A New Trend in Kitchen Countertops

Lead Image for A New Trend in Kitchen Countertops

Kitchen remodeling is one of the most common remodeling projects, and consumers dedicate a great deal of time and money to making their rooms elegant and functional. As consumers opt for luxury and durability over plain and fragile, the new "want" in kitchen remodeling is natural stone countertops. When selecting a countertop, consumers look for strength, stain resistance, burnproof, long-lasting, and elegance. These are many reasons why a natural stone countertop would be an attractive feature in a kitchen. According to the National Association Home Builders (nahb.org), granite or natural stone is the No. 1 choice for surfaces and countertops, representing about 31.2 percent of the countertop market.

From our do-it-yourself forum experts, more information on engineered quartz and its manufacturers:

In the case of quartz countertops, the raw quartz crystals used range in size from coarse grains to the size of rock salt. Once ground and selected, the crystals are combined with bonding agents and color, then heated and Vibro-compacted to form an impenetrable surface. The slabs are a quartz matrix that won't develop fissures or cracks. A quartz surface is solid and remains impervious to water, moisture, or bacteria. Cambria is even certified by the National Sanitation Foundation International for use in commercial kitchens. Cosentino USA has gone a step further by introducing Microban into their Silestone countertops. Although bacteria cannot penetrate the quartz, it can form on the surface if left there. The Microban in our countertops will prevent the growth of bacteria even on the counter's surface.

Although the true look of high-end granite cannot be matched by the quartz-countertop industry, the number of options available and the consistency and uniformity in any given slab make up for any shortcomings.

Quartz slabs are finished using polishing wheels of varying sizes to bring a high-gloss sheen to the surface or, in Silestone's case, the option to purchase a soft, leathered patina. Since they are solid, the color and natural mottling from the quartz crystals run throughout the material. Slabs are fabricated into countertops with edge profiles that range from simple bevels to bullnose and ogee.

Quartz countertops weigh quite a bit more than granite because they are manufactured to be so dense and strong. It also takes a practiced professional to fabricate and install them, which is why Silestone and Cambria both train and certify their installers. Quartz is also easier to cut, handle and fabricate without damage than granite. It's like the difference between cutting a croissant and cutting through a piece of fudge. Trained installers can count on fewer broken slabs and less waste than in a typical granite installation.

When selecting a natural stone countertop, consumers can look at the different types, finishes, appearances, thicknesses, and textures, which make up the beauty of natural stones. One great thing about natural stone is that no two stones are alike, making every single kitchen one of a kind. There are many forms of natural stone that consumers can choose from granite, marble, soapstone, slate, and Jerusalem stone.

Considered second to diamonds in hardness, granite is the most popular choice. Granite is chosen for durability and its rich composition of quartz crystals, mica, and feldspar trapped within. With granite, consumers don't have to be afraid of placing a hot pot on the countertop due to its heat resistance, and shouldn't fear scratching it, since only granite or diamond can scratch the surface. Granite is also resistant to the acidic products found in every kitchen. Because all stones are porous, a special sealant is required. Granite only needs to be resealed once a year.

Chosen for its smoothness and vein-like textures, marble is added to a section of a whole countertop by those who like to bake. Because marble is a softer stone, it is more porous which makes it susceptible to scratches and stains, requiring frequent sealing. Both granite and marble give off different appearances compared to other natural stone products, which is why they are popular.

Soapstone, known as "original stone countertop," is becoming just as popular as granite. Soapstone is quarried just like marble and granite with components of magnesite, dolomite, chlorite, and talc. Many people are attracted to having soapstone as a countertop because of its soft feel; however, it can easily scratch. Soapstone won't etch from acids, and stains can be rubbed out easily. Soapstone comes in colors of blue, green, and gray, and if mineral oil is applied consistently, it will bring out a charcoal-gray color making it look older and much more elegant.

Slate countertops are liked because of their high resistance to heat but are highly susceptible to scratches. Composed of the seabed, slate stone reflects hues of dark green, blue, and black. Just like soapstone, if mineral oils are applied to it, the colors will be enhanced to a darker glowing hue.

A new countertop in the market is Jerusalem Stone, which resembles the sandy tones of limestone, but is not as porous and soft. As the name suggests, it's quarried from areas around Jerusalem. Many people like the Jerusalem Stone because of its durability, which is like granite, and its smoothness, which is comparable to marble.

One reason why natural stone is a favorite for a countertop is that the finishes applied to add to the beauty and durability. Some popular natural stone finishes are polished, honed, flamed, and tumbled. Polished natural stone countertops have a high gloss surface that gives off a mirror-like reflection. A honed finish is a hard surface with a smooth, matte look to it. This finish is very soft to the touch with a fuzzy reflection. When a flamed finish is applied to the stone, it is exposed to intense heat, creating a texture on the surface. To make a natural stone appear worn and old, a tumbled finish is applied. There are other finishes to choose from, but it's all about what the consumer prefers and the uses of the countertop.

New to the countertop market and put into the same category of natural stone is engineered quartz. Many manufacturers are challenging the market share of natural stone by combining 93 percent of natural quartz with 7 percent resin to create a highly durable material that is twice as strong as granite. This product has been around for 15 years in Europe and just recently has been marketed in North America. Engineered quartz offers a countertop that is non-porous and stain-resistant. The slabs being manufactured have uniform colors and patterns, making it easier for consumers to know that they will get what they want. Unlike granite, engineered quartz doesn't require a sealant, just cleaning on a regular basis. The only drawback with this type of countertop is that a hot pad or trivet is required when placing a hot pan on it, and it is as expensive as granite - about $70 to $300 per square foot. Top manufacturers of engineered quartz such as Cambria, DuPont Zodiaq®, and Consentino Silestone offer an array of colors, patterns, finishes, and textures.

While natural stone looks very attractive, when installed in solid pieces it is highly expensive, about $50 to $300 per square foot. The money invested is worth the quality, value, and durability these countertops will have. An option that many consumers take to save money is having the natural stone cut into pieces and placing them like tiles. Another affordable option is placing a slab over an existing countertop.

Both natural stone and engineered quartz require the proper maintenance to avoid any discoloration, scratches, or other costly damages. Natural stone requires special sealants about every six months to a year. Always avoid acidic cleaners or solutions to prevent severe damage to the countertop. Although engineered quartz doesn't need to be sealed, special cleaning products must be used according to the manufacturer's directions.

Countertops are the most looked at for a kitchen-remodeling project to bring out the beauty and elegance of the kitchen. Countertops can take a moderate-looking kitchen and turn it into a kitchen out of a magazine or remodeling show. For many consumers, having a countertop that will be long-lasting, durable, and elegant such as natural stone is worth the cost.