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Crafted of resin and quartz chips tinted with color, quartz surfacing (also called engineered quartz or engineered stone) is a good compromise between the beauty of stone and the easy care of solid surfacing.
Pros: Quartz surfacing has the same advantages as solid surfacing with regard to maintenance. As an engineered product, it's available in a far greater range of colors and patterns than natural stone.
Cons: This material doesn't have the natural variegation of granite, so it may be evident that it's an engineered product. It's relatively pricey, although its durability can make it a worthwhile investment.
Cost: $40 to $90 per square foot, installed
Modular and inexpensive, ceramic and porcelain tile offers nearly limitless options for colors and designs. Tile works with almost any kitchen style, from country to majestic Old World.
Pros: It holds its own against heat and sharp blades, and resists stains. If one or two tiles chip or crack, they're fairly easy to replace.
Cons: Tile's uneven surface can make it difficult to balance a cutting board or roll out a pie crust. Unsealed grout is prone to staining; standing moisture can damage it and contribute to bacterial growth.
Cost: $10 to $80 per square foot, installed
Although it's in no danger of overtaking granite, soapstone has come into its own as a countertop material. It offers subtle, nuanced beauty yet feels humbler than granite or marble.
Pros: Soapstone has a natural softness and depth that fits very well with older and cottage-style homes. Although it usually starts out light to medium gray, it darkens with time. (Most people enjoy the acquired patina, but you may consider this a con.)
Cons: Soapstone needs polishing with oil to keep it in top shape. It can crack over time, and it can't handle knife scratches and nicks as well as some other types of stone. The natural roughness of its surface can scuff glassware and china.
Cost: $70 to $100 per square foot, installed
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Butcher block has a classic appeal and always looks fresh. It's especially fitting for traditional, country and cottage-style kitchens.
Pros: Many homeowners like butcher block's warm, natural appearance and variegated wood tones. Although knives scratch it, many people like the shopworn look it develops — after all, it's what chopping blocks have been made of for years. But you can also sand scratches down with ease.
Cons: Wood swells and contracts with moisture exposure, and butcher block is no exception. It harbors bacteria and needs frequent disinfecting. Oiling is a must to fill in scratches and protect the surface.
Cost: $35 to $70 per square foot, installed