Shopping A Kitchen Countertop
Ever since the first Neanderthal picked up a branch and used it as a club, we have taken nature’s products and moulded them for our own use. In the kitchen, wood and stone were the typical prep surfaces. But we’ve discovered that these surfaces scratch and stain easily, making it difficult to tell if counters are clean — a potentially embarrassing, not to mention unsanitary, situation.
Ever demanding, we require surfaces that won’t burn, scratch, stain, warp, chip or fade, that look good and don’t reveal any seams — all for an affordable price. To meet these needs, natural products have been reshaped on a chemical level to produce new materials.
The irony is that most of these new materials weren’t even meant to be used in the kitchen.
Discovered when looking for replacement materials for electrical casings and paper products, the new materials are produced by companies not commonly associated with home decor. Formica, a laminate material most popular in the 1980s and 1990s, was initially developed by Westinghouse as a replacement in electrical insulators. Closer to home, Arborite, also a laminate material, was created by the Canadian company Howard Smith Paper Mills. Not the developers you would expect for countertop material.
Today, the most popular countertop material, according to the 2010 Consumers’ Report, is Engineered Quartz. Typically consisting of 95% natural quartz and 5% polymer resins, Engineered Quartz doesn’t require sealing, is stain and heat-resistant, and requires very little maintenance. As a plus, it is available in a wider array of colours and finishes than natural quartz. That being said, the unpredictable patterns of this raw material provide a unique charm that no man-made product has yet been able to duplicate.
But when it comes to our countertops, the artificial solid surface tops are gaining ground. For that matter, there are two producers which might surprise you. DuPont, a chemical company with feelers in a multitude of industries from environmental safety to national defence, and Samsung, a company that really doesn’t need an introduction, have versions of their own.
Neither DuPont nor Samsung are a stranger to the kitchen countertop world. Both have a 30-odd year history producing solid surfaces. Acrylic and alumina hydrate (a form of aluminum) are moulded to create a seamless, non-porous and stain-resistant surface that can also be found in a variety of colours and finishes — including concrete, stone and granite. You may have seen them before. Corian, created by Dupont and Staron by Samsung can be found at most large-box hardware stores — the later being the main artificial countertop found at Ikea.
Different from Engineered Quartz, the uniformity of appearance is sometimes a drawback for consumers. Although the lower price point, wide range of colours and finishes, heat-resistance and overall performance are what made the material popular.
So, if you’re considering new kitchen countertops and want something that will last, resist stains and provide you with a finished look worthy of being displayed look the man-made Engineered Quartz. But if you are like me and your budget is a bit tighter, try out a Solid Surface with a faux granite finish. And maybe, when you’re showing your new counters to your friends, you can surprise them with its ironic origin.