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Choosing countertops for your kitchen or bathroom used to be that thing you did after you chose the cabinets, the floor and the backsplash—all it took was a trip to the stone yard or home improvement store for a granite slab that pulled the whole look together. But innovations in engineering and design mean that counters have risen to the top of designers’ to-do lists.



Many countertops look like stone—or worse, fake stone. But a new crop of solid-surface options now mimic other materials. Using flecks, dyes and layers, designers are creating finishes that resemble concrete, wood and even patinaed sheet metal. Others are laser-etched with patterns to look like geometric wallpaper and crocodile hide. These showstoppers boast high doses of texture and color, so they’re ideal for cementing sizable islands as a kitchen’s centerpiece.



For a while, it seemed as though everyone redoing a kitchen or bath pinned Carrara marble (or its pricier older sibling, Calacatta) on their inspiration boards—and who could pooh-pooh that snowy stone laced with dove-gray veins? But as counters step into the limelight, engineers are dialing up the contrast with gorgeous results: We’ve spied alabaster-and-ash granite with soft black speckles; bold, black quartz with ribbons of silver and copper; and intricate black and white composites that look like ink on paper. They’re as stunning in a shower stall as they are on a powder-room vanity.




Cabinetry is still key in the kitchen, but the most trendsetting islands now feature "waterfall" edges: The countertop material continues down the far sides of the island for a tablelike look that creates a rock-solid visual anchor in the room. Some designers are eliminating central cabinets altogether and cloaking the entire island (save for any appliances) in cool quartz for an ultramod look.




White countertops of yore were generally impossible to keep stain-free, but the new generation of quartz and engineered-stone surfaces means you can drop a pot of tomato sauce on your kitchen's chalky slab without heart palpitations. Polished nonporous stone is durable and heat-resistant and cleans with a soft cloth and mild soap. The best part? The spectrum of white stretches from eggshell and ivory to buttermilk and bluish mist, so you can achieve a classic country look or one that's totally mod.




In the bathroom, countertops are no longer just for the vanity: Designers are stretching them from floor to ceiling to shower to create sleek, tile-free spaces. Born of the notion that more grout lines mean more nooks for bacteria, more stains and more headaches, single-surface bathrooms employ the same nonporous surface on walls, bathing areas, vanities and, in some cases, floors; even the integrated sink is made of the same surface for maximum wipeability. The result is a crisp, clean look that feels surprisingly soft for a room clad in stone.