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November 01, 2015

Counter culture

Granite is still king of countertops, but quartz looks to steal the throne

Kathy McCormick

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If the spanking-new kitchen cupboards are the little black dress, the countertops are the jewelry that makes that dress shine and stand out — and like those baubles, today’s counters range from cool costume to 18-karat gold, and everything in between.

So what is that opulent king of the counters? Granite has been on that throne for many years, its luxury qualities, unique pattern and bold colours certainly becoming the focal point of the kitchen.

“Granite is seen as more exotic and shows a great deal of ‘movement’ in terms of its vein direction and fluidity,” says Rose DiFonzo, merchant for countertops and installation service, The Home Depot Canada.

“Those who look for unique patterning still lean towards granite; however, the evolution of quartz has proven that customers who are looking for movement and maintenance-free surfaces now also consider quartz for their kitchens.”

And quartz is quickly rising to the top, says Logan McCallum, design consultant at Interiors with Elegance.

“Our younger clientele like its durability and the fact that it is less maintenance than granite,” says Logan McCallum. “Granite is a natural product and therefore porous, so it requires a sealant constantly over time. Quartz countertops are 90 per cent quartz and 10 per cent binder, so it’s not porous like a natural stone, but still is mostly natural materials.”

The most common quartz we’ve seen is the more European-look of solid coloured stone but its look has evolved.

“Recent innovations both in colour, pattern and maintenance-free options have been getting more attention,” says DiFonzo.

And people love it: “The samples that you see of quartz will be what your finished product looks like,” McCallum says. “With granite, it’s a variant.”

But that little black dress has changed, too, say the experts. The black granite kitchen with the dark wood cabinets and hardwood floors is making way for white, light and bright looks.

“Darker colours for kitchens are warm and cosy, but they were so popular that now, the light, airy feel of the light colours is a nice change,” says McCallum — and that’s where quartz shines again. It comes in light colours and softer patterns.

“What I do believe is on its way out is the granites with specks and extreme movement, solely due to overuse, in my opinion,” says McCallum.

People normally choose the cupboards first, then match the countertops with a complimentary colour and material, says DiFonzo. “Whites, greys and neutrals are on trend for cabinetry, and the complementary countertop selections reflect that trend.”

But it’s all about personal preferences and the cyclical nature of design, says McCallum. And there are regional differences, DiFonzo adds.

“We still find geographic pockets where neutrals (i.e. beiges) or dark colours (i.e. emerald greens, dark browns or blacks) are still popular.”

For McCallum, two personal favourites are Caesarstone 5131 ‘Calacatta Nuvo’ and Cambria ‘Torquay’ quartz. “These have the look of marble and natural stone, but the consistency and durability of quartz.”

And more and more people are showing off their own style sense with mix-and-match colours schemes that draw palette colours from countertop surfaces, DiFonzo says.

“We see customers highlighting the lights and darks from granite and quartz, or adding recycled glass and wood as highlights within their space.

“We also see the mixing of colours in the cabinet layouts as well. A contrasting island, or light-coloured wall cabinets and dark lower cabinets lend itself to different countertop colour and pattern selections.”

Although the king and queen of countertops is the granite and quartz, the most popular and coveted easy-on-the-budget costume jewelry selection is good old laminate, says Sophie Lagace, merchandiser, kitchen and finish plumbing for RONA Home and Garden.

“Researchers say that laminate is still 57 per cent of consumer demands” — and the reason is even more than the budget savings. “Laminate offers over 1,000 different colour palettes, going from solid white and black to granite, quartz, marble and wood designs that look and feel like the more expensive choice, but at a fraction of the cost.”

Laminate offers a seamless countertop as well; it’s stain resistant, low-maintenance, durable, and doesn’t require special chemicals for cleaning. “It can be easily changed for less cost than the other materials and it can be installed by do-it-yourselfers.”

Other benefits of laminate: “the edge profiles have evolved and modernized to reflect the straight lines many customers enjoy,” says DiFonzo. “And a few of our laminate manufacturers have paired with top designers, such as Jonathan Adler, to create product lines that have a broader and fresher design appeal.”

Investments in kitchens and bathrooms always help raise the value of a home, says DiFonzo. “Yet not all homeowners have the same priorities or reasons for change when it comes to installing a new countertop. Some homeowners simply look for a quick, inexpensive upgrade that will refresh the space versus the homeowners who plan to live in their home for years to come and want to upgrade their real estate investment with their dream kitchen.”

It’s all about your needs and wants, your lifestyle and budget*.

“For customers looking to install a new kitchen or bath on a budget, there are many things to consider,” DiFonzo says. “If they are content with their space layout and there is a sold cabinet structure in place, I recommend re-facing the cabinet doors (The Home Depot has a program) and investing in a premium surface countertop.

“If the layout needs reconfiguring, invest in the cabinetry and select a laminate countertop (that can be changed out when budget allows for upgrade).

“Both strategies can assist in reducing the overall project cost while offering an entirely new look.”

And isn’t that the beauty of that little black dress. It can be dressed up or down — and still looks fabulous.

*Prices vary wildly and it would be best to check with suppliers on deals.

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