By Steven V. Philips –
Part Two in the Horizontal Enlightenment Program by which I mean counter tops, not Kama Sutra. This is a family publication.
How about limestone, another natural stone? Not commonly used in the northern parts of USA (Floridians love the stuff) but used in Europe forever, it has a warm “buttery” finish as it’s composed of an amalgam of sea life with fossils, shells, whale poop and such stuff from The Little Mermaid’s neighborhood. Limestone is lovely.
But, limestone does discolor and it can be etched. (C’mon over and see my etchings of pickle slices.) You can use a sealer, but if you’re not enamored with the phrase “it tends to age into a lovely patina,” limestone is not a good choice of top. Pastry chefs love it, and if you bake, a section of limestone would work, but definitely don’t make lemonade nearby. One installer was quoted: “No more difficult to install than any other stone, so limestone is great – if you’re not going to use the counters – and lose my number when the job is done.”
Maybe soapstone or slate? Soapstone is hardened talc and slate is hardened clay. Both softer than granite though not exactly goose-down. Both scratch. And may chip. But slate and soapstone are perfectly appropriate if your kitchen is done in a farmhouse style. Just keep your cows’ hoofs trimmed.
Bottom line winner in the natural stone category? Probably granite (see October issue of Flavors And More). But seriously kids, really-really do your research on any natural surface no matter how much in love you are. Unlike the research you did on your third wife, who also aged poorly.
Concrete counter tops. A bit sidewalkesque but only if you use boring gray. Concrete can be colored. Possibly orange if you’re into sunsets and are crazy. Usually fabricated off-site and installed. Made on-site if it’s really too BIG to carry or a really complex shape. And henceforth your kitchen will never blow away in a hurricane.
Concrete is porous like a sponge, so you have to seal it unless you’re into a finish that looks like the garage floor under your Buick. Good sealers will resist staining but still no guarantees. “Nearly impermeable” is the lawyers’ phrase – a hot pot or a cut can compromise the seal. (How funny is “don’t cut on concrete?” Righto and never use that knife again either.) Might be able to scratch it if you’re using the surface to forge horseshoes. Correctly sealed, mild soap and water will clean it but you must periodically reseal.
Tile? Fragile and with its dirt-attracting grout lines? Dated. Bumpy. Enough said?
Recycled-glass counters. 80% to 97% recycled glass. Resistant to heat and if you want to cut on them, go ahead you silly person. Un-recycleable glass ends up here, such as car windshields, your mother-in-laws’ beer bottles, colored containers, perfume flasks and Pom ® bottles. Great color range. Nice look and very reminiscent of terrazzo…
Oak butcher block is returning. And teak for you sailors who know how to care for it. Also recycled old hardwood framing timbers, re-fabricated to a counter top scale. Very nice. And the latest wood to be used, and quite hard, is bamboo. All of these naturals are durable to a degree but must be sealed/refinished correctly and regularly. Watch the hot pots. Careful about leaving standing water. No cutting on them unless you like the gnawed look. Nothing beats the beauty and warmth of wood. Just not so carefree.
Finally, there are solid surface products. Corian ® brand, and its seven manufactured peers, are made of acrylic, or polyester, plastic. Tough to stain. Easy to clean. Glossy or matte in a plethora of patterns and designs, waterproof and does not stain easily. Not heat proof but forgiving unless you set that red-hot horseshoe on it. Minor surface scratches repairable and there are claims are it resists bacteria.
- Limestone tops are commonly honed (sand finish), not polished like granite. Because of this, their joints can be smoothed down and made less visible. Less, I said. A miracle you want?
- Let me repeat this wisdom again. Buy your natural stone from a dealer who is reputable, not working out of elderly Chevvy truck that has an Elvis sticker and 43 payments left on it. Varying stories abound over sealing and joining and grain and country of origin and the moon’s phase when quarried, so you need an expert. Not a guy named Wayneo Sage.
- Recycled glass compares in price to natural stone and solid surface products. Very environmentally sound with no bad binders. Plus you can give germ-phobics the willies by telling them they’re eating off of trash. So worth it.
- All of the wood family can either be joined side to side as a bowling alley, or end grain, as in a real butcher’s block. And some bamboo grows about two feet a day (not in your kitchen, Einstein) so it’s very sustainable.
- So what has the Great Master used in my three kitchens? Corian. First one in warm-white, (learned about mini-scratches) and the next two in a stone-like pattern that hides everything. So go with a design. Corian is a forgiving cushion when the wine stem tips onto it, no dirt-collecting joints where the sink and counter as well as the opposing counters meet and if done correctly, a waterproof joint at the splash. Perfect for a neurotic cleaner. And me.