Jumping on this tried-and-true kitchen trend is a safe bet—as long as you follow these tips.

By Lauren Phillips
January 25, 2019
Andreas von Einsiedel/Getty Images

Butcher block countertops—also known as wood countertops—introduce warmth to a kitchen. They add a little rustic charm and are especially key to establishing that modern farmhouse kitchen vibe. They can even help soften some of the sleeker, sharper elements of contemporary or modern kitchens. Of course, like any popular countertop style, butcher block countertops have their quirks, pros, and cons. Whether a wood countertop finish is topping off a kitchen island, serving as an accent piece, or taking over the entire kitchen, following design and care tips from the experts can ensure that you will like the way it looks—and that it will last for years to come.

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One of the biggest steps in adding a butcher block countertop in a kitchen is deciding where, exactly, it can go. Some kitchens incorporate a wood countertop all over, using the material as the primary countertop material, while others follow the waterfall countertop look and use wood countertops only as an accent piece. Either works in a space, though using a wooden surface only as accent piece can offer a little more versatility and is a little more common.

“I have seen wood countertops popping up in kitchens as accent pieces rather than as the entire countertop surface,” says Abbe Fenimore, founder and interior designer at Studio Ten 25. “I think they are a great accent piece and an easy way to mix up the texture and function in a busy kitchen.”

Picking a butcher block countertop

Once that’s decided, picking the right look for this kitchen décor idea is the next challenge.

“I love a well-finished, chunky butcher block look,” says Caitlin Murray, founder and interior designer at Los Angeles–based Black Lacquer Design.

The chunky, thick butcher block look can pop against colder, single-hued countertops such as quartz or granite—Murray says they introduce an “organic and sophisticated aesthetic.”

As far as material goes, there’s quite the variety, each with its own unique characteristics. Murray likes woods that don’t require staining, such as walnut, though she says oak is also popular, both for its natural variations in color and its relative affordability. (Most butcher block countertops are not inexpensive.) Wood stains of different colors and glosses can change the look of any wood countertop material, too.

“I’m also a big fan of both a smooth satin and a high-gloss epoxy finish,” Murray says. “Each end of the spectrum is gorgeous and practical for different settings.”

Regardless of appearance, though, picking a wood with a hard surface is key, according to Elisabet Jeppsson, senior sales leader at IKEA; that way, they can withstand years of use in the kitchen.

IKEA butcher block countertops come in a solid wood option, but the store also sells some with only a thin surface layer of wood over a particleboard structure. These countertops are more environmentally friendly, as they use less wood, and though they look identical to solid wood countertops, they’re slightly more affordable and are less susceptible to humidity.

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Caring for a butcher block countertop

A common argument against wood countertops is that they can be difficult to keep clean, but with the right maintenance, that’s actually not much of a problem at all.

“Maintenance can be an issue, but there are plenty of products available that can help keep the surface clean and germ-free,” Fenimore says. “Having the wood treated or sealed by a professional before use and regularly over time is the best investment you can make for your wood countertops, as it will prolong wear and prevent the material from absorbing as many germs.”

“It’s recommended to treat the wood countertop with a wood treatment oil once a year or as needed,” Jeppsson says. “It gives the surface a beautiful sheen, protects the wood and prolongs the life of the countertop.” (IKEA’s SKYDD is an affordable option. To buy: $6; ikea.com.) Wood countertops can also be sanded down and refinished to remove scratches, she says, extending its lifespan—well-maintained wood countertops can last a lifetime.

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Is a butcher block countertop right for you?

“Like anything, make sure to do your research and choose the proper variety of wood and sealant for your environment and lifestyle,” Murray says.

Diligent care and maintenance is a must; anyone who can’t commit to properly cleaning and oiling wood countertops may want to look at different countertop materials. In humid climates, moisture in the air can also be a sign wood countertops aren’t a good pick.

“Humidity is something to also consider,” Jeppsson says. “Do not use a wood countertop in damp rooms. And always use a diffusion barrier where you install a dishwasher, to protect the wood from eventual moist coming out from the dishwasher.”

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