When selecting countertop surfaces for a home's kitchen or bath, traditional choices like tile and granite are far from the only options. An alternative surface can go a long way in giving a room unique character.

Metal, polyester- and acrylic-based surfaces and eco-friendly countertops made from recycled items are just a few of the innovative materials being used in commercial and residential interiors today.

In the restrooms at Zinburger restaurant, 1865 E. River Road, vanities are made from a slab of raw steel atop a bamboo surface to achieve what project developers called a "modern farmhouse" look. A durable surface that's not immune to rusting over time, raw steel is a more rustic alternative to sleek, stainless-steel surfaces that often show up in ultra-modern kitchens and baths.

For some individuals, a surface that changes with time and wear is desirable.

Tucson homeowner Janet Miller, 49, chose a zinc countertop for her bathroom because of the material's reactive nature. It's a surface that gets better with age — stains and scratches give it character and almost create the look of marble, Miller said.

Innovations in acrylic- and polyester-based solid-surface countertops — seamless, nonporous, stain-resistant surfaces that can be sanded to remedy nicks and scratches — have also led to a wide range of unique, faux-stone options.

When DeWayne Holman, 68, and Eileen White-Holman, 66, fixed up a Downtown loft-style home to sell, they chose countertops from solid-surface manufacturer Avonite's glass-inspired line for the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms. The partially translucent surface comes in a variety of hues and has the appearance of a sandblasted, colored glass. The Tucson couple used shades of frosted white and a sealike blue-green.

Sometimes, unique counter surfaces can be found in unexpected places. Interior designer Janet Fischer, of Fischer Design Studio, dressed up one home with a vanity top made from a single stone slab, embedded with fossils — a one-of-a-kind find from one of the Tucson gem shows.

Embedding a surface with accent objects, like colored stones or glass, can indeed offer a highly stylized look. This is often done with concrete, a highly customizable and durable surface available in a variety of colors. While multiple coats of sealer can give concrete tops a glossy shine, leaving the surface unsealed will result in it developing a natural patina over time, said Mike Durkin, owner of Slickrock Concrete Countertops.

Tucson resident Katherine Lancaster, 63, chose IceStone concrete countertops, embedded with sparkling bits of recycled glass, for her kitchen counters and dining room bar.

"I'm so pleased with it, and when people come over they think it's granite," Lancaster said.

Lancaster said she chose to replace her ceramic tile counters with eco-friendly IceStone as part of a "green" remodel of her home.

Options for environmentally friendly surfaces are plentiful, and many are available at Originate Natural Building Materials Showroom, 526 N. Ninth Ave., including surfaces made with recycled glass, recycled paper and recycled plastic bottles.

Miller chose black Richlite recycled paper counters for the island in her kitchen, where she also has tile and wood butcher block surfaces.

"I chose the Richlite because I think it's really beautiful and functional," she said of the soft, matte surface. "It feels warmer and more friendly than tile."

Finally, for the budget-minded individual, inexpensive laminate countertops are an option that should not be overlooked, says interior designer Courtney Benton, of CeBe Design. Besides coming in a variety of colors and patterns, some laminates now are even textured to appear more like stone.

So confident is Benton in the advances in the surface, she chose a premium laminate for the laundry room of a nearly $2 million home in the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association's Parade of Homes.

"It's gotten kind of a bad rap because people think it's so cheap, but I like laminates," Benton said. "I think they've come out with some really nice products and the cost is so much cheaper than any of the other things on the market today."

RESOURCES

Online

• IceStone: www.icestone.biz

• Richlite: www.richlite.com

CaesarStone: www.caesarstoneus.com

Local

• Easy Care Products, countertop manufacture and installation, 748-7830

• Slickrock Concrete Countertops, 326-8289

• Originate Natural Building Materials Showroom, 792-4207

• Fischer Design Studio, 909-5217

• CeBe Design, 293-7641

● Alexis Blue is a local freelance writer.