Homeiq Design Tip: Mix Wood Countertops and Any Other Material and Your Kitchen Will Rock

I recently had a conversation with a certified kitchen designer who said something interesting to me: She is no longer designing kitchens with one type of countertop material. Blasphemy!

For eons, kitchen design has been like a one-trick pony—countertops kitted out in one material, be it stone, or laminate, or solid surface or whatever. Those walls have come down and mixing and matching is now in—has been for a while actually. So, it’s not unusual to see a kitchen with a stainless steel countertop around the sink (for water resistance), marble for the baking station, and perhaps stone near the stove (for heat resistance).

“We’ve been seeing people go with combinations in the kitchen,” says Richard Brooks, owner of Brooks Custom, a Westchester County, N.Y.-based company that manufactures custom countertops and other kitchen products. “They’ll get a stainless steel island, with a built-in teak butcher block. Or if they have granite countertops already, they’ll choose to go with a cherry island top. There are so many great combinations with materials that are on opposite ends of the spectrum.”

But don’t be a philistine and mix any material you want, however. You still need to choose wisely. For my money, I like wood, which goes with just about anything you can imagine. Though a wood countertop is not a perfect option and may not be appropriate for many situations, it’s the most gorgeous material on the planet.

Wood countertops can be made from almost any specie, but the same considerations apply no matter what you choose.

Watch out for standing water—The Enemy!—and edges near the sink; be careful with vinegar, which can etch the finish, and wine, which could stain. If you cut on your top, it will develop nicks, scratches, and marks. If this bothers you, learn to live with it (or just don’t cut on your top).

The truth is, wood is relatively high maintenance, requiring regular attention and oiling (if you choose a food-grade top), but it’s totally worth the trouble.

Photo: Courtesy Brooks Custom

Photo: Courtesy Brooks Custom

Photo: Courtesy Brooks Custom

Photo: Courtesy The Grothouse Lumber Co.

Photo: Courtesy The Grothouse Lumber Co.

Grothouse Lumber Makes A Strong Case For Wood Countertops

If you’re in the market for new countertops, the world is your oyster: I can think of at least 25 different materials off the top my head. The Grothouse Lumber Company in Germansville, Pa., makes a good case for why you should consider wood. From its 20,000-square foot facility located on a 50-acre farm, the company builds custom countertops, butcher blocks, and bar tops for high-end clientele, and this past April at The Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, it unveiled the Paul Grothouse Collection of solid wood tables and food preparation surfaces. Over 60 species of high quality woods are available as well as hundreds of design options. The beauty of wood (besides its beauty, I mean) is that it’s much more interesting looking than solid surfacing, easier on glassware and knives than stone, and can be repaired easily (depending on the finish) with a light sanding. How many materials can make those claims? www.glumber.com.

A wenge island from Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen and Bath in Chevy Chase, Md.

Teak endgrain butcher block.

A project by Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen and Bath.

An island by Artisan Kitchen and Bath in New Orleans, La.

A bamboo countertop by Cheryl Kees Clendenon in Pensacola, Fla.

Who Needs Granite Countertops When You Have Cool Options Like This?

First of all, let me just preface this post by saying that we here at the Q are fans of stone. Soapstone and marble are particular favorites of ours, but we do have a problem with granite being the default option for kitchens. There are many options. We do like materials such as this Micro from Meld USA. The eco-conscious surfacing material is made from 74 percent pre-consumer recycled glass and a cement-based binder. (This is just one supplier of such products; there are others, such as IceStone in Brooklyn, N.Y.) Available in six standard colors, slabs measure 30 inches by 96 inches and 1½ inches thick. www.meldusa.com.

The Bath Drain is Disappearing! … But that’s a Good Thing

Picture it. You just hooked up your bath with this kick-ass remodel, complete with glass tiles, German faucets, and custom concrete countertops. Everything looks fresh—even stupid fresh. But then (yikes!), the separate shower has a pedestrian round drain smack dab in the middle of the space for all to see. Of course, most people don’t think about the drain because they assume it’s a necessary evil. Trust us, it’s not. There are a handful of very slick European-style drains that are way cooler to look at (if you like that sort of thing) but can virtually disappear from view (if you don’t). Brands include Infinity Drain, CeraLine (by California Faucets), Easy Drain (by Easy Sanitary Solutions), and ProLine (by Quick Drain USA). We understand that Schluter is set to release a line drain of its own.

Infinity Drain

Available in a variety of lengths, configurations, and styles, Infinity Drain is a collection of premium-quality linear drains that gives baths a nice architectural flair. The collection allows your installer to pitch the shower in one direction and allows an uninterrupted tile installation. Pieces are made from stainless steel. www.infinitydrain.com.

Infinity Drain

Infinity Drain


California Faucets

CeraLine is a decorative linear shower drain that can be a focal point in the bath or can assume a stealth appearance when integrated into the design. Winner of the Red Dot Award and Good Design Award, the product range comes in three cover-plate trim styles and can be ordered in sizes from 32 inches to 52 inches. It’s available in stainless steel, satin gold, satin brass, mocha bronze, satin rose bronze, and graphite. www.calfaucets.com.

California Faucets

California Faucets


Quick Drain USA

ProLine is a linear slot drain that allows you to use the very popular large-format porcelain tiles without any interruptions. It can also help you create curbless showers, which are very popular right now. Strainers (the decorative part that you actually see) are made from stainless steel and come in six patterns. www.quickdrainusa.com.

Quick Drain USA

Quick Drain USA

Granite Doesn’t Suck, But There Are Other Cool Countertop Options

The other day I got a phone call from a good friend who had an interesting question for me: “What is the best cheap countertop I can get for my kitchen?” Flummoxed, I paused before saying, “It depends on what you mean by cheap, and what you mean by ‘is.’” (Because nothing is ever one thing, my answer to home questions is frequently “it depends.”) So I asked him to explain himself.

It seems that my friend, who had recently bought a house was talking to his real estate agent about doing some renovations when the agent advised him to make sure he uses granite in the kitchen because it would be best for resale. (Wait what? The ink is barely dry on the closing documents and she is already talking about resale!) Well, I told him that she’s kind of accurate, sadly, but not exactly right. 

During the housing boom, the industry—everyone from the stone yards, “big box” home supply stores, and the builders—turned what used to be a luxury item found mostly in the best houses into something that became standard in even entry-level condos. Real estate agents then took this and ran with it in house listings, making sure ads noted that the “luxury kitchen comes complete with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.” As a result, buyers associate granite with quality. The problem is now self-fulfilling: buyers use granite because they think potential buyers will be looking for it.

The issue has become problematic for various reasons. Recently, a blog post  on forbes.com posited that the granite craze has cost the country more than the first Gulf War—$12 billion. Yikes! 

“I’m all for nicer kitchens, but it seems fair to wonder if we’ve overindulged,” Stephane Fitch wrote. “Granite is supposed to last, like, forever. But does anybody really believe all that glossy stone will stay in our kitchens permanently? When will we tire of it? We’re a fickle people, we are. Even our most costly investments can prove short-lived.”

I hear you talking Stephane.

American consumers have become so fixated on granite that they neglect to explore the rich possibilities that are available for their countertops. Forty years ago, options were limited—laminate, wood, stone. Laminate was seemingly the market leader until Wilmington, Del.–based DuPont came along with Corian (see figure 1) solid surfacing and changed the game. Low-maintenance and durable, Corian became as common as Kleenex.

Figure 1: DuPont Corian

Today, things are much different. Consumers can choose from any variety of stone—marble, soapstone, slate—quartz, concrete, recycled glass/concrete, recycled porcelain/concrete, bamboo, glass, composite resin, paper, aluminum, glazed lava stone, fiber cement, cork, stainless steel, and on and on.

If money is an issue, your options might be limited to laminate. It’s still an old standby and can be purchased in pre-made tops at the large home supply stores, or you (or your contractor) may buy it sheets and glue it to a substrate. There are now tons of colors and textures and patterns. Stay away from those that try to look like real stone. Terrible!

From laminate, you can step up to ceramic tile or wood. Ceramic is not as popular as it once was, especially when other materials give you a monolithic surface that can support an undermounted sink.

Wood is a great-looking product that is always in vogue. “Butcher-block counters have a warmth and resilience no other material can match, and you’ll never be without a cutting board,” This Old House writes on its website. It requires some maintenance—periodic oiling—but it can sanded and refinished so it will last a long time. And you can find affordable options from IKEA or Lumber Liquidators (see figure 2).

Figure 2: Lumber Liquidators

And new materials keep coming. One area of growth is in so-called sustainable countertops—those made with post-consumer recycled content such as paper (see figure 3), glass (see figure 4 ), or stainless steel, or offerings made from salvage material or from rapidly renewable sources such as bamboo and cork.

Figure 3: Klip BioTechnologies' EcoTop

Figure 4: Coverings Etc.'s BioGlass

Bainbridge Island, Wash.–based Teragren (see figure 5), which offers a stable of bamboo products, has expanded to include three new countertops—strand bamboo, end-grain strand bamboo, and traditional bamboo.

Figure 5: Teragren

These days, categories have layers of subcategories. Regular concrete begat lightweight concrete (Syndecrete and others like it), which begat concrete and recycled glass (IceStone among others), which begat concrete and recycled paper and recycled glass (Squak Mountain Stone, see figure 6), which begat concrete and recycled porcelain (EnviroMODE, see figure 7).

Figure 6: Squak Mountain Stone

Figure 7: EnviroMODE

We are awash in so many options that picking a countertop has become a headache-inducing chore, forcing us to fall back on the default option: granite.

To be certain, granite is a great material; overuse has made it boring. Besides, the stain resistance, heat resistance, and abrasion resistance of quartz (see figure 9)—a surfacing product made from 93 percent quartz and 7 percent resin and pigment—and granite are about the same, except quartz doesn’t need to be sealed and it comes in more colors.

Figure 9: CaesarStone Quartz Surfaces

So expand your horizons—and your options. Just remember a few things: 

All materials have benefits and drawbacks. Wood and standing water don’t mix; paper-based surfacing scratches easily but can be easily repaired with sandpaper; stainless steel shows scratch marks very easily; and concrete stains easily.

A kitchen can feature more than one surface. It’s common these days to see a marble top for baking, wood for an island, and stone near the stove–all in one kitchen. It’s all about the intended use of the top.

Be realistic in the material you choose. You can’t put a hot pot on wood and expect it to stay pristine, and marble stains just if you look at it so if you have frequent wine tasting it’s a bad idea. Choose the material that is appropriate to how you live.

ThinkGlass Countertop


For a while now, we’ve been preparing a long post on cool countertops. But this one appeared in our in-box (thank you, friend!) and it’s so cool we had to write about it. Instead of stone, wood, or quartz, the top is made from 100 percent recyclable glass, which should make a bold statement in your kitchen or bath. A consumer can order her top in any thickness, edge treatment, or molded texture, and or color. Add LED lights for extra bling. Glass is a good option because it’s resistant to scratches, mold and mildew, and can endure high heat. It may not be ideal if (or when) you drop something on it however. www.thinkglass.com.