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Right Angles
Countertops have been all about granite lately, but there’s a lot more out there–from glass to marble to stainless steel By Marilyn Dickey
Comments () | Published October 1, 2008
Glass countertops are available in different colors, textures, and finishes. This one is from a Canadian company called ThinkGlass. Photograph courtesy of ThinkGlass

There’s more to choosing a countertop than picking the right color and material. There’s thickness and finish, and then there’s perhaps the most overlooked consideration: how the countertop is likely to look after a few years of wear and tear.

“Some people come in and want their counters to look exactly the same five years later,” says DC architect Robert Cole of Cole Prévost. “Other people are very prepared to let the stone acquire a certain patina with use.”

Certain materials get more complaints than others, so, with experience, architects have started to revise their opinions and steer clients toward materials they’ll continue to like despite mishaps and upkeep. Says Cole: “By virtue of some mistakes and failures, you realize there’s a reason you come back to some materials.”

Other trends? “People are moving away from polished toward honed products that are less glitzy,” says designer Caryn Slattery-Walp of Stuart Kitchens in McLean. Other designers cite a move toward monochromatic materials. And for the past few years, some have been going with thicker countertops—a style that’s more “masculine” but isn’t widespread yet, says designer Jerry Weed of Kitchen and Bath Studios in Bethesda. He estimates that about 5 percent of kitchens have them so far.

From Granite to Marble

Granite—which has been very popular in new and renovated kitchens for several years—is praised for its durability, but it’s slowly giving way to other materials.

“People used to want low maintenance,” says Bethesda kitchen designer Jennifer Gilmer, “but now people are for form over function. They say, ‘I just want it tobe cool.’ ”

Stephen Vanze of Barnes Vanze Architects in DC and Middleburg says more people are asking for marble than granite because of its “softer look.”

You have to be careful of marble, he notes. A glass of water left on the counter will leave a ring for a few days, while red wine could leave a permanent one. But as the countertop develops more stains over time—as well as the patina of age—it acquires a look that some people like.

According to Reena Racki, an architect in the District, white Carrara marble from Italy—the same kind Michelangelo used for his statue of David—is particularly popular. It’s pure white but porous—so it will stain. “It’s fashionable to use for kitchen countertops for people who don’t do a lot of cooking,” Racki says. “Or, for people who do, they use a block of it. It’s nice and cold for rolling out dough.”

For an upcoming project, Racki is considering using a stone called Luce di Luna, distributed by Stone Source (stonesource.com). It’s quartzite but resembles white marble with some gray and green streaks. Unlike marble, it doesn’t stain, says Matt Waas, the company’s DC sales representative. Racki has poured red wine, tomato juice, and oil on a sample and says none left a permanent mark.

Concrete, Steel, and More

Granite and marble are only two of many choices available. Here are others that are popular.

Engineered stone: Several architects are leaning toward Caesarstone, Silestone, and Celador. Made from quartz mixed with an aggregate, they’re probably the most resistant to stains, heat, and scratches of any countertop material on the market.

Though Ralph Cunningham says his firm, Cunningham Quill Architects in Georgetown, does use other materials, most of its countertops are synthetics such as Caesarstone: “I have one myself, and I love it. It has perfected something we’ve been looking for for years—something that is visually ‘quiet.’ It’s durable and easy to take care of.”

Concrete: Despite its expense and vulnerability to stains and chipping, concrete continues to grab attention. “People tend to think of it as contemporary,” Slattery-Walp says, “but it can fit into a traditional construction, too.”

Says architect Randall Mars of McLean: “They’re starting to perfect colors in concrete, so there’s more variety. Concrete Jungle does a great job.”

Mixing concrete with other products is also popular. Racki likes the look of chips of recycled glass or seashells in a substrate of concrete.

Some stains will seep into concrete and disappear over time, says Kelly Carr, who owns Concrete Jungle in Frederick. Stains that go beyond the sealer can be permanent, but most are fixable.

“One of our clients is an architect who got concrete countertops for his own home,” says Carr. His wife had polished the silver and got some Tarn-X on the countertop, he says. “We sanded and resealed it, and you can’t tell where it was.”

Stainless steel: Homeowners with modern kitchens often like the cool, sleek look of stainless. It’s used in commercial kitchens because it’s easy to clean, withstands heat well, and won’t stain.

The trouble is, it scratches easily. But Cole has found a way of camouflaging small imperfections: “We prescratch stainless steel. It takes the glossiness out of it, and it looks softer. It’s very beautiful in terms of the luster you get.”

Wood: Larry Dobbs, owner of Rockville’s Creative Kitchens, has been incorporating a lot of wood into countertops—“not as a chopping block but as a dressier piece to add some warmth to otherwise sterile kitchens.”

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 10/01/2008 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles