3 Tips for Selecting Counter Surfaces

If you’ve been thinking about remodeling or updating your kitchen you’ve probably been wondering about counter tops…

What’s in? What’s too trendy?

What’s best?

How much will it cost? And how much should I spend?

Yeah, that last one kind of hangs heavy. You’ve probably worried that you’ll spend too much. Or that the style you want is too trendy and won’t last for years to come. Everyone worries they’ll make a mistake, choosing a surface they’ll later regret. Clients bring these concerns to me all the time.

Your counter is the workhorse of your kitchen and you’re likely going to spend thousands on a kitchen counter surface. You want something that will stand the test of time, but selecting counter surfaces is difficult and there’s no magic formula to getting it right. Here are my best tips on how to make the best selection for you and how to know what to spend.

Tip #1: Understand your needs 

All counter surfaces are priced by the square foot (sf). So, you can usually expect to spend more for your kitchen than your bathroom. Typically, natural stone surfaces are sold by the slab and are usually deep enough to cover two kitchen counter depths and most island depths. When you buy your stone surface from a stone dealer, you will usually have to pay for the full cost of the slab, including the part you don’t use. Depending on the stone you select, you might be able to cover 20-22 linear feet of counter space, which is probably just enough to cover the counter space of a 10′ x 10′ kitchen with no island. By today’s standards that is a small kitchen. If you have a large kitchen, particularly one with a large island, you will need multiple slabs of stone.

quartz counter top
Quartz is a fantastic choice for kitchen counters. photo: AF Imaging

On the flip side, bathrooms require much less counter surface than a kitchen. A double vanity will usually take about 1/2 slab of stone. Bathrooms are great rooms to use remnants. Remember the part of that slab you didn’t use? Well, the stone vendors resell those as remnants. The advantage of a remnant is that they are sold at a bargain. The disadvantage is that your selection is limited to someone else’s leftovers. However, I have purchased some really nice pieces of quartz about $45/sf including install. It’s always worth a look!

Holes, edges, radius, and corners are the other two factors to consider when budgeting for your countertops. The more holes you put in the countertop, the more the fabrication will cost. The same goes for softer corners and more corners, the number and type of sinks, and the detail in the edge profile. If you want two undermount farmhouse sinks with 5 holes for the faucet, sprayer, and a soap well, your fabrication costs just went up by several hundred dollars. If you have a u-shaped kitchen with a batwing island, all those corners will cost you. Right now “eased” edges are popular, but ogee and bullnose variations edges can add several dollars per linear foot to the cost of a counter surface. It takes the fabricators and installers extra time to create all of these details.

It’s important to keep these “extra” costs in mind as you are pricing counter surfaces. The dollar-per-square-foot price is only for the slab. When you take into account the style of the room and the overall look you want to achieve in the space, you have to consider the dollar mount the little details that add up to big style will cost you.

Tip #2: Know the Products

Right now the hottest tickets in town are marble and quartz. Unfortunately, they’re also the priciest tickets. At the lower end marble can be as inexpensive as $50/sf and on the upper end $100-$250/sf. However, the $50/sf isn’t going to be the beautiful Carrara and Calacatta marble your seeing in the magazines and on sites like Houzz.


Quartz is roughly the same price with the upper end around $115-$120/sf, but dollar for dollar, quartz is probably one of the highest quality counter surfaces on the market. So much bang for your buck. It’s strong, it’s durable, and it holds it’s finish for many years, so it’s also low maintenance.

powder room counter surface
Gray engineered quartz creates a simple look for this powder room with bold wallpaper.


Less fashionable these days is granite. Granite is the reason people hesitate when selecting counter surface these days. Ten to twenty years ago, granite was the thing. People chose colorful, high-movement, bold granite and paid a pretty penny for it! Now they’re ready for something different and left feeling like they made a bad choice, but the math on that feeling doesn’t necessarily work out. If you have a large kitchen, you may have spent $5000 on a counter 20 years ago; that’s $250/year and less than $1/day! Not too shabby for the workhorse of the kitchen.

The good news for people who still love granite is that granite is less expensive. And really, what’s not to love, it’s strong and it’s beautiful. I’ve seen number up to $200/sf for granite, but for the most common patterns, you’re going to see prices ranging from $45-80/sf for just the slab.

Solid Surface

Solid surface counters, like Corian and Staron, have also faded in popularity since they first came to popularity over 30 years ago, but they are durable and budget friendly. I personally prefer solid surface in the bathroom or laundry room area, but they work well in the kitchen. On average, they range in price from $40-80/sf for materials only.


Good old Formica, it’s still around… as are other brands of laminate, like Wilson Art. Used less in residential settings, laminate is a very affordable option, particularly if you want a homogenous, sleek, contemporary look. Laminate counters are usually a wood composite, such as particle board or MDF, with a thin piece of plastic on top. It’s not as durable as other options, but it also costs a fraction of what the other options do. Laminate costs about $40/sf for materials and installation.

Tip #3: Don’t Lose Your Marbles

Right about now, you’re probably asking yourself, “If quartz and marble have a similar cost, why would anyone ever get faux-marble quartz when real marble is far superior?”

Marble is better for bathroom counters due to maintenance issues. photo: AF Imaging

It’s an excellent question, especially for people who want marble in the kitchen.

One that I usually counter with another question: “Do you plan on using your kitchen to cook?” Quite often, the answer is yes. This is where the education begins.

Marble is a very delicate, very porous stone. You know how they ask you not to touch the marble statues in a museum because the oils and acids in our skin will erode the marble? Yeah, the same goes for kitchen counter tops. Except, it’s not just our hands that touch the marble in the kitchen, it’s food acids, like citrus and vinegar. These foods will actually degrade the surface of the marble.

So, think of marble as a high maintenance diva. You’ll pay a lot up front and it will require more upkeep to keep it happy.

Quartz, on the other hand, is very strong and holds its polish. You can almost commit no sins when it comes to quartz. The faux-marble quartz options are really beautiful and really long lasting. If you want the look of marble in a kitchen, you really can’t go wrong with quartz.

But if you absolutely must have marble, and I can’t say I blame you for that, try it in the bathroom. It’s a much more forgiving environment.

Bonus Tip:

In the end, make sure you get something you like! You want the easiest way to predict if you’ll make a mistake or have any regrets? If you find yourself making too many compromises, then you’re probably heading in a bad direction. Don’t compromise what you like for something you think might be a safer bet, save money on the extras – the holes, curves, and edges. If you’re going to spend thousands, at least in the end you will have had something beautiful that you really loved!

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Next Up: Reface or Replace – 3 Considerations

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