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6/1/2007

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Find a counter that suits your style

 Q: We are planning to replace our 35-year-old Formica countertops. Since there are so many products available, we would like to know what you would choose for your own home in a moderate price range. Also, the walls are covered with brick veneer. Would you remove that or paint over it for an update? Thank you for any help.

A: With so many options in todayís market, countertop decisions can become confusing. Whatís right for one home owner isnít necessarily the right selection for another.

Different circumstances will rate different materials. Families with children may need something more durable and stain resistant than a gourmet chef who opts for hardworking surfaces that are food prep friendly, such as a dough kneading area. If you are an avid entertainer, perhaps the look of luxury is important.

Of course, as you mentioned in your letter, budget considerations are a major factor. High end surfaces that are extremely popular today are granite as the first choice, with other solid stone surfaces such as marble, limestone and even soapstone emerging as choices in this more expensive arena. Improved sealers and routine maintenance make these products more acceptable today than in previous decades. However, most of these natural stone countertops require more maintenance and care than their manufactured mimics. Because these products are in continuous natural stone slabs they are more expensive than tiles, or man-made solid surface products. For instance, granite tiles run about one-third the cost of a granite slab.

On the budget-friendly end of the spectrum, countertops in laminate and tile offer great looks at affordable pricing. At a higher cost in the mid-range would be solid surface countertops and products such as manufactured quartz.

Although ordinary ceramic tile is currently on the outdated list, it still provides a hardy, durable kitchen countertop surface that will accept hot pans without a problem. Many people find the grout is difficult to keep clean, but with the right grout selection and application of a good acrylic grout sealer this should not be a problem.

A trend today in tiles is the use of larger tiles, 12-by-12 inches, which means fewer grout lines. Granite, ceramic, porcelain and natural stone are the most common materials used in tiles.

Solid surface countertops are made of synthetic materials and are often designed to look like natural stone. They are nonporous, stain-resistant and heat-resistant, as well as easy to maintain (you can buff out stains and scratches). It can be molded to fit any design specification, and with the use of fillers appears seamless. Many installations feature integral sinks made to match. Some of the leading brand names are Corian, Staron, Gibraltar, Formica Corp, LG Solid Source and Avonite.

Quartz surfacing is one of my favorites. Authentic quartz crystals are combined with a resin binder to produce a highly durable, easy-to-clean, stain resistant surface. Quartz products mimic the look of granite, marble or limestone. However, you can get patterns in lighter shades and without the busy speckled look of the many darker granite pieces.

Unlike natural stone, quartz wonít stain and does not require sealing. It can be formed for undercounter sinks, and attractive curved exposed edges. Among different manufacturersí products are Cambria, LG Solid Source, Samsung Chemical USA, Silestone by Cosentino, DuPont Zodiaq and Starton Quartz.

But donít overlook laminate, which has taken on a completely new and bold look and is both budget friendly and easy to install. Todayís laminates now come in looks and textures replicating natural stone, and can be installed with no obvious seams. Itís hard to image that this is the modern day relative of the laminates of yesterday. Some of the leading manufacturers include Wilsonart HD High Definition surface collection, Arboriteís Granite Series, Nevamarís Essentials Collection, Formica Corp Honed Finish group and the Designer Series by Pionite.

Itís best to shop around and visit various suppliers to view these different products and get recommendations and pricing for your particular installation prior to making an actual purchase. Suppliers can often provide many innovative ideas that you havenít thought of. Your individual lifestyle will help dictate the right product for you.

Regarding the removal or painting of the brick. This would be a decision according to personal taste. Painting the veneer brick surface would provide you an updated look with a pleasing texture. Removal will be more difficult and will probably require wall repair prior to the installation of another covering, whether itís simply paint or a surface covering such as tiles, or slate strips behind the counters ó the options are many.

If you do paint, select a paint recommended for masonry. You can add texture to the paint job by sponging on a complimentary paint shade on edges and some of the surface of the individual bricks. You might want to experiment with a treatment of this type.

Send inquiries to Hereís How, Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112-0190, or e-mail copleysd@copleynews.com. Only questions of general interest can be answered in the column.

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