It’s been said, “There are two ways of being creative: One can sing and dance, or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish.” The latter part of this sentiment rings true when referring to kitchen and bath designers, who are charged with creating inspiring spaces every day. To accomplish this task, they search for new materials and methods that allow their clients to cook, entertain, unwind or handle everyday workloads. The finished spaces are often buttressed by eye-catching, durable countertops that act as a focal point for the room.
Serena L. Lehn, CKD, of Annapolis, MD-based Kitchen Encounters, explains: “People want solutions that add interest. As designers, we want to create something beautiful, but we must also make sure it’s practical and works with the overall design.”
Consumers are broadening their sensibilities with the hope of having a one-of-a-kind layout – a movement designers can capitalize on by providing a greater choice of textures, colors and shapes, notes Anna Marie Fanelli of Floor & Décor.
“Today’s client will try different materials to get a stylish look for their kitchen, bath or even outdoor kitchen. The countertop is significant, and deserves consideration in the entire planning process,” reports Fanelli, who is designer and co-owner of the Tenafly, NJ-based tile, stone and plumbing studio.
While Fanelli notes that granite remains “the staple selection,” clients are looking at more unconventional materials as well as showing interest in clean, contemporary, minimalist layouts.
Jan Niebler of Jan Niebler Interiors in Jefferson, WI notes the importance of having options when selecting a surface.
“You always want a top with good performance. It should coordinate with the color scheme, and offer the possibility of accommodating an undermount sink,” she says.
Having design flexibility, however, does not mean forcing the issue, says Tim Derrington, architect with Webber & Studio, based in Austin, TX. “It’s only with a functional understanding [of the countertop] that an intentional solution can emerge. Therefore, the ‘creative’ reveals itself when a design is distilled,” he says.
“It’s similar to kids looking at clouds. If you have an image in your mind and try to find a matching cloud, you’ll never see it, but if you let the shapes reveal themselves, you’ll see things you could have never imagined,” Derrington explains.
It’s not advisable to put form before function with countertops, agrees Fanelli.
“If a client is sloppy, I would recommend a material that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, because we all know what that top will look like in a couple of weeks. Know your client before selecting material that looks nice but does not work with their daily routine.”
Derrington concludes: “[The key] is to be curious and pay attention. Pay attention to your client, to ergonomics, and to the products, and keep it simple.”
According to Steve Wauson, co-owner and builder for Craftsman Homes of Austin, based in West Lake Hills, TX, a greater variety of natural stones – including Jerusalem stone, soapstone, travertine and limestone – are being used in current designs.
“The key is to match the unique aesthetics of each project to a suitable type and color of countertop,” he says.
Fanelli sees her clients clamoring for pure white crystallized glass top materials – ones with no surface scratching, watermarks or staining.
Honed stones, such as marbles, are also in demand, as are exotic selections of onyx material.
Mary Kathryn Timoney, kitchen and bath designer at Atlanta, GA-based Design Galleria notes: “Although clients still love and are using classic ‘white’ marbles, we are seeing an increased interest in colored marbles. Marbles with more movement and color are not only interesting and more dramatic, they are more forgiving as they are more likely to mask a stain.”