Countertop Trends: Where To Begin!
When exploring different countertop trends, homeowners commonly come face-to-face with four popular materials: marble, granite, quartz, and quartzite. When quickly glancing at the four options, one can easily be confused. Although the characteristics of each stone differ greatly, the differences are not always blatantly apparent. Aside from chemistry itself, each stone material poses different benefits for different situations. Factors such as personal lifestyle, cooking habits, budget, as well as aesthetic preference, need to be considered. Whether selecting material for a hard-working kitchen countertop, a master bathroom vanity, or a focal point fireplace surround, it is important to understand the difference between today’s top countertop trends, and which material best fits with your specific situation.
Straight from the Earth:
Natural stone materials share a lot of similarities. All are mined directly from the earth, and present the unique variances, qualities and beautiful imperfections only found in nature. When peering into a slab of granite, marble, or quartzite, the beauty comes from the fissures and swirls dancing throughout the stone. The pattern and colors represented in a single slab is usually the primary feature that initially attracts a homeowner. But understanding the pros and cons of natural stone options helps to determine the best choice for a particular application.
Granite used for countertops begins with mining the stone, deep in the ground, and cutting it into slabs, typically 9 to 10 feet long and 5 to 6 feet wide. Once mined, the slabs are saw-cut. Resin is applied to fill any pits, sealing the porous surface. Then the slab is cured in an oven. After curing, slabs are polished and buffed. With colors and patterns that range from deep solids to dazzling swirls of mica, the choice of granite often made the most significant design statement in a kitchen.
Granite countertops have been the popular workhorse of kitchens for over 20 years. Being able to handle hot dishes right from the oven is a major plus. Temperature is not a concern. Knives won’t damage the surface either, but the granite will dull your knives. One of the biggest “cons” of these super-tough surfaces is the ease with which you can break a special crystal bowl, china plate, or wine glass. Barely tap one of these delicate items on granite and kiss it goodbye.
As designers looked for new styles to update the look from the heavier granite options, marbles provided a dramatic visual alternative.
Carrara and Calacatta Marble, have long topped the favorites list for marble in a white kitchen. Carrara marble (a grayer version with softer veins from Carrara, Italy) is one of the least expensive natural countertop materials on the market, mainly because it’s readily available. The rarer, luxury stone like Calacatta marble, offers a whiter surface and more dramatic veining. The price tag from Calacatta has skyrocketed over the past 10 years as the demand for this beautiful material spread world wide.
Marble is vulnerable to staining agents (like wine, juice and oil) that seep deep into the rock. Prolonged exposure to an acid (called etching) removes the polish or sealant from marble’s finish and makes it dull and more vulnerable to scratches. Honing your marble — a process that results in a matte, less polished effect – might make etching less noticeable, but won’t stop it from happening, unfortunately.
For the avid baker, marble countertops are a reliable surface to stay cool, even in a hot kitchen. The stone is also heat-resistant, making it a good option for the cookies and cakes that come out of the oven. However, despite its ability to withstand high temps, the greater risk is burning or staining the marble.
The countertop trend to quartzites, such as Super White and Quartzite Statuario , reflects a desire for the elegant veining and light aesthetic of marble, with an extra level of durability. Quartzite slabs range in the white to gray family, with some veining similar to marble. Pink and red hues are a result of iron oxide in the stone, while yellow, blue, green and orange quartzite results from the presence of other minerals. Regardless of the color, the quartzite will have streaking caused by varying degrees of pressure in its formation and the random presence of iron oxide or other minerals.
Quartzite is actually harder than granite, so it is quite durable. This hardness, however, also adds to the cost. Skilled fabricators will use expensive diamond blades in the fabrication process. They will also apply a penetrating sealer at the time of installation. Without a proper sealer, stains will penetrate into the stone.
Improving on Nature: Quartz
Quartz is a fast rising challenger in countertop trends. As a top option in terms of durability and longevity, the name is a bit confusing with a “quartzite”. But these terms are not interchangeable. Also referred to as “engineered stone” , the significant difference is that quartz is essentially a man-made material. 93% of the finished material is actually loose quartz. Once blended with a binder and pigment, quartz countertops can be formed into slabs of many sizes. This process allows manufacturers to offer a wide range of colors, styles, slab sizes and durability.
Quartz is a durable material for kitchens, baths and even exterior applications. It comes equipped with a sealant embedded within its surface and requires little-to-no maintenance. Quartz is also less prone to denting and chipping, but knives and sharp objects will leave nicks and scratches.
Reflection for Perfection
Researching the latest in countertop trends is a start, but one must consider all other relevant factors, too. Countertop projects prove to be a more complicated decision than most other parts of home renovation projects. The stone options used for breathtaking surfaces seem all too similar, but in reality, they greatly vary in cost, functionality, appearance, and maintenance.
So, before you delve into paving your countertops with timeless stone slabs, take a moment to reflect your own life. Your age, family life, professional situation, or even personal interests will all influence which stone countertop best fits your preference. Only with such reflection (and advice from some pros) will the perfect countertop find its way into your home!
Hope this helps!
The JWH Team