Good interior design and renovation need not be expensive
There used to be only a few choices for kitchen countertop a decade ago when we first bought a HDB, and now there is a plethora of choices it’s hard to decide anymore. While this is good for the consumer, most will still have their three biggest criteria in mind when shopping for countertop: (1) cost (2) ease of maintenance (3) durability. Don’t just accept what your contractor or designer recommend. I nearly made that mistake but thankfully, I did my research and went out to get my own countertop instead. Here’s what I find out that your contractor or designer may not be telling you.
Definitely a top choice that designers recommend for its elegance and long life. I admit liking marble a lot, because we used to have a marble table in my mum’s house, which is still around after some 30 years. What designers don’t say is, marble is highly sensitive to acids like lemon, orange, vinegar, and stains like soy sauce are hard to get off. Once corroded, marble loses its luster and that imperfection will stain your $10,000 countertop for life. You need to seal it every year (get a pro to do it), so that adds to the maintenance cost. Oh and don’t use a knive or drop any sharp objects on marble – they leave a scratch or chip that will grow with time and dirt will accumulate easily.
Contractors will unreservedly tell you granite is the best option – they are hard as stone (they are stone after all), and are easy to take care of. They don’t scratch easily and not that sensitive to acidic ingredients. It is cheaper than marble, but more expensive than its synthetic cousin (quartz). Most granite sold in Singapore fall into two categories – those from India and those from China. Selling price point ranges from SGD125 psf to SGD 175 psf, depending on which country it comes from. Generally speaking, Indian granite is more expensive. My contractor tells me not to buy China granite because many of them are artificially stained a darker colour to achieve colour consistencies. Not improbable, but there is no way of verifying this.
Quartz are manmade engineered stones mimicking the granite look. It is cheaper than granite, usually in the range of SGD75 – SGD100 psf. Colour options are plentiful. Contractors and designers like to offer quartz if a customer rejects granite, because there is still a healthy margin for them to make on quartz. My contractor told me the margins he makes on quartz is anything from 10% – 20%. Personally, I don’t like either – they look outdated for my liking.
This essentially is resin mixed with polymer, melted and moulded into whatever shape you want. Hence you see some kitchen with a countertop and a sink in one piece. It’s nice to have that seamless look if that’s what you want. However, solid surface is not heat and chemical resistant. The usual contractor-recommended solid surfaces are usually pre-cut to reduce their cost, so if you want that “seamless” look, you will have to pay a lot more. Dupont’s Corian solid surface is one of the first to market and remains a key player. If you go with solid surface, choose a good grade and it’ll likely last for a long time.
This is really just a layer of synthetic plastic glued onto the wooden countertop. Laminates are the cheapest of options listed here. Laminates are very durable and almost dummy proof for the lazy cleaners like me. However designers and contractors will not give this as a first choice for the condo/bungalow dwellers, citing the lack of “class”. Depending on the gloss and colour you choose, laminate can in fact look very classy as well. They don’t last very long though, so choose carefully.
If your house is riding on the industrial trend, then concrete may be an option for your consideration. It is not cheap though, comparable to granite or even marble costs. Concrete is cool to look at, but hard to maintain. It is porous so it needs to be sealed with food grade sealant to prevent water absorption and stains. Even so, hairline cracks will develop over time, making them a favourite hangout for ants. Manpower often makes up 80% of the sub-contractor’s cost, with materials the remaining 20%. Plus the 20% markup a contractor makes, and another 20% -50% markup the designer makes (if you use one), be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for a concrete countertop. But if you’re still interested, this article here has some really inspiring ideas on moulding your concrete countertop.
I call these my grandmother’s countertop because that’s what I grew up with. Tiles are making a come back, with an updated look that incorporates Peranakan motifs. I like the look, but maintenance is hard work. Be prepared to scrub the grout every so often. In Asian cooking where there is a lot of frying, tiles do get very dirty very quickly. Tiling a countertop is also very expensive in Singapore. It’s the equivalent of building a concrete countertop and then adding another layer of tiles. Not an option for the cost conscious.
This is a relatively new material but now becoming hot favourites among US and European designers for its versatility and eco-friendliness. These hard-as-diamond (kind of) boards are made of recycled paper (that’s where your garang guni man’s newspaper went into) compressed with resin to create a super hard composite, yet still light weight enough to transport without too much hassle, i.e. smaller carbon footprint. In Singapore, there is only one such supplier (and I eventually bought from them!). Price is comparable to granite, but your contractor is not likely to send you in droves to buy from them. Simply because they have no way of getting kick backs from these guys, vs say their granite supplier. I will write another post about paper composites because this deserve a serious look. Fascinating to say the least.