They can be show-stopping or supportive, historical or modern, and everything in between. When it comes to countertop materials and design, it seems nothing is off limits these days, as shown by several designers KBDN visited with this month who have used everything from artisan and crystallized glass to reclaimed barn wood and graphic granite to copper with a living finish. The assortment of countertop materials they’ve used in the designs they shared proves that countertops are anything but ordinary.
Designer: Jason Landau, owner/designer, Amazing Spaces, Briarcliff Manor, NY
Materials Used: polished Stone Wood granite (island); Espresso Caesarstone (perimeter)
Desired Look: This client wanted a kitchen that leaned toward the modern side of transitional. “She also has slightly funky taste and she likes to have something different than everyone else. When she saw this granite slab, it really struck a chord with her.”
Achieving the Look: Resembling petrified wood, Stone Wood granite features dramatic variations of yellows, golds, creams and browns and is anything but ordinary. “Granite can be interesting, but you have to look for it. The good stuff comes and goes. I try to keep unique slabs in mind for projects, and I like to suggest the unusual. It’s always fun when I find the appropriate person.”
Landau wanted to create a strong focal point in the kitchen when viewed from the adjacent family room, so he complemented the island top with a backsplash cut from the same granite. “We both liked the idea of a striking graphic image, then sprinkling it around elsewhere in the design.”
The designer balanced the visually ‘strong’ granite with Espresso Caesarstone quartz for the perimeter countertops. “Generally, my rule of thumb is that, when mixing countertop surfaces, you only have one that is a pattern. You don’t want too many patterns competing with something that is very graphic such as the Stone Wood.”
Most Creative Aspect: Two ideas transform this kitchen, he notes. One is the graphic nature of the granite. The second is that Landau color-matched a few cabinet pieces with the appliances, and this harmonizes with the quartz as well as some veining in the granite and adds depth and interest. “It’s no longer just another white kitchen. This space would look a whole lot different with a more ‘average’ granite.”
Countertops’ Role in a Kitchen: “Countertops can do a number of different things. They can take center stage, like in this kitchen. Or, they can play a supporting role to the cabinetry or other design elements…to be a nice balance or blend to the overall recipe of the kitchen…a little bit of cabinetry, a little bit of countertop, a little bit of flooring and backsplash.”
Trending Countertop Materials: Quartzite is coming on strongly, which has a density close to granite, but has a more marble-like appearance, Landau notes. “A lot of people love the idea of marble, but they’re afraid to use it because it’s more porous, less dense and, therefore, more prone to damage, especially to staining.”
Porcelain slabs are also gaining popularity, especially those that resemble granite.
Landau also likes to use NeoLith countertops for clients who prefer the industrial look, while concrete offers a lot of flexibility to control the aesthetic since it can be custom colored or imprinted.
Most Unusual Countertop Material Used: Although it isn’t necessarily unusual, Landau doesn’t do a lot of glass countertops. “We tend to do more in the way of woods, metals and interesting marbles and granite.”
Designer: Angela Otten, WmOhs Showrooms, Denver, CO
Materials Used: Organic White Caesarstone (perimeter/islands); slumped artisan glass (curved island)
Desired Look: The wife wanted something monochromatic while the husband wanted something with color. Their solution ended up being this mix of neutral Organic White
Caesarstone quartz with light blue slumped artisan glass contrasted against dark walnut cabinetry. This combination also meets the homeowners’ desire to move the previously very traditional space toward something with a much cleaner look – “contemporary but warm and livable. They wanted it to be a fun place to live and entertain in.”
Achieving the Look: Because Otten wanted a thick top, the glass needed to be finished with a special technique that allowed for its 1.5″ depth. Additionally, because of its extended length, the top needed to be two pieces of glass. To provide character and help conceal scratches, the bottom of the glass is textured, except where the stainless steel standoffs are attached. “Between templating the curve and positioning the standoffs, there was a lot of measuring.”
To provide for comfortable seating, Otten also cantilevered the glass top, cutting a hole through the quartz and into the cabinet to accommodate the angled standoffs.
Most Creative Aspect: Otten used a combination of several countertop materials in tandem. The quartz serves as the canvas and offers a neutral base from which to build the design. “We needed something neutral because there were so many other things going on in the kitchen, material wise.”
The light blue raised glass countertop serves as the highlight and adds interest as well as a hint of color, while keeping the space visually ‘light.’ “The island is very large, so the glass – being transparent – isn’t visually heavy.” Otten also backlit the glass for a unique and exciting ambiance, especially while entertaining.
The glass top’s curve matches the rounded island that, in turn, matches the tray ceiling detail above. “It brings the architecture into the kitchen design. It also plays off the ‘bubble glass’ backsplash behind the range, which is the same material, bringing the color throughout the design.”
Countertops’ Role in a Kitchen: The main use of a countertop in a kitchen is for prepping food, but counters are also used for dining, such as an island overhang or for setting out food or beverages for easy access such as a bar area, Otten says. “I like to specify the main counters in a very durable material, and if the design calls for it, add in other materials in special areas.”
Trending Countertop Materials: “I use quartz and marble on a regular basis, but it really depends on the design and whether it is traditional or contemporary.”
Most Unusual Countertop Material Used: Otten finds countertop products offered by
Antolini to be beautiful and unusual, offering natural stone materials that include marble, granite, limestone, onyx, travertine, shell stones, precious stones and even gemstones.
Designer: John Lauman, project architect, JLF & Associates, Bozeman, MT
Materials used: copper (island); Corian (perimeter)
Desired Look: These homeowners wanted a kitchen design with elements that offered a timelessness, developed with the use of deep, rich colors. “The design is the clients’ interpretation of the West and
Achieving the Look: The copper was left unsealed so it can patina as the years pass by. “She wanted a living finish…something that wouldn’t necessarily be shiny over time. She’s okay with seeing rings from drinks and lemon stains from mixing cocktails. It’s okay with her if the copper changes.”
Most Creative Aspect: “The living finish tells the history of the kitchen…everything from those drink rings to imprints of the kids’ homework. It takes a bit of faith from a client when you tell them the countertop will change.”
Countertops’ Role in a Kitchen: Countertops can be an anchor for the space, especially when an island top is contrasted against the perimeter countertops. “Like this copper-topped island, many of our designs feature islands where their material is different than the rest of the countertops. It makes the island the centerpiece, the anchor of the kitchen, which is where people often gather. Everyone plans for the formal dining room, but everyone ends up living in the kitchen!”
Trending Countertop Materials: Lauman sees a big push for quartzite from his clients. Concrete is also becoming more popular. “You can make it any color or shape. You are in control, and you can lay almost anything into it, from glass and shells to gears and coins. Concrete countertops can be very personalized.”
Metals such as steel and pewter are also gaining ground. “Steel gives a sense of weight to the space. And, like the copper, it can have a living finish. Countertops, though, run the gamut. I think the sky’s the limit as far as materials I’ve seen and used in the past 18 years. I am excited for the next big trend because countertops can add such a fun element to the space.”
Most Unusual Countertop Material Used: Lauman’s most creative and unique countertop was crafted from a massive piece of antique mesquite wood. “It was handpicked in San Antonio, then shipped to a fishing cabin here in Montana. It’s a really unique piece, with a tight grain and swirls. We were able to cut the slab in half and use the second piece for furniture. These clients wanted something that could be a showpiece, and something from a piece of wood that wouldn’t be typical for a fishing cabin.”
Designer: Kate Distasio; Showcase Kitchen & Bath; Bloomfield, NJ
Materials Used: glass thassos
Desired Look: The homeowner wanted a classic but modern look. “They love the clean look of white that never goes out of style, and they wanted that look throughout the space.”
Achieving the Look: At the island, the homeowner wanted a countertop with a thick edge so Distasio built it up to 3″ thick. “Using the glass thassos, even though it is white on white cabinetry, provides a dramatic yet simple design feature.”
Most Creative Aspect: The island top with the built-up edge is definitely the focal point of the kitchen, she explains. “Aside from the beauty of it, glass thassos is extremely durable. It is a man-made material that is non-porous and harder than any stone. However, due to its density, there are limitations to the types of edges and cut-outs that can be done.”
Countertops’ Role in a Kitchen: “A kitchen countertop is the most utilized part of a kitchen and, aside from the cabinets, is the most prominent feature. You put everything on your countertop, so it should be something that is both durable and beautiful.”
Trending Materials: Granite and marble are still very popular with Distasio’s clients, but more are choosing man-made quartz products such as Caesarstone and Cambria. “Quartz products are much more durable than stone. They are non-porous, so the problems of etching or staining that natural stone have are almost non-existent with quartz. Many of the quartz colors also look so much like stone, you can’t tell that they are not natural stone. We also have a lot of clients going with wood now as well, especially at the island.”
Most Unusual Countertop
Material Used: “It isn’t necessarily unusual, but concrete is probably the least common, however, it is the product with the most flexibility.Concrete countertop colors can be customized to any color, so for clients who want a color they can’t find in any other countertop products, they can simply pick a Benjamin Moore paint color, for example, and the countertop will be made that color. Aside from limitless color options, you can also do more interesting and creative shapes with concrete, as well as various textures and insets.”
Designer: Mike Smith, CKD, Artistic Kitchens, Louisville, KY
Materials Used: antique, reclaimed barn wood (perimeter); New Venetian Gold granite (island)
Desired Look: These clients were looking for a farmhouse-style kitchen that felt like it had always been there, but had been well maintained through the years.
Achieving the Look: The reclaimed beech holds a bit of nostalgia for the homeowners since it came from her family’s farm in Lexington, KY. Boards were milled and large holes were filled with sawdust and super glue – “to make them look more natural.” To remove some of the extremes in the grain variation, Smith lightly stained the boards, then treated them with Waterlox to provide a protective finish and showcase the wood’s character. In addition to the kitchen countertops, the reclaimed barn wood was also used on a step-up bar in another part of the home.
For the island, Smith contrasted the antique wood with New Venetian Gold granite, which offers a consistent pattern with gentle color tones and amber, white and black flecks. “The granite also makes for a great countertop solution for the sink area.” A river wash finish gives it a matte appearance while retaining the stone’s clarity, Smith explains.
Most Creative Aspect: To complement the antique wood countertop, the designer used barn wood on the island base, encasing it on three sides with exterior boards that showcase the structure’s original peeling red paint.
Countertops’ Role in a Kitchen: “When I design a kitchen, I break it down into materials and elements, such as wood, stone, metal, etc. Countertops are a big piece of the puzzle, and they are a big piece of a particular type of material in a kitchen. A lot of times, the type of design dictates the type of material. Right now I am doing a lot of transitional and modern kitchens where I am using more man-made materials such as quartz. It offers a quiet palette and it lends a modern flair to a kitchen. A lot of times, very traditional kitchens will ask for a traditional stone, such as marble or soapstone…something that is natural and timeless. Every countertop material has its place and genre, and you can mix genres as well, such as using an antique wood top on the island of a modern kitchen for a contrast of old with new.”
Trending Materials: Granite and marble still reign supreme in Smith’s area, but quartz is becoming more prevalent. Wood, including antique wood, and stainless steel are also more frequently requested.
Most Unusual Countertop
Material Used: “The most unusual material I’ve used is probably the antique wood, which is among some of the newer flavors we’ve dabbled in. We’re also doing a lot of interesting things with stone, such as double stacking it where we take a standard 3cm stone and stack it on top of another 3cm stone. It gives the illusion of the countertop being 6cm thick. This technique is especially striking with something like white Calcutta marble. Double stacking gives it a chunky look that gives the countertop prominence in the kitchen.”