Topping It Off

There are numerous elements that can create the “wow” factor in a kitchen. Range hoods, backsplashes and eye-catching appliances have traditionally been the focal points that get the lion’s share of attention, while countertops have been a member of the supporting cast, anchoring the space as part of the backdrop.

Not anymore.

As the range of countertop materials continues to expand, creative ways to use those materials multiply exponentially. Kitchen designers continue to push the boundaries when devising perimeter and especially island designs, and topping these areas off with something average is no longer acceptable.


Inspired Design

Designers employ a number of factors when determining the right materials and shapes for the countertops within a space.

“The inspiration for countertop design always comes from traffic flow, function and the layout of the cabinetry within the space,” reports Sarah Maly, CKD, designer/consultant, Sawhill Custom Kitchens & Design, in Minneapolis, MN. “The shapes are formed through laying out the space and maximizing function while granting all of the clients requests for seating, prep areas and durability. We figure out what shapes the countertops will take based on the layout and try to make it unique and interesting from there.”

The style of the kitchen usually dictates the opportunity to create an interesting shape or the use of an unusual material in the countertop design, according to Cheryl Hamilton-Gray, CKD, principal, Hamilton-Gray Design, Inc. in Carlsbad, CA. “With contemporary kitchens, the use of consistent materials usually prevails and, in that case, waterfall edges to the countertop fit the bill,” she comments. “Traditional kitchens offer more opportunity to mix up the materials at various levels appropriate to the functions that will be performed on them.”

With the “rustic chic” design that is currently popular, metal countertops are providing an interesting option, as well as concrete, Hamilton-Gray continues. “Wood also works well on islands, and I encourage my clients to use it as they would a butcher block.”

Because budgets, needs and functions vary, not to mention layouts, each project is unique, offers Maly, so the materials she uses vary from client to client. “In most of my projects, multiple countertop materials are selected. And, there are constantly new countertop materials becoming available,” she remarks.

Quartz is experiencing strong interest of late, according to Maly, especially with the release of new colors with larger patterns. She also reports that some of the new translucent solid surfaces are piquing her clients’ interest.

She is also seeing a lot of interest in natural quartzite. “It is soft looking – beautiful and unique,” she comments.

“We’re using more and more quartzite,” agrees Lynne Kaltman of Blue Bell Kitchens in Springhouse, PA. “It’s originally a pure quartz sandstone that goes through a heating pressure process, and what you end up with is a very durable surface.” She notes that while, in the past, she has only seen it in white, gray and black tones, she recently came across a bronze. “It’s wonderful for anyone who likes movement.”

Her firm likes to give the quartzite a leathered finish. “We leather most of the stones that we do now,” she reports. “We don’t use a lot of polished surfaces anymore, unless it’s for a more contemporary application.”

Along with leathered stone, Blue Bell Kitchens is incorporating a lot of woods into the mix, especially on islands. “We like to use a chopping block at the end of an island, facing perpendicular to the rest of the island,” Kaltman notes. “That way, you can have two people working in the kitchen at the same time and they won’t get in each other’s way.”

The firm also does that to extend a piece of granite if the island needs to be lengthened. “We’ll add wood sometimes to one side or both sides to increase the size of the island, and we will either lift up the wood or make it shorter to add some depth and interest,” explains Kaltman.

On these three pages, Kitchen & Bath Design News shares a number of innovative countertop designs to inspire the creative mind.