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Five Steps For Choosing A New Countertop

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- The kitchen counter has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a housewife's helper. No longer viewed simply as a utilitarian workspace, it is now a pivotal part of modern kitchens and its design a veritable raison d'etre for kitchen islands.

But do you know how to choose between granite, laminate or some other material when matching a countertop to your kitchen activity and your tolerance for stains? Consumer Reports offers these five tips:

See where you can save.
Countertops typically cost between $600 and $6,000 for 55 square feet, the average amount in a kitchen, according to the Fabricator Network, an association of countertop makers and installers. You can cut costs by installing smaller, cheaper stone remnants instead of a single, premium-priced slab of stone. Save further by accentuating a large, lower-priced run of laminate counters with a small but beautiful piece of stone on the island.

Get the big picture.
Envisioning your finished project by the tiny samples most home improvement stores provide isn't easy. What looks glamorous on a 2-by-2-inch sample may well evoke something from Frankenstein's lab when magnified as a countertop. Lowe's ( and specialty store DuPont ( offer interactive style guides that let you choose color and material options and place them in virtual settings.

Think about your sink.
Waterproof materials are a must if you want an undermounted sink. Stainless steel, solid surfacing and concrete are best-suited for seamless installations when the sink material matches that of the counter.

Consider seams.
This small detail can have a discernible impact. Post-formed laminate counters are seam-free from the front edge to the backsplash, but you'll notice the seams where the two pieces meet. For virtually invisible seams, go for solid surface and stainless steel.

Visit the stone yard.
Unlike quartz, laminate or solid surfacing, stone can vary from slab to slab and even within the same slab. Don't buy based on a store sample but go to the stone yard and pick a piece the color, graining and veining you prefer.

By Marshall Loeb

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