Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Counter Culture

Armina Interiors, Photography by Martin Vecchio

Countertops take center stage this month as we explore the benefits and pitfalls of the seemly infinite array of choices. Arguably one of the most important features in any kitchen, countertops need to fulfill a laundry list of expectations. Five designers share their kitchen creations and offer tips in selecting the right materials for your home.

Laura Zender Design kitchen

Chic and sophisticated, this contemporary kitchen features black quartz counters and a monochromatic color scheme. Photography by Martin Vecchio

After having many white kitchens in their past homes, our clients wanted to go with a dark and moody kitchen for a change of pace. We collaborated with Scavolini Detroit and chose black quartz counters to blend into the beautiful black matte glass cabinets. Due to the contemporary nature of the space, we wanted to keep the color palette tight and monochromatic. We chose quartz because it’s the gold standard for durability and performance. It’s scratch resistant and doesn’t show stains or etchings, so the counters will always keep a pristine, uniform appearance over time. The wood bar top was chosen to add a little warmth. I think natural materials always add some organic texture and interest, especially in an otherwise sleek space.” – Laura Zender, Laura Zender Design


  • Always be honest with yourself regarding your tolerance for materials that will age and patina over time. We have clients that will ask for marble or other stone tops because they absolutely love the look, but when we explain they can often stain or scratch, they’ll ultimately opt for something more durable.
  • Consider the color of the countertop. Is this a hard-working kitchen that could benefit from a medium-toned mottled top that camouflages occasional little crumbs? Consider that black tops will often show every tiny particle or fingerprint and can sometimes be harder to keep looking clean, which is somewhat counter intuitive as we often think dark colors will mask instead of being enhancing.
  • Do you like a traditional, more lived-in feel for your kitchen? Or are you a big baker? If so, consider marble. It’s a soft material, so it will change and patina over time. The material will develop etchings and scratches, but we often like that look as it can feel warm and soft. Plus, marble is great for rolling out dough and some of the most gorgeous countertops we’ve ever seen are marble.
Joanne Ledbetter Designs kitchen

This pair of striking islands offer ample space for a cadre of cooks. Photography by Front Door Realestate Photography

“The homeowner was looking for comfortable, transitional furnishings with beautiful finishes and a touch of modern farmhouse in order to bring this historic renovation and addition to life. The kitchen is spacious enough to handle two cooks and accommodates guests sitting at a large island. The countertops between the kitchen area and the buffet contrast perfectly using two complementary quartzites. This stone has a unique and semi-transparent quality that adds a subtle texture and soft shimmer, while not detracting from the other finishes or views through the sun-filled windows. The custom buffet acts as a divider between the kitchen and dining areas, and the Azul Extra quartzite has beautiful veining, pattern flow, and opulent color variations. It’s a statement piece, while still feeling right at home in a very approachable and livable space.” – Joanne Ledbetter, Joanne Ledbetter Designs



  • Consider your budget when selecting countertop materials. The prices range anywhere from $60-$180 a square foot, installed, so it is important to set aside a reasonable portion of your budget for counters.
  • Another important factor is the function of your kitchen. How hard do you need the space to work? Popular options for a hard-working counter are hardwood butcher block, granite, and quartz. Quartz is a man-made product and is anti-microbial and very stain resistant, as are dark, very dense granites and soapstone.
  • Finally, when planning your countertop choices you’ll want to think about visual impact. Quartzite and marble are more delicate, but incredibly beautiful, and require a little extra care. They are a top choice if budget allows for them! The new kid on the block is porcelain slab countertops. Porcelain is stain resistant and antimicrobial, and once installed properly, is a very stable and hard-working surface. It makes for amazing transitions from countertop to backsplash, and new designs are debuting regularly. There’s one caveat for porcelain: you need to be mindful of the edges and corners, as they can chip or crack if you’re not careful. A single slab is typically around 124 inches, so it’s a great option for large islands.
Armina Interiors kitchen

A stunning porcelain island brightens up this space overlooking picturesque Union Lake. Photography by Martin Vecchio

“The original kitchen was overwhelmed by a large island that was like a huge elephant in the room. It interrupted traffic flow in the space, and the countertops were far too dark. The homeowner wanted to update the current island to be more functional and modern as well as to lighten up the space making it fresh and airy. To do that, we used brilliant white porcelain on the island and backsplash that reflects natural light. The kitchen opens to an expansive view of Union Lake and sits adjacent to the living space. It was important for the kitchen to harmonize with all these elements. A wood dining area abuts the island adding warmth to the space and visually breaks up the white porcelain. Further, the raised bar creates another level that separates the working area from the dining area.”  – Armina Kasprowicz, Armina Interiors


  • When selecting a countertop, be mindful of the style of the home and maintenance of the surface. Butcherblock for example, may be the ideal material for a farmhouse style home. In which case, you need to consider the higher maintenance of the wood, and whether that fits your lifestyle.
  • If durability is your main concern, porcelain, granite, and quartz are my top three recommendations. They are available in a wide range of colors and finishes that fit a wide range of home styles.
  • For this home, functionality was an important consideration, so I chose porcelain. The material is thinner than other products, so I could use it for cladding, creating a seamless look. Porcelain is also heat and stain resistant.
Jones-Keena & Co. kitchen

Designed for an avid baker, this kitchen is equipped with two islands and topped with durable porcelain for easy clean up. Photography by Beth Singer

“This Grosse Pointe Shores kitchen was a complete renovation down to the studs. The original kitchen was u-shaped and functional for just one person; however, the clients are an active family and there is always more than one cook in the kitchen. In addition, one of the homeowners is an avid baker, so I considered practicality and workflow when designing the layout, incorporating double islands to allow for separate baking and food prep areas. I selected matte white man-made porcelain countertops for their stain, heat, and water resistance. I wanted to mimic the patterning of natural Calcatta marble, but with the durability and anti-staining properties of porcelain.” – Nicole Withers, Jones-Keena & Co.


  • When selecting a countertop, allow individual preference, lifestyle, and budget to guide your final decision.
  • I believe serious chefs need to be practical and selective when choosing counters. Chefs need a durable surface. I’ve had clients who don’t cook and want a kitchen for looks only, I then steer them to marble.
  • Often the kitchen’s color palette leads to the right countertop.
Fifi & Coco Interiors kitchen

This granite countertop and backsplash offers a dramatic example of nature’s beauty with its onyx base and porcelain-white veining. Photography by John D’Angelo

“The homeowners wanted a space that was large enough for family cooking and brunches that included seating for their grandchildren around the cooktop, as well as incorporating a wine cellar and bar. We selected this exotic granite countertop and backsplash for its dramatic natural pattern that resembles marble, and as a bonus, the large veining helps to camouflage pesky fingerprints. The material is also very easy to clean and is hard enough to set a hot pan on without damaging the stone.” – Phyllis Whitehead, Fifi & Coco Interiors


  • Functionality: When shopping for kitchen surfaces, I ask the client how they will be using the area. Are they cooks? Will children be doing crafts in this space or is it a rarely used area?
  • Durability: I prefer to use natural stone, particularly granite as it is heat and stain resistant and can last a lifetime. There are many exotic stones with large patterns that are available that give interest when mixed with other stone material.
  • Size: Consider the size of the slabs to eliminate seams. Sometimes, you need to incorporate very large slabs to achieve this. Also, if you want a countertop that has a large pattern, you will need to consider the surface area to maintain appropriate scale.