Minimize maintenance; enjoy life. That's my general design guideline for coastal homes. And I really stress a simple approach in kitchens, where everybody ends up spending a lot of time.
• Stifle the urge for exotica.
Do you really want that gigantic piece of stone for an island? Or that antique wooden countertop? Porous surfaces stain easily and collect bacteria, which means more upkeep. Save the wood for surfaces where you're not preparing food. Put the marble in the bath.
• Find coastal expertise.
When we install laminate countertops, we do things differently than those who take the factory approach, especially when it comes to preparing subsurfaces for coastal humidity. I prefer marine-grade plywood under laminate surfaces because it's less likely to warp when damp. We also cut fewer sections to reduce seams. If we can, we use pieces large enough for seamless, L-shape counter turns. That requires patience and experience. It's a job for people who do it on-site regularly.
• Opt for solid-surface reliability.
The performance and quality of solid-surface countertops come at a premium, sometimes three or more times the cost of laminate. Polymer combinations such as Zodiaq (which uses quartz crystals in the polymer mix), Corian, and their competitors are lighter and easier to work with than granite or other natural stone. They're also more resistant to scratching and staining and less likely to host bacteria, mold, and mildew. When installed, these surfaces have the advantage of looking like the showroom samples. Stone varies, so you can end up with an expensive material that bears little resemblance to the sample you chose.
• Measure and consult.
Your general contractor and his plumbing and countertop subcontractors should have in hand the sinks, faucets, and other fixtures you've chosen before they start drilling holes. In solid-surface counters, holes are forever. Take care that the fixtures, particularly faucets and handles, work in the space. If you're considering tap handles that are too big, your design team should warn you. But don't count on it.
• Consider a concrete decision.
Another alternative is concrete. Top designers display innovative approaches that match just about any decor. And you can attend workshops to learn how to shape your own. The pioneer in this field is designer Fu-Tung Cheng, whose company offers information at concreteexchange.com.