The options for the application of surface materials are vast, and continuously expanding. From countertops to backsplashes, islands to wall cladding, flooring to shelving, designers have an opportunity to get creative in the kitchen and beyond.
With so many possibilities, it’s essential that these materials both look great and perform well. “As a result of spending so much time at home in recent years, homeowners have a more discerning and analytical eye when it comes to design and durability,” says Massimo Ballucchi, v.p. of Kitchen & Bath for Cosentino North America, based in Coral Gables, FL. “When it comes time to replace countertops, they’re prioritizing no-hassle products that beautifully endure everyday wear and tear. They want a sustainable material that will last the investment and not ‘trend out’ over time.”
Aesthetically, there’s a move towards natural colors in warmer tones. “We have seen an increased desire for warmer, neutral tones in the home, as the pandemic has led consumers to make their homes a calm environment,” reports Lori Shapiro, public relations manager at Caesarstone in Charlotte, NC. “For countertops and surfaces, Caesarstone’s latest nature-inspired introductions address the seismic shifts of the last couple of years that have affected how one feels and thinks about their home. The biophilic design trend has brought nature back into the home to offer some peace and tranquility.”
Other top surface trends include thinner profiles, simple edge treatments, a shift towards porcelain and desire for lots of surface space, including large islands in the kitchen say manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
Surface materials are being used for projects that extend well beyond the countertop and islands, including for full-height backsplashes, flooring, walls and as shelving, manufacturers say. This leads to a demand for a wide range of options in materials, finishes and size.
One rising trend is the full-height backsplash, notes Habib Maddahi, co-owner of Morva Stone in Norwood, MA. These may be done in the same finish choice as the countertop, or with one color on the backsplash and island and another on the countertop, creating a synergy between the island and the backsplash. “You can get creative,” he says. Large porcelain allows for high-quality resolution of patterns and colors without the grouting and lines, he adds. With porcelain, he stresses, designers can also use a thicker slab for the countertop with a thinner profile, like a 6mm, for the backsplash and still have the ability to end match the veining.
The company is also seeing shelving made of surface materials becoming a new trend in the mid to luxury market, Maddahi adds. Sometimes, that means the backsplash will go to the bottom of the shelving instead of all the way up, or behind the cooktop only.
Variety in choice of materials is important for these backsplashes. “A kitchen splash is only successful if it is popular with the person who matters the most: the one who cooks in that kitchen,” stresses Roy Marcus, brand ambassador at Artistic Tile in Secaucus, NJ. “People who really enjoy the art of preparing meals to share with loved ones are passionate about their kitchens, and what they surround themselves with – counters, cabinetry and backsplashes – must fit the use the kitchen will get. Art glass, for example, is saturated with color, cuttable into myriad mosaic designs, and is impervious to staining of any sort. These properties make it an exceptional choice for serious cooks with an eye for beauty.”
“White subway tile will always be a ‘correct’ material, but backsplash design can and should be so much more rewarding,” he adds. “Natural materials, and truly artisanal materials – made by hand just for the project – bring a touch of ultimate luxury and permanence to any project.”
Materials are also being used in a variety of other creative applications. “What’s especially exciting is to see how designers are leveraging the unlimited applications of our materials – whether it’s a kitchen counter splash that extends up to the ceiling, floor-to-ceiling wall cladding as a dramatic focal point in a primary bath, and more,” Ballucchi offers.
“Growing demand for more durable surfacing solutions for flooring, cabinetry and wall cladding, and custom furniture pieces has led to continued innovations in slimmer formats, like Dekton Slim or Dekton Optima,” he adds. “We’ll continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible by exploring new ways of manufacturing thin and large-format options and anticipate increasingly custom applications thanks to these expanded offerings.”
Javier Guardiola Contreras, international sales director Xtone, for Spain-based Porcelanosa, says that materials with a diverse chromatic variety that can be combined with kitchen furniture of any color are in highest demand. “In addition, in kitchen projects, large 6mm-thick formats cut to size to match the worktop are being used for flooring and cladding,” he explains.
Warm, natural look
While light colors have dominated the market in recent years, manufacturers say a shift is beginning to occur. A natural look that fits the homeowner’s style is increasingly important, they add.
“While gray and its tangential colors have had a tight grasp on the desired color palettes for the past decade, surfacing with warm undertones and subtle, earthy hues are also making a comeback,” Ballucchi observes.
“After several years in which white colors have been predominant, we are experiencing an evolution towards somewhat darker colors such as black or gray,” notes Guardiola Contreras
Meran Atoufi, co-owner of Morva Stone, reports that the Calacatta look featuring a white background and darker veining has been very popular over the past few years, but he sees a move away from this, to either louder colors such as Panda or Skyfall, or lighter colors with lighter veining.
“While white and gray remain dominant, we are seeing a huge shift toward warmer colors,” concurs Emily Holle, director of Trend and Design at MSI in Orange, CA. She notes that taupe, warm golds, cocoas and rich brown tones, as well as marble look slabs with warm elements, are in high demand. “These marry up well with the warmer wood cabinets and flooring we are seeing in kitchens,” she says.
“Dual-tone warm/cool vein colors are also trending up,” Holle adds. “Colors like Calacatta Abezzo, Calacatta Delios and Calacatta Izaro are making a big splash because of their dual tonality. They have a couple of unique features, a mix of thick and thin veins along with a blend of cool gray and warm gold in the coloration of the veins.”
Joy Klein, v.p. sales & marketing for SapienStone, based in Chicago, IL, adds, “White and black marble looks are super popular, and more recently the warmer-toned marbles are the go-to colors for designers.”
“We have seen an increased desire for colors that reflect what homeowners see in the natural world, regardless of whether that means light, dark or somewhere in between,” says Shapiro. “People want their homes to be [a] calming environment. Surface and countertop finishes vary from a shiny polished look to a natural or rugged stone appearance based on the overall aesthetic of the room.”
Michael Morici, team leader – slab division at MSI, believes that countertop styles continue to trend towards natural-looking veining patterns. “Consumers like natural-looking stones and today’s quartz countertops do a good job replicating natural looks in a wide variety of vein styles.”
Ballucchi agrees that a natural look is in. “Surfacing that captures the beauty and drama of natural stone continues to be a design mainstay,” he notes. “However, we’re seeing a surge in demand for more dramatic veining and eye-catching marble-inspired designs, like those found in the newly launched Dekton Onirika Collection, designed in collaboration with celebrated interior designer Nina Magon,” he adds.
“Always, the most popular splash for any project will be the one that most delights those who live in the space,” stresses Marcus. “The power of color to create a sense of well-being is undeniable; natural quartzite, marble and onyx slabs in a range of radiant and vibrant hues and shades have changed the way we look at kitchen design in general, and in splashes in particular.”
As important as the visual impact of surface materials is, manufacturers say that practical factors are also a priority, including durability and low maintenance.
“Product safety and durability continue to be top priorities for homeowners, especially as many of us are still working from home or have embraced a hybrid-working model,” explains Shapiro. “People are definitely looking more closely at how surfaces can accommodate these requirements in their kitchen and bath areas.”
Ballucchi agrees. “When it comes to countertops and surfaces, today’s homeowners are prioritizing performance and ease of care just as much as color and design,” he says. “High-quality engineered solutions, like Silestone and Dekton by Cosentino, provide a non-porous finish and high stain resistance, and they outshine the performance of natural stone regarding resistance to impacts, scratches, maintenance and porosity.”
The desire for durable, easy to maintain surfaces has led to both quartz and porcelain trending up. Both are popular in part because of the ability to achieve natural stone looks without the maintenance required.
“Quartz countertops continue to be in high demand. Quartz is highly resilient and is very low maintenance. In addition, quartz manufacturing technology helps create beautiful patterns and designs that are highly sought after in today’s kitchens,” stresses Morici.
Atoufi notes that, while the company sales remain primarily quartz, porcelain is becoming more and more popular every year. He believes it will overtake quartz at some point, for reasons both aesthetic and practical, he notes. “[Porcelain] looks absolutely beautiful,” he offers. “You can copy the most beautiful natural stone for, most of the time, a fraction of the cost. And porcelain is also resistant to everything, he stresses, including stains, water, scratches, chemicals and heat.
One challenge, Atoufi reports, is that fabricators don’t like to work with porcelain. They are used to quartz, he notes, which is easy to work with, while porcelain is hard to work with prior to installation. This year, however, he adds that fabricators are asking to learn more about how to use porcelain because of its advantages and variety of uses.
Klein notes, “Quartz is still a very high-demand item, but porcelain slabs are trending up for many reasons including more design options and stronger physical characteristics. Clients are learning all the durable features of porcelain over other countertop options. Porcelain is heat resistant, thermal shock resistant, UV stable for exterior applications, scratch resistant and, due to the low porosity, it is generally easier to maintain.”
On the Edge
Minimal edges are trending, manufacturers say. Flat, straight options are the most popular, and waterfall edges continue to be an oft asked for look.
“The edges today are very simple,” observes Guardiola Contreras. While usually straight, in a very few cases customers using porcelain opt for the classic rounded edge, he adds.
“Edge treatments are more simplistic as consumers have moved away from the larger rounder edges and waterfall edges. Today’s countertops consist of small eased and beveled edges,” Morici says. “Consumers prefer a sleek look and put the focus on the color and pattern of the countertop,” he adds.
“We have seen consumers move towards minimal edge treatments. One of the more popular is the shark nose edge profile, which can be fabricated on any material. This contemporary look works best in modern kitchens for a sleeker look. Pencil edge and eased edge both work well for a classic timeless look and feel,” Shapiro states. “We’ve seen an increase in waterfall edges in the design community, primarily used in indoor and outdoor kitchens as well as desks and workstations.”
Atoufi agrees that pencil edge and eased edge profiles are the most popular profiles currently. Porcelain is often left as is, without doing anything to the edge, he adds. “If you do too much to the edge, it makes it look older. It doesn’t look so modern,” he says.
“Mitering is the most popular for porcelain, but we do see some clients using just the 12mm (1/2″) edge known as a bookend,” explains Klein. “It is not too difficult to fabricate either of these edges, and some manufacturers offer training to fabricators, which gives the fabricator more confidence in working with a new slab product. These two options are going to give you the longest lasting classic look.”
People congregate in the kitchen for a variety of activities: food preparation, socializing or studying. With this growth of activity in the kitchen comes a demand for larger islands and plenty of countertop space, manufacturers say. Large quartz and porcelain slabs help meet this demand.
“The largest porcelain slab formats have many advantages over other materials with small formats. The large format eliminates joints and also gives the space a larger dimension than it has,” says Guardiola Contreras.
“Everyone wants the largest island possible, so it is best to find out the size the slab comes in and see how much material you can get out of it,” remarks Klein.
“We have seen an uptick in homeowners wanting larger islands and counter space,” Shapiro adds. “Our jumbo size slabs offer homeowners that option. Speckled and veined designs can stand out when there is more surface area. Even designs that are solid can create a canvas for homeowners to develop their dream designs.”
Morici agrees that consumers prefer a large island in the kitchen. “This has become a gathering space inside the home and helps bring family and friends together. Quartz manufacturers have recognized this and are starting to make quartz slabs in jumbo and super jumbo sizes to accommodate the demand,” he stresses. ▪