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Counter Points: 5 things to remember when shopping for a countertop

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A kiln-carved custom glass countertop by Downing Designs.
Luxury Living Tampa Bay

Choosing a countertop is not a choice to be taken for granite.

My earliest countertop memories go back to the kitchen of my family’s home in Massachusetts, a Cape Cod ranch built in 1962. I think the material was Formica® — aqua, with gold flecks. What I remember most about that countertop was the burn mark – not just a mark but a wound, the laminate peeled upwards like a piece of skin, revealing brown cardboard below. I don’t recall who or what caused the burn. But I do know that my mother took the injury to her new countertop very personally, almost as if it had been she, not the countertop, that bore the scar. In other words…

Countertops matter

Whatever you choose to cover your counters with, that choice will define your kitchen (or your bathroom) for, like, ever. Having lately been in the process of buying a house myself, I’ve been thinking a lot about countertops, and have compiled (with the help of some local experts) five key points to think about when you’re making a decision about how to decorate wide swaths of your cooking, eating and living spaces.

 

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An engineered-quartz countertop by Elements Design Co.

Top 5 countertop considerations…

1. Material, girl.
You’ve got a lot more than Formica to choose from these days. Granite remains popular — “85 percent of my sales,” says Jeff Zajac of Largo’s Kitchen & Bath Concepts. (Having been in the business more than 30 years, he also remembers when DuPont™ Corian® had its heyday in the ’80s and ’90s.) The hottest 21st-century trend?Engineered quartz, says Vince Winteregg of Clearwater’s Elements Design Company. But there’s also concrete, glass and, for that Grecian temple feel, marble. And you don’t have to forgo Formica; laminates are still available, and economical, too.

2. If you can’t take the heat…
Get out of the kitchen? Not exactly. My mother learned the hard way that there’s a difference between heat-resistant and heat-proof— Formica and Corian are the former — but if you use a trivet under your hot pots, you should be fine. That goes for engineered quartz, too; because it’s 92-93% quartz combined with resin or acrylic, the heat can burn the resin. As for granite or marble, a slight discoloration could result, but otherwise stone countertops stand up well to heat. But don’t slam that pan down in a fit of culinary pique; you could chip the stone (not something to worry about with the synthetics). As for glass, one alternative is White Glass, aka Nano Glass; it’s lauded by Tampa-based Downing Designs as “by far the whitest, strongest, most stain-proof, UV-proof, cigarette and hot pan-proof, hair dye-proof, solvent-proof acid-proof material we have ever tested.”

3. Easy wipe!
One gripe about granite and marble is that they’re hard to keep clean. That’s pretty much a myth; we use Meyer’s Clean Day (cranberry scent) on our granite countertops, and they clean up real good. It is true, though, that it’s harder to see dirt on a granite counter, particularly if it’s a darker color, than it is to spot the spots on a glass surface. Quartz may be the best of both worlds; it looks like marble, but it’s much easier to maintain, says Elements’ Winteregg. Nevertheless, he says if he were deciding on a counter for his own kitchen, he’d go with marble: “You just have to take care of it a little more, and know that it will show signs of wear. To me that adds some of the beauty of the natural stone.”

4. Hue are so beautiful.
Another reason for the popularity of engineered quartz? “You have a lot more control over the color,” says Winteregg. “You could get a solid gray or a fire engine red.” But granite doesn’t have to go dark. The 250-plus varieties at Stoneworks Largo include hues all along the spectrum, including one called Moon White. And if glass is your choice, you can go pretty wild with color and design; Downing Designs is showing oceans of glass dramatically enhanced by LED lights. “Our glass casting process involves creating a custom texture for each piece,” says Jeff Downing. “It’s great fun and often our clients join us in the kiln carving at our studio where they get to see the final design come to life.” In the stormy swirls of a countertop like the one on the opposite page, clients might be tasked to “dot-the-eye,” says Downing, “thus personalizing their own CAT 5 hurricane.”

5. Counter your pennies — or not.
With this multitude of options comes a wide range of prices. Granite goes for approximately $65 per square foot, according to Kitchen & Bath Concepts; a white glass countertop can run from$150-$250 psf, says Downing Designs. The engineered quartz boom means prices have gone down; Winteregg says the average is $55-$75 psf range. As for laminates, you can expect to pay $40-$65 psf with professional installation, according to costhelper.com. In any case, you’ll want to shop around.

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A few of Stoneworks’ 250-plus hues of granite.

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