In challenging times, home and family become more important than ever. That means the kitchen becomes increasingly valued, as homeowners eschew dinners out in favor of cooking or entertaining at home, and families spend more time together, taking comfort from sharing time with loved ones in a safe, familiar place.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the countertops – which are pivotal for both their functional importance and design appeal – are increasingly in the spotlight. Beauty combined with durability complement everybody’s favorite room. And with the kitchen evolving into a multi-functional space that is often used by many people, for many different tasks – sometimes all at the same time – it’s becoming more and more common to see mix-and-match countertop materials used throughout the space.
Indeed, it’s not uncommon to see glass, wood, natural stone and laminate juxtaposed in the kitchen, creating a wealth of design possibilities, while enhancing function. For those on a budget, this also allows homeowners to incorporate high-end materials while getting more bang for the buck – key in a struggling economy.
Green products, too, are gaining a foothold in an increasingly eco-conscious world, as natural materials and countertop materials with recycled content garner interest among some consumers.
Both natural and engineered stone products remain strong sellers, and nature-inspired hues that convey depth and dimension remain one of the hottest trends. That’s according to countertop manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News, who cited soothing colors, rich textures, nature-inspired designs, value-priced offerings and unique products as some of the hottest trends in today’s countertop market.
When it comes to material choices, John P. Scott III notes, “Engineered stone and granite are the most popular choices today; solid surface has definitely declined the past five years; and, laminate countertops are making a comeback because of the new designs offered and the affordability [of the product].” Scott, v.p. for distribution sales at The Swan Corp., in St. Louis, MO, sees a continued trend toward mixing and matching countertop materials to maximize functional and aesthetic appeal.
Both manufacturers and designers see granite and quartz products continuing to gain ground, along with laminates that imitate the look of stone. Wood countertops are also seeing renewed interest, lending a warm and natural appearance to the kitchen while offering versatility.
Much ado has been made about recent media reports that stating that some granite can emit potentially dangerous radon emissions (see related story, page 14). The Cleveland, OH-based Marble Institute of America has countered that the claims are misleading, and merely part of a competitive attack that needlessly panics homeowners. But while some kitchen and bath dealers have seen consumers backing off from granite as a result of the controversy, others continue to see granite remaining mostly strong.
Another countertop product that is showing strength in the marketplace is laminate. With the nation’s current financial concerns, the laminate market has seen sales increase thanks to its more affordable price tags.
“Laminate countertops continue to be a good price point for many consumers,” states Trisha Schmitt, marketing communications manager for VT Industries in Holstein, IA. Schmitt, who admits that “natural products are growing in popularity,” nevertheless points out some of the advantages of the new premium laminates.
“I have noticed a large increase toward the new premium laminates that have more of a three dimensional look,” Schmitt explains. “The new products also do a better job emulating natural products such as granite. And with advances in post-form technology, you can get the granite look on the edges of the countertops instead of the brown line you get on self lay-up tops.”