Beyond Granite

While stone countertops remain popular, more buyers are looking for alternatives

For years, granite countertops have topped the dream list for luxury home buyers and kitchen remodelers. But once granite started appearing in starter homes, it moved from the realm of “everybody wants it” to “everybody has it.”

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Photo Credit: Concrete Network
Concrete can be molded into a host of countertop shapes. It’s also an environmentally friendly product.

Fortunately, there are several other options – at a range of price points – that can help you create a kitchen with that custom look. Here are some of the latest alternatives to granite.

Soapstone. Used for counters in scientific labs for more than a century, soapstone is a terrific countertop choice. “It’s easy to care for, wears well, and contributes to a historic or vintage quality in a kitchen,” says kitchen and bath designer Catherine Trugman, MOSAIC Group Architects and Remodelers in Atlanta. Soapstone’s consistency makes it great for fabricating custom features, such as integrated drain boards, and the honed finish is inviting. “People are often surprised that the stone doesn’t feel cold, like polished granite can feel,” says Trugman.

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Photo Credit: Catherine Trugman, MOSAIC Group Architects and Remodelers, Atlanta, Ga.
One of the benefits of soapstone as a countertop material is that it’s soft enough to incorporate custom design elements, such as this integrated drain board.

Reclaimed wood. Wood countertops have been a staple of kitchens for generations, but reclaimed wood has just recently become popular. “It’s one of the most durable and environmentally sensitive options available – and can be very economical as well,” says Brenda Be, principal of Boston-based be™ interior design. Each piece is unique and “can be repaired and refinished again and again.”

Recycled materials. As the push toward greener building materials has become more mainstream, several companies have taken recycling from a science to an art form. Consider recycled glass, for instance. Vetrazzo, which describes itself as the originator of the recycled glass countertop, takes each of its color palettes from a particular type of recycled glass, such as amber beer bottles and blue vodka bottles, and uses them to make custom countertops. They’re environmentally friendly, and extremely durable.

Concrete. Once found only in high-end homes, concrete countertops have gained wider acceptance, largely because they can be molded into interesting shapes and colors to fit the client’s needs. Made of cement, water, sand, stone and pigment, concrete is one of the most natural materials available, and the opportunities for customization are virtually unlimited. It can even be embedded with vintage tiles, shells, fossils or other materials. “There are some cool concrete countertops with recycled glass and stone,” says Trugman.

High-definition laminate. It might seem ludicrous to think of laminate as an alternative to granite, but even clients on a budget want to make their kitchen as unique as possible. “Today’s laminate is not your mother’s harvest gold,” Be says. “It comes in interesting patterns, some mimicking natural materials like stone, paper, cardboard and crackled paint.”

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Photo Credit: Wilsonart
Today’s laminate retains what people have always liked in it – the low price – with features that it didn’t once have, including the ability to integrate a sink.

Finally, don’t forget that you can combine different countertop materials within a kitchen. Even if the customer wants a granite countertop under the kitchen cabinets, you could add a unique touch by putting a reclaimed wood countertop on an island. “I like to combine wood countertops with stone,” Trugman says. “Usually, I’ll use wood for a bar top or a seating area. They work quite nicely together.”