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 $3,015 to $5,549. 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)
Everlasting Surfaces
4378 Contractors Pl #A, Livermore, 925-960-9777
Straight Line Imports
3795 Pacheco Blvd #D, Martinez, 925-335-9801
Ceramic and Stone Design
740 Parker St, Santa Clara, 408-988-9222
United Marble & Granite
631 Giguere Ct #B, San Jose, 408-347-3300
Home Depot
Multiple locations
Kam Hing Marble
42 Loomis St, San Francisco, 415-643-8734
Multiple locations
Romarts Marble & Granite
1959 W Avenue 140th, San Leandro, 510-667-0857
In Stone Marble
1629 Doolittle Dr, San Leandro, 510-351-1900
Sosa Tile
7701 Marathon Dr, Livermore, 925-373-7675
Pacific Stone
1375 Franquette Ave #F, Concord, 925-680-8741
Counter Solutions
1092 Carrara Way, Livermore, 925-455-1995
The Granite Encounter
1605 Whipple Rd, Hayward, 510-324-0110
Diamond Stoneworks
1950 Olivera Rd #B, Concord, 925-686-6100
Artistic Stone
2973 Teagarden St, San Leandro, 510-483-1298
Duracite Custom Countertops
3005 Wiljan Ct #B, Santa Rosa, 707-542-0151
Plamar USA
33100 Transit Ave, Union City, 408-744-0694
The Countertop Store of San Carlos
151 Old County Rd, San Carlos, 650-598-0100
Carrera Marble Company
39 Bay St, San Rafael, 415-454-4647
Stone Etc
2148 Dunn Rd, Hayward, 510-786-2367
True Stone Distributing
1742 Yosemite Ave, San Francisco, 415-822-8783
* 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.