Monday, April 23, 2012

Design Tips: Countertop Ideas - Beyond Granite.

Granite. If it’s there, it’s often the first feature listed on a real estate listing. There are a lot of selling points, which is why people choose granite countertop in the first place. It’s hard, it’s durable and it’s highly resistant to moisture and stains.

And a glorious piece of granite professionally installed is truly beautiful.

But because “granite” is universally recognized as a quality material and therefore desirable, builders often use cheap thin shiny 12 x 12 tiles that are neither beautiful nor durable but may still be described as “granite.” Edges chip, grout is ugly and can stain, and a poor quality installation makes for uneven edges and gaps. And there must be just two or three colors that show up everywhere, even though granite comes naturally in so many colors it’ll make your head spin.

And the because that look is everywhere, and has been for decades, it’s getting old. It’s time to move on.

Here are some other countertop materials to consider. As always, a quality professional installation will yield the very best results. There will always be some maintenance involved: most countertops need a sealer applied periodically to keep it looking and performing its best. Consult the manufacturer or sales team for more information.

1. Marble. Carrara is the variety of marble that is the most resistant to stains and water. It’s been used for centuries, and its classic coloring of mostly white with black or grey veins looks amazing in either traditional or modern settings. Like the perfect little black dress, it goes anywhere, anyhow. Carrara marble pairs beautifully with stainless steel and wood. You can probably find old pieces at salvage yards, too. But for countertops, don’t consider any other marble variety. Choose a honed (not glossy) finish for instant patina yet a modern look and easy care.

2. Other stone: consider rustic slates, sleek bluish-toned soapstone or stunning translucent onyx. All these are available in slabs, and are beautiful in different ways. Generally expensive and also less durable and higher maintenance than other stone choices, these are suitable for gorgeous and unique applications. You can even backlight onyx for a dramatic glow.

3. Butcher block or solid wood. Perfectly utilitarian, a wood countertop instantly warms up the hard cold surfaces of a kitchen or bath. It’s not nearly as durable as stone, nor is wood resistant to staining or waterproof, but that is part of its charm. The patina of years of use can be beautiful. If you like the look of a perfect wood counter, just prepare yourself for some regular maintenance, and enjoy the warmth.

Butcher block counters can be creatively made from salvaged lumber for custom installations or purchased inexpensively in standard sizes from places like Ikea. Solid wood counters can be installed by many contractors, cabinetmakers or craftsmen. Choose sturdy woods suitable for outdoor wet applications like teak or ipe if you don’t want as much maintenance, but even these will require regular sealing to maintain the color.

4. Solid surface. Remember the countertops in your high school chemistry lab? You can start with products that look like that, in solid colors or wildly patterned with recycled glass particles, pebbles or even pieces of plastic and paper. Paperstone, Icestone, Caesarstone, and Corian by Dupont are just a few manufacturers. These materials can be crafted into sinks, counters, ledges or almost anything you can think of.

5. Concrete. Whether it’s poured in place or pre-manufactured, the options for concrete and terrazzo (concrete with colored flecks of glass or stone throughout) countertops abound. If you like a really thick look to your countertop, consider a concrete craftsman. Concrete is not stain resistant, and needs to be sealed regularly. And since it’s heavy, special care needs to be taken so that the supporting structure is solid, to prevent cracking.

6. Good old laminates. It’s not your grandma’s boomerang shapes on a glitter-flecked background, worn through to the dark brown underlayer. Modern laminates are a lot more durable and the colors and patterns are beyond imagination. Today’s wood grain- and stone-look laminates are impressive, and some offerings are even green with recycled content or are recyclable. Readily available at home improvement stores, the durability and look is
greatly improved over years past. Some even have color-matched under layers so the seams and corners look great.

Just make sure the substrate is high quality and can take water and abuse, and you’ll have a good solution, that, while not a “forever” installation, will do the job admirably for a few years at least.

7. Metal. Stainless steel and copper, are common choices, but zinc, brass and bronze are also options. Stainless steel is highly durable, sanitary and low maintenance, but can be expensive for a full custom installation. And it can look cold. But balanced with other warm materials such as wood and tile or stone, your kitchen doesn't have to look like a laboratory.
Copper is stunning, but requires regular cleaning and a lot of polish to keep its look.
Along with copper, zinc, brass and bronze also oxidize, scratch and dent easily, reacting even to water and fingerprints. But a beautiful dark patina can develop over time just to prove it's in a well-loved kitchen.

So, amid the many options, there’s sure to be one to your liking. Have fun shopping!

Until next time,
Elaine Bothe


Marble kitchen image courtesy of the article “A Sophisticated Country Kitchen” on the PointClickHome website. Photo by John Gruen.

Concrete countertop with drainboard image courtesy of Two Stones Design by way of

Image of coffee cup on recycled glass counter is courtesy of Icestone.

White double vanity image courtesy of Caesarstone.

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posted by Jennifer Adams Design Group Blog @ 12:01 AM 


Anonymous Marble installation in Palm Beach County said...

Good description here. Actually I am going for to construct my own house and decided to install marble stone at the floor. From here got a brief idea about different stone. Thanx for this blog.

April 24, 2012 at 2:17 AM  

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