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A Guide to Countertops

by Magnolia
Published on June 22, 2021

_story by Sarah Coffey, photography by Carson Downing, produced by Scott J. Johnson

In kitchens, baths, and laundry rooms, countertops handle so much of the work we do at home. We need them to be strong and durable, yet also beautiful. Whether they blend seamlessly into your spaces or add a layer of personality, the right materials set the tone for the room they’re in. When we commit to countertops that look great and work hard, the investment offers returns we can enjoy daily.

Material Matters

Finding the right material for a space can feel daunting, but a few key considerations can focus the task. Location is important. Kitchens and baths see more daily wear than laundry rooms. And no matter the space, the color, design, and budget are factors to keep top of mind. Here, we offer a snapshot of some of our favorite materials.


pro: easy daily maintenance
con: susceptible to chips and dents

Composed of magnesium-rich talc and other minerals,
soapstone is heatproof, nonporous, naturally stain-resistant,
and requires no sealant. It’s also naturally antimicrobial—a
nice bonus in kitchens and baths. Over time, the charcoal
gray stone oxidizes, lending it a deep patina.
Softer than other natural stones, soapstone is more
susceptible to dents, chips, and scratches,
but it’s also easier to shape and install.


pro: longevity
con: stains more easily than other natural stones

From milky white to smoky blue-gray,
marble’s colorful veining depends on the
minerals present where it’s mined. Most
Italian marbles come from the region
around Carrara, where clay and iron
oxide tint the natural calcite limestone.
Although beautiful and durable, marble
is susceptible to staining. It requires
regular sealing or a good polish to
restore a well-worn surface.


pro: customizable and hard-wearing
con: porous and prone to staining

Durable and distinctive, concrete is an
easily customizable material. Skilled
DIYers can install their own concrete
counters. Alternately, precast options
exist, which reduce the risk of cracks
that can happen with poured-in-place
counters. Sealants help protect from
heat, scratches, and stains. However,
concrete shows marks over time.
Embrace the imperfections, and it’s a
great-looking, hard-wearing material.


pro: durability
con: limited color choices

One of the most durable materials on the
market, quartzite looks similar to marble
but is harder and less porous. Formed
from quartz sandstone compacted by heat
and pressure, quartzite is a natural stone
that requires regular sealing. Its strength
makes it useful in any room, but that
hardiness translates to higher costs for
cutting, shaping, and installation.


pro: low maintenance
con: heat sensitive

Unlike quartzite, quartz countertops
are engineered from resin, minerals,
and pigments. Because it’s
manufactured, quartz doesn’t require
sealing and can be crafted to resemble
any material, such as granite or marble.
Finishes are similar to natural stone,
and it can be polished, honed, or
leathered. Quartz is easy to care for,
but high heat can cause burn marks.


pro: resists scratches
con: requires regular sealant

This natural stone is known for durability
and can easily withstand the wear and
tear of daily use. To keep granite stain-
resistant, a sealant is required. Some
granite slabs have more natural pattern
or “movement” than others, so making
sure the style of a particular slab is a
match for your space can take more
time and energy.

Butcher Block


pro: functional and affordable
con: requires regular upkeep

Butcher-block and solid wood
countertops are strong, simple, and
available in many styles and species—
from light maple to dark walnut. Wood
counters inevitably collect water stains
and scratches, but this forgiving material
can be sanded and oiled for a quick
refresh. Proper care calls for a coat of
mineral or tung oil after installation and
every year after.

Spaces with less square footage can be an opportunity  to splurge with a higher-cost material, like marble, with a specialty edge. — _Photograph by Lisa Petrole_


The thicker you go, the higher the price. For a high-end look on a tight budget, consider adding 1-centimeter laminated edges to the borders of a 2-centimeter countertop.


Most standard counters come polished, but you can request a matte finish. Be prepared to pay extra for an involved process such as leathering.

Stone has a high-gloss, reflective finish that’s easy to wipe down and keep clean.

Stone is sanded for a smooth, matte feel that’s subtler and helps to hide blemishes.

Stone is sanded, washed, and brushed for a natural look that stands up to scratches.


When choosing an edge, think about the thickness of your counters. A rounded bullnose might look timeless on a 2- or 3-centimeter counter but chunky on anything larger. For a modern look, try a straight or eased edge. In a more traditional space, an ogee detail can add elegance. Use this list to understand the most common options.

_Photograph (Inset) by Lisa Petrole Homebody, Harper Design, 201

**Bring home samples
**Looking at materials in your space can help you envision how a countertop will complement other design choices in a room. Often it’s helpful to see how your lighting affects the appearance as well.

**Balance your budget
**Calculate the square footage of material you’ll need, remembering to factor in installation. Special edges and treatments add to the bottom line, as do cutouts for outlets, faucets, and cooktops. Keep in mind that people typically replace countertops only once every 10 or 15 years, so the money spent now will offer visual and tangible benefits well into the future.

This story was adapted for digital from the summer issue of Magnolia Journal.Opens in new tab

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