When I die, I’m taking my countertop with me.
Or maybe I’ll take it around me, a beautiful casket built of quartz. Although I might have to double the number of pallbearers because, weighing in at 700 pounds or so, it’s too heavy for the standard six.
But right now, I’m happy just to look at the expensive slab of beauty I’ve waited 25 years to own.
Part of the delay was me: It takes me a ridiculously long time to buy anything -- 10 minutes in the pasta aisle debating spaghetti sauces, six months of Consumer Reports for a new toaster, double that deciding on the car to replace my ’94 Honda.
Part of the delay was the nature of the countertop itself: Unless you’re building a new house, you’ve already got one. And it is a contradictory piece of a kitchen, simple enough to replace but simple enough to live with, since it doesn't break down like a stove or wear out as quickly as linoleum.
They are especially indestructible if they’re made of laminate left over from the Nixon-era, which my old countertops were. No nicks, burns, tears or signs of visible wear. Like Goldie Hawn, they hadn’t aged a bit. But out of vogue? Definitely.
I’ve had a yearning for a new countertop since 1990, when my family moved into a wonderful old house with faux-wood laminate in the kitchen, which immediately went on my homeowner’s “has-got-to-go” list.
It never went.
Why? Because most countertops cost more than a trip to Cancun over Christmas.
But I wanted to die happy, so four years after I bought my 1959 ranch, I saved the money to get the countertop I’d always dreamed of. Some people have skydiving on their bucket list, I had clinking my coffee cup on a piece of stone every morning and hearing the satisfying chime.
I’m two weeks into life with my Dove Gray beauty -- Zodiaq brand by DuPont -- and I couldn’t be happier doing the dishes. It dovetails perfectly with the original maple cabinets and the no-nonsense slate-colored tile backsplash. I. Love. It.
And if you, too, are looking for a smooth surface that will make your kitchen look like it could take a bow on HGTV, look no more:
* Making the decision to replace your old countertop is the easy one. Choosing what your new countertop will be made of is much, much harder. There are so many choices, including quartz, marble, Corian, Formica (laminate), concrete, terrazzo, zinc, soapstone, stainless steel, tile, wood and a variety of recycled surfaces, most of them featuring glass.
*Every countertop option has pros and cons beyond cost. Soapstone can stain, Corian can scratch, granite needs to be sealed, zinc is beautiful but more expensive than the Hope Diamond, tile can crack, stainless steel, well, raise your hand if you can’t keep your faucet polished. Looks are what first attracted me to quartz. Why, hello there, gorgeous. But it went beyond that. Quartz is heat-resistant (tested up to 450 degrees), hard to scratch and extremely low-maintenance -- just wipe and go.
* All that glitters costs as much as gold or something like that. Prices for a solid surface countertop range from $45 to $140 a square foot. (Mine came in at $78.) By contrast, laminate is around $25 a square foot installed.
* If you are looking for an engineered surface -- anything from quartz to Corian to recycled glass -- chances are you will locate a company website. There you will see photos of the many color choices. You will be dizzy comparing shades of gray. Graphite? Gravel? Sage? But you might also find a kitchen design tool that allows you to plug in your desired countertop color and match it to your cabinets, flooring and walls so you can see how it would look in real life. This is helpful. I recommend it.
* I also recommend a visit (or 12) to Houzz.com -- or to a website similar to Houzz, but really just stick with Houzz. If you own a home and you’re not familiar with the All Things Home Related website, you should be. Among its dozens of other helpful features the site has a reader advice forum, which is where I posted a photo of my kitchen and asked for countertop suggestions. And got them. You will, too.
* Keep an open mind and don’t pooh-pooh laminate. It’s changed since it was installed in my old houses -- there are tons of cool patterns and colors, including retro finishes like boomerang and linen, which I seriously considered, along with concrete and recycled glass for the green factor. (I’m claiming a Get Out of Environmental Jail Free card on the quartz, but I’ll make up for it with my fuel-efficient hatchback and my stellar recycling habits, I promise.)
* After checking out options on the Internet, visit your local countertop shops -- and hardware big boxes like Lowe’s, Menards and Home Depot. There are a handful of relatively smaller specialty countertop stores in Lincoln, and I settled on Counter Culture on Rentworth Drive -- it’s the sales and installation side of Lincoln Laminating, which does the fabricating. A friend had used them, and liked them, and I liked the groovy name, so I stopped in. Ben Klein, director of sales, rushed to my aid -- answering questions and giving advice. I’d had a bad experience at another countertop business so I was ready to commit even before he gave me a bid. (Advice to sales staff: If someone comes in holding a drawing of her counter space and poring over samples for 30 minutes, ask if she needs help.)
* After you’ve picked your dream counter (possibly from a sample the size of a coaster), you’ve really just begun. New countertops are a slippery slope. Now you need a new faucet and possibly a cool, undermount sink and, in some cases -- not mine -- a new backsplash. (And maybe when you’re all finished, the floor looks dated and you’ll consider something new -- but don’t go there.)
* In search of the perfect faucet, I visited every faucet-carrying store in town, most of them twice. A few three times. I read reviews online. I lost sleep. In the end, I went big, with a more expensive faucet than the box stores carry. The sleek, high-arc beauty came from Briggs Inc. of Lincoln and I got the plumber discount (a complicated formula, for sure) from the folks at Simmons Plumbing.
* I saved nearly $400 by removing the old counter myself. More accurately, I removed it with the help of a very strong man who watched scores of YouTube countertop-ripping-out-videos and came to my rescue. (Thank you, Peter Salter.) But you, too, can feel like Tim Allen meets Ty Pennington with the right tools -- crowbar, hammer, putty knife, utility knife and muscle.
* Plan on a half-day for your installation. Mine took three hours, including the rather smelly gluing of two pieces on my longer counter -- a nifty machine makes the seam nearly invisible. And because laminate is ½-inch deeper than quartz, Counter Culture added a matching trim piece next to my existing backsplash to hide the gap, creating a small ledge. I love my ledge.
* If you don’t have a deadline, wait for a sale. My quartz wasn’t discounted initially -- but Counter Culture was running a special -- a new bathroom counter (any size) and sink for $300 using remnants from its large inventory. Sold. My saddle brown quartz bathroom counter is lovely. And it turned out the dove gray I’d picked for the kitchen was on backorder from the manufacturer. While I waited for it to come in, it, too, went on sale. Cha-ching.
* Total bill for 40 square feet of kitchen counter, including installation, sink, faucet, disposal and plumber’s bill, was $4,023. The good news? I still might get that trip to Cancun at Christmas. I used three new credit cards to foot the bill (paid off with savings) and accumulated enough points for airline tickets, hotel rooms and enough cash-back bonus to pay for a new passport.