Counter CultureViva la resistance: Granite is no longer king of countertops. Quartz may soon take the crown
Granite has been the reigning sovereign of countertops for years, but studies point to the growing supremacy of quartz in the marketplace. Some 54 percent of designers in a 2011 National Kitchen and Bath Association survey said their clients had requested quartz instead of granite.
Plenty of granite alternatives at every price range are available, and each has its own pros and cons.
Starting on the cheaper end, there is laminate. Laminate is popular for its affordability, but it isn't as durable as natural stone and can scorch when heated. It can scratch under abrasive cleaners, scouring pads and the like. Over time it may also come apart at the seams.
Laminate is reputed to be unattractive, but it's come a long way from what most people imagine when they think of it: an obviously fake surface with no character. Today's laminates are available in a wide range of colors, patterns and textures and can mimic just about any surface.
A step above laminate is a synthetic countertop made of acrylic resin composites that are resistant to stains and come in a wide array of colors and patterns. Corian is one of the top brands for this solid surface.
"Homeowners choose Corian for both aesthetic and functional reasons," says Tom Perich, North America marketing manager for DuPont Surfaces. "Compared to natural stone, for example, Corian is low-maintenance - it doesn't have to be sealed - and because solid surface is nonporous, it's very easy to keep clean."
Corian is also a lot cheaper than stone and has a very consistent look, but it tends to have a matte finish.
There's a movement toward butcher block, which can add a lot of character to a rustic kitchen. It scratches, burns and stains easily, but some people prefer this naturally weathered and worn look. And with butcher block counters, there's no need to buy cutting boards.
Tile is another option that provides a tremendous number of choices in texture, color and size. Tiles can crack and chip, but if one tile breaks, it's pretty easy to sub in another one. Some homeowners don't like cleaning it, though, because it can be difficult to get crumbs and other food out of the grout.
Stephanie Marsh Fillbrandt, owner of Marsh and Clark Design in San Francisco, likes engineered stone made of quartz, a hard, nonporous mineral that will not absorb food and liquids so it's stain-resistant and doesn't have to be sealed.
"You have a pretty clean look. If you get a scratch, you can buff it out, and it holds up well to heat," she says.
Janice Jones, national vice president of merchandising for homebuilder Pulte Group, likes quartz, too.
"It's really improved over the years," she says. "Before it was just kind of plain Jane, but now they can simulate even things like marble and limestone."
While all these surfaces are gaining popularity, natural stones such as granite and marble are still considered the high-class choice. These materials need to be sealed regularly because they can absorb fluids. But that isn't always bad, Fillbrandt says.
"When they've been in someone's home forever, they tend to absorb the wine stains and soften, so they become a sort of texture. In that wearing, they can take on a really beautiful aged look that is actually quite interesting if you don't mind imperfections," she says.
Natural stone is pricey, but can be used in small kitchens for less money by purchasing remnants from someone else's larger job. A lot of contractors hang onto leftover scraps when they complete a project and will sell them at a discount.
"You can get pieces with real old-world elegance that way for not very much money," Fillbrandt says.
By COURTENAY EDELHART
(c) CTW Features
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