No matter what your material preference or color palette, a little design drama can go a long way in your kitchen.

Design drama can be achieved with your cabinetry — perhaps painted an untraditional color, like navy or forest green, with contrasting hardware — or even a unique mosaic backsplash. But when it comes to doing drama right, few design elements can compete with your countertops.

Understated materials can deliver refined elegance. Bold materials can deliver a showstopper design. Natural and engineered stone countertops — like quartz, granite and everything in between — can perform as an everyday work surface or a straight-up spectacle.

Semiprecious and exotic stones are the most obvious choices for high-impact drama, but they are not the only options. Quartz manufacturers are upping the ante with high-contrast marbleizations and colorful organic designs — like with Cambria’s Bentley or Langdon countertops, for instance — endeavoring to forget the early, speckled patterning of quartz’s past.

Parts 1 and 2 of this 3-part countertop series reviewed builder-grade materials and stone. But these are not your only options, and especially not for high-impact design.

Specialty countertop options, or nontraditional options, have become increasingly popular in recent years. This is due in part to creative DIY-ERs seeking alternate countertop solutions; it is also due to homeowners seeking something different — a more industrial style, or warm aesthetic or efficient feel than stone or builder-grade options offer.

Popular alternative materials

Specialty counters can be used as just an accent on a central kitchen island or across an entire space (whether that space is a kitchen, wet bar, kitchenette, etc.) and are an excellent way to add a little design drama to your space. This article highlights three (of the many) popular specialty countertop materials: stainless steel, butcher block and concrete.

Though standard in commercial kitchens, stainless steel in residential spaces is much less common. This can be a great option if you have an ultramodern or utilitarian design style, or if you are an aggressive cook.

But its shiny silver surface is associated with a cold aesthetic and can look out of place in your home if you have a traditional or transitional personal style. Stainless steel has become more popular in recent decades for its single greatest benefit: It is renown as one of the most easy-to-clean countertop options.

Wooden butcher block counters also fall into the specialty category, though they have been around for centuries. Especially popular in maple, though available in almost any wood species, butcher block counters add a richness and warmth to the kitchen by introducing unsealed wood onto your work surface.

Butcher blocks are not solid slabs of wood: They gain their strength from thick planks of wood glued together. Maintenance is generally about as low as granite (it needs to be oiled, as opposed to sealed, on a regular basis) though unlike stone it is susceptible to humidity and moisture fluctuations. True, unsealed butcher block is technically designed to be cut on — you can usually use fine sand paper to remove any scratches before you oil it, and it will look like new (though always check with your supplier, first) — though it is not as easy to clean as bringing a cutting board over to the sink. It is also a quieter surface, but not heat or stain resistant.

Similar to stainless steel, poured concrete countertops are not as commonly seen in residential kitchens. But many homeowners gravitate to their unique, industrial-chic style. Concrete has the reputation of being inexpensive for the savvy DIY aficionado, but this can be misleading: In terms of both cost and quality, a professionally formed concrete countertop will contrast a DIY pour like night and day.

Concrete counters can be customized to your cabinetry more than any other material, though they are naturally porous, so they do require regular sealing and maintenance.

Specialty options

There are a variety of other specialty countertop materials beyond stainless steel, butcher block and concrete. There are eco-friendly options like recycled content surfaces, which can look similar to “traditional” quartz counters, or even recycled paper.

Dekton is a practically indestructible, zero-maintenance surface that comes in solid, marbleized and industrial-chic styles. It’s great for indoor or outdoor kitchens. There are also live-edge wood countertops for a rustic look, backlit glass tops and specialty metals like zinc or copper for accent areas (think at a wet bar)!

While thinking outside of the box is often praised in the world of design, consider the functionality, maintenance and look of any given material for a given space before investing in a unique counter.

Cabinet countertops are important features of your home. They are, debatably, the most used surface in the kitchen, as well as the bathroom, taking daily use and (in some cases) abuse.

There are options to satisfy those on a budget, those in need of durability and those who want a showstopping material to focus the attention of a room. Knowing the general categories of options available to you can help you make informed decisions for these workhorse-surfaces in your home.

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