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."