Surface Expression

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.