Innovative new products and materials are putting a new spin
on the countertop market.
By Daina Manning
What countertop material to use? The answer used to be really
simple: ceramic tile. The end. Then, ceramic tile or laminate.
Perhaps some butcher block. Then solid surface came along, granite
grew to new prominence and widespread use, stainless steel
traversed from the commercial market to residential applications,
people started fabricating countertops out of concrete, and
engineered stone made its debut.
With this dizzying array of possibilities, you’d think the
countertop market had maxed out on new ideas. Wrong, according to
the manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
Mix and Match
Not only are new products coming onto the market, but consumers are
realizing they’re not limited to just one choice. More than ever,
the mix-and-match approach to countertops is the hot trend.
“Kitchens have become the epicenter of the home. People want trophy
kitchens now,” says Terrie Buch-O’Dell, senior design manager,
board of directors of the Color Marketing Group, Nevamar Decorative
Surfaces in Odenton, MD. “Consumers are much more willing to mix
materials for more eclectic styling.”
This blend of styles manifests itself overall in more modular
components for the kitchen, as well as a combining of contemporary,
high-tech materials with soft, natural ones. But, it’s the most
prevalent in the use of two or more materials for countertops.
For instance, a remodeling customer might choose natural granite
or limestone for an attention-getting center island, engineered
stone or solid surface for high-traffic areas that require frequent
cleaning, and possibly a section of butcher block or stainless
steel in a food prep area.
“It’s smarter design,” notes Gin Guei Ebnesajjad, director of
style and color development for DuPont Surfaces in Wilmington, DE.
“I have an expectation of how I want to use this space. Therefore,
I look at material that fits into what I want to use not only
visually, but its function.”
In terms of color, “I think people are getting really bored with
neutrals and off whites,” declares Ebnesajjad. “I see color
starting to come back in, and that’s being expressed in different
This is not to say that all the consumers who are currently opting
for low-key, natural brown and beige shades will suddenly decide
they want red instead. “We’re not going to see [the advent of
color] right away in a permanent material like countertops,”
Ebnesajjad continues. “But, you’re going to see a little bit more
color in a natural [look] material.”
She cites several new Corian colors: White Cap, a white color
with pale pastel particles, inspired by the white caps of ocean
waves; Oyster, a deeper neutral color, and Seashell, a taupe color
that she describes as a “tinted neutral.” Ebnesajjad adds that
people often use a more intense version of that tint in the
countertop as an accent color elsewhere for instance, inlay work,
or one’s table setting.
“We believe color will be prettier,” agrees Buch-O’Dell. She
cites “earth-inspired brights,” colors evoking flowers, food and
botanicals, as well as whites with a color undertone, for instance,
green or violet, combined with a texture or pearlescence.
Despite the increasing market share of granite and engineered
stone, Ebnesajjad insists solid surface still works in high-end
applications, citing Corian’s Private Collection series, which is
available exclusively through high-end kitchen dealers. The
Palladio and Artisan collections also pick up on the idea of tinted
neutrals, with such colors as aubergine, chamois and ecru. “People
are becoming much more sophisticated and individual, educated in
color and texture,” she concludes. “They want something unique and
New technology is enabling laminate manufacturers to come up with
imaginative choices, as well as improve on old standards such as
wood grain, manufacturers report.
“There’s tremendous growth in the look of wood laminate,”
declares Nevamar’s Buch-O’Dell. She credits the improved look of
the product. “It used to look like a photograph there was no
randomness, no imperfection,” she explains. “Now, they’ve captured
that. On the manufacturing side, we’re able to do a lot more with
pearlescent inks, because we saturate our paper, we don’t dry print
it. Pearlescent [on top of wood grain] captures the fire of a
She says that designers who previously shied away from laminate
are picking up on these new wood looks, including a bamboo pattern
that gives a kitchen a tropical look.
Overall, there’s a trend toward pattern instead of solids, and
granite looks remain a strong seller, notes Brenda White,
spokesperson for Wilsonart International in Temple, TX. Marble
patterns are also a top pick, and neutral tones predominate.
However, some consumers pick granite-pattern laminates in colors
that don’t appear in nature, such as white or blue.
White adds that, in addition to creating design interest,
patterns also hide stains better. “Consumers are looking at it from
a practical standpoint as well as [appearance],” she
White believes that metallic laminates are still utilized more
in commercial applications. In residential use, metallic laminate
is used primarily for backsplashes and appliance fronts. “They
can’t be used as a countertop, because they’ll scratch and dent,”
But Buch-O’Dell counters that the company’s new paper-saturating
technology produces a metallic laminate that can be used for
horizontal applications. She cites brushed stainless steel and
copper laminates, as well as subtle, soft metallics similar to a
The premise of engineered stone the convenience of solid surface
with the natural look and feel of granite seems to be catching on
in the marketplace.
“There’s a trend of moving from plastics to hard surfaces,”
believes Brandon Calvo, v.p. for Cosentino USA (makers of
Silestone), in Houston, TX. “Stone is becoming easier to fabricate;
it’s becoming more attainable.”
Essentially, engineered stone takes real quartz and
reconstitutes it to give it higher stain resistance and an
easier-to-clean surface. “We’re taking quartz, one of the hardest
minerals in nature, and combining it with computerized technology,”
“With Zodiaq, people like the touch of coolness, a harder edge
material,” notes DuPont’s Ebnesajjad. She adds that, like natural
granite, Zodiaq is frequently used to make a splashy focal point in
“They don’t mind using a brighter color,” she says, and “I think
the texture and material plays equally, if not more.” She cites
deeper colors, such as dark green and black, as popular Zodiaq
Calvo adds that, while consumers may be attracted to engineered
stone for its possibility of bright colors, they’re actually buying
the same sort of shades they might choose in a natural stone earth
tones and neutrals. “They’re combining different colors of
engineered stone in the kitchen,” Calvo elaborates, for instance,
“earth tone creamy brown with a little blue in it [for the main
countertop], solid blue on the islands, or solid accents on the
backsplash.” He adds that Silestone has a line with extremely small
particulates that gives it a solid-color look.
Unlike natural stones, where the trend is toward less shiny
surfaces, consumers picking engineered stone tend to favor a
polished surface, which shows off the quartz crystals in the
material. However, Caesarstone recently introduced a honed
engineered stone line, reveals Arik Tendler, general manager for
Caesarstone, in North Hollywood, CA.
Unlike natural granite, honed engineered stone doesn’t present
additional maintenance problems and doesn’t have to be sealed.
“That’s the beauty of it,” notes Tendler. “We still support our
consumers with a 10-year guarantee, no sealer, no maintenance.” The
company also features a limestone line of colors that mirror that
material’s natural tan shades.
Caesarstone is also about to introduce a premium version of
engineered stone. “It’s a very, very expensive product,” notes
Tendler. “This is for people who already have everything else. It’s
like a piece of jewelry.” Literally. The new surface adds
semi-precious stones to the mix. “You can see a whole chunk of
turquoise, it’s amazing,” he says. The new product will have a
polished surface, and will be available in six colors.
For another truly attention-getting, high-end countertop, Green
River Stone Company has introduced fresh water limestone complete
with genuine fish fossils of varying sizes embedded in it.
“For years, we’d been selling it as art,” explains Greg Laco,
president of Green River Stone Co., in Logan, Utah. But now, the
unique limestone is available for tables, backsplashes and
“We sell stone from eight different layers in our quarry [in
Wyoming],” Laco elaborates. “It has a range of colors and textures,
but the primary colors are beige/ brown tones.” One layer has a
bluish grey tone, he adds.
The limestone has a matte finish, and must be treated with a
penetrating sealer. In terms of maintenance, “it depends on how
hard people are on their kitchens,” notes Laco. However, the
beautiful natural product is probably not the best countertop
choice for a family with kids and heavy, messy traffic through the
The product is priced for an upscale market because of the
hand-finishing involved, and is usually utilized as the focal point
of a kitchen. “If you have a 20″ fossil fish in your bar top, it’s
very dramatic,” concludes Laco.
Of course, granite is still the leader in the natural stone
market, with advances in fabrication making it available to lower
A revolutionary new product comes from the Cuyahoga Heights,
OH-based Buystone, Inc., makers of TechnoStone, explains Buystone
president David Hartman. The company offers real granite and marble
at a dramatically lower price point, with a warranty, Hartman
explains. Natural stone is cut to 1/3 of the thickness of a regular
slab, then reinforced with a backing to make a product that’s
lighter, rendering it appropriate for applications such as bathroom
TechnoStone was originally developed for use on the outside of
buildings in Europe, and is available in 10 standard colors, the
most popular being Uba Tuba and Baltic Brown. “We focused on
[colors] that represent the bulk of stone popularity, [and that
have] a homogeneous, monolithic look,” says Hartman.
Consumers would be able to pick out their own slab, the same as
with regular granite. Custom colors are possible for larger jobs,
Hartman explains. It’s offered in a polished finish, but can be
Of course, traditionally fabricated granite is still the
mainstay of the high-end market, and it, too, has lowered its price
point as much as 10%, reports Jim Janochoski, national product
manager for Cold Spring Granite, in Cold Spring, MN. He credits
advancements in quarry technology and fabrication, including the
new gang saws that take a block and cut it into hundreds of slabs
simultaneously, that greatly increase output.
In terms of trends, Janochoski sees a return of more
dramatically veined granites. “We’ve brought in some wild material,
and it seems that’s what they’re looking for,” he says. He also
cites a bit less demand for green tones, and an increase in golds
and browns, with black holding steady as a perennially popular
color. Golds are particularly popular for honed looks, which remain
a steady seller, but haven’t increased much since last year.
The advent of leased stone fabrication equipment has also led to
a proliferation of new fabricators. Starting a stone-working
business no longer requires a six-figure investment, and lends
itself more to garage-size operations, Janochoski elaborates.
“That’s probably not good for the industry,” he adds, though,
noting that most of the fly-by-night operations don’t last
Janochoski admits that engineered stone is surprisingly popular.
“We’ve seen more of it than anticipated,” he says. He theorizes
that consumer desires for colors not found in natural granite might
partially explain engineered stone’s popularity. “Some people like
a really white, clean look,” he notes, adding that he’s seen jobs
where people used natural granite on a center island and engineered
stone on the main countertop.
Still, granite is holding its own. “For every homeowner and
remodel job, they still at least get prices for granite,”
Janochoski reports. “The market as a whole is on the increase. Home
starts are up, so we’re hoping for a good year. Granite seems to be