Beautiful and budget-friendly kitchen countertops

By Lisa Martin

Kitchen countertops can look amazing — even for the budget-savvy or those who love to splurge. Nothing in the kitchen competes with countertops in terms of design, visual interest, and value. You don’t have to be stuck with lackluster surfaces; transform your kitchen countertops from blah to brilliant!

Granite

Pros: resists heat, stains, and scratching
Cons: requires sealing, can crack

According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association, granite accounted for 56 percent of countertop sales in 2010, while engineered quartz and laminates tied for a distant second, at 13 percent each. Granite has undeniable cachet — often with a price tag to match. Avoid anteing up some $200-per-square-foot price tag when there’s wallet-friendly options like thin granite tiles. Or choose 3/4-inch stone instead of the more common 1-1/4-inch thick slab, and go for a simple edge rather than mitered corners. You could drop the price to the $35 to $50 per square foot range.

Still too spendy? Visit local countertop fabricators and buy remnant pieces at up to 75 percent below retail. Or do your island in chichi granite and use cheaper alternatives for the rest of the room. (Europeans have loved that look for centuries!) Visit your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore outlet center for deals. (Not sure if you can install it yourself?)

Engineered quartz

Pros: color options, stain and acid resistant
Cons: seams, periodic professional cleaning recommended

Engineered quartz is another option — one less pricey than marble or granite. Engineered stone consists of crushed quartz particles blended with pigments and held together with plastic resins. The resulting material enjoys hardness similar to granite and comparable durability. And because of the addition of resins, the countertops can be colored in a variety of spot-on hues. Engineered quartz can cost as little as $35 per square foot.

“We have a definite advantage when it comes to creating surfaces in the newest color trends,” said Arik Tendler, president of Caesarstone, a manufacturer of engineered quartz. “We don’t have to depend strictly on nature to create our colors.”

Wood and bamboo

Pros: often naturally resistant to microbes
Cons: must be oiled and sealed regularly; potential for water damage

Butcher block, laminated maple, and bamboo are chic options that won’t break the bank, costing $22 per square foot and up. Naturally resistant to bacteria, wood can be sanded and re-stained to restore its good looks. Bamboo, meanwhile, has inherent durability; it’s also a uniquely renewable resource, making it an eco-friendly choice. Know going in, however, that bamboo and wood will show wear and tear of daily use. (Want more ways to save money in your home?)

Laminates

Pros: durable and low maintenance
Cons: tough to repair when scratched; can be scorched

The new generation of laminates combines beauty and brawn. Thin veneers of paper or wood are sealed with resins, plastics, or polymers. Some so-called “HD” laminates resemble granite so closely you have to touch it to tell the difference. Leading companies like Formica and Wilsonart International have improved their manufacturing processes to incorporate post-consumer recycled content. The least expensive options start at around $5 per square foot.

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