Sensational Surfaces

This collection of kitchen projects showcases the nearly limitless countertop material choices that can do everything from create a focal point, serve as a durable work surface or simply add a splash of color.

authors Kim Berndtson | March 5, 2021

As a multi-tasking design element, the countertop is routinely asked to tackle style, function and budget, usually all at the same time. Fortunately, given the myriad of choices available today – including natural and manmade selections – designers can accomplish those goals via an array of colors, textures and patterns.

As a supplement to this month’s Surfacing Survey, KBDN asked designers to share projects that highlight how today’s countertop choices can add aesthetic and functional appeal to kitchens of all sizes and styles. ▪

Photo: Mike Van Tassell Architectural Photography

Sharon Sherman, ASID, CID, CKD
Thyme & Place Design — Wyckoff, NJ

Najarien quartzite (peninsula, perimeter)

Sherman often considers natural stone to be a piece of art that can elevate a space and make it feel special. “No matter how good manmade materials look, they don’t really compare to the beauty of natural stone,” she says. “I guess I am slanted to stone!”

In this instance, the Najarien quartzite – also known in some circles as Brown Fantasy – takes center stage for this small but powerful kitchen, where a foundation of blue hues is complemented with white and greige accents. Sherman further enhanced the look with a touch of bling from the glass mosaic tile backsplash with mirrored details.

“All of these colors are found in this stone,” she says, adding that the subtle river of colors that runs through it provides just enough movement to add interest that plays against the blue Eucalyptus painted and glazed cabinetry. “It’s a beautiful stone, but it’s also perfect for the demands of a kitchen counter work top. It wears well and looks great.”

Sherman also appreciates natural stone’s flexibility with regard to finishes, with options ranging from shiny to honed and even leathered. “They all create a slightly different look to the stone, which works in a variety of design styles,” she adds.


Photo: Michael Alan Kaskel

Rebekah Zaveloff, principal designer
KitchenLab Interiors — Chicago, IL/Denver, CO

Carrara marble (island/perimeter)
Butcher block (island extension)

When Zaveloff’s clients considered their kitchen renovation, they wanted to be able to cook together in an open, communal space where they could spread out…and make a mess.

“The dad loves to cook with his daughter,” says the designer, noting that the youngster is a MasterChef Junior champion. “The honed [Carrara] marble is perfect for rolling out dough and for other baking needs.”

The natural stone – designed with a 3cm square edge on the perimeter and a 2.5″ mitered edge on the island – also offers a vintage, timeless appeal…with a bit of French bistro flair.

“Honed Carrara marble is all over Italy and France…in bakeries, in outside fountains, as bistro café tables…it’s about as timeless as it gets,” she remarks. “There’s a humbleness to Carrara compared to Calacatta marble, in part because it’s less rare and less expensive so it’s used more often. However, the stone still makes the kitchen feel special, without being too fancy or precious.”

Zaveloff is also cognizant about educating her clients about all of the natural stone’s qualities, including those not everyone may fully appreciate.

“We always warn homeowners about etching and staining,” she says. “As part of that, I show them pictures of my 15-year-old etched marble tops and how I take sandpaper to the edges where they’ve chipped. We want to make sure, 100 percent, that they’re really on board with the idea.”

The designer combined the stone with a butcher block extension to lengthen the island’s dimensions. Dropping its height a few inches gives it a furniture-piece appeal.


Photo: Lisa Tobias

Lisa Tobias, owner/CLIPP
Tobias Design — Hopewell, NJ

Pyrolave Citron Vert (island)
Calacatta Mont Blanc quartzite (perimeter)

Every design element and finish selection in this kitchen was made in support of its main actor – the bright, glossy Citron Vert Pyrolave lavastone island countertop at the room’s center – both visually and physically.

“It set the palette for the rest of the kitchen and served as our inspiration,” says Tobias. “Every decision we made had to highlight the countertop and support its position as the focal point in the room.”

Aesthetically, the confident color speaks to her client’s personality and risk-taking quotient.

“It does take a bold person to choose such a bold color,” Tobias says, adding that she repeated touches of the lime green hue in a wallpapered, open-front cabinet in a juxtaposing part of the kitchen that further highlights the color without overdoing it. “This countertop clearly showcases her individuality.”

Functionally, the lavastone’s ability to resist burns, stains and erosion also suits her client, who loves to cook and bake.

Because everything else in the room needed to be ‘quiet,’ Tobias selected Calacatta Mont Blanc quartzite as the perimeter work surfaces.

“Its veining is calm enough so that it doesn’t compete with the lavastone, yet it still has interest,” she says. “Quartzite also offers great depth of field.”


Photos: Peter Lyons Photography

Diane Ramsey, proprietor/
design director
Sheer Design Group — San Rafael, CA

Neolith Iron Copper (peninsula, perimeter)

The Neolith Iron Copper sintered stone used for the island and perimeter countertops serves as the ideal harmonizer to marry the mahogany accents and painted cabinetry with the tile floor in the renovation of this (Joseph) Eichler home’s kitchen.

“Mahogany is an original Eichler finish material, and we often integrate this material into these renovations,” Ramsey points out, noting a widespread affinity towards the post-WWII architect’s homes, which are highly coveted and prevalent in communities throughout California. “We utilized the wood in the kitchen and surrounding rooms as an accent on the walls, the peninsula and the custom niche. We also added a bit of urban appeal with the navy blue cabinetry, and we needed something to tie the wood and cabinetry with the gray floor. The weathered, industrial look of this Iron Copper, with its burnt orange coloration and natural variations, was the perfect choice,” she stresses.

Ramsey credits her clients with encouraging her to research its use, indicating that her initial introduction to the material was tainted by a fabricator who was not experienced with it.

“My clients fell in love with the material when they saw it in a local showroom,” she says. “It does require special tools and certification to properly fabricate and install it, but because of its manufacturing process, it is extremely dense so it is non-porous and resistant to stains. My clients love it and it looks beautiful in the space.”


Photos: Hasler Homes (photographer Janis Nicolay)

Greg Hasler, owner
Hasler Homes — North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Cosentino Dekton Aura (island/perimeter)

With a desire for an open floor plan with good flow throughout, the kitchen in this renovation serves as a hub between the family room, which features a focal-point marble slab façade, and the outdoor living space with smoker, barbecue and fridge that is conveniently accessed via bi-fold doors.

At the kitchen’s heart is the large island fabricated from 2cm Dekton Aura from Cosentino, which sits atop cabinetry from Pacific Rim Cabinets. To emphasize the sintered stone’s presence, Hasler also used the material as a countertop-to-ceiling backsplash behind the ventilation hood.

Aesthetically, the material is inspired by Calacatta and Carrara marbles to provide a natural stone look that Hasler further showcased with waterfall edges that flow dramatically from the work surface to the floor. While it incorporates veins reminiscent of natural stone, the pattern is relatively ‘quiet’ to maintain a desired ‘clean’ look.

Functionally, the material is resistant to heat, fire, abrasions, scratches, stains and freezing, making it an ideal material for kitchens, he notes.

“Our clients are a young, busy family that likes to entertain, so it was important for them to have a big island for cooking and entertaining with their children and guests,” he says. “They also needed something durable that could withstand daily use without getting beat up.”


Photo: Molly Culver Photography

Jennifer Fisher, principal designer
J.Fisher Interiors — Austin, TX

Texas pecan butcher block (island inset, perimeter); Soapstone (island)

The pecan tree is a common sight throughout Texas, where it grows native near rivers and creek bottoms across the state’s landscape. That abundance is complemented with distinction, serving as the official state tree for more than 100 years.

Fisher paid homage to that prevalence and prominence by showcasing pecan wood in this ranch home’s kitchen that overlooks acreage dotted with the stately specimens. Serving as the perimeter worktop surface and island inset, the designer complemented the wood – which has been oiled to deepen its intensity – with soapstone on the island to support an organic design theme for the open, modern chef’s kitchen. Fisher repeated the stone as a backsplash that showcases its intricate creamy vein pattern for added interest and continuity with the warm white walls.

“The entire project is rooted in warmth and coziness,” she says, adding that the cabinetry’s Benjamin Moore Black Forest Green paint color plays off the characteristic black/green hues of the stone. “Both materials are warm and inviting, and soapstone is not super cold to the touch like some other stones can be.”

Fisher also indicates that both materials are also very durable and relatively easy for the homeowners to upkeep themselves.

“Soapstone is a soft stone,” she says, “but my clients can buff out any scratches on their own.”


Photos: Jessie Preza Photography

Marsha Faulkner, principal
Studio M Interior Design — Jacksonville, FL

ThinkGlass glass (bar top)
Corian Design quartz (island, perimeter)

Faulkner knew that some sort of ThinkGlass element would play a role in the renovation of this oceanfront home as a complement to other glass features used throughout, including floor-to-ceiling windows and door walls that showcase the view and stair railings that support a minimalist and contemporary design theme. While consideration was given to everything from the stair treads to the kitchen counter, the latter eventually prevailed.

“In the end, we realized the glass would be best served in the kitchen as the main focal point,” she says.

The 2.5″ thick bar top features a smooth surface for easy cleaning and a wavy, etched underside that adds depth and dimension. To further enhance the glass’ show-stopping status, the designer incorporated smart, color-changing LED lights into the channel where the waterfall edge meets the floor so her client can set a mood that is reflected within the glass, which when unlit, offers an inherently green cast that the client wanted.

“The waves play with the light,” says Faulkner. “There is a lovely dance that happens when light hits the countertop. It’s really stunning in person.”

To give the glass its ability to shine visually, the designer used a quieter, white Corian Design (Zodiaq) quartz for the perimeters and island, to which the ThinkGlass bar attaches.

“We were looking for a quiet backdrop so the glass, and the walnut cabinetry, could be the feature,” she says. “Quartz is a lovely material for a busy kitchen because of its antimicrobial qualities and resistance to staining.”


Richard Ryder, designer/builder
Clearcut Construction
Youngsville, NC
Photo: Bob Fortner Photography

Richard Ryder, designer/builder
Clearcut Construction 
Youngsville, NC

Cambria Brittanicca Gold quartz (island/perimeter)

When Ryder considered countertop choices for the renovation of the kitchen in this mid-century modern home, the multi-hued veining pattern of this Cambria Brittanicca Gold quartz offered a desirable mix of ‘confidence’ and color.

“We wanted a material with a heavy veining pattern…so everyone would see it,” he says. “Compared to a slab with a completely white palette, this one offers so much character.”

The wisps of copper gold, fog and translucent greige swirled against a white background also create a perfect pairing with the stained wood island cabinetry as well as the Aged Brass hardware and cane door inserts.

“We had already selected the wood island and its stain pulled out the colors of the quartz well,” he adds. “It gives the room balance.”

Ryder further showcased the quartz by adding a waterfall edge on one end of the island, which is complemented by open shelves on the opposite end. Both treatments offer a contemporary touch that complements the home’s architecture.

Additionally, the quartz serves as the backsplash behind the range and as the countertop/backsplash in the nearby beverage area. To ease installation around the windows, Ryder used multiple pieces of quartz rather than a single slab. Those beneath the windows are offset by ½” to give them distinction.


Photo: Michael Alan Kaskel Photography

Angie Keyes, CKBD
Salt Water Design Group — Naples, FL

Compac Unique Marquina quartz (island, perimeter)

The custom, hand-painted acrylic backsplash is usually the first thing people notice about this kitchen. However, that doesn’t mean its other elements are shrinking violets. For instance, the white acrylic cabinetry bounces light to keep the room bright, while its slab profile and touch-latch hardware maintain a clean, contemporary look.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, in both color and finish, is the black, honed Compac Unique Marquina quartz that serves as the work surfaces for the perimeter and petite island, which features a waterfall edge.

“My client always wanted black countertops,” says Keyes, adding that while she didn’t want black granite, she did entertain the thought of black glass before choosing black quartz. “However, black shows everything…fingerprints, dust, pet hair, etc., especially when it’s polished. Choosing a matte finish helps hide some of those problems. Plus, in this kitchen, it adds some softness and minimizes glare that could take away from the backsplash.”

To preserve an uninterrupted expanse for the backsplash, Keyes was also challenged to find a fabricator who could incorporate flush-mount outlets into the 2cm-thick material. Additionally, while her client wanted black countertops, she didn’t want them to be completely solid.

“The veining in this quartz is very, very soft, almost like a pencil line,” she says. “And, since the veins are white, they fit into her black and white kitchen.”


Photos: Kim Vargo

Scott and Kim Vargo, creators
Yellow Brick Home — Chicago, IL

Formica Bleached Concrete Everform Solid Surface
(kitchen #1); FENIX NTM Nero Ingo (kitchen #2)

When the Vargos considered countertop choices for the two-flat-style home that included two kitchens – one on each of two floors – they needed selections that would be both beautiful and durable. To that end, they turned to Formica’s Everform Solid Surface in Bleached Concrete for one kitchen and FENIX’s Nero Ingo for the second.

“We had a rare opportunity to design two kitchens at once, which was both intimidating and exciting,” says Kim Vargo. “For each kitchen, we honed in on metal choices and cabinet color, which helped to dictate the style of countertop we would need.”

In the case of the Bleached Concrete solid surface countertop, the light-colored material offers a stark contrast to the black cabinetry, which they balanced with a white tiled backsplash and open shelving to keep the space feeling light and airy. The duo also appreciated the materials’ resemblance to white concrete.

“We even fooled our architect,” remarks Scott Vargo. “It truly mimics the look of white concrete, all the way down to the air pockets you’d find in concrete itself. Also, the edges of the countertop look as though there are the tiniest imperfections, yet it is perfectly smooth. What you see is the movement in the material.”

The second kitchen also offers a big splash of contrast, this time with matte black FENIX countertops that sit atop wood cabinetry.

“We wanted the contrast as opposed to a more neutral option,” Kim Vargo says. “The bold decision is also classic, so it was a risk that paid off.”

The innovative surface material, which can have small scratches healed at home with a damp cloth and iron, also feels soft to the touch.

“You have to feel it to believe it!” she says.


Photo: Jimmy White Photography

Kelly Kaiser, owner/lead designer
Orange Moon Interiors
Bradenton, FL

Wilsonart Luna Winter laminate (perimeter)

Built in the 1960s, this bungalow home was in need of an update, one that resonated with its views of the Gulf of Mexico. As part of the renovation, Kaiser maintained the aqua and sea green tile in the bathrooms and built upon its ocean vibe with the kitchen’s blue-hued ‘fish scale’ backsplash and sailfish motif above the range.

So as not to take away from the colorful backsplash, Kaiser selected Wilsonart’s Luna Winter laminate as the room’s countertop surfaces. Its off-white hue and monochromatic design support the room’s light and breezy design theme while offering a slight contrast to the bright white cabinetry, wall color, appliances, ceiling and floating shelves.

“This color selection creates a nice backdrop to the overall look and did not compete with the bright kitchen backsplash,” she says. “It also makes the space feel organic and natural.”

Finishing the countertops with a modern, flat edge eliminates the brown line associated with yesterday’s laminate.

“I don’t often get to use laminate, but I do like it and it’s very easy to work with,” she says.

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