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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Top That Counter

Stephanie Staton
Hobby Farms and Hobby Farm Home Editor

While we’ve tried to tackle most of our home renovation projects on our own, there was one project that seemed well outside our realm of skills and physical abilities: countertops. We laid out and installed the cabinets, leveling and securing each one in place, but then called in the experts at Counter Culture Plus in Lexington, Ky., to template, order, cut and install the countertops.

Before any of that took place, we met with Counter Culture’s sales team to discuss our options. Here are few surprising things I learned:

  • Despite assurances from home-improvement television shows, butcher-block countertops are not the most affordable option in this region. They actually cost more than most natural stones.

  • Quartz is an incredibly durable countertop material but also pricey with far less character than marble or granite.

  • Marble is amazingly affordable (at least in my neck of the woods) when compared to other natural stones, but it’s also super sensitive to acidic and colored liquids—in other words, it stains easily.

  • Granite is the middle child in terms of price and requires a bit more care than quartz, but it stains less easily than marble.

Armed with this information, we had a choice to make.

We settled on a marble countertop for its ability to keep us on budget while providing a beautiful base that works well with our two-toned cabinets and gray color scheme. I must admit, I was charmed by its good looks and promises to make baking endeavors more simple.

I originally wanted Carrarra marble, which is known for its white background with gray veining and named for the region where it’s mined. Unfortunately, our order was timed so that the slabs coming out of the quarries tended to have a grayer background. That’s when the company suggested that we look at Valencia marble in a white-and-gray scheme. This afforded the color scheme I so desperately wanted in a countertop with a slightly busier veining—and it was little less expensive than its cousin!

With the tough decisions behind us, I met the crew at the house for the countertop installation. Of course, it was storming something fierce that day, and the guys had to wait out the torrential rain to move the huge slabs. Despite weighing hundreds of pounds, the two smaller pieces along the wall were secured fairly quickly using a dolly fashioned just for this purpose. The island, on the other hand, would prove far more intensive.

The men struggled to get the massive island top—at twice the width and every bit as long as the first two pieces—over the threshold while making the tight turn from the back door through the utility entrance to the kitchen. I let out a huge sigh of relief when they made through and got the stone in place without damaging anything.

Hobby Farms editor Stephanie Staton and her husband sought professional help on the installation of their marble countertops. Photo by Stephanie Staton (HobbyFarms.com)
Photo by Stephanie Staton

Following the salesperson’s instructions, my husband and I visually checked the countertop for any problems and also ran our hands along the edges and top to feel for rough spots or other flaws. Natural stone won’t be perfect (hence, it being "natural”) so feeling the surface allows you to find natural divots or holes that professionals can fill with color-matched materials. It also allows you to check for areas that might have been missed in the initial sanding process.

It was imperative that we perform the countertop inspection before signing off, and true to their word, the company fixed each impurity we found, as well as installed the sink and faucet. (This company offers professional plumbing services with their installations—something to consider when interviewing countertop-installation companies.)

If you’re looking to buy a natural stone countertop and can’t find the style you want, be sure to ask if there are others with similar characteristics. Also, be sure to weigh the pros and cons of the materials. Choosing a sensitive material for our countertop probably wasn’t my wisest choice given my family’s tendencies to spill stuff, but I keep telling myself that it will not only add to the character but also help hone my kitchen cleaning habit. After all, wiping down the counters after each use should be on everyone’s food-safety to-do list.

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