Counter Culture

As the market has seen vast changes, so, too has the role of countertops. Texture is now a hot trend; the ever-popular granite is increasingly sharing the stage with quartz, solid surface, glass and wood; splashy colors are ceding to monochromatic hues, and eco-friendly products continue to grow in popularity.
With smaller-scale remodels growing in popularity, consumers are looking for affordable yet visible ways to update their kitchens. And changing out the countertops offers an upgrade that combines powerful aesthetic appeal with strong functional benefits. Manufacturers have responded to this demand with choices that mix visual appeal, ease of maintenance, green sensibilities and value.

ON THE SURFACE
According to the manufacturers interviewed by KBDN, countertops with texture are the next big thing.
"The hottest trends in countertops at the moment are fashion-driven textures and colors," says Ed Rogers, director of business development for CaesarStone USA, in Van Nuys, CA. CaesarStone recently launched a line called Motivo, which comes in both Lace and Crocodile patterns. "This is definitely on trend for fall/winter," he says. "These patterns are right off the runway."
Lisa Herreth, product designer at Hanwha Surfaces, in Atlanta, GA, believes that countertops are going to become even more exciting in terms of texture and color. "We're going to see them stand out as a design element rather than blend in," she says. "Exotic patterns are going to be making a debut."
"We're seeing that consumers, particularly in Europe, are gearing towards surfaces with texture, such as the Volcano Finish," says Lorenzo Marquez, v.p./marketing for Cosentino North America, in Stafford, TX.
Rogers believes that color and pattern can only take a manufacturer so far, and sees a movement toward more interesting textures than what are traditionally found in hard surface materials. "We are investing heavily into developing new textures that turn the countertop from not simply a visual expression, but a multi-sensory experience that will now include touch," he says.
Textures aside, consumers are looking for products that will not only improve the look of their home, but also provide good value. "Stone is generally the most preferred look, but quartz is regarded as the best value because it has the stone look that everyone likes, but does not require any maintenance," says Summer Kath, director of brand for Cambria USA, in Eden Prairie, MN.
"We are seeing a shift in what consumers are choosing for their countertops," affirms Maureen McGeehan, retail marketing manager for DuPont Building Innovations, in Wilmington, DE. She says that homeowners are getting smarter about their countertop decisions, opting for surfaces that are not only beautiful, but durable and low-maintenance.
Both quartz and solid surface satisfy these demands, agrees James Rogers, residential marketing director, Surfaces Division, LG Hausys America, in Atlanta, GA. He notes that "hard and shiny" has emerged as the hottest trend in recent years.
"Granite had gained in popularity over the past eight years, however, its reputation as an 'aspirational' product has diminished as price has decreased, access increased and quality in general decreased," he says. "Quartz has been positioned to step in as the new, most desirable 'hard and shiny' surface. With new quartz manufacturing technology comes dramatic new aesthetics, which further positions quartz as a trendsetter."
James Rogers notes that solid surface manufacturing has also stepped up to produce clear-chip technology, which replicates the look of natural minerals as well as colors and patterns that vary and have directional movement, similar to natural stone.
"Now consumers can have the look and feel of natural materials with the benefits of man-made advancements like no need to seal, repairability and manufacturer warranties," he says.
Some manufacturers, such as Samsung Staron, offer Quartz products that are comprised of 93% mined natural quartz crystals and 7% fillers and polymers. The result is an engineered surface that looks natural, but is consistent in look across slabs, according to Dale Mandell, director of sales – Surfacing Products for Samsung Staron, in La Mirada, CA. "This is important when you're trying to match an island to an outlying countertop area," Mandell notes. "And the surface of quartz has also been proven to be harder than granite."
Consumers are also looking for surfaces that are more functional, manufacturers agree. "As consumers increasingly dine in, they are selecting surfaces that [simplify] food preparation and are integrating knife slots, a secondary prep sink and waste holes to increase the function of the surface," says Denise Grothouse, owner of The Grothouse Lumber Company in Germansville, PA.
McGeehan also noted the trend toward material mixing at KBIS. "We saw high-design installations that were not just the traditional Corian and Zodiaq, but wood integrated into a kitchen island along with Corian countertops," she says. "We believe that consumers have many good options for surfacing, and mixing it up allows them to personalize their space."

WHITE HOT
Countertops, like many aspects of a home's décor, are a very personal decision, so it's important to offer a range of style and color options. This year, monochromatic colors are hot, while navy adds a splash of color.
"Our CaesarStone international R&D team, with its pulse on the latest in trends, determined that 'white is the new black,' and is the hot new color choice," says Arik Tendler, president of CaesarStone.
Simple, clean and bright, kitchens employing white counters offer a crisp look ideal for food preparation, McGeehan agrees. "A white kitchen can go many routes – modern, beach-inspired, farmhouse – it's a blank canvas for clearly translating a homeowner's vision."
Mandell reports that Samsung Staron has seen a recent surge in white and black countertops, often paired with the opposite color in cabinets to provide a striking color contrast. "Because of the increased popularity in quartz, surfaces that offer natural, earthy colors are also in demand," he says.
For some consumers, it's all about keeping up to date with the latest fashions, and for others it's about having something classic and timeless. "Right now, we definitely see a strong continuing trend for whites, grays and blacks," says Ed Rogers. "These color trends go hand-in-hand with the desire to have clean lines in the kitchen and bath."
Neutrals are in demand now more than ever. Of the neutrals, Herreth believes gray is on top. "It is so versatile; a cool gray can resemble concrete in a modern application and a warm gray can generate warmth in a traditional setting," she says.
"Gray has become the new beige," Kath adds.
Mainstream countertop buyers continue to look for neutral colors that fit best with their existing cabinets, flooring and wall colors, according to James Rogers. For solid surface, he feels patterns with larger particulates or more variation in colors and patterns are growing in demand, but still with colors that are more neutral. "The same can be said for quartz, although the looks in demand are those that match closely to popular granite stones in the warmer browns, tans and beiges," he reports.
This is not to say that monochromatic colors are the only hot colors, says Tom Costello of MS International in Orange, CA. "Our number one selling color is dark green," he points out. "And I believe it's primarily because it is one of the most affordable choices and it works in many kitchen color combinations."
Ed Rogers states that summer's hottest color was definitely navy, and anything aquatic inspired. "Colors such as our Deep Ocean, which is a rich navy, work in any design application," he says.

LEAN AND GREEN
While aesthetics and value matter, homeowners are also looking for surfaces that keep the environment in mind. Herreth explains: "I think in the future, people will move away from countertops made exclusively from finite sources."
While green is still a relatively small percentage of the countertop industry, according to Costello, it will become increasingly important as incentives to build green grow.
He adds: "Granite and quartz countertops are among the longest-lasting components of a kitchen project and save natural resources because they are one of the last things that need to be replaced."
By importing directly, Grothouse can supply a custom commissioned piece that is comparable to stock blanks sold through distribution. FS- and Smartwood-certified woods are available in most species.
"Our products contribute to projects achieving LEED certification, have been NSF International certified as safe for food preparation, and have achieved Greenguard for Children and Schools and Indoor Air Quality Certified," says Stacia Smith, director of public relations and market development for Cambria USA.
Marquez says the launch of ECO by Cosentino has set a new standard of green countertops for his company. "Not only do we provide a surface that is made of 75 percent recycled content in volume, but we're also making it available in a larger format, which helps eliminate waste and residuals once it's cut into a countertop," he reports.

LOOKING AHEAD
Going forward, Kath sees more consumers educating themselves about the durability of products. "People want [products that are] durable and beautiful," she says.
Grothouse sees an upward trend of wood surfaces in home bars, as clients are doing more entertaining and kitchen designers are expanding their services to other areas of the home. "Wood countertops will always remain a classic and timeless design element," she says. "Custom designs are taking advantage of every inch of space with unusual shapes and custom knife slots placed to fall in between the base cabinets."
Marquez says there will also be interest in bold surface colors that reflect client individuality.
Lastly, McGeehan sees a trend toward simpler edge treatments. "Whether thick or thin, these edges are in keeping with the trend toward more contemporary design and clean lines," she says. "Ornate edge treatments seem to be on the decline for now, while edges with a clean, simple appearance are all the rage. It's important to remember that edge treatments are often overlooked, but in reality can change the entire look of the kitchen." KBDN

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