You can't get much cheaper than a basic laminate...as far as durability goes they are pretty robust. I have seen some that were over 20 years old and still going strong.
New patterns can look like granite...so the appearance is no longer boring and ugly.
what brand do you recommend?
The basic VTI at home depot is one of my top pics...just make sure the piece is not dinged or damaged from transport.
No homedepot near me they closed our store. Only have Lowes. I think they sell formica or wilsonart.
I just did a quick search on Raleigh at the home depot web site and there are 5 stores...within ten miles of raliegh.
The nearest HD to me is about 22 miles out and I there 3 to 4 days a week.
This site has me as Raleigh, but I am 2 hours from there.
Sounds like a road trip may be in your future. When working on our cabin In New Mexico, the nearest "anything" is 35 minutes and the nearest HD is about 2 hours as well.