Features

Surface Expression

Kitchen countertops get personalized
By Alice Liao
September 27, 2010

Yes, white kitchens are still very much in fashion and thus the interest in white countertops continues. But if you feel a groan coming on with this bit of non-news, you may want to take a breather, as the story with today’s kitchen countertops is much more complicated. With more homeowners remodeling for their own personal enjoyment, “the idea of one size fits all, or a single material for a kitchen, is waning,” said designer Lisa Wilson-Wirth, CKD, president and owner of Arclinea San Diego.

White and black. No, granite has not gone away, but depending on whom you ask, many are seeing a decline in its popularity, especially in upscale kitchens. According to designer Marsha Fried, of Kitchens by Deane, and Chad Seiders, executive director of the Artisan Group, the new must-have among consumers is honed white marble—be it Calcutta Gold, Calacatta Gold, Carrara or the more wallet-friendly Danby. Although porosity once made marble less desirable as a countertop option, industry experts have noticed a “trend toward aesthetics over functionality,” said Seiders. Plus, “the sealants available now do a good job against staining.”

Beyond white marble, darker stones with less patterning are finding increasing favor, thanks to a move toward a more streamlined kitchen aesthetic. Lanny Danenberg, of Danenberg Design, has noticed this preference among her clientele, and Fried continues to do “a fair amount of Absolute Black as an accent.” Similarly, soapstone, once a staple of Victorian-style homes, is making its way into contemporary environments. In addition to its visual appeal, its impermeability may be “a great selling point” for those who don’t want to worry about stains, said Seiders.

Practical concerns. In fact, while looks may be top of mind for some consumers, upkeep still reigns supreme for others, which may explain the rise in popularity of quartz and solid surfacing materials. These products “offer the aesthetics homeowners are seeking, but never need to be sealed and are easily repaired,” said Maureen McGeehan, marketing manager for DuPont Building Innovations. For designers, design versatility and a broader, more nuanced color selection—especially in the ever-popular gray tones—are also draws. As Fried said, “You don’t have to worry about slab sizes or seaming.”

The availability of more subtle color choices lends well to the growing emphasis on monochromatic finishes that Wilson-Wirth saw at the recent Eurocucina and is experiencing in her own practice. With this has come an interest in textured countertops that have been honed, hammered or brushed. According to Danenberg, stones with a leather finish are in demand in her area, and Silestone has introduced a volcano finish that resembles an orange peel. “People are looking for a warmertextured product that makes home feel like home,” said Lorenzo Marquez, VP of marketing for Cosentino North America. Texture “is another way for people to express themselves.”

Express yourself. The need for self-expression has also translated into countertops with integrated features—such as sinks, drainboards and even warming and cooling elements—as well as a more liberal approach to mixing materials. Natural stone, for example, is being paired with glass and a variety of metals and hardwoods, including maple, oak, cherry, mahogany and walnut. “Reclaimed woods are also increasingly available, repurposed as bar or dining tops,” said Wilson- Wirth. With the focus shifting to materials and textures, countertop edge treatments are simplifying while their thicknesses are beefing up, measuring anywhere from 11/2 in. to 2 in.

All work to enhance a sense of authenticity, which, in these unsettling times, has become a kind of guiding light. As resale value has taken a backseat to personalization, “your house becomes a portrait of your life,” said Marquez. “People are choosing countertop products that are in line with their true values and their lifestyles.”

[1] Maple countertops as accents are finding their way into many a kitchen, thanks to a protective oiled finish that allows them to be used as cutting surfaces. John Boos’ Hard Rock Maple kitchen countertops feature an edge-grain construction and come in 11/2-in., 21/4- in. and 3-in. thicknesses, as well as a variety of lengths and widths.
[2] Quarried in Italy, Artisan Group’s Calacatta Gold (not to be confused with Calcutta Gold) is a creamy white stone with heavy dark-gray veining and an occasional gold highlight. It and other marbles were once considered less than ideal for countertop applications. However, improved sealants, such as Artisan’s Firstline, ensure better durability and protection in the kitchen.
[3] Flash may be out of style, but sparkle in solid surfaces isn’t. LG Hausys Surfaces’ latest is HI-MACS Galaxy, which incorporates shimmering particulates in random sizes and colors to emulate the look of quartz. Available in eight colors, including blackhole (shown), it is nonporous and comes in a standard 1/2-in. thickness and 30-in. x 145-in. sheets. Custom lengths are available.
[4] White’s popularity in countertops is not limited to marble. Earlier this year, CaesarStone unveiled pure white (1141), which is offered with a polished finish in 2-cm- and 3-cm-thick slabs. A variety of edge options are available.
[5] The new Silestone Volcano Collection by Cosentino is comprised of natural quartz slabs with an orange-peel-like texture. Available in 2-cm and 3-cm thicknesses with 15 edge options, the slabs are certified for commercial use in food preparation areas and come in five colors: haiku (light cream), white Zeus (pure white), kensho (shown), gray expo and nuit bleu (light black with speckles).
[6] Giving the appearance of texture, DuPont Corian’s new Metallics are flecked with silver and gold metallic accents that glint and glimmer, depending on the viewing angle. The line is comprised of eight colors: aqualite (shown), olivite, azurite, silverite, sorrel, graylite, bronzite and copperite.

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