Countertop materials range from wood to plastics to metal to stone. Manufactured quartz—formed from stone chips, resins, and pigments—is edging out natural stone materials in popularity, thanks in part to its durability and its availability in zillions of colors. (There’s also a kind of natural stone called quartzite, which is swirled gray and white but behaves more like marble or granite.) Major brands include Caesarstone, Cambria, and Silestone. Quartz and quartzite prices are on par with granite.

Other of-the-moment counter options: concrete, bamboo, and stainless steel. The last stands up to Top Chef-style cooking and provides a dose of industrial cool. Marble—classic and elegant—is a top choice in Europe and looks terrific, but it is prone to chips and—if not well-sealed—stains. Some people consider this weathered chic; others deem it shabby.

Most countertop materials are available in a range of finishes, the two most popular being polished (glossy) and honed (matte). Ask to see samples of “leathered” or “pebbled” styles, which appear earthier and more textured.

You'll also have to select a type of edge. You can get beveled, rounded, and eased or straight profiles. Eased and beveled look more modern; rounded edges appear more traditional and are less prone to chipping.

Then there's color. Thanks to improved technology, manmade materials like quartz and affordable laminates can mimic the look of hard-to-maintain marble and come in zillions of patterns and colors. Creams and whites remain hip, though black (particularly in popular-but-finicky soapstone) is also trendy.

Once you've made all these countertop calls, shop for the best price. The table below shows prices our undercover shoppers were quoted by local companies to supply and install a countertop made with Black Galaxy granite, using the exact same design. As you can see, prices varied dramatically, from $2,088 to $4,334. And Home Depot and Lowe’s did not offer the lowest prices.

Of course, quality of fabrication and installation is at least as important as price. Check the customer reviews of countertop suppliers and installers for ratings of area outfits. Also check with friends, ask to see examples of a company’s recent installations, and note how closely a company’s staff listens to you and how carefully they measure.

Ask retailers about their warranties. Do they cover repairing or replacing counters if they stain, chip, or crack? Know that it’s far easier to get a warranty on quartz or another manufactured product than on granite; since manufactured counter materials are brand-name and engineered, they usually come with a guarantee against chips, scratching, or warping for 10 to 20 years. Granite and natural stones are usually ineligible for such warranties.

Most vendors can have your new countertops cut and installed within a week to 10 days, unless your material is out of stock. Be sure your designer or countertop seller comes to measure beforehand to prevent cutting mistakes.

Lots of homeowners who buy new kitchens don’t have fond memories of the experience (to put it mildly). But there is much you can do to ensure smooth redos, starting with insisting on a solid contract. Click here for lots of advice on how to supervise and survive large remodeling projects. We also offer advice on selecting cabinets, plus ratings of local suppliers.
 

Illustrative Granite Countertop Prices*

Price (including
fabrication and installation)
Factory Plaza
429 Evergreen Ave, Bensenville, 630-616-9999
$2,088
B & B Formica Corian & Granite
5617 W Grand Ave, Chicago, 773-804-1015
$2,235
Midwest Stone
23736 W 119th St, Plainfield, 815-254-6600
$2,264
AMF Brothers Granite & Marble
2925 Lucy Ln, Franklin Park, 847-928-2209
$2,306
House of Granite & Marble
5112 Pearl St, Schiller Park, 847-928-1111
$2,308
A-American Custom Flooring
7777 N Caldwell Ave, Niles, 847-966-0500
$2,352
Sprovieri’s Custom Counters
55 W Laura Dr, Addison, 630-543-3400
$2,538
Stonecrafters
430 W Wegner Rd, Lakemoor, 815-363-8730
$2,601
Granite Corp
1501 US Highway 34, Oswego, 630-801-9955
$2,668
Best Buy Carpet & Granite
585 S Route 59, Aurora, 630-820-1439
$2,693
TTS Granite
3225 Louis Sherman Dr, Steger, 708-755-5200
$2,707
Granite & Marble Depot
19636 97th Ave #1, Mokena, 708-479-7770
$2,730
Heartland Granite
701 N Commerce St, Aurora, 630-499-8000
$2,825
Mastercraft Marble & Granite
736 N Western Ave, Lake Forest, 847-295-9900
$3,010
Home Depot
Multiple locations
$3,162
Bison Outlet Kitchen & Baths
8716 Ridgeland Ave, Oak Lawn, 708-430-3010
$3,333
Stonecutters
2014 Lehigh Ave, Glenview, 847-657-9000
$3,343
Tithof Tile & Marble
1657 Old Skokie Rd, Highland Park, 847-831-3444
$3,382
Marble & Granite Tech
817 W Northwest Hwy, Barrington, 847-713-8023
$3,557
Lowe’s
Multiple locations
$3,695
Stone City
3053 W Grand Ave, Chicago, 773-533-9806
$4,334
* Prices are for Black Galaxy granite and include fabrication and installation for three countertop sections, each 3 centimeters thick with standard square edge, with the following measurements: (1) 77" x 24"; 79" x 24 " with a sink cutout; and 541/2" x 24". No seams (each section fabricated from the same material). Companies were provided drawings, measurements, and additional specifications and instructions.