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Today's kitchen countertops have style and plenty of substances

To anyone reading the real estate ads in recent years, it could seem that granite was the only material worth using for a kitchen counter, as important as an updated electrical system or a reliable roof.

Granite isn't going anywhere. But many designers and homeowners are turning to glass, manufactured stone, metal and other materials to create counters that work for people who actually cook as well for those who see the kitchen as a decorative accessory.

"What consumers now have seen is there is kind of this granite fatigue. Everyone has granite," said Ed Rogers, director of business development at CaesarStone US, based in Van Nuys, Calif.

CaesarStone and other brands, including Silestone, sell engineered quartz, a durable product made from more than 90 percent crushed quartz mixed with a resin.

Manufacturers are producing dozens of colors of engineered quartz, some of them trying to replicate the look of other stones or concrete, at prices comparable to those of midlevel granites. Both a virtue and a drawback is its consistency — no fossils or natural quirks, though that could change too as companies work to mimic the natural variations.

Glass counters, too, are shining. Lighted from below, they can add an appealing glow to a kitchen. Buyers also like the hygienic qualities of glass.

Granite had been "reserved for the ultra high end," but now it's available in big-box home stores, Rogers said. "It was the home center and the production builder that moved this market."

And moved some homeowners to other choices that are new and appealing to green consumers, such as engineered quartz, as well as some that have been around for centuries, like soapstone or marble.

"I have not done a single granite countertop in 10 years," said Dan Campbell, a Los Angeles contractor who specializes in kitchen design and remodels. "Maybe because it's so overused. It all blends together."

Old standbys, including solid surfaces such as Corian, are still widely used, particularly in budget-minded kitchen plans. Wood also can work for counters, whether in a farmhouse kitchen in the city or a sleek contemporary space.

Although it still represents a small share of overall sales, engineered quartz has been the fastest-growing category in the past five or six years, CaesarStone's Rogers said.

Many companies also are working to make their products — natural and manufactured — as eco-friendly as possible. Consumers who care might check a product for its percentage of recycled materials, which varies considerably, or the conditions of its mining.

Cosentino reports that its Eco line is made of 75 percent postconsumer or postindustrial materials, including mirrors, glass, stone scraps and porcelain. Other counters are being made from recycled glass or recycled paper sealed with wax.

"Granite is going to stay as long as they keep on digging," said Oren Osovski, an L.A. contractor and interior designer, noting that the range in appearance can provide a look that feels unique. "If you want something beautiful that only you have, you have to have granite or marble."

Choosing a material that works for you

The toughest part of the kitchen counter decision may be figuring out what you care about most. Durability? A unique look? Color? Price? Here's a look at some of the most common options, with an assessment of their quality from designers, manufacturers and the

website www.kitchen.com.

mConcrete

Pros Modern, industrial look. Can be made in any shape and in a variety of colors.

Cons Can stain and crack, though that also may be an appeal. Relatively expensive. May need a sealer and wax applied periodically to protect against staining.

Granite

Pros Huge range of colors and prices. Durable. Stain- and heat-resistant, though some sealers commonly used to combat its porous qualities can be damaged by excessive heat.

Cons Some designers say it has become overused.

Stainless steel

Pros Durable. Stain-resistant. Looks like a professional kitchen. Other metals, such as zinc and copper, lend an unusual appearance that will change over time.

Cons Can show fingerprints and scratch.

Engineered quartz

Pros Extremely tough. Dozens of colors and patterns. Easy to clean. Consistent color and detail. Many manufacturers, including CaesarStone, Silestone, Cambria. Considered more sustainable, as remnants often can be recycled.

Cons Lacks unique colorations and details found in marble or granite.

Marble

Pros Classic look. Sometimes has translucent quality. Great for making and rolling pastry dough because it's cool to the touch.

Cons Can stain.

Laminates

Pros Huge range of colors, patterns and finishes. Budget-friendly. Easy to maintain.

Cons Chips difficult to repair.

Other natural stone

Pros Slate, soapstone (shown), quartzite, lava stone and others can provide a variety of looks. Soapstone gives a traditional farmhouse appeal, while lava stone is as modern as can be. Some can be made into sinks as well.

Cons Depending on the rarity, it can be expensive.

Solid surfaces

Pros Products such as Corian come in a variety of shapes, colors and finishes. Nonporous, low-maintenance. Can be made into a seamless piece.

Cons Can be stained or scratched, though marks can be repaired, sometimes with just an abrasive cleaner.

Glass

Pros Looks new and modern. Can be made in many colors, patterns and shapes. Translucent qualities enable natural light to pass through. Nonporous, heat-resistant, easy to clean. Can be made from recycled glass.

Cons Shows fingerprints. Can crack or break.

nTile

Pros Budget-friendly. Unlimited color and pattern choices. Durable, heat- and stain-resistant.

Cons Grout can stain and be tough to clean. Not a smooth surface for some cooking tasks.

Today's kitchen countertops have style and plenty of substances 12/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 10, 2011 3:31am]

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