When it comes to surfacing materials, today's high-end consumers want plenty of choices in colors, materials, textures and finishes and more often than not, they want to mix and match them for maximum effect.
Whether it's the rich, textural beauty of natural stone, the translucency of glass, the vast array of color choices of solid surface, the striking look of concrete or stainless steel, the flexibility of laminate or the unique beauty and durability of engineered stone, kitchen and bath consumers want surfaces with more than just surface appeal.
Fortunately, designers have plenty to choose from, as a host of materials, patterns, colors and textures in endless combinations offer a wealth of possibilities for beautifying and personalizing the kitchen and the bath.
The "granite explosion" is far from over, with natural stone continuing to be a top choice among high-end consumers, according to dealers and fabricators interviewed. And, not surprisingly, this trend is expected to remain strong, as the desire for natural materials continues to flourish.
According to Lynn Monson, owner of Monson Interior Design, in Minneapolis, MN, "The trend [toward granite] is definitely not over. In fact, I see a lot more of a move toward the real stone."
Jens Jensen, owner of the Santa Barbara, CA-based Jens Jensen Design/Construction agrees: "We're seeing a lot of natural stone in both the kitchen and the bath."
Granite remains a popular favorite, and for good reason: As Nancy Elacqua, designer for Autograph Kitchen & Bath in Chelmsford, MA, explains it, "People seem to feel it is the lowest maintenance material. It can take heat, cutting and water, and as long as it's sealed, it will not even stain." She adds that marble is "very popular, especially for countertops."
Susan Dammer, owner of 42 Park, Inc., in Florham Park, NJ, notes that, "Most of the stuff we do is granite or marble for the kitchen and bath, though all [the natural stones] are popular. We are seeing marble, granite and ceramic tile, porcelain tile floors and tumbled marbles as well in the kitchen and bathroom."
"Granite is the number one choice in the kitchen because it is more durable and elegant, and customers like that," claims Bela Somogyi, president of City Glass d/b/a Jetcut Systems, in Orange, CA, who sees granite's texture as being "what consumers want."
Others cite the high-gloss yet richly textured look of granite as being sought after for the note of luxury it adds to a room.
Of course granite isn't the only natural stone commanding attention with high-end consumers. Notes Jensen, "I have done a lot of jobs with travertine [an Italian material which is like a limestone], which is a very light-based material that has been popular for quite a while [in my area]."
And Somogyi adds that he is doing "a lot of combinations with slate right now."
But while many designers see natural stone as a long-standing favorite, man-made materials particularly the new, quartz-based engineered stones seem to be gaining ground with many high-end consumers.
According to Roy McLain, CMKBD, Corian fabricator
and senior partner for the Mechanicsburg, PA-based Advanced Kitchen & Bath Partnership, "We do very little natural stone. We are starting to get into the [DuPont] Zodiaq now. That is becoming more popular than what the [natural] stone would be. It also has a ten- year warranty [which customers like]." Part of its popularity, he believes, is because, "It is more forgiving than what most other materials are, such as stone and laminate. People are looking for the durability that it offers."
Monson, too, sees the engineered stone as a hot up-and-comer, and he states, "I'm seeing a trend toward the [man-made products] such as Silestone and Caeserstone. Those are coming on really strong, and I think they have a real viable market here. If you want that large particulate look, then you want to go to one of the man-made materials like Zodiaq or Silestone."
Monson believes the demand for a warm, textural look is part of what fuels the engineered stone market, and he notes, "Most of the solid surface companies are coming up with something like that or they already have it. I really like the two new surfaces that Avonite introduced last year, it looks like cracked glass and I have seen so many different applications of that in the bathroom, from privacy panels around the toilet to side panels for an open walk-in shower and for countertops."
Monson adds, "I also like the new solid surface that Avonite is doing which resembles concrete and the natural looks like that. I have seen people asking for that type of thing."
Monson adds, "In our market, I'm getting people asking about concrete countertops because it has not been done here very much, and it's not as warm a surface as it would be in, say, California or something. That has its own problems with the logistics of doing it, so these solid surface look-a-likes are very hot, and getting people asking for them."
But not everyone is a big fan of the man-made surfacing materials. Notes Jensen, "I definitely prefer natural materials more than artificial plastics."
And Jensen notes, "The surfaces, such as the ones that simulate stone, are very popular, but they are about the same price as natural stone, so who knows why [people choose these over natural stone]? You are stepping down from a high-end job to a middle-end job when you choose them, but, they still remain popular."
While stone both natural and man-made continues to have a stronghold in the kitchen and bath, solid surface remains a perennial favorite, both for its durability and enormous flexibility of design and color options. As McLain notes, "We are 99% solid surface and the rest is laminates."
Dammer cites DuPont Corian as a popular favorite with her customers because of its durability and easy-care properties, which she believes remains high on consumers' list of priorities.
Monson also notes that interest in certain types of patterns have made solid surface more popular. He notes,"I am seeing a trend much more toward the small particulate and the background look. Solid surface seems to have its strength in the small particulates and that more smooth, homogeneous look."
Elacqua notes that her customers want "countertops that are [made of] sleeker, smoother materials, such as solid surface," and she sees DuPont Corian as a popular choice in the bath "for its easy maintenance."
Of course mix-and-match remains a hot trend, and as Douglas Leake, CKD, Custom Kitchens, Inc., in Richmond, VA notes, "We see a lot of the solid surfaces, the Corian, Wilsonart, Gibraltar, etc., but the texture [of solid surface] is so different [from granite], they are being used in combination in order to get the best of both worlds."
Somogyi agrees: "The biggest change is in the combining of unusual materials, such as marble and glass and stainless steel."
Monson, too, sees a big demand for mix-and-match materials, stating, "In my market, it's uncommon where I'm doing one material all the way through. [I might try] mixing stainless steel and concrete, where it acts as accent. If I have an island, I'll do that in a different material than what the back areas will be because that may be the focal point in the design, and it adds interest. You can carry through the accent material that you use on the island and use it on the backsplash and meld it with a more neutral tone on the back area.
While Leake says he's seen a "run on Corian," he adds that, "The most popular above all is laminate." A large part of this is its flexibility, he believes, and he states, "With wood edges you can do more elaborate details. The laminates are just a very popular product."
He adds, "As far as laminates, we like Wilsonart when fabricating. We've tried other products, but I feel that Wilsonart is consistent. We don't have any trouble with it."
Keith Hill, senior project manager for Forbes Cabinets, Inc, in Apex, NC, notes, "Our preference is Nevamar, both for the quality and durability and for [the fact that we have] good distribution in this area. I have national distribution within a day. One of the challenges [in this area] is getting the other products because of poor distribution channels. They may stock lots of colors, but they may not have the products I need."
The Glass Look
Glass, too, has been cited as a material gaining ground in the kitchen and bath, and Leake notes, "We're starting to see glass come out now, with the big, heavy glass bowls, and vanity bowls we see. Glass countertops, such as the Curvet product, are coming out now. That is a great talking piece. We haven't used it yet ourselves, but it's getting attention. We have used crackled glass on the island that look is getting big. It's new [and people want something new]."
"The glass is strong," agrees Monson.
But while many see the translucence look as hot, not everyone agrees. Dammer notes that, "I've only done a couple of things where I've used glass block."
With regard to other materials, Leake notes, "Other things we are seeing in kitchens is butcher block and limestone-type products."
When it comes to fabrication, customization is big, with intricate edges, two-tone designs and eye-catching inlays hot choices.
McLain notes that, "People are doing a lot more inlay colors and fancier edges in the kitchen. In the bathroom, we are seeing an all-Corian shower with a lot of two-tone colors on the walls with the trim being one color, for example."
In the kitchen, Somogyi notes, "In some cases, we do small medallion or border lines in very different shapes and combinations." He adds, "For the bath, it is very popular to do the medallions in front of the bowl. The designs vary from A to Z. You just need to use your imagination."
Somogyi also notes the growing popularity of "flowery inlays, which can be used with marble in the lobby or foyer and in the bathroom, as well."
Elacqua adds, "I have seen a trend in backsplashes for the kitchen getting creative with Corian to create a beadboard look or tile look."
Leake sees a trend toward simpler, easier-to-maintain styles in edges, noting, "People are using the coved back splashes, for example. They are being more simple on the edges as opposed to the more elaborate edges [that can be] 'dirt-catchers,' mainly for the ease of maintenance."
For some, automation is still not a factor, as with McLain, who states, "We are still a small operation so we have not done much automation. We do custom and we do inlays with the Corian and a one-of-a-kind top, and that is not suited for automation."
Of course, in the end, whatever the surface, the most important thing is getting it done right. As Leake concludes, "Whatever the design, to have a good fabricator is the key [to a project's success], the quality of the job is the most important thing." KBDN