Surfacing Synergies

Surfacing Synergies

by Janice Costa

Creating a personalized environment has never been easier, with an increasingly large selection of colors, patterns and materials available, many of which can be juxtaposed to create unique looks, according to kitchen and bath dealers interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

"Textures and colors have definitely been mixed and matched," says Ronni Fryman, of the Camarillo, CA-based Showcase Kitchens & Baths.

Indeed, mixing and matching everything from ceramic tile and solid surface to natural and engineered stone, glass, copper, stainless steel and even concrete seems to be all the rage right now, with the mix of materials providing visual and textural interest.

"What you’re seeing [a lot of right now] is a solid slab counter with tile backsplashes, such as glass or metallic coppers. That is seen in both the kitchen and bath," notes Edward Bojorquez, owner of the San Jose, CA-based A to Z Kitchens.

Solid surface remains popular, but "a lot of tile accents are being used for backsplashes on the solid surface. They are a popular twosome together," notes Gerald Nickolaus, president of Mckenzie Kitchen & Bath, in Eugene, OR.

While granite, natural stone, solid surface, ceramic tile and laminate remain strong choices, new materials, including a host of engineered stone products, are also garnering interest among consumers. Additionally, many manufacturers and designers are experimenting with everything from glass to metallics in order to find stylish new surfacing looks.

Even concrete has garnered interest among consumers looking for something unique, "though those have to be done by someone very experienced," warns Steve Mohr, sales/designer for Kitchens of Los Altos, in Los Altos, CA.

Granite glamour
Glamorous granite – a perennially popular choice at the high end – has begun to come down in price in recent years, making it an increasingly viable choice in the kitchen.

In fact, there’s been some feeling among designers that granite is actually losing the very exclusiveness that made it so desirable to begin with, and that as a result, consumers are already looking for the "next" granite – the yet-to-be-discovered hot material that will become the new "hottest thing" in surfacing. But despite these predictions, granite continues to be a top choice among consumers for its rich look and feel – and this shows little sign of abating.

"In kitchens, granite is still the number one choice," states Fryman.

"Kitchenwise, granite is probably one of the hottest sellers," agrees Nickolaus.

Granite accounts for some 80% of what’s asked for in kitchens, according to Bojorquez, who sees this as no surprise, considering his upscale Silicon Valley clientele.

"In our area, probably 90 percent of kitchens are done with stone. Most of that is granite these days," adds Mohr.

"The problem with granite is that it tends to be darker and have bigger patterns with a harsher look," Mohr adds. "[For that reason], sometimes customers will choose a limestone or marble for a softer look. When we talk to a customer about the function of the countertop, we explain that marble or a limestone is a softer material and will take more maintenance."

But while granite and other natural stones are in high demand, some of the new, engineered stones and stone-look solid surfacing and laminates are also making strong inroads.

Fryman notes that "Caesarstone or the engineered stone products are probably number two with my clients," pointing to a growing number of engineered stone and stone-look products on the market today, many of which seem to be carving out a strong niche for themselves.

Mohr notes, "There is a new quartz material from DuPont [called Zodiaq] that we are showing now. For people worried about maintenance issues on a natural stone product, it is something they are interested in, but you are limited in that the quartz product only has about 13 color choices. But, on the other hand, it works the same as the granite and you don’t have to seal it."

Zodiaq, like Silestone and several other such manufactured stone products is becoming "a very hot product right now," according to Nickolaus. And high-pressure laminates featuring stone-like patterns are also popular, designers agree.

Of course, when it comes to natural stone, Bojorquez believes that its appeal is simple: "Stone is forever, [at least] with the proper sealers." But he warns that, "The quality of the sealers is what determines if the stone is going to stay."

Natural stone is also popular in the bath, according to Fryman, who believes, "Overall, granite is still more popular than marble."

But Dan Haaf, designer for the Cedar Rapids, IA-based Kitchen & Bath Images, disagrees, noting, "In the bath, the majority of the countertops are cultured marble."

Bojorquez adds, "In the bath, [you see a lot of] marble and slab shower enclosures. Also, there is ceramic tile that looks exactly like Crema Marfil marble and that is used often on the floors."

Despite stone’s popularity in the bath for its visual appeal, designers warn that safety issues should be considered, as well. "In the bath, there is not as much activity, so [there is a lot of demand for] a lot of slab marble and limestone. Usually, people choose a slab for the vanity top and then stone tile for the shower. The problem with stone is it becomes more slippery, so that becomes a concern," Mohr adds.

Surfacing strength
While there’s no question that granite continues to enjoy strong consumer interest, not everyone sees granite as the ultimate kitchen countertop material. In fact, many designers point to solid surface’s repairable and easy-to-clean properties as making it the ideal surface for kitchen use. With a skilled fabricator, an almost endless array of looks are possible, from striking inlay designs to "floating" countertops (see related story, above).

According to Haaf, "In the kitchens [I design], I don’t do a lot of granite. I do a lot of DuPont Corian, Avonite, Gibraltar, and [other] solid surface. Solid surface is by far more popular because there are more options, such as scratch removal."

Nickolaus agrees, noting that, "We still do a lot of solid surface, mainly with remodels. We see a lot of people upgrading their old laminate counters into the Corian and Gibraltar."

The reasons for this are simple: "People seem to enjoy [having a] renewable countertop," Nickolaus believes. "They can have it refinished at a very inexpensive cost," and particularly with the increasingly popular large-particulate patterns, "they don’t show wear very easily."

Solid surface remains a popular staple in the bath, as well. Haaf cites Transolid and DuPont Corian as popular choices in the bath with his clientele.

Nickolaus agrees that, "We are seeing more solid surface in the bathroom," adding, "In the past, it had been more cost prohibitive to use a lot of it in the bathroom," though that seems to be changing.

Indeed, solid surface seems to be not only remaining strong, but growing in popularity, according to many designers. Notes Haaf, "Solid surfacing is going to [continue to] gain in popularity. Pricing is the number one concern, but, again, it is probably not as expensive as you think. We are selling much more than we used to."

Solid surface is also becoming increasingly popular in different applications, according to Nickolaus. "We are finding so many new uses for solid surface and it is a relatively new product in the scope of things. Corian was introduced a little over 30 years ago, and to see the explosion of other companies coming in, it's just been phenomenal," he says, noting that he doesn’t expect this trend to peak any time soon.

Other hot choices
In addition to the usual array of solid surfacing, granite and natural stone and ceramic tile, a host of unlikely materials seem to be capturing consumers interest, particularly for use as accents, or in the backsplash area.

"In the backsplash area, we typically use a tile or accent piece and use a really pale, neutral limestone tile with some accents in it that are more colorful," Mohr states.

Several designers also note the growing interest in metallic looks, such as Nevamar’s newly launched MetalX line, as well as the use of stainless steel or copper accents in backsplashes.

Notes Bojorquez, "There are glass tiles that are translucent and there are metal tiles, such as copper, for both the kitchen and the bath. They sometimes follow through on a hood. For instance, a customer may want to trim the hood with copper tiles."

Designers agree that the shimmery metallic looks work best in small doses, so they don’t overpower the room. Notes Mohr, "I haven’t done a lot of metallics, although there are some accent pieces [available] for the backsplash when I’m using a limestone tile, and there are some nice metallic glazes that I’m using. Little 2"x2" pieces with decorative patterns, glazed with a bronze look, or an iron look – that can work with some stone, as well."

Glass, too, seems to be gaining in popularity, as the trend toward translucent materials gains ground. "Actually, it’s interesting, glass has become a tile backsplash, is very translucent and brings a level of sparkle to the backsplash, but it is subtle too," Mohr notes. "A lot of colors are available in glass or glass mosaics, and some of those colors can key in with a granite countertop."

Although there’s plenty of talk about hot new properties, Haaf notes that, "We are not seeing too much here of the translucents or metallics [yet]." He believes this is because "I don’t think people are aware of it. Unless they see it in a big sheet, and see how it’s directional, customers won’t understand what you are talking about. We’ve done some stainless steel inserts, but not a lot. We’re pretty much Midwestern and traditional here."

As always, designers are forever searching for the new "hot product," and Fryman believes that, "If someone could come up with something that is priced less than Corian and between Formica, they’d have a goldmine." Unfortunately, she says, "the solid surface veneer is not priced like that."

Color trends
"Colorwise, we are seeing, more of the brighter, lighter colors, and a lot of earth tones," notes Nickolaus." He adds that the bathroom, especially, is seeing lighter tones, and the look is "a little less bold, with more finer particulates and lighter colors."

"Lighter colors like ‘yellow beaches’ are very popular, and I’ve seen slabs that look almost like [solid surface], they are so almond and uniform," Fryman notes. She adds that this is "yet another reason why Caesarstone is very popular – [it works] for people who want a lighter color [with stone]. Colors for the bath are a lot of greens and neutrals."

"As a designer, I like colors, so I am not afraid to put more color in," Haaf adds, though he admits that, "Ultimately, the final decision is the customer’s. I’ve had some people think of off-white, brown or tan, and we’ve done some pretty bold countertops."

Haaf adds that, "In the bathrooms which feature cultured marble, people will stay more neutral with their color choices, with a white or off-white. But, we’ve picked some pretty wild marble colors, too.

I did a bathroom remodel where we put in a whirlpool and Turkish blue Corian countertop, which is quite a bold, bright color," he adds.

"Most people are choosing subdued, neutral colors in the bath," Mohr believes. "When people make an investment n a stone countertop, they want it to have staying power, so they’ll blend color in other ways, such as in the metal, the fixtures, the pulls, or accessories."

Haaf believes that the type of clientele you service also impacts color trends. For instance, he notes that, "People who choose granite frequently are traditionalists. The granite kitchen countertop I’ve just finished was black –absolute black granite. But, most of them go with the more traditional greys, browns and greens. With the advent of so many artificial granites, if you will, such as Pillstone and Zodiaq, I think it’s going to be more bold."

"In the kitchen, the light colors are seen often, unless someone wants to make a real dramatic statement, in which case they would choose a stone with unusual movement on it. Or absolute black could be chosen to contrast with almost anything. Obviously, it all has to be in the right harmony of color," concludes Bojorquez. KBDN