The limestone has a matte finish, and must be treated with a penetrating sealer. In terms of maintenance, "it depends on how hard people are on their kitchens," notes Laco. However, the beautiful natural product is probably not the best countertop choice for a family with kids and heavy, messy traffic through the kitchen.
The product is priced for an upscale market because of the hand-finishing involved, and is usually utilized as the focal point of a kitchen. "If you have a 20" fossil fish in your bar top, it's very dramatic," concludes Laco.
Of course, granite is still the leader in the natural stone market, with advances in fabrication making it available to lower price points.
A revolutionary new product comes from the Cuyahoga Heights, OH-based Buystone, Inc., makers of TechnoStone, explains Buystone president David Hartman. The company offers real granite and marble at a dramatically lower price point, with a warranty, Hartman explains. Natural stone is cut to 1/3 of the thickness of a regular slab, then reinforced with a backing to make a product that's lighter, rendering it appropriate for applications such as bathroom walls.
TechnoStone was originally developed for use on the outside of buildings in Europe, and is available in 10 standard colors, the most popular being Uba Tuba and Baltic Brown. "We focused on [colors] that represent the bulk of stone popularity, [and that have] a homogeneous, monolithic look," says Hartman.
Consumers would be able to pick out their own slab, the same as with regular granite. Custom colors are possible for larger jobs, Hartman explains. It's offered in a polished finish, but can be honed.
Of course, traditionally fabricated granite is still the mainstay of the high-end market, and it, too, has lowered its price point as much as 10%, reports Jim Janochoski, national product manager for Cold Spring Granite, in Cold Spring, MN. He credits advancements in quarry technology and fabrication, including the new gang saws that take a block and cut it into hundreds of slabs simultaneously, that greatly increase output.
In terms of trends, Janochoski sees a return of more dramatically veined granites. "We've brought in some wild material, and it seems that's what they're looking for," he says. He also cites a bit less demand for green tones, and an increase in golds and browns, with black holding steady as a perennially popular color. Golds are particularly popular for honed looks, which remain a steady seller, but haven't increased much since last year.
The advent of leased stone fabrication equipment has also led to a proliferation of new fabricators. Starting a stone-working business no longer requires a six-figure investment, and lends itself more to garage-size operations, Janochoski elaborates. "That's probably not good for the industry," he adds, though, noting that most of the fly-by-night operations don't last long.
Janochoski admits that engineered stone is surprisingly popular. "We've seen more of it than anticipated," he says. He theorizes that consumer desires for colors not found in natural granite might partially explain engineered stone's popularity. "Some people like a really white, clean look," he notes, adding that he's seen jobs where people used natural granite on a center island and engineered stone on the main countertop.
Still, granite is holding its own. "For every homeowner and remodel job, they still at least get prices for granite," Janochoski reports. "The market as a whole is on the increase. Home starts are up, so we're hoping for a good year. Granite seems to be recession-proof." KBDN