The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Countertop Shopping

Coco Chanel said, “The best things in life are free. The rest are very, very expensive.”. There’s truth in that, but I  respectfully challenge this notion when it comes to countertops. Even with a limited budget, there are plenty of ways to upgrade your home.  In my design life, I’ve come across many clients who’ve had countertop sticker shock, a common affliction among homeowners. While countertop surfaces aren’t cheap, I can promise they’re worth the investment for two reasons:


1. They add value to your home.  

2. They add value to your day to day life while living in that home! 


Whether you’re looking for a countertop for your kitchen, wet bar or even a rental property, I’m sharing some handy cliff notes to help you choose your best option.


Goal – to help spare you from all that would-be exhausting research so you can put your extra energy into enjoying a countertop that checks all the boxes for your needs and wants. 


Here we go.


Marble, Maybe?

No one loves the look of marble more than me. I adore it for its rich, luxurious nature and all those textural veins that epitomize its elegance. However, the realist in me admits that marble (most of the time) is not recommended for a busy kitchen.


Buzz kill, I know.


Here’s why. Marble is a porous natural stone that takes bacteria, is prone to stains and tends to age quickly. It’s a high maintenance option that can be quite pricey. So while I don’t suggest marble for a hard-working island or perimeter countertops, it could work on a surface in your kitchen that’s lightly used.  With that said, there are few instances I’d endorse marble for a kitchen unless you have an indispensable budget. And if that’s the case…when am I coming over for dinner?


People often think of marble as shiny and white, but this honed matte grey slab gives a more subtle yet still elegant vibe. Photo Credit: Construction Resources via The Spruce



Good ‘Ol Granite.

✔ Quality. 

✔ More cost effective than marble. 

✔ Durable. 


So far, so good, yet there are some details about this still popular countertop choice you need to know before you buy. Of all the natural stones, granite is the least likely to be porous. But…it is still porous.  If it’s not properly sealed, liquid, stains and bacteria can get into the stone which can ultimately damage the granite render it unhygienic. Luckily, sealing granite is easy and takes just a few minutes to apply. 


If you’re considering granite, ask the vendor to see the actual slab in person. I can’t stress this enough. A large slab is most likely going to look different than the showroom’s mini sample. Since granite is quarried stone there are unique variations (color, mineral pattern) within each piece that you may or may not love.  Whenever possible, incorporating natural stone in a kitchen or bathroom is something I highly recommend, especially if you’re looking for top dollar for a home sale or rental property. 


If budget is a concern, consider having the slab made thinner than the standard 3 cm (1 ¼ inch) thickness. Fabricators typically offer 2 cm (¾ inch) thickness as well. While the surface won’t be as strong as 3 cm and it won’t look as luxurious as the standard, you’ll still be able to elevate the look of the space at a lower price point. Plus, you’ll be able to market your listing with highly desirable real stone countertops. 


A granite island with sleek, waterfall edges picks up the grey veining in the backsplash of one of our own Taniya Nayak Design kitchens.



Synthetic Stone.

One of my faves for a number of reasons! There are gorgeous, budget-friendly options in engineered stone that are definitely worth looking into. Quartz (not to be confused with quartzite, a natural stone which is totally different) is manufactured by companies such as Silestone, Element Surfaces and Caesarstone which all carry a line of quartz countertop surfaces.  Quartz countertops are a composite of powdered quartz crystals compressed and bound with resin. Because it’s compressed, bacteria is a non-issue as it is with natural stone. With a wide variety of stunning options, these materials are designed to imitate the look of real stone. So, it’s easy to achieve a look like marble or limestone without sacrificing durability. 


Engineered stone is also stain-resistant, non-porous, heat-resistant and tough as nails. Quartz is a solid option for those looking for a similar price point to granite. But one major difference between granite and quartz is consistency.  Because quartz is engineered, each slab has a consistent look (pattern and color) throughout with little variation. It’s kind of like the unicorn of countertop surfaces and lucky for us, it actually exists!


I love a quartz countertop because it can handle wear and tear and still look amazing. Photo Credit: Dan Cutrona for Element Surfaces



Luxury Laminate.

For reals. I’m telling you, laminate has come a looooong way since its days in Grandma’s kitchen. High definition laminate options mimic the look of hundreds of different materials including concrete, marble, granite, wood and (if you’re feeling fancy) fun designs and patterns. My friend and lifestyle expert Danny Seo just launched an impressive new HD laminate line with Wilsonart and the OG of laminate, Formica, just continues to up its game with an all-new collection for 2020. I get that laminate is not for every situation. But if you have a rental property that needs a refresh or a surface in your basement kitchen that needs an update, luxury laminate could be just the right budget-friendly option for you.  


180fx® laminate by Formica is using modern techniques to manufacture products with patterns that are incredibly similar to materials like wood and granite. Photo Credit: Formica Group




Beautiful Butcher Block.

I’m partial to any material that can warm up and prettify a room in an instant. Butcher block has these benefits and more which is why it’s one of my go-to cost-effective choices for countertop surfaces. DIY-ers can save some serious money by cutting and installing butcher block themselves and with little to no downtime…There’s no templates, ordering or waiting. Weekend project, anyone? If you want ready-made slabs, Element Surfaces has some stunning pieces in a range of colors and textures.  Because wood goes with everything, feel free to mix and match this versatile surface. If your perimeter countertops are decent enough, leave them and still give your kitchen a renewed look by just replacing the island surface with butcher block. 


You might worry about wood as countertop, but it’s more forgiving than you think. (Except if you use it as a cutting board! ) It’s true that butcher block is a softer, more porous material with the potential for staining.  If a stain happens, just sand it down, apply mineral or walnut oil to the area and stain be gone!! Butcher block’s warm, organic properties make a space so much more inviting that it makes the monthly maintenance worth it. In the right situation, it’s a gorgeous, quick, inexpensive solution. 


I’m such a big fan of butcher block that I used it in my own kitchen in Florida, my home away from home. Photo Credit: Michael Giragosian




Faux Marble Paint.

Don’t worry, you don’t need Picasso’s blood lines to pull off this DIY project! If you have the best taste in countertops but don’t have the budget to prove it, the Giani Marble Countertop Paint Kit may be your saving grace. On a recent episode of “The Rachael Ray Show”, Rachael and I tried out the simple 3-step application process together and not only was it fun, but surprisingly, it looked so real!  We were all astonished at the exceptional final result. You can transform multiple different surfaces in a weekend’s time because this faux marble kit has everything you need to make the magic happen.


Want to learn more about the faux marble countertop fix and see the finished product? Check out the video!



There’s no shortage of options when it comes to countertops which is why it’s sometimes overwhelming to learn the pros and cons of all of the choices. Hopefully my cheat sheet helped you refine your search for the right material without the heavy lifting and with more money in your wallet!


Thanks for reading!!  If you know someone who’d enjoy this blog, please share it below! Message your ideas for future blog posts to me @taniyanayak.  I’m listening and always inspired by you.