The countertop is arguably the most important space in a kitchen, used for a wide range of activities including food prep, dining, homework and socializing. These surfaces often dominate the space, both functionally and visually. Aware of all the things their clients want to use their countertops for, designers are increasingly incorporating even more surface space into kitchens.
Emily Holle, director of trend & design at MSI in Atlanta, GA says that, as the role of the kitchen becomes more important to the household, the footprint also increases. “As such, the size of slabs that the customers prefer is also increasing, reflecting the need for bigger islands, longer bars and dramatic waterfall edges,” she says.
Finishes and materials are being used in unique combinations as designers try to create a space that works both functionally and visually for the consumer. “Mixed finishes are continuing to trend as designers select materials to meet the style and function of various kitchen activities,” states Gerri Chmiel, senior design manager at Formica North America, in Cincinnati, OH.
“There is no longer a cookie-cutter approach, or desire for a ‘matchy-matchy’ look. Instead, island countertops show the homeowners’ personality, while the perimeter surfaces have a different aesthetic and material look,” Chmiel notes.
Intended usage also contributes to this trend toward mixed materials, according to Angela George, marketing communications manager, corporate marketing at VT Industries in Holstein, IA. “We’re continuing to see countertop materials being specified for specific work zones in the kitchen…for example, using laminate surfaces on the perimeter of the kitchen with a specialized island for specific food prep such as chopping (wood) or baking (marble or natural stone),” she says.
Manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News cite other top trends for kitchen countertops including easy-to-maintain materials that stand up to constant use, a desire for a natural, textured look and feel and increasingly larger surface areas – both horizontal and vertical.
With a shift toward mixed finishes, alternative finishes, full backsplashes and waterfall edges, designers have the flexibility to create a look that suits the space and reflects the homeowner’s vision and personality.
“Material and pattern mixing has become a trend in spaces with the coordination of aesthetics within the kitchen,” says Mark Woodman, color and design consultant for Corian Design at Wilmington, DE-based DuPont Protective Solutions. “We have seen the ‘statement’ island for some time, but the statement is being moved to other areas around the space – for instance, statement-making full-wall backsplashes that bring pattern from the counter to the wall. But ‘statement’ doesn’t necessarily mean bold; it’s simply adding visual interest to the space where we don’t always place it,” he explains.
“In design terms, creating contrast is nothing new, but scope and ambition have become greater as the amount of available colors, patterns and finishes has increased. New technology is driving this change,” says Mar Esteve Cortes, director of Neolith, based in Castellon, Spain.
Holle says there is movement toward alternative finishes, dramatic veins, muted hues such as soft grays that add warmth, and interest in matte and concrete finishes on countertops. “Waterfall edges and book-match veining/through-body veins are important,” she adds.
Paul Grothouse, president at Grothouse, Inc. in Germansville, PA, agrees that waterfall countertops are trending. “This has the advantage of eliminating end panels and also lends a very high-end, modern look to spaces,” he says. Other growing trends, according to Grothouse, are floating overhangs, particularly at the luxury level; large undercut edge treatments that give the impression of a thin edge at the top, and metal surfacing.
“When it comes to edging, designers don’t want to break up the clean lines and symmetry of the countertop,” says Chmiel. “Our waterfall edging option provides a true and even curved edge while adding interest and a subtle dimension to the countertop.”
Summer Kath, exec. v.p. of business development & design at Cambria in Le Sueur, MN, says that full-height backsplashes using the same countertop material work for a seamless, modern, dramatic look, as well as easy care, since there is no grout. “We’ve seen the trend of using the countertop material as a backsplash for a few years, and now we are also seeing that same material in other unique ways, incorporating it into farm sinks, range hoods and on cabinet fronts,” she states.
Polished finishes have their place, but manufacturers currently see a shift toward matte finishes. “Rugged and honed finishes are replacing high polish,” says Elizabeth Margles, v.p. marketing, Canada, U.S. and Latin America for Caesarstone, headquartered in Charlotte, NC.
“Matte finishes in laminate and wood continue to gain in popularity,” adds George. “They are very touchable and help warm up some of the cooler or neutral tones in kitchens.”
Texture is also on the rise, often coming from natural elements, Kath believes, such as textures that emulate natural fibers like linen and wood grains.
“Leathered textures are very desirable, with a low sheen, but not quite matte,” says Woodman. “There is modern elegance perceived with this finish that crosses numerous styles from contemporary, to mid-century, to transitional classic. The key is an authentic look that mimics the inner aesthetic of the surface design.”
Neutral and Natural
Colors span the full spectrum – from very light to very dark – but many manufacturers say that neutrals, grays and whites are currently dominating the market. Inspiration is often drawn from the natural world, as well.
“Whether in the workplace or in the home, increased stressors and overstimulation have led us to seek wellness solutions,” states Natalia Smith, product design manager at Wilsonart in Temple, TX. “The beauty of the wellness trend is that it transcends all segments. Wellness has proliferated in a number of flexible and multi-functional spaces where we can work, read or relax. Not surprisingly, nature is often the key inspiration of these spaces,” she says.
“We are still witnessing a cool movement, with gray and white leading the way,” says Woodman. “There is a quiet shift to more subtle veining, which creates a softer aesthetic and is easy on the eye. Consumers still want movement and visual interest, but in a more considered way. It ties in well to zen living pursuits and is found in both the kitchen and bath,” he continues.
George adds, “We’re now starting to see some warmer gray tones in the market, as a counter-reaction to the cool grays that have previously dominated the market. Also, the darker, natural patterns and colors look great when paired with lighter painted cabinetry.”
Margles sees a return to dark colors, such deep blacks, soapstone and black with metal accents.
Grothouse says browns, chocolate browns and blacks continue to dominate his firm’s production, with walnut the dominant species, primarily due to its color. “There is also a strong push to light colors: whites, light grays, etc.,” he adds. “These lighter colors are often matched with textures such as wire brushing to create a ‘driftwood’ look,” he further notes.
The Natural Look
Natural materials are in high demand, but because some of these can be both expensive and difficult to maintain, options that create the same visual at a lower cost or with easier upkeep are also trending.
“Materials such as quartz and wood are very popular as the industrial look remains in demand,” says Kath, who adds that mixed metals are also popular for more classic kitchens. “Copper, brass, gunmetal and pewter remain strong for those wanting a more vintage look, and of course quartz remains in demand as a durable, low-maintenance and food-safe surface choice,” she says.
Margles agrees that quartz is a top material choice, due to low maintenance and “because of its ability to not just mimic but improve on nature in patterns, and now textures and finishes.”
“Innovations in textures, low maintenance surface options and a high performance level remain top priorities for consumers, designers and builders alike,” says Tammy Weadock, senior communications manager at Wilsonart. “The growth in quartz and solid surface clearly comes as the result of the materials’ beauty and ability to perform in high-traffic interiors. The stain-resistant, non-porous and food-safe surfaces provide mission-critical interiors with durable finishes that also exhibit upscale aesthetics,” she adds.
Woodman says that while consumers, architects and designers are still passionate about quartz, there is also renewed interest in Corian solid surface. “A new generation is discovering the features and benefits of solid surface materials, and most importantly, the design possibilities with thermo-forming, carving, etc.,” he says. Often, the two materials are being used in the same space. “The ability to combine all of the best attributes of the different materials in one space makes sense for modern living,” he remarks.
Laminate and sintered stone also offer a range of natural looks without the high maintenance, manufacturers note. “The look of quartz and marble continues to be in high demand, and we have many popular quartz and marble patterns in our collections that offer homeowners the clean, streamlined look of these surfaces with added durability and ease of care,” says Chmiel.
Esteve Cortes notes, “Hyper-realism is a feature that more and more designers are looking for in sintered stone, especially the ability to capture the authenticity of natural stone. Perfecting granite-style effects will be at the heart of this move, as more clients look to incorporate this diverse and highly detailed stone within their interiors.”
George sees wood countertops becoming a major trend, used for island surfaces and perimeter countertops, as well as complementary open shelving in kitchens, laundry areas, workbenches, work surfaces in the garage or home office, and more. She says, “[Wood] not only adds natural texture, but it also provides dimension and contrast when paired with painted cabinetry. Wood is also very versatile. Oils, stains, washes and more are available to help customize the color and finish of the wood surfaces.”
Usage, durability and ease of maintenance are equally as important as aesthetics, manufacturers say. Countertops are being used in countless ways and they have to hold up to the demands of consumer lifestyles.
“Delicately balancing aesthetics with performance is crucial,” maintains Esteve Cortes. “Homeowners want countertops that achieve beauty of form while being able to handle the culinary tasks of everyday life.”
“The homes we see on Instagram are stunning, but aren’t necessarily reflective of real life,” notes Chmiel. “Families today are incredibly busy and their surfaces are doing double or triple duty throughout the day, from cooking, eating meals and doing homework to craft projects and more.
While homeowners are loving the look of stone surfaces like quartz and marble, the maintenance required just isn’t always feasible,” she says, noting that laminate is a great option with large-scale designs that mirror the look of stone, but with added durability and easy maintenance.
“Durability and ease of maintenance continue to be one of the key decision points on the countertop, and both quartz and quartzite offer the highest durability and ease of maintenance in the industry,” adds Holle.
Room dimensions dictate how much surface area is available, but when space allows, manufacturers believe that consumers want as much surface space as they can get.
One of the factors contributing to the desire for larger surface area is the varied ways the kitchen is being used. “As kitchens expand to include more functions within the home, there is a need for more surface area to accommodate these activities. This leads to second islands, countertops in butler’s pantries for behind-the-scenes prepping, crafting or in-home activities, as well as built-in eating areas,” says Chmiel.
“As the kitchen is the hub of the home, this important room is being used for far more than just food prep and dining,” agrees Kath. “Homeowners are adding desk/work areas to the kitchens as well as wet bars and coffee bars/stations.” She often sees two or more islands incorporated into the same space. Both European islands, a table at island height without lower cabinets or drawers, and islands with a communal dining table extending at a lower level, are becoming more popular, she says.
Margles sees jumbo islands or multiple islands as a growing trend. “You can never get enough counter space, given how the kitchen is the heart of the home and countertops are the heartbeat,” she insists.
“The kitchen is increasingly being used for more than simply cooking and dining. It’s a space in which to work, socialize and play. Monolithic, waterfall kitchen islands play a significant role in achieving this. In particular, large format slabs are being specified to achieve a continuous, seamless effect,” says Esteve Cortes.
“We are finding that the countertops are increasingly growing larger in island applications, while wall counters seem to be growing smaller. I feel this is driven by the dedication of spaces at the walls to more specific applications, while the island is focused as the gathering place and the ‘community’ of the family,” says Grothouse.
Not all spaces can accommodate larger surfaces, however. “There is still demand for large surface areas, but as consumers look at smaller spaces, the size of the surface is being reconsidered. It is often a consideration of ‘what is right for me,’” says Woodman. “The right countertop material or configuration can be a ‘wow’ statement in any size. After all, your space – including the countertop – needs to be a reflection of you and your design needs.” ▪