Which Countertops Work With Mid-Century Modern Style?

A Mid-Century Modern Kitchen Design by In Situ Architecture features Abet Laminati countertops for a punch of color. (Photo by Jeremy Bittermann)

Forget about today’s obsession with granite. When it comes to designing a Mid-Century Modern kitchen, there are options—some of which didn’t even exist when the style originated—that are a much better fit. Mid-Century Modern is all about clean lines and function.

There’s a reason that Mid-Century Modern design has been a major movement for decades. The style adds a light, airy feeling to the home. This can be especially welcoming in the kitchen, especially in older, smaller homes. Plus, with its clean lines and focus on minimalism, many consider Mid-Century Modern to be a timeless look—classic enough to mix well with today’s popular design themes as well.

A focus on function makes the Mid-Century Modern kitchen a very smart choice.

Just as the name implies, Mid-Century Modern design broadly refers to a style of architecture, furniture, graphic design, and more popularized in the 1950s and 60s, though some define Mid-Century Modern as a bit earlier, roughly 1933 to 1965. The style features its signature clean lines, sleek finishes, and sometimes a “space-age” feel.

The signature look of Mid-Century Modern is sleek, clean, and simple. Think glam, classic, and elegant. A Mid-Century Modern kitchen is no place for weathered finishes. The cabinetry selected for this style should reflect the era’s obsession with minimalism and clean lines. Go with flat front, unpanelled cabinetry accented with simple, sleek hardware (think pull bars instead of knobs) or none at all. For finish, let real wood take center stage. The high-quality authentic Mid-Century Modern masterpieces of the 1950s were made of walnut, oak, rosewood, and teak. Select either a light or dark wood and stick with it throughout the kitchen.

As for countertops, again the focus is on sleek, clean, modern, and simple. With its undulating grain patterns and striations, this is why granite, and natural stone in general, is typically avoided. So, if it’s a “no” on the granite, what should you choose? Here are some of today’s top options:

Laminate

When you think about Mid-Century Modern kitchens, laminate is probably the first material that pops to mind. It was the material most commonly used with authentic Mid-Century Modern designs, but today’s product is not your mama’s laminate! Today’s granite lovers may turn their noses up at the idea of laminate, but it has its advantages. For example, laminate countertops are very easy to maintain. It will resist stains, heat, and impact almost as well as materials that cost much more. Plus, today’s laminate comes in a wide variety of colors and designs. Check out some of the latest “retro” options from Wilsonart. Laminate usually costs a lot less than most other materials, so this is an appealing option for some budgets.

Concrete

Over the past decade or so, concrete has developed into a popular residential design trend thanks to its durability and versatility. Countertops have moved beyond drab slabs and have catapulted into high-style architectural-grade product. Typically opinions on concrete countertops are pretty polarized. Homeowners tend to either fall in love with the look or really don’t care for it at all. However, concrete offers many benefits as a countertop material. It’s durable, resistant to heat and scratching, and pretty easy to maintain. When sealed properly, concrete countertops will last for a very long time. Many love that they’re a completely custom, handmade product that your clients can personalize to fit their own space and design style. Concrete countertops can be made in a wide array of colors, plus they have a soft natural feel to them even though they’re a hard, textured surface.

Wood

Another element of Mid-Century Modern design is a focus on the natural. Wood offers a natural beauty that, when used as a countertop material, enhances a Mid-Century Modern look. And since this style of design can sometimes seem rather stark, the wood helps provide warmth that’s not as easily achieved by other countertop materials. And although wood was once thought of as difficult to care for as a countertop material, their function is undeniable. Butcher blocks make great food prep areas and wood-topped islands are gaining popularity across all styles of design. We’re even seeing more kitchens with entire runs of wood countertops.

If your customers choose wood, the best way for them to protect the countertops from stains, burns, and scratches is to always put hot pots on trivets, cut only on cutting boards, and be quick when wiping up spills. But if the countertop does get damaged, it can be erased relatively easily. Of course, you’ll have to remove any coating that’s on the wood and then sand it down. But that’s still a better option than replacing an entire countertop.

Quartz

Over 50 years ago, manufacturers began to recognize the potential for quartz. The most abundant mineral on earth, quartz is also one of the hardest. The technology for combining quartz with polymer resins to create quartz surfacing was developed in Italy in the 1960s. The surfacing quickly became popular in Italy and spread throughout Europe. However, as is the case with most trends, it took longer for quartz to catch on in the United States. Maybe it’s because American’s were satisfied with their options in the 60s and 70s—which were dominated by laminate. Quartz began to catch on in the U.S. in the 1990s. The boom began then and continues to this day. In fact, quartz has very recently overtaken granite as the top countertop material in the United States. The benefits of quartz countertops have clearly won us over.

So what’s so great about quartz surfacing? Well, it’s consistent and uniform all the way through, so if it’s scratched or chipped, it looks the same underneath. However, quartz surfacing is exceptionally hard and durable, so the odds of scratching, chipping, or denting are pretty slim. It’s also very resistant to stains as well as heat. Unlike natural stone, quartz surfacing never needs re-sealing and it’s also easy to clean, making it exceptionally low-maintenance. In fact, quartz surfacing is non-porous, which limits growth of bacteria.

Today’s quartz comes in a nearly unlimited variety of colors and the solid slabs make for great long-lasting surfaces that can typically be installed with very few seams. Today’s quartz comes in an exceptional variety of colors and styles including those that mimic natural stone, wood, concrete and more. So if you’re not feeling natural wood or concrete, a quartz version of either of these materials would be an excellent fit for a Mid-Century Modern design.

With Mid-Century Modern style, thin is in. Keep countertops sleek and slim with square edges. The only exception here is if you’re going for a waterfall design. It’s such a sleek look that it easily fits the bill.

The most important thing to remember when updating with Mid-Century Modern is stick to the sleek and minimal. By keeping focus on the traits that define the style, you’ll create an effective Mid-Century look whether you’re working on a remodel or a brand new wide-open space.

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