When it comes to kitchen design, most customers play it safe. While there are an endless number of cabinet finishes and paint colors, white remains the most popular choice. Stainless steel and black still trump any colors when it comes to appliances. And, while countertops come in all different materials, colors and textures, it’s the neutral granite and quartz offerings that lead the way.
There is no doubt that spectacular kitchens are created using these staples of the industry every day. The pop of color, the interesting texture and the pieces that draw the eye are often left to things that are temporary, such as paint color, decorative elements and lighting.
But, for those who are more adventurous with regard to their design sensibilities, a world of options abound. And homeowners who want to make a real statement can look to creative countertops as a way to create drama in their kitchens.
Ken Kelly, CKD, CBD, CR and principal of Kitchen Designs by Ken Kelly in Sag Harbor, NY, notes that, when a designer gets a client who is looking for more of a “wow” factor or a conversation piece, or certainly just a focal point in the room, “they are willing to explore countertop options and what the risks and rewards are for going outside of that safety box of quartz and granite.”
Those clients usually look to materials such as wood, marble, concrete, glass or metal. “People are looking for something particularly unique for the texture, for the color, for the patina,” he reports.
Of course, Kelly adds that while the client may appear to want something out of the ordinary, they must be willing to accept that it’s not going to be perfect, “because materials like wood, concrete and metal are going to wear in such a way that you’re going to see the wear,” he states.
Wood, in particular, will show its wear – a desired characteristic for many who choose this material.
“Wood will not stay showroom perfect,” warns Kelly. “It is a live product, and it is going to show wear and tear, have a nick, get a scratch or a ding. But, a gently used wood countertop adds a lot of the character to a design, as well as warmth. And what can be done with thickness and edge detail only enhances the beauty.”
The wood arena is almost endless in terms of specialty woods, how the graining is done and the shape of the edges, he continues.
One client that Val Wilson, project manager for Terrell Goeke, Inc., in Chicago, IL worked with not only wanted a wood countertop for a peninsula in the kitchen that was to be used as a bar top, but wanted the piece to have a living edge. “It was up to us to find what they had in mind,” he comments.
A piece of English wych elm from The Grothouse Lumber Co. “fit the bill really well,” Wilson notes, adding, “the clients loved it, we loved it and it was the right size.”
“Just like an island, a peninsula can be viewed from all sides, so it needed to work well in the space,” he offers. Located between the kitchen and dining area, the counter plays well with the contemporary kitchen, which features flat-front doors in dark oak and burled walnut and brown antique granite that resembles an almost charcoal gray color.
“It’s very sculptural, and juts out into the middle of the space, so it becomes almost like a piece of art, as well as a functional countertop for a bar area,” Wilson reports.
Just as there are issues with wood, with the use of a natural stone, it is important to find out from the clients if an inconsistency in the material will be a problem for them, stresses Karen Kassen, CMKBD, Allied ASID, principal and designer, Kitchens Unlimited in Memphis, TN.
“With the current popularity of real marble in kitchens, it’s important to point out to the client that marble will etch as it is used,” notes Kassen. “If the circles and spots caused by the etching bother them, then they might not be good candidates to use marble in their kitchen.”