Sure, maybe picking a kitchen countertop material isn’t the most important decision of your life, but it’s certainly one you’ll have to live with every day—so if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed about this particular portion of your current or future kitchen renovation, we feel you. That’s why we turned to the pros: our ace panel of designers from across Western Canada. Collectively, they’ve designed hundreds of kitchens and have gained some sage wisdom in the process. (Dare we call them “counter intuitive”?) Here’s how to pick a countertop material you’ll love for years to come, according to the interior designers who know best.

Classic white countertops will look good with whatever cabinet colour the homeowner goes with in the future. Design by Oliver Simon. (Photo: Tracy Ayton.)

Designer tip #1: Go for a neutral countertop palette

Don’t get us wrong: we love a colourful kitchen. But save your experiments for the paintable cabinetry, and stick to the classics for countertop stone. “When choosing big ticket items like counter top stone it’s important to go with something simple and neutral,” advises Jamie Hamilton, co-principal at Vancouver’s Oliver Simon Design. “You don’t want to have to change it for a long time.”

In this rendering of an Aly Velji design, he’s using ultra-durable Dekton Khalo Stonika. “The beautiful soft creams mixed in with earthy tones provides an excellent focal point in any space,” says the designer.

Designer tip #2: Durability is everything

Countertops take a beating: this is the surface where you’ll prep your meals, mix your drinks and spill your coffee daily. If you want it to last, look for materials that can handle the rough-and-tumble impact of real life. “Durability is key when it comes to counter tops,” says Alykhan Velji, principal of Calgary’s Alykhan Velji Designs. He recommends granite, not only for its durability, but for its beauty. “Granite is becoming a lot more popular not only for its durability but because of the vast colour-ways and interesting patterns that it comes in,” he says.

Quartz is classic, as proven by this Rochelle Cote Interior Design kitchen.

Calgary interior designer Rochelle Cote, principal of Rochelle Cote Interior Design, is also a fan of quartz. “Countertops made of quartz are much more resistant to staining and are easier to care for than natural stone countertops such as marble or granite,” she says. If you’re craving marble, you can even find quartz with marble-imitating finishes on the market today.

A bullnose edge on the perimeter countertop in this kitchen by Paul Lavoie gives the space a sense of polish and finesse. (Photo by Eymeric Widling.)

Designer tip #3: Take it to the edge

Design lives in the details. While a slab counter can absolutely make a statement, don’t forget that the edge of the countertop is an opportunity to have a little fun. “Choose an unusual edge detail,” suggests Calgary interior designer Paul Lavoie. “The small differences make large things special.”

A floating countertop in this Marrimor-designed kitchen gives the island that little extra oomph. (Photo by Ema Peter.)

“An interesting edge profile can add a lot to the overall design and give it an expensive or high-end look,” agrees Tanja Hinder, founder and principal of Vancouver’s Marrimor Studio. It’s a trick that can aid modern and traditional designs alike.

A mix-and-match countertop palette from designer Aly Velji. (Photo by Joel Klassen.)

Designer tip #4: Choose multiple countertop materials

Can’t decide on a countertop material? No problem. Designers frequently mix and match countertops, using one finish for the island and another for the perimeter counters. “We are doing a lot of two tone counter tops where we do a more neutral tone on the perimeter and something a bit more bold on the island. This makes for a great contrast and creates a visual focal point,” says Velji.

Designer tip #5: Consider your cabinets

It probably goes without saying, but countertops don’t exist in a vacuum. The colour of your cabinetry will impact the final look. The question is: do you embrace contrast, or lean into a mono-tone vibe? “When choosing a colour for your countertops I’d recommend choosing a countertop that provides contrast with your cabinetry to break up the space, or going for a countertop in the same colour as your cabinetry for a sleek, monochromatic look,” suggests Cote.

Countertop materials should be chosen in conjunction with your cabinetry, as in this material palette from Form Interiors—and fit the level of maintenance you’re comfortable with. (Photo by Kristy-Anne Swart.)

Designer top #6: Keep it low-maintenance

“Knowing your tolerance for maintenance is important,” says Karen Attwell, creative director of Calgary’s Form Interiors. Research how to clean and care for your stone before you commit—if you’re not comfortable with a patina, for instance, marble probably isn’t for you. “Natural quartzite and granite are among the hardest and most durable stones, but they still required sealing and maintenance, and marble and soapstone are far more delicate and you need be comfortable with the patina they will develop over time,” says Atwell. “Sintered porcelains have come a long way in terms of mimicking natural stone and are often a great choice for easy maintenance.”

Now that you’re armed with all this designer wisdom, it’s time for the fun part: reading tons of kitchen design stories and getting inspired for your own kitchen makeover. Check out Western Living‘s kitchen design stories here.