Laminate and granite are still the king and queen of the world of countertops, but there are more variations — and more alternatives — than ever.
Last year 32 percent of all kitchen countertops were laminate, up from 27 percent the year before. Granite remained in second place with 29 percent.
But even the reigning royalty need to stay competitive.
"People are getting tired of granite. They're starting to look for something new," said Nancy Braamse of Olde World Cabinetry in Largo.
Maybe that "something new" is a honed finish on granite instead of the highly polished surface everyone's accustomed to. Maybe it's more exotic granite patterns, "wild and crazy stuff from Africa — things you didn't see three or four years ago, things you don't see in every other house you go into," said Daniel E. Ashline, a St. Petersburg remodeling contractor.
Or quartz, which looks a lot like granite, but requires less maintenance.
Or wood, particularly for kitchen islands. "Every other kitchen I do has one," Braamse said.
Or maybe it's something really different, like countertops made of paper (no kidding), or recycled glass (one manufacturer offers surfaces studded with chips of cobalt-blue SKYY vodka bottles), or banana-fiber laminate.
"It's new, it's an alternative, some of it looks great," says Gene McDonald of Refresh Interiors in Pinellas Park and
gotgreencountertops.com, who deals with many customers who want something more eco-friendly.
Solid surfaces such as Corian were the third most popular surface last year, according to a consumer survey by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (16 percent), followed by marble or other stone (9 percent), ceramic tile (7 percent), wood (5 percent) and other materials such as concrete or metal (4 percent). The association hasn't included quartz in its surveys but plans to do so next year.
Granite, with its formal look, "isn't appropriate for every job," said Gail Barno of Tuscany Tile in St. Petersburg. "For the last few years, it's been Old World, Old World, Old World. People go to Tuscany and come back and say, 'I want a Tuscan kitchen.' Now a cleaner, more contemporary look is where we're headed."
"We're not tired of granite, but everybody has it, and a lot of people, I've found, want something different," said Anthony D'Angelo of Florence Marble and Granite in Tampa.
That something is often quartz, a mixture of natural quartz and resin that costs more than granite. "People would rather pay more money for the simple fact that they don't want the same thing everybody has. Everybody opened up granite shops and that drove the price down. Quartz, those prices don't come down. Granite, you call 10 suppliers, you'll get 10 prices."
Quartz is also a popular choice among homebuilders, who like its uniformity and low maintenance, said Chris Stewart, president of International Granite and Stone in Odessa. They won't have to spend time sending buyers to a granite yard to pick their slab. They know that the sample they show a buyer is what the finished countertop will look like. There won't be any of the natural (and often wild) variations of color, graining and pattern that granite offers.
The move toward all things green has directed countertop choices toward recycled glass or paper, or solid surfaces with recycled content such as Avonite. One manufacturer, EnviroGLAS, offers a surface called EnviroMODE, a terrazzo made from recycled toilets, tubs and sinks. (Gene McDonald will be showing some of the "green" choices today and Sunday at the Pinellas Living Green Expo at the Harborview Center in Clearwater. Visit www.pinellaslivinggreenexpo.com for details.)
Before you pick a countertop surface, look at the rest of your kitchen, says Jeff Bourgholtzer, a kitchen design consultant at Lowe's in St. Petersburg. Your cabinets, countertops, walls and lighting all need to coordinate, just as your shoes, belt, hat and bag need to look good together. "Don't buy in a vacuum and then wonder why it doesn't look good," he said.
Judy Stark can be reached at (727) 893-8446 or firstname.lastname@example.org.