Still, manufacturers feel certain that, in the long term, consumer demand for greener countertop alternatives will continue to grow, particularly as they come down in price.
Valentin Tijeras, product manager, Spain and USA, for Cosentino, in Stafford, TX, points out, “More and more consumers want to know where the materials come from and how the production of these materials impact the environment.”
Schneider concurs: “Environmental consciousness regarding the green movement transcends our industry. It resonates with consumers in every aspect of their lives. Whether it is through conservation of energy measures or recycled products, the green movement is impacting lifestyles…‘Green’ countertop products are now more accepted primarily due to their improvement in aesthetic designs. What started out as a small minority of people has grown into masses, and this is shaping manufacturers’ new product development strategies. It is an emerging niche that will continue to grow substantially over the next five to 10 years.”
Karen Righthand, director of marketing for Vetrazzo in Richmond, CA, also sees the green trend as one that is here to stay.
“Green is really hot,” she points out. She sings the praises of the recycled glass countertop, championing it as “a very clean choice” for the home. Recycled glass from bottles, windshields and plate glass windows is saved from the landfill and transformed into beautiful countertop options. The process, incidentally, is not energy intensive, says Righthand.
She adds that demand for glass countertops has been steadily rising across the country in general. “Glass countertops are greener and at the same time, more gorgeous than ever,” says Righthand.
The glass products tend to have a more contemporary look, but Righthand claims that they can work in a traditional home, as well. Rounded edges tend to be the most popular, although other options are available. While the glass countertop market is popular with upscale consumers, Righthand believes that the cost will decline as the market matures.
“We as manufacturers must develop green products to stay viable in today’s marketplace,” reasons Scott. “The movement is very strong and political, which will influence the usage of products. If you are not green, you will be at a disadvantage,” he adds.
Beyond the Kitchen
Once seen as exclusively a kitchen and bath product, upscale countertop products are now turning up in other rooms, as well. Calhoun says, “A new consumer market exists with the trend to bring amenities from primary to secondary living areas. For example, laminate…could work for a potter’s bench or other areas associated with a favorite hobby.”
Schmitt agrees. “We have found people are putting out tops in other areas of the house besides the kitchen and bathroom. It is a great way to use post form because it is affordable and can have so many different looks, whether it is in the garage workroom or in the family office.”
Of course, the increase in the number of outdoor kitchens has also had a positive impact on the countertop market. Upscale consumers enjoy expanding their living space to include the yard, and they are looking to design this space beautifully and functionally. What this means attractive and durable countertops will provide key prep space while enhancing the outdoor kitchen experience.
Calhoun points out, “A popular trend emerging is the blending of indoor and outdoor living. You are seeing a trend in designing kitchen areas to address where they stop or begin. The boundaries are somewhat blurred and move based on the seasons.”
As for the future, manufacturers agree that there will be more demand for green options, unique design applications and multi-functional designs incorporating low-maintenance materials Tijeras points out that the younger folks tend to look for “bolder colors, new shapes and new concepts, so this may well be a trend of the future.” He adds, “People in big cities used to be more trendy and look for the latest thing,” while those in rural areas “used to be more conservative.” He believes, however, that this gap is closing. Modern technology and travel, a proliferation of TV shows and magazines, and traveling home shows have allowed consumers to explore a broader array of design ideas, and these will continue to color the future of countertop design.