Design Confidently, Live Comfortably
Metal counters have been around much longer than their high-tech image suggests. In the early 19th century, rural kitchen tabletops and so-called dry sinks (which had drains but no running water) were often made of copper or zinc. Stainless steel was used in the kitchens of grand pre-war townhouses, where meals were prepared by servants for dozens of guests.
Metal is heat proof, hygienic, and has a "clean" look that lends order to a kitchen. And just about any metal counter can be made with a metal sink built right in.
Still, too much metal can look cold; soften it by pairing metal counters with natural-wood cabinets, or the warmer stone surfaces like marble or slate. Metal counters should be thick, to prevent dents and bucklingat least 1/20 inch thick, and preferably 1/16.
Stainless steelan alloy of iron, chromium, and nickelis the industrial standard for tough, clean counters; most health codes require it in commercial kitchens. Although it can scratch, most marks aren’t noticeable, especially if you order a random-grain finish. (A brushed finish is smoother but shows more fingerprints.) The best kitchen-grade of stainless steel is labeled No. 304, also known as government grade.
Copper is the warmest metal counter surface and also the softest, which means that scratches are only a matter of time. But time is on its side: Fans of copper like the way it turns a rich, golden brown with age. It’s not practical to keep copper gleamingly polished; the best maintenance is a periodic coat of butcher’s wax or beeswax.
Zinc, the classic counter of Parisian cafés, starts out as shiny as stainless steel but gradually dulls to a soft pewter-gray (photo above). Like copper, it is easily scratched, but everyday wear just adds to the patina. Wax it, like copper, for a deep luster.
NEXT: Marrying Edges to Materials
Metal counters have stood the test of time. Still a favorite of chefs, they are stylish, sanitary, and easy to maintain.