These days, designers have gone way beyond Carrara and Calacatta marble — they'll use just about anything for kitchen and island countertops. With options like limestone, zinc, concrete, wood and tile (just to name a few), these finishing layers complement the rest of the space.
Faced with a 500-square-foot open kitchen, Raili Clasen went with a island that could compete with its size. A countertop in Blizzard tops the 14-foot-long station, as well as a restaurant-style sprayer faucet. "It anchors the floor plan," Clasen says. "Anything smaller would have been swallowed up by the vastness."
Wendy Owens looked to nature to decorate her Sonoma cook space
Crafted from walnut, imbuia and anigre, a formal kitchen's nearly 11-foot-long island was inspired by English antiques. While it evokes a stately heirloom, the custom piece has kid-proof durability. "The wood is sealed with an acrylic finish, so it resists spills, scratches, stains, heat — almost anything," says designer Richard Anuszkiewicz.
Metallic accents aren't disappearing anytime soon. In an energetic Texas house, a gleaming brass counter matches the hardware on the refrigerator panels.
Designer Kim Lewis enlarged this sliver of a kitchen by mimicking the wide-open outdoors. Along with sky-blue cabinets and cloud-white walls, there's also a Silestone counter in Olivia. "It's a deep forest green that performs like a neutral — it can go with anything," she says.
Marble doesn't exactly read "casual," so the architect and homeowner went with butcher block for a relaxed beach house. Paired with pale oak floors and plank cabinetry, the room's now a picture of warmth and informality.
Caesarstone Calacatta Nuvo counters mimic the look of marble but are tough-wearing and low-maintenance. At a chunky 2½ inches thick, "they hold their own with the size of the island," says designer Jim Dove of this sleek black kitchen.
Inspired by the blue-gray veining on the countertops ( with suede finish), designer Matthew Quinn chose matching subway tile and then warmed up the cool colors with brass trim in this Kips Bay Decorators Show House kitchen.
Designer Eldon Wong topped a pair of architects' drafting tables with glass to serve as the kitchen island, and the adjacent Carrara marble top reminds him of a candy shop.
This sunny Aspen kitchen, designed by Ann Wolf, showcases a blend of wood tones. The island countertop is iroko wood, with remaining countertops in a granite called Verde Eucalyptus.
Carole Lalli, former editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine, designed this butcher-block-and-marble island in her Connecticut kitchen. "The really large island is because my daughters cook with me when they visit, and my husband is America's best prep cook."
With modern amenities and vintage touches, no-fuss zinc countertops suit a casual kitchen by Ruthie Sommers.
In an Atlanta house decorated by Robert Brown, the pair of kitchen islands are topped with Imperial Grey marble and edged in a band of riveted iron.
Touches of brass accent a New Jersey kitchen designed by Caitlin Wilson. The countertops in Lagoon have the look of marble but are impervious to stains.
In the kitchen of a Long Island beach house decorated by Rob Southern, the gray veining in the quartzite on the island complements the color of the countertops.
"The mahogany-topped island can easily fit 12 stools," says Parrish Chilcoat, who designed this masculine Southern California home with Joe Lucas.
In an Alabama apartment decorated by Doug Davis and Hannon Kirk Doody, an entire wall of the kitchen is clad in Calacatta Gold marble tiles from and laid in a chevron pattern for extra drama. Simple slabs of the same marble cover the countertops and island.
Designer SuzAnn Kletzien transformed this Chicago kitchen, contrasting the Absolute Black granite with a leathered finish of pale wood on the island. Gray cabinets are topped with a counter in subtly-veined Pulsar. "The wife is a great cook, and she wanted every surface to be durable," says Kletzien.
Located in San Francisco, this Victorian home has plenty of charm. "I chose marble countertops because I thought it was more faithful to the Victorians and just took the attitude that the more it stains, the better it looks," says designer Antonio Martins. An island made of weathered barnwood, with a built-in Carrara marble cutting board, adds warmth and texture.
Designer Gary McBournie slathered this kitchen's wood countertops in several coats of polyurethane. "I wanted it to resemble the galley on a boat," he explains.
Since you can look right into the kitchen from the front door of this 1909 Beaux Arts townhouse, it had to live up to its surroundings."An island can look like a monolithic block unless you do something to make it interesting," designer Christopher Peacock says. He found a gorgeous chunk of English wych elm at and used it to anchor the seating area, keeping the live edge as a reminder of the garden outside. A bit of leftover wood was turned into six drawer-fronts, flanking the range.
Simple Shaker-style kitchen cabinets in a creamy color are set off by dark counters made of Vermont soapstone, "a living material that will age and stain over the years, and that's part of its beauty," says designer Ramsay Gourd of this Vermont farmhouse.
"There's something soothing about gray," says designer Angie Hranowsky of this Indianapolis kitchen. "It's neutral but not dull, and I'm so tired of white kitchens." No wonder she was excited to find the Marmara marble, vein-cut to show off the striations that look like stripes. "It feels more modern than the usual Carrara, but it's also classic, which is exactly the mood I wanted — clean and fresh, but traditional at the same time."
Designing a thoroughly modern kitchen was a welcome challenge for California designer Tyler Pankratz. 's honed Pebble surface does double duty as countertop and backsplash, creating a seamless quality and minimizing contrast in this small footprint.
Jeff Lincoln and Hillary Thomas designed a contemporary kitchen in a Georgetown townhouse by using Absolute Black granite countertops for a contemporary look.
To balance the oak cabinets in his Los Angeles kitchen, designer William Hefner topped the counters and framed the range area with a warm Calacatta gold marble, for a style that's still soft.
Stained oak countertops "ground the white in the kitchen," designer Lynn Morgan says of her Savannah row house, and make the painted checkerboard floor feel "a little less sweet."