Surfacing Balances Function & Beauty

Kitchens vary widely in size, design and how they are used in a home. But in all kitchens, the countertops are critical to the overall functioning of the space.

Designers are working with homeowners to bring the personal taste of the consumer into the room, making sure the work space is not only aesthetically appealing, but utilized to its fullest potential.

Value, high performance, durability and a shift toward clean lines and neutrals top the trends in countertops, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

“So many people will spend the majority of their time in the kitchen when they’re home, and it’s kind of a multitasking space, so we’re seeing a lot of different things happening that are really quite interesting,” says Jill Lock, senior product designer, Laminate, for Wilsonart, based in Temple, TX. This can include mixing and matching of colors and materials as well as the use of color to add a visual pop, she notes.

The countertop can pull a design together, adding contrast to the room and serving as a bridge between cabinetry and other components. Because these surfaces are called upon to complement cabinetry, appliances and the overall design of the kitchen, it’s important that there be options to appeal to a wide audience.


Clean & Neutral

The demand for busy patterns and a glossy sheen is waning, and shifting toward a more toned down, neutral look, according to surfacing manufacturers. This doesn’t mean, however, that a broad range of looks isn’t in demand.

Consumers know there are numerous options, in part thanks to HGTV, says Summer Kath, senior director of business development for Cambria, located in Le Sueur, MN. “Everyone has really been educated on all of the options out there. People won’t settle. They demand having options today,” she notes.

“Texture created by colors or very busy patterns is not popular in countertops anymore,” adds Karl Desjardins, communication director for ThinkGlass in Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada. Textured glass, however, takes light in to create interesting patterns that are quite different from a busy granite countertop, he notes.

Lorenzo Marquez, v.p. of marketing for Cosentino North America, based in Stafford, TX, says, “For textures, the matte finish is a major trend that continues, as customers are enjoying the appeal of a softer look to their surfaces.” He adds that on the traditional side, colors are often inspired by the rich, natural movement of exotic granite, particularly when combined with a detailed edging. For modern looks, he says, the company is seeing a demand for thin countertops in neutral tones, particularly greys and whites.

Trisha Schmitt, v.p. of corporate marketing at VT Industries, Inc. in Holstein, IA, agrees. She notes that, for a few years, with all of the new HD type finishes, higher gloss was in demand. Now, however, the company is seeing a matte look mixed in.

Kath notes that lighter tones are more popular than dark now, and there is a classic, timeless look that comes from a desire for a calming feel in the kitchen. To that end, she notes that designers love what she calls “greige” – gray and beige tones that combine cool and warm tones, and go with everything. This mixing and matching of cool and warm tones creates an eclectic design that allows designers to select the materials they – and their clients – love, and pull them all together.

Lock has seen a movement in the last five years toward safer, classic looks in amber and golden brown tones. Yet, she also cites some demand for the cooler tones. “We’re finding that the countertops have to marry well with the black and the white and the grey tones,” she says. “When those tones are used, you can easily pop bright paint and other accents into the kitchen.”

Tom Perich, North America marketing manager – Surfaces for DuPont Building Innovations, located in Wilmington, DE, says his firm is seeing more honed looks on solid surface, as well as an increase in white. “We’re seeing more and more white kitchens, outside of the key metropolitan areas. White has always been popular in New York, but we’re starting to see it really catch fire more broadly around the country,” he notes.

Dale Mandell, national sales director for Samsung Surfaces, based in La Mirada, CA, says that both pure white quartz countertops and colors in quartz have increased in popularity. The colors provide a look that is different from granite, he says, noting that Samsung has expanded its color range and developed some unique patterns and colors in response to this trend.

Schmitt is seeing more modern looks, with clean lines and edge profiles, and she adds that there also seems to be a trend toward more mixing of surfaces, such as a wood laminate on an island with a more traditional stone laminate in the rest of the room.


Maximizing Space

Whatever the size of the kitchen, designers are tasked with making the best use of the space available – and that means it’s desirable to have countertop space that can serve multiple functions.

Because the kitchen is still a general gathering place, says Schmitt, island tops and a lot of counter space are still a current trend.

Lock agrees that large islands are used for the multitasking that is so prevalent in today’s society. They work well for both sitting and standing tasks, she points out, and can become the focal point in the room, both visually and functionally.

However, Kath notes that with more homeowners remodeling in the existing footprint of the space, designers are being tasked with making the kitchen – and counter space – as functional and efficient as it can be.

“We’re continuing to see the kitchen island as a multi-use station,” says Marquez. “More homeowners are using it as a social space as well as for informal dining, often adding seating. In modern kitchens, the increased use of waterfall-style countertops offers a dramatic and sleek look to a kitchen island, while also adding more countertop material to the space.” In addition, the popularity of open design is seeing overhead cabinetry replaced by shelving, and designers are using non-traditional materials such as Cosentino’s Silestone natural quartz to create unique and sturdy shelving, says Marquez.

Desjardins notes that raised bars are popular to add more space, or an eating area, to the kitchen. Glass, which can be easily mixed with other countertop materials, is often chosen for this application, he says. Side panels are another popular addition in which textures can be more impressive, he further notes.

Material Needs

Countertop materials have evolved a great deal, and the choices available just keep expanding. “There are a lot more materials in the market, and new ones are coming out all the time,” says Desjardins. “Stone countertops with a lot a texture are being ignored; instead, people are using engineered materials with a minimalist appearance. Glass is becoming very popular for the pure, clean aspect of this unique luminescent material.”

Laminate has come a long way in its look, too, says Lock. “One of the things we have worked toward for our 2013 introductions is to make the laminate more believable, so you don’t have to apologize that it’s plastic,” says Lock. “We’re going up against the look of real stone and I think we’ve achieved that.”

Schmitt says she sees a lot of large-scale granite looks in the market, along with wood grain laminates and real wood countertops. “The laminates we are seeing are not your dated, butcher block laminate look. It really has a contemporary wood grain pattern, finish and color,” she says.

Quartz has enjoyed great popularity in recent years, and that isn’t waning, according to manufacturers. “Quartz countertop materials are increasingly in demand as consumers now are much more aware of the benefits of quartz versus granite or marble,” says Mandell. He adds that designers are relying more often on the consistency of color that quartz offers.

Perich says there has been a lot of innovation around quartz surfacing in color and in quality. DuPont has introduced a new deep color product that offers a deeper, darker and more lustrous color, and can also reduce the appearance of scratches, adding increased durability benefits, he says. “Everyone is trying to add value to the consumer, and provide additional benefits that aren’t out there now,” he adds.

The quartz category has created a high level of awareness around having a stone countertop that is maintenance free, says Kath. “Ten or 15 years ago, when granite was all the rage, people were just excited to have a stone countertop,” she says. “Now that people are educated and aware that there’s a product [with the benefits of the stone but without the maintenance], that’s what they want.”

Marquez says that, at Cosentino, they think the market is ready for something completely new. “Quartz was the last material to revolutionize the countertop market, adding an increased level of durability, strength and color offering that had not been seen prior. While we anticipate quartz will continue to remain a top choice in the marketplace, we know consumers, architects and designers are eager for something new,” he says. As such, Cosentino has introduced an ultra-compact surface, Dekton by Cosentino, that he believes will revolutionize the category with advanced technical properties for both interior and exterior design.


Value & Performance

Because countertops see so much use, they must be not only beautiful to look at, but durable and easy to maintain. Quality cannot be sacrificed in the name of design, and consumers are looking for good value in their purchases in these still-challenging economic times. “When people spend money on home improvements, they are expecting it to perform better than before because people are more budget conscious,” says Schmitt.

Marquez agrees. “No matter the trend, homeowners are interested in quality and value. They want products that not only meet their lifestyle and design needs, but will also stand the test of time,” he says.

“We want things to perform better and look better longer,” agrees Lock, who notes that countertops must be carefree as far as maintenance goes. “I think that’s the best feature for laminate. You don’t have to be afraid to live with it, and on it and around it,” she says.

Schmitt says that getting the look consumers want is no longer limited to the highest price points. “I think there still is some misconception out in the market about what a laminate countertop looks like, and when people are taking a second look because of budgets, they are pleasantly surprised with what the market offers,” she says.

Perich is seeing a lot of growth for both of the company’s residential product lines. DuPont just moved to a single price point on Zodiaq and has seen a nice pick up from that in the market, he says. “That simplifies things for consumers so they can focus on style, aesthetics and color. It’s really what they care most about,” he adds.

Money is always an issue, says Desjardins, and that is one of the reasons new materials are being introduced into the marketplace constantly. “People are looking for great materials that are also very affordable,” he explains.

Another element to evaluating materials, he adds, is how long they will stay beautiful. Because of the strength and thickness of glass, he notes, it will never change color or get stained.

But being affordable and durable aren’t the only considerations. “The ecological aspect of the material is also important. The origin of the material and the ecological impact of its process are influencing choices,” Desjardins says.

Lock agrees. She says that laminate is an eco-friendly product, since it is 70 percent paper makeup. “If you’re comparing that to real granite or stone, those stones don’t grow back. Paper comes from trees, trees can be replanted,” she concludes.