When should you use a waterfall countertop? And experts explain when this kitchen trend is best avoided

A waterfall countertop is ideal for luxe spaces and refined kitchens...but it's not for every home. Design experts explain when to choose one

modern kitchen with green and dark marble waterfall countertop
(Image credit: Caesarstone)

For those of you that haven’t heard of this wondrous sounding addition to your kitchen, a waterfall countertop is a countertop that drops vertically from the top of the cabinet to the floor. They are popular because they create a continuous flow, linking the cabinet in a natural and fluid manner and are most often used on kitchen islands, generally in contemporary kitchens, as a stunning accent.

The unique nature of a waterfall countertop means that when designing a modern kitchen you need to choose a surface material carefully. You want the countertop to look like it’s made from one continuous material. If you are using a natural stone with deep veining, it will need to be book matched so the two joined slabs can line up to create the desired pattern, and this will obviously cost more. Because of this a lot of designers use quartz worktops as it’s less expensive and can be flawlessly matched.

‘Waterfall countertops are a current kitchen trend but one that has been around for a while,’ days Paul Kropp, Co-Founder of kitchen cabinet company Bakes & Kropp.  ‘I do believe they are part of a timeless kitchen as they are made from quality materials and are simple yet dramatic on the eye.  While you certainly could use them in a minimalist kitchen, they can also be made quite thick and be anything than minimalist!’

When to go for a waterfall countertop

dark waterfall countertop in a modern kitchen in a tropical home

(Image credit: Cullifords)

A waterfall countertop can also be used on the exposed sides of cabinets, where the kitchen is part of an open-plan space for example. They can be made from many materials - natural marble, travertine, granite, quartz, wood, concrete, and composite materials such as Caesarstone or Corian. 

‘As well as dropping down to the floor, a waterfall countertop can also go the other way – up the wall and up to the ceiling,’ says David Money of David Money Architects.  ‘It’s a great way to clad the sides of full height cupboards where they meet a work surface.’

There are definite practical advantages. ‘Waterfall countertops tend to be used in areas where they can be on full display to show off the beauty of the material and the clean lines they create,’ says Stacey Cobley, Kitchen Designer at Harvey Jones. ‘They have become popular because firstly, the pattern of the countertop will add texture, color and interest, and will complement the cabinetry color. If the client wants a more contemporary feel, waterfall countertops have slender, clean lines which are good for a modern, minimalist look. There is a practical benefit too, as the material is tougher than a wooden, side cabinet panel which gives excellent impact resistance in high-impact areas.'

‘A waterfall countertop is an ideal way to show off a beautiful piece of stone, and looks stunning on a central kitchen island, particularly a colorful or deeply veined stone,’ says Oliver Webb, Director of Cullifords. And he's right, they are wonderful when you want a really show-stopping, luxe space. ‘They create a focal point and make a feature out of your chosen surface. If planned carefully, the book matching of the two joined slabs can line up to make a beautiful pattern, for a timeless finish that will never go out of style.’

When not to go for a waterfall countertop

large arched door leading onto a shaker style pantry

Design by Light and Dwell

(Image credit: Amy Bartlam)

As with any time you're remodelling a kitchen, a lot of the decisions have to come down to budget. Once you've worked out how much new kitchen cabinets cost and other essentials like the cooker and refrigerator then you have to decide if you have enough left over. Because of course, waterfall countertops are often about twice as much surface as you'd need if you were just doing the top.

 ‘It is important to remember, although dynamic and exciting, adding a waterfall countertop will incur additional material and labor costs,’ says Melissa Klink, Creative Director at Harvey Jones. Though our guide to what material is the best for waterfall countertops ought to help you here.

She also recommends avoiding the waterfall look if you're hoping to do much of the kitchen install yourself. ‘You must ensure your fabricator has the experience and skill to complete the look successfully,’ Melissa cautions. With all the lining up of marbling or material this is not a task for the uninitiated. 

Waterfall countertops also don't work if you're going for a softer aesthetic, something like a modern farmhouse kitchen. 'They offer a luxuriously sleek finish,’ says Alex Main, Director of design studio The Main Company, which obviously isn't right for every scheme. ‘Alternatively, using reclaimed wood as your surface material is a great way to add a touch of rustic charm to a traditional or modern kitchen,’ Alex says, and wooden kitchen cabinets continue to be a big trend. We are seeing them in transitional-style kitchens, urban spaces and places that feel like the heart of the home. Waterfall countertops tend to feel more like its party center.

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Alison Davidson

Alison Davidson is well-respected British interiors journalist, who has been the Homes Editor of Woman and Home magazine, and the Interiors Editor for House Beautiful. She regularly contributes to Livingetc, and many other titles, and often writes about kitchens, extensions, and decor ideas. She is the go-to for information about green energy, sustainable home improvement and eco design ideas.