Creative, Contemporary, Cool

While natural stone has long been a favorite when discussing the latest in countertop designs, today the options are far broader, with each offering its own unique benefits.

Concrete, for instance, offers the ultra personalization factor, while cork offers a tactile sensuality. Glass provides an exquisite simplicity, solid surface offers tremendous creative freedom and even laminate offers a new-found versatility that is changing the game – particularly of interest in a more budget-conscious society where personalization is still in high demand.

Following, KBDN offers a collection of interesting countertop projects that maximize the aesthetic and functional benefits of a variety of different surfacing materials.

MULTIPLE SURFACES

In the countertop world, Gene McDonald of Refresh Interiors is a leading champion for zero-waste fabrication, and he is also known for his creative ability to mix and match materials. For example, a recent project he completed for Clark and Barbara Cridland of Treasure Island, FL utilizes no less than eight different decorative materials for countertops, backsplashes, cabinet doors and a fireplace surround.

Mocha Paperstone countertops, with an oversized 3" edge inlaid with zebrawood, line the perimeter of the kitchen and constitute the main work areas of the space. To add interest, a 2" band of Amber Avonite is joined to the backside of the countertops, which is illuminated from inside the cabinets to accentuate the full backsplash – also made of Avonite in the same color.

Coffee beans and mirror chips are inlaid into the deck of the countertops for additional interest.

The island and high bar are made of Vetrazzo Charisma Blue and feature translucent Avonite Amber and bamboo butcher block inlays, respectively.

SOLID SURFACE

Arketique Solid Surface, located in Sefton, New South Wales, Australia, is no stranger to innovation. Originally a fabricator of fiberglass architectural products, Arketique has evolved into a custom manufacturer of solid surface materials, with a heavy emphasis on custom projects. Where the firm once consumed its entire production of solid surface for its own projects, Arketique now has expanded its operations to offer sheet goods to other fabricators.

An example of Arketique’s creativity is the renovation of a New South Wales residence utilizing the company’s Opalescent White polished solid surface for both countertops and cladding on the island.

What makes this project unique is the indoor/outdoor quality of the design. While the majority of the kitchen is an extension of the family’s living quarters, the smaller section is actually an outdoor barbecue that can be sealed off from the rest of the house at night or during inclement weather by sliding glass doors concealed in the wall panels. A full glass backsplash behind the main counter brings even more of the outside in.

RAINSHINE HOUSE

Anyone who has designed a kitchen with concrete countertops already knows to expect the unexpected. Part chemistry, part mad science and all artisan craftsmanship, a custom-made concrete countertop can be the ultimate in personalization.

Whether the client wants a faux granite look, a monochromatic slab, the appearance of a river running through it or baby’s bronzed shoes embedded in the surface for posterity, it’s all possible with concrete.

This environment of concrete’s almost out-of-control possibilities prompted Meld USA, based in Raleigh, NC, to attempt to “tame the creative beast” by coming out with a line of precast products that can be shipped to a fabricator’s shop for transformation into a finished countertop installation. Although the company will create custom shapes and colors for the right project, most of its output is in the form of precast slabs, and nearly all of those slabs contain post-consumer recycled glass.

All of this caught the eye of Robert M. Cain, an architect in Atlanta, GA. Cain designed the RainShine House in Decatur, GA, the first LEED Platinum house in the Southeast, by achieving the highest level of “green architecture” possible through the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes Pilot Program.

One of the most important credits given this home was for extraordinary performance in the selection of homeowner and environment-friendly materials from salvaged, locally sourced, recycled materials and those with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Each material represents lower energy investments, lower contribution to off-gassing and environmental pollution, reduced energy investments in shipping, enhanced durability, etc. 

The countertops – Meld USA’s ecoX eco-sensitive concrete material in Natural with Tri-blend 100% post-consumer colored glass – were part of what made this project so green.

PUT A CORK ON IT

You’ve seen it on floors; now, get ready for 100 percent post-industrial cork as a countertop surface. Two things make cork a great alternative to more traditional materials in the kitchen and bath: a highly compressed surface, and suberin.

Suberin is a waxy substance in the cork bark that protects the tree and makes a cork countertop water resistant, stain resistant and antimicrobial. Manufactured by Suberra and distributed on the East Coast by Eco Supply, Suberra recycles wine corks by grinding, compressing and binding the material with a polyurethane binder. The resulting slabs are 1-1/4" thick, 25" wide and 36" long. But don’t let the diminutive slab size worry you – Eco Supply CFO and Marketing Manager Brooks Perlin says Suberra Cork joints can be machined and seamed almost invisibly, much as one would expect from a typical solid surface.

Like solid surface, Suberra cork is solid throughout its thickness, and the material can be refinished and/or repaired. Unlike solid surface, the cork surface must be sealed with an oil wax similar to that used with butcher block. An optional finish coat may be applied for aesthetic reasons. According to Perlin, cork countertops may be refinished as needed to retain/restore their aesthetic appeal, but it is not necessary from a performance standpoint.

GLASSY EYED

Glass provides some great, eco-friendly options as well. Take recycled glass – things like old beer bottles, wine bottles, water bottles and stemware – crush it up and, then, using a process of heat and pressure, combine the elements into a uniform slab ready for use as a countertop or wall panel. The best part is there are no dyes, no resins, no epoxies, no chemicals, though it can be argued as well that the best part is how it looks and performs.

The product is Bio Glass, manufactured by Coverings Etc. in Miami, FL. Raw slabs are transformed into striking countertop shapes using standard glass fabrication equipment and techniques. Decorative edges are machined using the same technology that is used with stone countertop fabrication.

Developer/contractor Todd Glaser used Oriental Jade Bio Glass to renovate a private estate in Miami Beach, FL known as Villa Okto. The goal was to create an effect reminiscent of a California home, while retaining its own character as an exclusive Miami Beach property.

Because Bio Glass is strong and non-porous, the material works equally well for vanity tops/backsplash and wet walls in the shower.

GRANITE? LOOK AGAIN

Mike Massey of Kitchen Encounters, Belton, TX, who has been designing and installing kitchens for local builders in Central Texas for many years, was on the brink of taking his CKD exam when he came across the opportunity to design a kitchen using Wilsonart’s new HD laminate series. Itching for a chance to exercise his creativity with a newly emerging product, Massey found HD laminate easy to design around.

He notes that the homeowner chose Wilsonart HD because it gave her the look and feel of a luxury stone, without the major investment (or fear that one of her three teenagers would destroy it). She had recently seen the Hartson-Kennedy Amore edge treatment that wraps the postformed edge around all sides of the island and peninsula, and that clinched the deal. 

Massey’s design not only added an island, which now houses the cooktop, but additional countertop space along a central peninsula. Cabinets in the peninsula were 18" deep and designed to house small appliances for easy access.

The most beautiful design detail is the subtle eyebrow that opens the wall between the kitchen and dining room (once a solid wall) and brings in not only beautiful morning light, but lots of family and friends who now share in the space.

HD (High Definition) Laminate, which is highly resistant to scuffing and impact, counters the long-held perception that laminate doesn’t wear well over the long haul, and it offers a choice of textures (rough/weathered and smooth/polished), is printed using the latest high quality technology and comes in 43 patterns.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN

If recent hard times have taught us anything in the kitchen and bath industry, it’s that just because times are tough doesn’t mean innovation and creativity have taken a hiatus.

In fact, if anything, there seem to be more examples of product advances combined with truly inspired craftsmanship everywhere you look. All you have to do is keep your eyes open.

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