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ASK the Designer: DEEP Dive

Every week I open questions on Instagram and Facebook where you can pick my brain on the Home Design Dilemmas that have you scratching your head. I answer a viewer's question IGTV Series called Ask the Designer w/ Gretchen O.

This week I posted a photo of a kitchen with beautiful wood island. I had a question about what I thought about butcher block countertops? Yea or Nay? If you have you seen any of my kitchen designs, you will see I might be somewhat obsessed! I love butcher block, especially on islands. They add such a warmth and depth to a space.

Heart of Pine wood countertop
Design by: Gretchen O. Studio

I even have one in my own kitchen...that I LOVE! I imagine 20 years from now, I will have a spot worn in the wood top and floor where many family dinners were prepped. Wood is loved by home cooks and chefs alike, Butcher block countertops have become much more of an aesthetic decision than a functional one...but I love chopping right on mine.! I would encourage you to do the same:)

What is Butcherblock?

Butcher block is made from straight cuts of wood glued together into thick slabs that provide a sturdy work surface. It can be used for cutting board, tabletop, or counter.

Butcher block is made in 3 ways. From left to right: Edge Grain, End Grain, Face Grain.

Which wood do I choose and how much will it cost?

There are a variety of woods available, from subtly grained maple to deep, rich walnut (my kitchen) to dramatic mesquite and exotics. Here are a few of my favorites.

General Cost: From $12 to more than $200 per square foot, uninstalled, depending on species, thickness, construction, and finish. I know that is quite the range. But I will show you a few here. You can purchase from IKEA for a veneer finish to for a solid wood.

WALNUT: I have walnut in my kitchen. With its dark wood grain, and black highlights. It has held up to my chopping and neglect (I may not be the best at sealing it.) for 10 years .


This is an IKEA birch in a remodel done by Designer Athena Calderone with Karlby birch countertops from Ikea.

Photograph by Sarah Elliot, courtesy of Athena Calderone.
Photograph by Sarah Elliot, courtesy of Athena Calderone.


This is the classic butcher block. With its honey color and hard surface it has graced many chefs kitchens from the past to present.

Butcherblock in at a butcher in 1800's
Getty Images

How sanitary is butcher block?

Unlike the photo above, I choose not to chop meat on my butcher block. Research has been done on the anti bacterial properties of wood. I won't bore you with all of the science, but basically, totally safe. Turns out bacteria and microbes have a hard time living on wood surfaces. Who knew! Science lesson for the day!

How do I maintain it? Does it stain? My butcher block is not sealed. I love to chop directly on mine. T If you choose this route, you will seal it with an oil based sealer. When we installed the counter, I bought Boos Block Mystery Oil. When that ran out I started using good old fashioned Mineral Oil. It works great. I prefer the inexpensive alternative. I am sure I should wipe it down more often with the oil, but it really only get's done once a year. Do as I say, not as I do!

Many people choose to seal the butcher block. If you listened to my IGTV, you heard the story about my client that chose to install an apron sink in her butcher block, against my advice I was of the opinion that better safe than sorry, no matter how well sealed, water will somehow find its way into the wood and over time it may rot. However, in this case Don't do as I say, and laugh at me later! Ha! Seriously, I was proven wrong on that one. It looks great 6 years later. I did a little research and the wood was sealed with Waterlox.

As far as staining is concerned. If you choose to seal it and not chop, you are safe! If you choose to maintain with an oil, you may have some staining. Beets, strawberries, and wine are the biggest culprits. I have been able to erase any evidence of these "incidents" with a little elbow grease. A lighter wood may be harder to get the stains out.

There you go, Butcher block de-mystified. Go forth and install some in your kitchen. If a kitchen remodel isn't in your future, a large wood cutting board might do the trick to satiate your desire for this timeless wood in your kitchen.

All the best,


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