Pro Tip: Our Favorite Countertop Materials

Selecting kitchen countertops is one area where we see clients wanting some guidance. There isn’t just one obvious choice! Every type of countertop material, from marble to granite to concrete, comes with its own set of pros and cons.

To help you minimize hours of research, uncertainty, and decision paralysis, here’s a simple guide to 4 of our favorite countertop materials: quartzite, granite, soapstone, and concrete.

Have a question about these materials or others? Ask us in the comments below!
 

1 / QUARTZITE

Quartzite (not to be confused with man-made Quartz) is the hardest and most durable natural stone. It is one of our favorite countertop options for the simple reason that it excels in just about every category.

Pros: Quartzite is extremely heat resistant, so you can go ahead and set those scalding pans down. It also resists acid, stains, and scratches, and cleans easily with baking soda and water. Quartzite’s array of veining and color options (including some that mimic the look of marble) make it easy to get the look you want.

Cons: For any scratch or chip repair, we recommend hiring a professional. You’ll also want a professional to apply sealer every 1-3 years, depending on the porosity of your quartzite slab.

Price Range: $$-$$$
 

2 / GRANITE

Contrary to popular belief, granite is not just the stone of the 90s. Granite slabs come in a wide range of veining, splatter, and color options, so it’s more than possible to incorporate a style that will keep your space looking current. Plus, the stone’s long-term durability is well worth the investment.

Pros: Granite is extremely resistant to damage from heat, acid, common foods, and household cleaning products. Granite is also scratch resistant, so if you’re known for using your counters as chopping blocks, your granite will survive… though the sharpness of your knives may not!

Cons: In the unlikely event that your granite chips or scratches, you’ll want to hire a professional to repair it. You’ll also need to schedule a professional sealing application every 2-4 years.

Price Range: $$-$$$
 

3 / SOAPSTONE

We love materials that patina and get better with age, and soapstone is at the top of that list. If you want a countertop that has beauty and longevity, you should give soapstone your serious consideration.

Pros: Like quartzite and granite, soapstone is extremely heat resistant. Though it’s the softest natural stone, its lack of porosity resists damage from acid, bacteria, and stains. Scratches can happen, but they’re easy to buff out with 60-80 grit sandpaper. Removing any residue or blemishes is also easy to do without calling in a professional.

Cons: Your color options are limited to a range of veining in white and gray, and body colors in gray and green. Perhaps the biggest con is that soapstone requires regular maintenance. Mineral oil applications are necessary 1x / week for the first few months, as well as every few months afterward, though you don’t need a professional to do it. Also, keep in mind that mineral oil turns your stone dark, as in this before and after photo. (Though we see this as a plus!)

Price Range: $$

4 / CONCRETE

Concrete countertops look beautiful, especially in modern spaces, and will develop a lot of character over the years. If you don’t mind the high maintenance, their beauty is worth your extra loving care.

Pros: Concrete countertops are extremely heat resistant and have a versatile selection of color, pigment, and finish options.

Cons: As a porous material, concrete is prone to scratches and stains and is susceptible to etching from acids. While a yearly sealing is the minimum requirement, sealing won’t protect the surface from all stains or etching. You’ll also want to call a professional for any chip and scratch repairs.

Price Range: $-$$$

Have questions? Did we leave out your favorite? Tell us in the comments below!

One Room Challenge: Week 4, or How to Select Indoor Plants

I’ve always loved having plants inside the home. Growing up, my mom kept spider plants, palms, jasmine, cacti, and various other species in our best lit rooms. When I moved into my own apartments in my twenties, I quickly realized I didn’t have my mom’s talent for keeping plants alive, or so I thought…. In this fourth week of the One Room Challenge, we’ll be discussing indoor plant life, and how to turn your black thumb into a semi-green thumb.

 No space is complete without plants (  image source  )

No space is complete without plants (image source)

The first step in learning how to keep plants alive is to select the right plants for the lighting in your space. I’ve found this to be the most critical factor in whether a plant lives or dies. Too much or too little light can easily stress a plant, and stress leads to disease, pests, or premature death! The difficult part is determining what kind of light exists in your space as the differences can be subtle. Here's a quick primer on how to determine the lighting for your plant's location:

LIGHTING PRIMER FOR PLANTS

DIRECT LIGHT
South or west facing windows with direct light all day long. It has a minimum of 5-6 hours of direct sunlight each day.

PARTIAL SUN/SHADE
East or west facing windows that have a couple hours of sun a day, avoiding the heat of the midday sun.

INDIRECT BRIGHT LIGHT
South or west facing windows but located far away enough from the window to avoid direct sun. The plant doesn’t receive direct sunlight, but does get indirect light 5-6 hours a day.

LOW LIGHT
North facing windows or rooms partially shaded by trees, or the deep interior of a room far from windows. If it’s a spot where you can’t easily read a book, then it’s probably low light.

 Illustration of different lighting levels (  image source  )

Illustration of different lighting levels (image source)

While we’re only talking about light in this post, there are other factors to consider such as watering, temperature, humidity, and seasonal changes. The most important thing is to try different locations until your plant seems happy and healthy. Also, ask your local garden store expert for their recommendations of plants based on where you plan to place your plant.

 Flora Grubb, one of our favorite garden stores in San Francisco (  image source  )

Flora Grubb, one of our favorite garden stores in San Francisco (image source)

Our living room space for the One Room Challenge has strong light from south/west facing windows, but we’re placing the plants in more shaded areas of the rooms that receive indirect light. We went to Flora Grubb, one of our favorite garden stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, to get advice on which plants will work best for our situation. We learned that many, if not most, indoor plants work well in indirect light, so we decided on the Peperomia Thailand and the Philodendron Cordatum. We love the shape of their leaves!

 Our selections: Peperomia Thailand and Philodendron Cordatum

Our selections: Peperomia Thailand and Philodendron Cordatum

Now we just have to source some great pots. Let us know in the comments below if you have more tips for keeping plants alive!

Check in next week for a discussion on layering accessories for the living room. Missed the previous weeks' posts? You can catch up here: 
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

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Check the progress of the other bloggers participating in the One Room Challenge:
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What You Need to Know Before Renovating in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 2

When it comes to renovations, the Bay Area is a unique place. Between historical preservation, city planning commissions, and keeping the peace with your not-so-distant neighbors, building in the city and surrounding areas isn’t a stroll through Golden Gate Park! 

Before you're in the midst of your project and wishing the nightmare would end (believe us, this happens more often than not), check out our advice on what you can proactively do to set yourself up for success. This is Part 2 of our two part series, and we're kicking it off with Tip #4. (Missed Part 1? Start here.)

Tip #4: Plan the holistic picture + specific needs of your space

If you’re looking for someone to consider your space’s flow, daily function, style, finishes, furnishings, accessories, and art, you’ll want an interior designer on your team. Structural engineers and architects have their specific roles, and won't be able to get into the nitty gritty of interiors work. Interior designers are immersed in the latest designs, materials, and vendors for the items that go into your space, especially when it comes down to specific functional needs such as the latest in kid- and pet-friendly materials. 

Tip: Assembling a reno team takes time, so start looking at least 1-2 months in advance before you want to start the design process. Consider the scope of your work and whether you simply want the architecture of the space done, or whether you want all the details completed down to the furnishing, art, and accessories.

  An interior designer plans specializes in defining the details of your space

An interior designer plans specializes in defining the details of your space

Tip #5: Be realistic about your budget

Bay Area renovations range from a minimum of $300-$500 per sq ft, depending on the room, the finishes selected, and the amount of construction required (addition, rerouting pipes, windows, etc.).

To be safe, err high, and always have a contingency budget of at least 10% for unforeseen expenses. There may be surprises hiding behind those walls, or you may want to increase the scope along the way. If your budget doesn't cover your ideal scope, try to prioritize your wish list into phases that optimize the time and money to be spent. For example, if you're changing the flooring in a room, then consider if you should do painting at the same time so that the room can be efficiently completed. 

  Historic San Francisco homes may come with a greater number of surprises

Historic San Francisco homes may come with a greater number of surprises

Tip #6: Anticipate the unique conditions of the Bay Area building boom

The current Bay Area building boom means your project may not begin right away. If you’re doing an extensive renovation, permits from your city can also take additional time, sometimes as long as 6-12 months or more, due to the back-up of requests. 

Plus, the high demand for construction means that labor costs are increasing year over year in the double digits, so it’s important to lock down a contractor sooner rather than later. Contractors will line up other work for when they predict your project will end, and if there’s scope creep later during construction, there’s no guarantee your project will be completed by the same contractor... or in a timely manner.

The Solution: Assemble your team well in advance and clearly define scope based on your budget before construction starts. As interior designers who have been through the renovation process end-to-end, Form + Field is your partner and advocate throughout the entire journey and beyond.

Have additional tips to share for renovation projects? Add them to the comments below! 

 

What You Need to Know Before Renovating in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 1

When it comes to renovations, the Bay Area is a unique place. Between historical preservation, city planning commissions, and keeping the peace with your not-so-distant neighbors, building in the city and surrounding areas isn’t a stroll through Golden Gate Park!

Before you're in the midst of your project and wishing the nightmare would end (believe us, this happens more often than not), check out our advice on what you can proactively do to set yourself up for success. Here's Part 1 of this two part series. 

Tip #1: Stay cohesive with the neighborhood

If you’re doing any kind of exterior renovation in the Bay Area, you may be required to keep your new exterior design cohesive with the neighborhood. For example, if you’re on a street where every house has a bay window, your home’s exterior may need to incorporate some sort of bay window. Keeping the character of the neighborhood can also be subjective, and you’ll be at the mercy of whatever planner the city has assigned you.

For any renovation affecting the exterior, it’s best to have an architect on your team. Architects are great for thinking about the exterior and spatial volumes of a building. Tip: Choose an architect who has done many projects in your city or town so they know the planning department well and have their ear. Also, learn in advance from the city's planning department or the architect what the standards are, if any, for keeping the neighborhood character. That sleek, modern addition of your dreams may not be 100% attainable!

  Due diligence is required for changes to exterior walls

Due diligence is required for changes to exterior walls

Tip #2: Play nice with your neighbors

On the subject of neighborhoods, the Bay Area, and especially San Francisco, is unique in that just because you own your property, it doesn't mean you have complete control over what you do with it. However, it's not just the planning department that has a say, but also your neighbors. In the case of exterior changes, consider your neighbor your best ally, or potentially your worst nightmare.

The planning department doesn't want a neighbor's complaint to go into official review, so you're incentivized to resolve differences with your neighbors early without getting the planning department involved. Meet your neighbors face-to-face and get to know them before you start your renovation process. Listen to their concerns about your plans, and work together on creative solutions. Sometimes you won't be able to placate your neighbors 100%, but it helps to show that you tried. If you haven't tried, the penalties can be severe, and a big red pen might be taken to your design.

Tip #3: Hire a structural engineer for an open concept

Open floor plans are one of the most popular renovation requests right now — but not all of those walls can be simply knocked down! Sometimes there’s plumbing behind the drywall or it's a load bearing wall. Pipes may or may not be worth relocating, and to remove a load bearing wall, you may need a new steel or reinforced beam to carry the weight of the floor above.

If you’re determined to make an open concept plan happen, hire a structural engineer. They’ll come up with a construction design that will give you the space you want while adhering to building code and safety. Even if you have an architect on your team, the architect will likely still recommend hiring a structural engineer if there’s significant work needed. On the other hand, if it’s simply removing a few walls and not an addition, you might be able to get away with only a structural engineer and interior designer on your team, and no architect.

  The structural details behind creating an open floor plan

The structural details behind creating an open floor plan

We'll be concluding our two-part series of renovation tips for the San Francisco Bay Area next week! Stay tuned.

Have additional tips to share for renovation projects? Add them to the comments below! 

 

Pro Tip: Form + Field's Favorite San Francisco Shops

One of the best parts about designing interiors in San Francisco: endless options for sourcing. Many creative shops, niche boutiques, and historic galleries are hiding right here in our own city. Each work of art, piece of furniture, or unique object carries a local flavor that only enhances its appeal — and its appeal in a space. Here is Form + Field's list of top shops worth getting off the laptop for:

The Future Perfect at 3085 Sacramento St.

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The Future Perfect’s design gallery is genius for its simplicity: modern and contemporary style, elegant product lines, and one-of-a-kind pieces. / Image Credit

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The experience of walking through The Future Perfect is as well-crafted and thoughtful as the objects inside. A minimalist style gives each piece the environment in which to shine — and gives us a glimpse of how it might look in your home. / Image Credit

ACACIA at 415 Valencia St.

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We love ACACIA and its very thoughtfully curated collection of pieces. ACACIA’s prioritization of each object’s function, in addition to its aesthetics, makes this shop a joy to browse. When we hand-select pieces, we’re confident that our clients will enjoy using them for seasons to come. / Image Credit (above)Image Credit (below)

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STUFF is a two-story collective of vintage modern furniture, glassware, wall art, and more. With so much to see and works of art to uncover, we can get lost in here for hours. Fortunately, the time spent searching is almost always rewarded with pieces that are unique, interesting, and full of future conversations. / Image Credit

Lost Art Salon at 245 S. Van Ness Ave.

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Lost Art Salon houses a collection of paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs from artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. The collection pays particular homage to the Modern Era, which makes it one of our go-to shops for tying together the elements in a room or finding the perfect painting to make a statement. / Image Credit

Tell us! What design shops do you love in SF?