Topping Things Off

Topping Things Off

The hottest trends in countertop design and fabrication incorporate mix-and-match colors, materials and inlays with designs that are personalized and low maintenance.

By John Filippelli

Call it a sign of the times, but simple, streamlined and low maintenance have become the buzzwords for today's hottest surface treatments. While consumers love the look of mix-and-match materials and unusual inlays to spruce up countertops and backsplashes, they still seem to be trending toward clean lines and looks that are as functional as they are fashionable, according to designers and fabricators interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

That doesn't mean customization and personalization aren't still high on consumer wish lists. However, function and budget equally important to many consumers, who increasingly are demanding beautiful designs that are not only easy on the eye, but easy to clean and maintain, too.

To that end, heat-, water- and scratch-resistant materials such as polished granite and acrylic solid surfaces are popular choices, with fabricators noting that they are integrating these materials into more and more projects in a variety of interesting configurations.

As far as edge treatments go, today's designs seem to favor elegant curves or simple honed edges.

Still, in some quarters, more elaborate designs prevail, such as the triple waterfall edge design created by Jason Borden, owner of Mesa, AZ-based BB Solid Surface, for his own personal kitchen. Borden lives and works with the motto: "Create an edge that has never been done before," and his work is testimony to some of the innovative possibilities fabricators can bring to life.
Anna Maria Vona, v.p. of Philadelphia, PA-based Carmana Designs, also favors creative countertop design, citing a recent project which had mosaic tile inlaid in a pattern outlining the major sight lines of the kitchen.

The broad range of materials available today have also created greater color possibilities, with advances in fabricating technology making it easier than ever to combine colors and materials in unique designs and patterns.

"Color combinations are more creative and exciting today," points out Laurel Behning, ASID, CID of Plymouth, MN-based Laurel Behning Interiors, Inc. She adds, "The trend is definitely to mix materials and colors, such as pure quartz products or man-made products, like concrete, metal and glass, with granite, stone, wood and even volcanic ash."

Vona believes that "Consumers now have absolutely overwhelming choices to make, with the addition of glass and metallic inlays. It is our job to help steer them in the direction of appealing choices for their budgets, lifestyles and aesthetics."
On this and the following three pages, Kitchen & Bath Design News looks at some unique projects showcasing today's hottest fabrication trends.

Designer Uses Natural Materials to Help Overcome Kitchen Disaster

Says Anna Maria Vona, v.p. for the company: "The client had an existing SieMatic kitchen that was completely damaged when a water pipe broke while she was on vacation. Water had poured through the walls of her kitchen over a two-week period."

As a result. the entire kitchen had to be ripped apart from ceiling to floor.
For the remodeling project, the client had one very specific request. "She wanted the overall design theme to use completely natural materials wherever possible," Vona reports.

While the type of material was established, how the material was to be used was another issue. Vona explains: "The client insisted on having the black absolute granite with a simple, flat edge that was honed rather than polished. [Since she is an avid cook], our professional opinion was for the black absolute granite to be polished [to reduce maintenance]."

Vona notes that the wall area where the three convex pull-out pantry cabinets are located had an existing dry wall closet that had a tangle of existing plumbing lines and a fire hose encased in the wall. "The curved pantry doors were fabricated around the closet by building a false cabinet ceiling and then fabricating the doors to look seamless," she explains.
In fact, Vona notes that one door of the three pull-out pantry doors is actually the door to the old closet, which still services water lines for the kitchen.

"The triumph of design and fabrication was a trompe l'oeil effect. No one can tell that one of the pantry doors is the door to a closet," she says.

Accenting the countertops are custom cabinets with stainless steel pulls that create a warm, cohesive look to the space, Vona concludes.

1950s-Style Kitchen Features Metallic Elements

"We are witnessing a definite increased interest in the '50s look using metallic edges and backsplash panels," she reports.

"The client selected Topstone 100% acrylic solid surface material in S-001 White because it is a bright white with more translucence than some other solid surface whites," she offers.

Canning notes that a brushed stainless steel laminate for a 1/2" inlay was also selected, centered in the 1-1/2" front edge and placed 1/2" down in the top of the splashes.

She continues: "Routing a 1/2" channel out of the Topstone edge and splash about 3/16" into the material provided ample room to inlay the laminate without difficulty. It turned out to be very striking."

She continues: "We [also] had a client request that we use a laminate brushed stainless steel inset for the front panel of her trash compactor, as well as behind her free-standing stove, to complement her stainless steel sink and appliances."

She adds that the company is also working on a project that features countertops in two colors of a boomerang pattern for the kitchen and family room area with 1-1/2" polished aluminum edges.

Fabricator Helps Solve Client Budget Issue

He relays that the homeowners looked at several solid surface brands, but their budget only left room for solid colors. They found the answer they were looking for in Samsung Staron Pebble Blue countertops, which offer beauty and texture while allowing for the addition of a solid surface sink.

The couple also requested a custom-built island with a rounded café-style breakfast bar and a stovetop cooking area. However, fitting the island around the kitchen's two wood columns presented a difficult installation challenge.

"The main challenge was the radius of the upper bar," he says of the project, which also features a matching backsplash. "But a simple template helped there."

He adds that the gasline to service the cooktop was in the post, so he had to cut the upper part and seam it together around the post.

"Since the post was already installed, we had to work around it," he describes. "We built the upper bar 1/2" wider, doing the mate cut with a Penske straight edge. We notched out for the post and then seamed it back together."

The project is a prime example of clients seeking to personalize their kitchens, according to Phillips. However, he notes, "We believe that if you don't offer a custom product and you are a custom shop, you are putting a limit on how custom your shop can be."

Counters Highlight

"We believe infection control in the workplace and the home will become a major focal point in the upcoming five to 10 years," he states, citing a nearby Naval Hospital that has been undergoing countertop, sink bowl and wall cladding as another example.

While sanitary and maintenance concerns were key for this project, aesthetics were also an important consideration in the project, which included two large countertops, a bar top, an island with cooktop, the kitchen windowsills and switchplates and outlet covers.

For Holmberg, the overall design challenges were met so well by the architect and general contractor, respectively, that he was able to focus entirely on the clients' needs, which also called for extended wall backsplashes above the countertops.

"The project was ready for the templating of the countertops and full-height backsplashes when we arrived," he notes, adding that the full-height backsplash required that the solid surface fit precisely at each intersection adjacent to cabinets and walls.

Sanitary Styling

He continues: "This project falls right in line with the trend of combining natural materials with manufactured products. The Samsung Staron Aspen Amber countertops combine neutral colors in a granite look that blends well with the other kitchen surroundings and is carried into the large dining room, including a very stately looking slate fireplace."

He adds: "Manufactured products offer features, such as ease of use, that make it a more desired product. Another aspect is the ability to maintain our homes [in] a minimal amount of time."

He concludes, however, that regardless of the trend, there are certain constants for clients.

"The need for simplicity, in both maintenance and visual impact, is of major importance and will continue to be an issue that needs to be addressed in the years ahead."

Fabricator Uses Hard Seams to Seal the Deal

"The customers had a design in mind and they worked directly with our installers on the plans, determining what we could and could not do on the project," he describes.

Working from layouts supplied by the clients, Blume notes that he had the shower base and other pieces done in the company's shop and then transported to the project site.

"Everything had to be hard seamed even the ceiling," he notes, adding that it was crucial that the bathroom be water tight.

To accomplish this, the bathroom was done with Corian Venaro Natural Pearl, taking eighteen 12'-sheets to complete, he relates.

"The vanities, countertops, surround around the whirlpool, flooring and baseboards all fit completely inside the 4'x6' shower stall," he adds.

He notes that the shower stall ceiling, which was designed at an angle, was particularly challenging. "With it being 1/2" material, the ceiling had to be fitted and hard-seamed while holding it in place above the working area. The ceiling sloped up because it was in the corner of the house."

He continues: "On the floor, they used epoxy grout instead of regular grout so it would adhere to the Corian."
Furthermore, the baseboards and the moldings around the mirrors are made of Corian, with each making a design that was decoratively etched into the Corian.

He notes that using Venaro for this project was tricky, due to its directional pattern, but adds: "Corian can be fabricated to make different designs that give a decorative look to backsplashes and various other options."

He concludes: "We see that people are getting away from the ordinary, mainly because architects and designers are more educated [and] material selection is getting greater."

Kitchen Countertops Complete Neo-Gothic Look

"The design challenge was to create efficient countertop square footage so both clients could cook for children and guests while providing for catering needs," she explains.

Cambria, which is featured on the kitchen island and along the perimeter, is also carried through the mudroom, bathroom vanity, master suite, butler's pantry and the fireplace in the basement, she notes.

"The largest fabrication and installation challenge was the radius countertop templating over the base cabinet separating the kitchen and the breakfast room.There was a gap below the farmhouse sink when the countertops were installed," she explains.

Therefore, Behning selected Corian for the sink, with Corian also added to the sink edge at the fabricator's shop.
Tumbled limestone counter backsplash tiles with accents of Gothic Revival Deco tiles as well as a custom, faux-finished range hood, antique wrought-iron scrolls at the widened doorway to the breakfast room and an oval, recessed, hand-painted, lit dome over the oval center island, were also added, she says.

"Welshpool Black" Cambria was selected for the peripheral countertops to contrast with the limestone backsplash tiles and highlight the bronze metal accent tiles, with the "Victoria" Cambria chosen for the center island to enhance the limestone backsplash tiles, Behning concludes.

Custom Fabricator Uses Personal Kitchen to Challenge His Design Skills

So, left to his own devices, Borden decided to fabricate the counters in his own home and see just how unique a design he could create.

"The best thing about solid surface is that you can use your imagination and create the impossible," he explains. But, doing the impossible does not come without its challenges, he adds.

"In this particular situation, we were facing two hurdles. One was removing a section of the decking 1/2" wide and 1/4" deep to provide for our inlay across the entire countertop. Second was the building of the triple waterfall edge," he says.

Offering that "the biggest challenge in fabrication is mastering the glue lines and making sure that all of the seams are tight," he notes that he and his crew chose to do "old-fashioned hand sanding" to accommodate this need.

Further describing the triple waterfall edge, he adds: "We determined that the edge alone added uniqueness to what was once a basic solid surface counter."

Having selected LG HI-MACS for the counters, he adds that this project somewhat distills the myth of high aesthetics leading to high maintenance.

"Most of the time, the customer stays standard and does not get fancy," he offers.

But, should a client elect for an upgrade, Borden knows exactly what he or she will request: "The biggest upgrade that people do in solid surface is high backsplashes. The customer always has the option to have outlets and switchplates to match the color of the countertops. Therefore, the fancy splashes that we do tend to be in granite countertops, for example, with a crackle wave or chiseled edge.

"Fabricators definitely make their money on the fancy edges, but only select customers will pay for these upgrades," he believes.

Being a custom fabricator, Borden notes that there is not so much an overall trend in fabrication, rather more of a constant.

"The maintenance-free materials are considered to be the Cadillac of countertops, such as heat-, water- and scratch-resistant surfaces. This is usually found in granite and quartz surfaces, while solid surface has the advantage of being 100 percent repairable," he adds.

Backsplash Features Diamond Etching

"The clients wanted a Corian sink fit into a stone quartz top and a Corian backsplash fit on a diamond pattern to make it look like tiles," explains Penn.

"[The way we fabricated it], it was all one piece with no grout lines. It needed to be a seamless look," he quickly adds.

Furthermore, Penn notes that the clients picked out all the counters and wood flooring which complement the browns, blacks and beiges found throughout the home as well as a Zodiaq counter with a lighter color for additional accent.

"The countertops are Zodiaq Alpha Brown with Corian Mojave, complemented by tile routered backsplashes in Corian and a Corian 873 Glacier White sink," he says. "The tops feature a 1-1/4" eased edge [for added detailing]," he further notes.

Penn continues: "The smaller particulate on the countertop is in the Sierra group of Corian. They really kept it simple and didn't want to overpower the edge. It was a simple round over."

But, according to Penn, the most unique element of the space is the diamond etching that was worked into the backsplash a suggestion made by the clients that Penn liked so much that he now displays similar pieces in his showroom.

To that end, Penn notes that his company has even built a new facility and bought C&C automated equipment to keep up with the different trends and applications that spark his interest.