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Everything You Need to Know About Kitchen Countertops: An Interview with Tim Holton of Royal Oak Kitchen & Bath

By Tim Holton

Please describe the background of your company and your qualifications.

Royal Oak Kitchen and Bath has been a family owned and operated company for 60 years.

What is the difference between stock, semi-custom, and custom countertops?

In cabinetry, there are a lot of differences in terms of stock, semi-custom and custom. Not so with countertops. The difference is this: The fit.

A stock countertop would be pre-made, and if your walls don't fit your countertop you would have to change the walls or be very creative with your installation. You should also take into account that the seams would be on 45 degree angles with any corners you may have and a 45 degree seam is very long.

Semi-custom is easiest to describe in terms of laminate countertops. Laminate can come in post formed or preformed segments, meaning there are planks (?) of certain lengths that you would buy and cut to fit your needs. These planks can be had at any lumber yard up to 12 feet long. However, if your wall is not perfectly plumb and your corners are not perfectly square (which is the case 99% of the time!) you must plan around the gap that is going to be behind the countertop where it meets the wall.

With a custom countertop, the fabricator would come out ahead of time, take measurements, find out about the irregularities in your wall, and tailor the countertop to fit perfectly. If you want to minimize seams, custom work is the way to go. With custom countertops we try to engineer the seam so it goes through the sink cutout. With stock countertops your seams could be 4 feet long, whereas with custom the seam is about 4 or 5 inches long. BIG DIFFERENCE! There are also differences in terms of durability, water penetration, and appearance. So, with stock you're going to see those seams big time, but with custom you won't, because we hide them.

What countertop materials will grant me the best quality? Are these materials also the most expensive?

In terms of material, you have several choices. The difference is this: wearability. Here's what I mean - good old high pressure laminate (some call it Formica as though it were a generic name, but it is actually a particular manufacturer of the melamine based composite material) is still the least expensive on the market today. Laminate provides great colors and styles, but it will scratch, burn, and chip if you're not careful.

Solid surface materials entered the market years ago. Many call solid surfacing Corian, but just like Formica, that is a brand name created by DuPont. With solid surfacing, the color goes all the way through. It can also scratch, burn, and chip but the good news is that it is repairable. It is therefore known as a renewable surface. There are many great colors and styles to choose from, but also at a much higher price point that laminate, probably triple the cost.

People don't like it when their countertops scratch, so the countertop industry started using natural stone. Granite is what is usually used, but in geologic terms there are actually many other types of stone, such as travertine, zinc, soapstone, limestone and marble. Each type has different densities and therefore their scratch resistance varies. The softer stones, like marble, scratch more easily than the denser stones like granite. The only objections seem to be in the area of color. In natural stone the color is not consistent because you can't control it; Mother Nature does that for you with wild variations. You are now probably up to four times the cost of laminate.

This brings us to the next type of countertop - man-made stone called 'Quartz.' This new countertop material is extremely scratch, burn and wear resistant. After installation this stuff will be there forever! There are too many brand names to mention in this article, but again, your selection is going to come down to color and what you like best. Because of the incredible durability of 'Quartz', you are now at almost five times the cost of laminate.

What countertop materials are trendy right now?

There are lots of trendy new materials out there? zinc, stainless steel, paper craft, copper, glass, cement, tile, wood, etc. Each one is singular and unique, and you have to decide which material is best suited for your needs. For example, you may want heat resistance near your stove, or stone in a baker's prep area to roll out dough, or a built-in wooden cutting board. Depending on how you use your kitchen, you may decide on several types of countertop materials. With such different qualities, you would want to speak to a professional who could explain each material in depth and weigh out the differences for yourself in terms of durability and costs.

How do I make sure practicality is present in an aesthetically pleasing manner?

By consulting one of our team of kitchen specialists at Royal Oak Kitchen and Bath! You can phone us at 248-549-2944, or go to our website at www.royaloakkitchen.com. Or better yet, stop by! Our showroom hours are 9am-5pm Monday through Friday and by appointment only on Saturdays. We're at 32790 Woodward Avenue, Royal Oak, MI 48073.

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