Twenty years ago, making a decision about countertop materials for the average home would have involved little more than a quick flip through a box of laminate samples.
Today, the selection begins with laminates and extends through an assortment of more costly composites and natural woods, right up to pricier natural stone.
“I probably shouldn’t admit this,” says Nova Scotia chef Peter Jackson, “but I’ve always liked laminates. They’re cheap, easy-to-clean and tough as nails. Plus they come in hundreds of colours and patterns.”
A restaurateur who was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Jackson recently gave up his landmark Edmonton restaurant to return to the Annapolis Valley with his wife, Sara, to start a vineyard. The countertop in the old farmhouse they purchased near Aylesford is a 1970s vintage faux marble laminate that’s in remarkably good condition.
For now, the Jacksons’ priority is growing grapes, but when the time eventually comes for a kitchen makeover, Peter says he will be happy with another laminate, providing he also has a small stretch of butcher block in his baking area.
As it turns out, Peter Jackson isn’t the only member of the laminate fan club. “Laminate is still the perennial favorite,” says Devin Butt, a sales associate for a New Minas, NS, kitchen cabinet manufacturer. “Its durability and lower price point make it the first choice for most people.”
Synthetics and engineered stone
John and Pat Suddons had laminate in their previous house, but when the time came to select a kitchen countertop for their new, open concept bungalow, the Wolfville, NS, couple wanted a more substantial material to complement the adjacent living space.
“The kitchen is the hub of our home,” says John. “Entertaining usually begins at the island and flows from there.”
After doing a bit of research and talking to their builder, the Suddons decided to splurge on one of the new engineered stone products composed primarily of quartz particles.
“It’s in the same price range as granite,” says Pat, “but it’s more serviceable. It comes in a greater variety of colours and edge finishes than it used to and there’s virtually no maintenance. Even wine spills clean up easily.”
Faced with a similar need for a material that would harmonize with their open concept living space, and a design that called for an integral sink, Judith Mackin and Robert Moore chose a synthetic, solid surface material for the kitchen countertop in the ultra-modern house they’re building in Saint John, NB.
Roughly the same price as natural and manufactured stone, it can mimic stone, but Mackin and Moore were in the market for a brilliant white to extend the line of their glossy white cabinets. “It has the seamless, minimal look we were after,” says Mackin, the founder of a new Saint John design studio.
Once the only game in town for high-style kitchens, granite countertops have made some changes to keep up with the competition. The quality has gone up; the price has come down.
Granite countertops are now much easier to get in Atlantic Canada, thanks to the diversification of a longtime manufacturer of cemetery monuments.
A granite countertop is still well beyond the cost of laminates, but buying one at a monument company helps put the purchase in perspective— when it comes to buying a slab of granite, a new countertop really beats the alternative.