Is there such a thing as the perfect countertop material? While many countertop materials are perfectly suited for specific applications, not all surfaces are perfect for all clients' kitchens. It's important to look at the pros and cons of each in order to match up the right material with the right project.
For instance, there are materials that are beautiful, but high maintenance. Some materials are economical, but not as durable as certain clients might need. Others are tough enough to withstand nuclear attack, but less than exciting when it comes to design possibilities. And still others are altogether fabulous, but expensive.
Is it any wonder that many designers and consumers still favor a mix-and-match approach, utilizing one material for a showy island, another for the hard-working prep area, still another in less-strenuously-used counter space?
This has been the state of countertops for a while – and while the trend continues, engineered stone has been one of those materials making a home for itself in the kitchen.
"People are excited about quartz," declares Gina Covell, spokesperson for Cosentino USA (makers of Silestone), in Stafford, TX. "We're the fastest-growing category of surfacing in North America."
Manufacturers of other countertop materials are working hard to generate a buzz, as well, by introducing innovations and improvements to their products, according to manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
As everyone but those marooned on a desert island the past five years knows, natural granite has long been the upscale material of choice. Now, however, some industry experts believe the granite era is waning, for several reasons. From a design standpoint, granite has become so very popular in the mainstream market that – much like satin nickel hardware – it has lost its exclusive vibe, prompting high-end consumers to search for alternatives.
Maintenance issues also dictate glossy, rather than honed, granite for most households (and even glossy granite can stain, as many designers have discovered after dealing with irate clients). But, in a design climate that increasingly favors serenity and uncluttered minimalism, high-gloss granite almost seems too glitzy.
Enter engineered stone, which mirrors real granite in terms of look and feel, but with far fewer maintenance issues. From designers' standpoint, it has added appeal in that it is available in a rapidly growing variety of looks and finishes, including low-maintenance honed versions. "We're seeing more demand [for honed surfaces] in the last six months," notes Bob Paradiso, v.p./sales and marketing for CaesarStone, in Sun Valley, CA. "[Honed surfaces] do require a little more maintenance [in terms of] keeping the countertop clean, [but] it doesn't stain or scratch any easier [than polished quartz surface]," he states.
"The quartz surfaces category is the hottest thing going on in [countertops] today," agrees Ginguei Ebnesajjad, DuPont manager product styling & development, Wilmington, DE. "Consumers are coming to understand the benefits of a design surface that has the high-end look and feel of granite, but does not have the drawbacks of sealing and maintenance."
The increasingly popular look of limestone is also now available in a quartz surface, adds Paradiso. "Natural limestone looks good when you first put it in," he adds, "but after that, it [leaves something to] be desired. We have four [surfaces] that give the appearance of limestone, but performance wise, they're much, much better." The new surfaces come in both a honed and polished finish, and are available in currently hot lighter limestone colors such as champagne, cream and sand.
This summer, Silestone will introduce a less shiny textured finish that has the look of leather. In terms of colors, Covell reports that natural granite colors such as dark brown, black, beige, gold and white are top sellers for Silestone, though there are occasional requests for their adventure picks (which include cobalt blue as well as red with mirror chips). Another innovation from the company – antimicrobial countertop material – is also being introduced this year, tying into the growing interest in products that promote safety, well being and healthier living.
Fancy edge treatments are another way of customizing a quartz countertop, Paradiso notes, citing "triple pencil" and "waterfall" edges. "[Consumers are asking], ‘how do I make my countertop unique?' " he explains. He adds that, it used to be at CaesarStone, only 20% of orders had intricate edge treatments, whereas now it's the majority.