One of the most difficult decisions we are faced with when designing a kitchen is the choice of countertop materials. Luckily the reason for that difficulty is that homeowners have never had access to so many great countertop materials including a wide array of man-made materials, natural stones, woods and metals.
With every material choice there are trade-offs both aesthetically and functionally. For our own kitchen, my wife and I chose a beautiful green limestone with embedded fossils. We love the look and texture of the material but we have to be very careful since acidic liquids like lemon juice and vinegar, when left for a long period of time, etch the surface. By occasionally applying linseed oil to the etched areas, the stone retains it’s natural beauty. Staining and etching can also be a problem with marble. One should also consider the durability of the stone. For example it is easier to chip limestone or marble then granite.
Granites come in many beautiful colors and patterns and hold up to heavy usage in the kitchen. They are generally impervious to scratches and staining. Soapstone works well but can be chipped and must be oiled periodically to maintain it’s color.
Butcher block has a warm soft feel and is very forgiving if you set a plate down a little too hard. The trade-off butcher block is that stains easily and can deteriorate in wet locations. For better or worse butcher block invites use as a cutting board.
Concrete countertops are very durable, come in many colors, and can be formed in many configurations. Tile is very beautiful but also can be fragile and the joints between the tiles tend to be difficult to clean.
The popularity of Formica and Corian and like products have waxed and waned over the years but are both extremely durable and, come in a broad variety of colors. There seems to be many new products coming out every year made from everything from metal shavings to recycled Coke bottles. I hesitate to jump on the bandwagon for some of these newest materials until I understand how they hold up through time.
Last but not least, are countertops made from metals such as stainless steel, zinc, copper etc.. Again these materials are very durable and can create a certain aesthetic. I have heard both praise and criticism from homeowners over how easy they are to clean.
In practice we tend to combine countertop materials in the kitchen taking into account the qualities of each. In my mind, any combination of materials, as long as they fit the kitchen, look good, and function well together is the right choice.