Whether you are in the middle of designing a new home, thinking of a kitchen remodel or saving pennies for a counter material upgrade in an existing space, countertops are an important consideration and investment. They have to stand up to daily use and some of the hardest wear and tear in the home. Not only is function a concern when selecting a surface, but of course you want it to be beautiful and truly make a statement in the kitchen. With the myriad of colors and patterns available, the countertop stands out in center stage with the flooring and cabinetry as the backdrop. It can take a casual kitchen and make it glamorous or put a modern edge to a dated space. Here is the lowdown on the current trends:
1) Granite. For years this natural stone material has been the reigning champion in popularity. Considered to be the “upgrade” from old laminate or solid surface materials, it became the buzz word in Parade Homes and real estate guides alike. Many people immediately assume this is “the” material to have. There are certainly a number of reasons to go in this direction. Obviously no one can compete with Mother Nature in pure design, color and pattern. New sealers make granite fairly easy to maintain, with a recommended simple wipe down re-sealing every few years. Granite is hard and mostly non-porous (some stone is softer than others) and unless installed incorrectly, is not likely to chip or crack. However, granite is still on the upper end of price. Some patterns may be too busy, depending on the look of the kitchen. Granite can also come off shiny and cold or predictable since it is seen everywhere. The trick is to walk through the warehouses where the slabs of granite are stored and find a unique piece perfect for your home. If a polished finish isn’t for you, ask about honed, flamed, leathered or brushed finishes. They have a softer appearance, but because they take off the top finish are more porous and susceptible to staining.
2) Engineered Stone. Coming right up on the tail of granite is engineered stone. Large strides have been made with this 93% quartz particle material. You may be familiar with some of the brand names such as Cambria, Silestone and DuPont Zodiaq. Available in a wide range of colors, it is nonporous and, unlike granite, does not need to be re-sealed. Quartz products are resistant to scratching, acid and staining. Like granite, engineered stone can come off as shiny and cold. Depending on the product, the cost can be as expensive, or more, than natural stone. However, because of the simple patterns available it offers a clean, modern look that is worth the price.
3) Solid Surface. There were a number of years that designers wouldn’t even consider using the “C word” a.k.a. Corian. Visions of dusty rose or busy, spotted plastic tops come to mind. Lucky for us, solid surface has come bursting out of the gate with impressive new designs and colors. Avonite, Corian and Swanstone have developed modern options for this seamless, stain resistant material. Because it is literally solid, scratches can be sanded out over time and integrate sinks are possible. Though advances have been made, some people still find it to look too unnatural and unable to produce a “wow” factor. It typically falls in price just below granite.
4) Laminate. This isn’t your grandmother’s Formica. Maybe not even your mother’s. In just the past few years, manufacturers such as Formica, Nevamar and Wilsonart, have debuted jaw dropping advances in texture and appearance of this product. I have personally seen pieces that replicate the look of stone and not been able to tell it is laminate (from a distance). New wrapped edge treatments allow for a more seamless look, minus the awful wood trim piece of the past. However, it is still a plastic-coated synthetic and is not impervious to scratching, staining or water damage. Laminate still remains a choice driven by cost since it is, by far, the most budget conscience option in countertop surfaces.
5) Concrete. This tricky little material happens to be one of my personal favorites. One of the misconceptions of concrete countertops is that they are inexpensive. “It’s just the same stuff they pour on sidewalks, right?” Not quite. Special formulas and proper sealing is just part of what separates the outdoor material from a kitchen counter surface. The other very important factor is the skill of the tradesperson who is creating them. Think of concrete countertops as more of an art form than a basic product. They are highly labor intensive and very touchy. When done incorrectly concrete counters can stain, take on water spots, crack or chip. For this, they get a bad rap. However, when done correctly, they are durable, stain resistant and give a rich, textured appearance. Many times when clients see an example of well done concrete, they cannot believe it’s concrete. Research the company producing them and be prepared for sticker shock. However, if your home begs for the unique look of concrete, do not pass it up.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ashley Cole is a professional interior designer based in Grand Rapids. Her work has been featured on HGTV as well as numerous publications, including Kitchen Trends and Home Magazine. Ashley’s passion is “creating environments that enliven the spirit.”