The food hidden cleverly behind your kitchen cabinets isn’t the only thing that’s a matter of taste. The right countertop—always highly visible and constantly in use—can be the true centerpiece of any culinary space. It can play a pivotal role in elevating the ambiance of a kitchen, whether you’ve opted for the trend-forward luxe look of classic white marble, the sleek elegance of quartz, the luxury of granite, or the natural charm of butcher block. “To me, countertops are possibly the most important material in a kitchen,” San Francisco–based designer Nozawa tells ELLE DECOR. “You interact with them most, from cooking on them to wiping them up to admiring them.” But as it turns out, there’s more to a countertop than a pretty finish.
Some materials, like quartz and granite, boast low maintenance and high durability-though they can be challenging to repair when chipped. Nozawa says she has a soft spot for granite—which itself is anything but smooth. “I love that granite is a natural material, durable and less vulnerable to stains and acids than marble,” she says. She adds, “it’s often super variable from one side of the slab to the other.” Other materials, including wood and soapstone, require routine sanding and oiling to develop a patina. Marble is an ever-popular option (ask celebrity designer Jeremiah Brent, who’s obsessed). However, it also requires regular maintenance, like sealing, as it’s a softer stone that quickly absorbs stains, oils, and acidic-based products.
There are also price considerations. For instance, marble can be more costly compared with more affordable granite and laminate materials. And finally, lifestyle comes into play. Maybe you’re a total closet chef who dreams of a stainless steel setup; perhaps you’ve got kids, and there’s no price you wouldn’t pay to install the most robust material known to humankind (reinforced titanium, anyone?); or maybe a warm-toned wood block is just the design element you need to add a little rustic charm.
Feeling more equipped to make a decision that works for your space? Could you not take our word for it? We’ve rounded up our favorite statement countertop moments from the ELLE DECOR archives, from the most exquisite yellow travertine accents to the moodiest black granite worktop, for looks that deliver functionality and style galore. You’re welcome.
Since this Parisian apartment had never been renovated in its 125-year existence, the layout was “obsolete,” designer Jean-Louis Deniot tells ELLE DECOR, which he took as the perfect opportunity to transform the space with a 15-foot-long marble island and matching countertops that stand out gloriously against the oak-clad walls. But, of course, he didn’t stop there. Deniot brought a painter to create a trompe l’oeil mural that echoes the kitchen countertop’s marbled look in the adjacent breakfast nook. C’est parfait!
We love taking cues from the local environment, as Mark Grattan did in his serene Mexico City apartment. Here, the custom cabinetry is topped off by Mexican yellow travertine. The warm, gold hue ties in well with the corresponding handmade rug and clay planter for a cooking space that’s as relaxing as a luxury spa.
If one design element is a surefire way to elevate a space, it’s marble. Take, for instance, the kitchen in this Dallas hacienda, which proves that the home can be a grand setting for everyday living. With gloriously veined Arabescato marble countertops echoed in the floor-to-ceiling walls and carved archways, designer Chad Dorsey’s kitchen reveal proves that, with the right touch, more is indeed more.
Writer and director Mara Brock Akil’s exquisite Los Angeles home proves you can have your cake and eat it too. In her sprawling kitchen, custom Arclinea cabinetry and islands made of stainless steel stand out against the Arabescato-marble-clad walls. With a mocha-colored wood backdrop, this space pulls out all the stops (and inspires us to pull out all the food).
CLASSIC WHITE MARBLE
In the kitchen of this Upper East Side penthouse, the maximalist-inclined ELLE DECOR A-List firm Redd Kaihoi has revealed proof that it can work in neutrals—and with excellent execution. This classic beveled marble countertop blends seamlessly into the kitchen’s bright white-walled backdrop in Venetian plaster, taking on a golden hue as the sunlight comes round from the east—“the sun now pours in like honey,” one writer observed. Talk about making the most of the golden hour.
While the classic, neutral palette can elevate any marble variety, we’re obsessing over a bolder trend: green kitchens. And if designer Augusta Hoffman’s kitchen is any indication, she agrees. “I am still pushing myself to expand my colors!” she says. “But it’s true, I do love green. I think of it almost as a neutral.” Here, a moody and atmospheric space, drenched in olive-green cabinetry (Russian Olive by Behr, if anyone’s asking), pairs beautifully with several bright white marble slabs.
OK, OK. We know you wanted to see this same look with a more moody worktop. Behold designer Noz Nozawa’s take on the green kitchen in this California retreat, featuring charcoal-colored soapstone countertops in a honed finish that makes us green with envy. Overseen by a pair of Moi Random Light II chandeliers by Bertjan Pot, which throws randomly patterned shadows back on the countertop surface when lit, this cuisine is proof that a green and marble combo is the best way to zest up your kitchen.
This charming cottage on the water, home to designer Ken Fulk, is brimming with backstory. After undoing the house’s 1950s-era renovations, some elements were salvaged. The thick butcher block countertops are a fitting repository for an old sitz bath repurposed as the sink. The custom-made cabinetry, painted in Tanner’s Brown by Farrow & Ball, adds further interest to the wood elements. “I daydream about coming here,” Fulk told us in 2015.
Studio Peregalli’s transformation of this grand London mansion is a tasteful nod to its storied beginnings in 1881—with a fresh kitchen space while simultaneously giving the impression that it has always been there. The island, made from a 19th-century cast-iron stove and topped with Carrara marble, speaks to the home’s rich past with discriminating modern-day fixtures. Its pioneering architect, Mr. Basil Champneys, would be proud.
This gem of a kitchen is a master class in ivory-on-white. With his ivory-hued countertops and corresponding backsplash against subtly gray-toned white walls, designer Matthew Harris is flexing all of his artistic muscles in this space. A Vista Alegre vase and artwork by Jean Cocteau punctuate the neutral-toned scene.
Light-filled and airy, the kitchen of this San Francisco home is a regular gathering spot for the family. Good thing the flamed black granite island, lined with Thomas Hayes’s Iron and Rolled stools, isn’t precious about spills. The moody island is a convenient spot for the kids to sit for breakfast and lunch—a proper stage for family-style eating.
This low-key kitchen in Toronto is a stylish laboratory for eccentric textures and natural elements, far from the least being the countertops. The sultry marble slabs—a stunning mixture of gold and dark and light brown with unique white and beige veining—anchor the room with a soothing palette that brings together all those colors seen throughout, from the Brutalist-inspired tiles to the ceiling beams to the charcoal-gray flooring.
Regarding kitchens, pragmatism can be the preliminary consideration—at the expense of aesthetic luxuries like countertop space. But when architect Andre Herrero is involved, like in the case of this 1970s home in West Hollywood, no kitchen is a lost cause, even on a shoestring budget. “It was a disaster,” Herrero told ELLE DECOR. Barely functional before the renovation with particle board cabinets and a refrigerator that couldn’t open fully, the home’s kitchen is now rendered spacious by the use of under-stair storage and smart shelving above the stove, all conveniences that allow for uncluttered countertops that seamlessly blend into the cabinets.
THE ARTIST’S TOUCH
Is this New York City loft a kitchen or an art studio? In a configuration that decorator Richard Mishaan likens to a hotel’s presidential suite, these black slate countertops create an artist’s loft-style backdrop for ceramic pieces and various artworks. So whether homeowner and painter John Alexander is inventive with food or paint, inspiration is in every corner of this bohemian space.
In Coldplay guitarist Jonny Buckland’s downtown Manhattan crash pad’s kitchen, a focal point of the open-plan layout, soapstone countertops bring a blue-toned hue that pops against the matte black kitchen cabinets. If it’s good enough for Jonny, it’s good enough for us.