Decorating: A Guide to Kitchen Countertops

Story by Danny Taylor, local Realtor and Decorating columnist for CaryCitizen. Photo by Courtney Bailey Graham.

Cary, NC – Back in the day….way back….you had formica countertops. Maybe if you lived in New Mexico or Southern California you had tile. Today, your choice of kitchen countertops is seemingly endless.

Guide to Kitchen Countertops

Formica, granite, stainless, even soapstone and concrete – let me explain the best uses and differences between the most common types of kitchen countertops.

Whether your Cary house is old or new, an educated consumer is the best customer!


Most of us grew up with it, we know better than to put a hot pot directly on it (it will melt), and it comes in a million zillion variations of color and pattern. Formica is a brand name, as is Wilsonart.

“Formica was invented in 1912 by Daniel J. O’Conor and Herbert A. Faber, then working at Westinghouse which filed for a patent on it.

They originally conceived it as a substitute for mica used as electrical insulation, made of wrapped woven fabric coated with Bakelite thermosetting resin, then slit lengthwise, flattened, and cured in a press. They left Westinghouse immediately afterwards.

The name Formica now refers primarily to the decorative product composed of several layers of kraft paper impregnated with melamine thermosetting resin and topped with a decorative layer protected by melamine, then compressed and cured with heat to make a hard, durable surface.” – Wikipedia


Across the Triangle, granite is what most all buyers expect and want in a new or even older home. It doesn’t matter if you live in Cary, Apex, Raleigh or Morrisville.

Granite is a natural material that is mined all over the world and comes in many variations of pattern and color.

Granite is “graded” according to the most common (grade 1) to the most extraordinary. It is stain and heat resistant and relatively easy to find and have installed.

Granite can be finished honed (matte finish) or polished. The honed is a bit more difficult to maintain.

Don’t forget to ask to go into the granite yard to hand pick your slab. Also, small projects can many times be done from the scraps from large projects. I did my whole house from the scrap yard and got very high grade granite at a fraction of the cost.


Also a natural material and mined all over the world, we are all familiar with marble floors in historic and government buildings.

Marble as a kitchen countertop is highly favored by home bakers for it’s cool qualities, but does have a tendency to scratch and stain more easily than granite.

Anything red (wine or tomato sauce) is the prime culprit for ruining the pristine look of marble.

I just put in a marble shower and floor in my master bath, but used granite for the counters.


Another natural stone. Slabs of quartz are very rare and very expensive. One only uses these in very high end applications.

The quartz we commonly see used as countertops is a man made product using a natural material. The quartz is fused in a slab and then cut just like a granite of marble with many of the same tendencies. Price is similar to a higher end granite and can come in a large variety of colors unavailable in a natural slab. It will be consistent with what you see in the showroom and has very little to no “movement” in the pattern. It is marketed under many brand names.


Well that says it all don’t you think? Concrete countertops have come a long way, offer tons of options, and can provide a variety of looks.

The key here is to find a great vendor that has been doing this a long time.

Kitchen Countertops

This pretty much sums it up.

You still have tiles, butcher block, and stainless steel options that have been around forever. I personally love the look of a stainless counter in certain applications, and a butcher block island can be extremely useful (but difficult to keep clean and maintain).

Lastly, the old soapstone counters from your chemistry lab look great, but require frequent oiling and sealing. You can get the same look with a solid black hone marble.

If you think of any countertop types I have missed, leave a comment or send me a note.


Danny Taylor curates a Facebook Group that offers daily tips to keep your house looking fabulous all the time.