If you’re over Granite and Marble
(Or you want to know what your other choices are…)
By Dina Petrakis
A countertop which has been growing in popularity is pigmented concrete. Although it sounds like pretty rough stuff, it is turning up in the kitchens of those who are on the leading edge of the design scene- designers and architects. Artistic options are now being shown, inlaying stones, fossils, shells, mosaic, etc right into the slab. A very wide range of color is available with the concrete, and because the color is mixed into the concrete before casting, the color goes all the way through the material. Drain boards and even sinks can be cast right into the molds. Everyone wants to know what the surface is sealed with‑ it is silicone and paste wax, and you would need to touch up the seal every year or so. If scratched (remember, the color goes all the way through) you simply seal with paste wax, and the scratch adds to the patina. Costs about the same as granite, but you are in control of the color more than with natural stone, and have the other design possibilities as well.
Butcher block makes a nice statement- a less ostentatious material with a softer, more organic feel than stone. Fabulous designs are available now, with walnut mixed into the traditional maple, and different grain and cut options. FYI, although sanitation has always been what the stone countertop people say is the drawback to wood, an online search will show it is not a hard case. Craft-Art is showing some gorgeous tops of varietal woods, with ogee and other custom edges, or the old standby, making maple butcher block tops for eons, continuously since 1887, John Boos, a downstate Illinois company.
Zinc and copper sheet metal tops- are not laminates, but actual sheet metal which can be allowed to patina or sealed to prevent the oxidation. (Or sealed after a certain level of patina has been achieved) Clean with Brasso, to remove oxidation if not sealed. For a coordinated look, knobs for your cabinetry can be ordered to match, in the level of oxidation you choose. Only drop‑in sinks can be used on these metal tops, unless you have an integral sink made.
Stainless steel tops (and appliances and even cabinet doors themselves) are also in vogue. Although complaints about cleaning difficulty are common, Stainless Steel Magic is available in the grocery and hardware store, and works very well. With stainless, the sink can be integral, meaning seamless with the top. A ready built stainless steel sink by Franke or Kindred, for example, can be welded in, or you can get a custom fabrication made by the sheetmetal shop.
Pick Two…European designers for many years have used a variety of top materials and heights, and this is a way to get everything you want, like buying both pairs of shoes. Accenting an island or peninsula with a different material can also be a primary design element, and also can allow you to get the punch of a luxury material without the expense of doing the full kitchen in it.
Don’t forget about the backsplash- same material, different material, standard (4″) height or full height- up to the underside of the upper cabinets? While the cost of a full height stone splash can be significant, it is usually just a fraction of the entire job, and can make a huge difference in impact and ease of maintenance. If you are using a dark granite for the tops, consider a different material for splash- so not so much light is sucked out of the room. Remember why they call it splash- it will get wet/ dirty, depending on location, and should be easy to wipe clean. Tile, stainless steel- lots of choices to consider.
Candice Olson points out the option of just doing the backsplash, for an easy update: “You can really add impact to a kitchen by changing your backsplash. There are a lot of new tiles out there that can really dress up a room. My new favorite is stainless steel tile. The beauty of these babies is that you can use many for all over glitz or just a few for a hint of sparkle.”
Look at new pulls (knobs) and or faucets as another way to change things inexpensively. These are really the jewelry of your kitchen- think of accessorizing your kitchen or bath the same way you do an outfit, to really get the most out of your remodel or spruce-up.