "repaired," or "renewed."  Depending on the type of damage, solid surface countertop repairs are, typically, unnoticeable.  Small chips or gauges can be filled, sanded and made virtually undetectable.  Large chips or cracks can be cut out and replaced with a piece of matching material.  Solid surface countertops are non-porous, so they won't harbor germs or promote the growth of germs.  By having the surface "refinished" every few years, your solid surface countertops will look like new for many years. 
     One concern to keep in mind is solid surface countertops are susceptible to heat.  If exposed to extreme or continued heat, a solid surface countertop can experience "thermal shock," when the material heat and expands too rapidly, causing the surface to crack.  This can be repaired, but it can be costly.  We suggest using a hot pad or trivet to dissipate the heat from hot pots or any small appliances which generate extreme heat.  If enjoy canning or often cook pasta, you may want to consider a stainless steel sink to avoid damage to the sink from boiling water.
      The surfacing materials are available from many different manufacturers.  The materials are manufactured in sheets or panels, and sent to a fabricator.  The fabricator cut and seams the material, based on a template of your kitchen or bathroom cabinetry.  The countertops are installed by trained, licensed installers to ensure a professional and proper installation.  Each fabricator has a "standard" selection of edge profiles, and typically several "upgrade" edge profiles, as well.  Come to our showroom, and we can show you examples of the many edges available.

                                              The "Pros"                                                  The "Cons"
                                Solid material, can be repaired.          Considerably more expensive than laminate.
                                Non-porous, won't stain.                     Susceptible to heat damage.
                                Sinks are integrated / seamless.         Not for the "do-it-yourselfer."

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Natural Stone Countertops
     Natural stone countertops offer timeless beauty with unique patterns in every countertop.  There are several stone materials used for countertops, including marble, soapstone, slate and the most popular: granite.  Natural stone is the most durable material for countertops.  The raw stone is cut in slabs from quarries located around the world.  There is a wide range of colors and patterns available in shades of red, gold, green, blue and even solid black.  The value of natural stone is determined by how rare the stone is in the remaining quarries.  As the available materials because more scarce, the price may increase.  Mineral streaks and random "blotches" in the pattern enhance the natural beauty, but may not appeal to some homeowners.  For this reason, we suggest to our customers to go to the actual granite supplier (conveniently located in Grand Rapids, MI) to view and pick out the actual slabs to be used in their new kitchen or bathroom. 
                                      
                          Granite slabs awaiting fabrication                       A small selection of granite patterns

       Raw stone is very susceptible to staining and germ absorption.  Your stone countertops will be installed with a "food grade" sealer to help avoid these problems.  However, the seal must be reapplied every 1 to 2 years, depending on how often you use your countertops.  Heat can break down the seal, so even though the stone can typically withstand direct contact with heat, we still advise the use of hot pads or trivets.  Another enemy to the sealer is acidic fluids, such as citrus juice, wine and mouth wash.  Under normal conditions, with a little careful maintenance, your natural stone countertops should last a lifetime!
       Natural stone countertops are very hard, and very unforgiving to plates and glasses which may be dropped onto them.  Unlike a laminate or solid surface countertop which can absorb the impact, if you drop a plate or glass onto your new stone countertop, that plate or glass will most likely crack or shatter.  Stone countertops tend to feel cold to the touch, and will remain cool which is one of the reasons stone is a preferred prep surface for baker's prep areas. 
       There are many edge styles available for stone countertops, and each fabricator offers a unique collection of "standard" and "upgrade" edges.  When you visit our showroom, we can show you samples of the edges offered by our current fabricator, along with several in-store displays.  Since the material is quarried at 3 cm. thick, there is a wide variety of decorative edges available.  And, in some instances, customers have chosen to make a bold statement in their design by choosing a "stacked" granite edge, which can be very intricately carved to be unique in style as well as pattern.  Sinks are typically under mounted, although with the introduction of several new cast iron kitchen sink shapes and "vessel" style lavatory bowl styles there are many options for today's homeowner.

   
                   Pencil Edge                                              Bullnose                                                    Ogee

   
                  Large Ogee                                         Triple Pencil Edge                            Broken or Rough Edge

             
                       Examples of "stacked" countertops, created with two or more slabs "laminated" together.

       Another method for fabricating granite countertops is with granite tiles.  The tiles, typically, are fabricated in 12" square tiles and installed in a method similar to ceramic tile countertops.  The granite tiles can be installed with or without grout lines.  The savings is approximately 25% - 30% off the solid granite price, however the maintenance increases due to the many lines created when the tiles are installed.  The tiles are , typically, only 1/2" thick so the front edge styles are limited to a pencil edge, only.  And, since the tiles are natural granite, they will need to be resealed every 1 to 2 years.  Most customers choose the full, solid granite over the tiled granite for those very reasons.

   
         Typical granite tile installation                                   Granite tiled countertop (note the many seams)

 

                                             The "Pros"                                          The "Cons"
                                         Very durable.                                  Very hard, and cold.
                                         Sealed to avoid stains.                   Must be resealed.
                                         Some patterns are very unique.     Must be installed by a professional fabricator.

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Quartz Countertops
       One of the newest surfacing materials for countertops is quartz.  Made from quarried and mined quartz crystals, quartz countertops are quickly becoming the surfacing material of choice.  Combining approximately 92% natural quartz with a colored acrylic bonding agent, the material is fabricated into slabs which are similar to natural granite.  Unlike natural granite, this fabrication process creates slabs which are very uniform in color and pattern.  Also, unlike natural granite, quartz countertops do not need to be resealed.  They are very stain resistant and designed to bring many years of beauty to your home.  
         There are several manufacturers of quartz countertop materials, including Zodiaq by DuPont, Viatera by LG, Silestone, Cambria and Cesarstone.  Recently, the quartz countertop manufacturers have started creating patterns which more closely mimic natural granite, with larger particulates and swirls of color.  The edge styles available for quartz countertops are the same as the edges available for natural stone. 
                                      
                                                           Quartz                     vs.                Natural Granite

                                                The "Pros"                                               The "Cons"
                                 Very uniform patterns and colors.              Some patterns look "artificial."
                                 Does not need to be resealed.                  Can be more expensive than granite.
                                 Very scratch and stain resistant.               Remains cold to the touch, like granite.

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Ceramic Tile Countertops
      Ceramic tile offers the widest range of colors, patterns and styles.  One can be quite creative with tile layouts, more so than any other surfacing material.  Ceramic and porcelain tiles are available in a wide variety of qualities, as well.  Ceramic tiles are typically only finished on the top surface, whereas porcelain tiles typically have the color throughout the full thickness of the tile.  Tile countertops can be very inexpensive, or they can be quite an investment, depending on the style of tile chosen.  Tile countertops can be a do-it-yourself way to update your kitchen.  However, you may want a professional to fabricate your countertop if you have an intricate layout or expensive tile.
       A high quality tile will offer durability against stains and heat, but the grout lines will require routine maintenance.  There are new grouts available which have silicone mixed into them to help seal the seams and limit maintenance concerns.  But, harsh cleaning chemicals can stain the grout, or dry out the grout so much that it needs to be replaced.  A color matched or accenting grout will help reduce the "checker board" look of the grout lines.
       There are two types of sink used with tile countertops; self-rimming and tile-in.  The self-rimming sink will have the traditional "lip" or "ring" around the edge of the sink, whereas a tile-in sink has an edge designed to accomodate tile, and will create a flush surface with the tile.  There are many more self-rimming sinks available than tile-in, but the finished look of a tile-in sink is much more visually appealing and more preferred.

        
                      Tile with traditional layout.                                           Tile with intricate inlaid accents.

        
                             Self-rimming sink.                                                                     Tile-in sink.

                                    The "Pros"                                                                        The "Cons"
          Many colors, patterns, sizes and styles available.          Intricate layouts should be installed by a professional.
          Heat and stain resistant.                                                 Grout lines require routine maintenance.

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Concrete Countertops
      Concrete is the newest of the countertop surfacing materials.  Concrete is very versatile in color, texture and layout.  The countertops can be personalized with polished stones, glass tiles, slices of geodes, or just about anything.  Creating unique colors and patterns has become an art with concrete.  Due to small imperfections in the finish and color, no two concrete tops are alike.
       It is suggested that concrete countertops should not be attempted by the do-it-yourself.  However, some brave homeowners have created and installed their own countertops.  The process is somewhat involved, starting off with building a template and framework for the countertops to be poured, onsite.  This can be a very messy process, which is another reason most homeowners decide to let the professionals create their countertops for them.  Another concern with concrete countertops is maintenance.  Concrete is very porous, and must be resealed every 1 to 2 months with a food grade wax.  Otherwise, the raw surface will be exposed, and become susceptible to stains and germs.  If chips or scratches occur, the surface can typically be repaired. 
       Most concrete countertops are finished with a thick square edge, which creates a more contemporary style for the kitchen.  If you want a truly custom kitchen, and you're not afraid of a little hard work, concrete countertops may be the final touch you need for your newly remodeled kitchen!

     

Concrete can be plain...                                        ....contemporary....                             ....or, even whimsicle!

                                                 The "Pros"                                              The "Cons"
                                 Very versatile in color and layout.                 Very high maintenance.
                                 Heat resistant.                                              Must be resealed, often.
                                 Can be a do-it-yourself project.                    Custom layouts and colors should be installed
                                                                                                            by professionals.

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  Thank you for visiting Starr Kitchens.
We look forward to working with you!