WANT TO KNOW THE LATEST LOCAL trend in kitchen countertops? It’s a return to wood, but not traditional butcher block or the rich stained natural-grained planks you’ll see in design catalogues.
This is a decidedly more unfinished, rustic look.
And most homeowners hate it.
It’s called plywood, and it’s garishly sitting atop countless cabinetry across the city as anxious homeowners wait as long as six months for their
stone slab countertops to arrive for installation.
“You get used to it after a while,” says Uptown resident Patrick Mendelson, who has been living with plywood counters since June. “It’s interesting to say the least.”
Hard as Rock
The look is a byproduct of the real kitchen design trend: Granite and engineered stone are more popular than ever as homeowners upgrade from laminate or solid surface counters. A whopping 47 percent of those renovating a kitchen this year are buying granite, according to a survey by the National Kitchen & Bath Association.
Approximately 17 percent are going with engineered quartz surfacing, 15 percent want laminate and 13 percent are choosing solid surfaces like Corian. Only 3 percent want ceramic tile and 2 percent opt for marble. The remaining 3 percent want butcher block, stainless steel or another material.
Granite’s increasing popularity is pushing the average cost of a kitchen renovation to around $44,700, according to the NKBA survey.
Paul Romain, owner of Palatial Stone in Harvey, says that granite is the hands-down favorite among his customers.
“Everybody is upgrading to granite. People who had granite are going to granite, and people who didn’t are upgrading,” he says.
The reasons are simple. Granite is more durable than other natural stones. It resists stains, heat and scratches and is easier to maintain. It is porous so it does have to be sealed periodically, Romain says, but it will stand up to rigorous use for those who are active in the kitchen.
When it comes to selecting granite, there are two types of people: those who want a uniform look and those who want something avant-garde.
Romain says that his clients who are replacing existing granite counters due to storm repairs are looking for unusual stones with unpredictable patterns.
“Almost everybody is getting these bread and butter stones so now you’ve got the leaders who are looking for something a little more far out to make it stand out. They want it to look like a real piece of rock because some of these granites are very predictable and almost too perfect.”
Some of the more exotic choices include “Jupiter Persia,” a taupe blend with darker veining. Another called “Golden Sea” looks like a map of the globe with masses of taupe and beige atop a sea of deep greens.
Katie Jensen, president of Triton Stone Group in Harahan, is also noticing an increased interest in more exotic slabs.
“People are trying to hand pick their granite. Instead of picking one of the normal colors, they are interested in picking out a more exotic stone that brings out all the colors in their kitchen,” Jensen says. “They want stones with much more movement in them rather than your pattern stones. And that is the beauty of granite—there are so many options out there.”
Some of the more popular choices now are “Sea Foam Green,” which features light and dark swirls of gray inside a deep green background, and
“Juperana Crema Bordeaux,” a speckled mix of taupe, cream and maroon.
Interior designer Janet Molero advises her clients to research their
choices for granite because there are so many options. “Every time I go to a stone yard, I see something I haven’t seen before,” she says.
But there’s a catch. Fabricators have no control over the patterns and veining of each slab because it’s a natural product.
“You have to accept the piece you get. It’s very difficult to hand pick this. Some stone yards will allow you to come in and hand pick them, but it’s quite a job,” Molero says. Those who want a more uniform look can opt for quartz surfacing, which is an engineered stone. It’s priced like natural stone but doesn’t need sealing and is more durable. Granite and engineered stone cost anywhere from $55 to $100 per square foot installed.
Either way, be prepared to wait if you want any kind of stone. Fabricators are slammed due to unprecedented demand in the area after Hurricane Katrina. The soonest Molero’s vendors can deliver granite is two months, but some have a six-month wait. is granite passé?
While granite has its defenders, its popularity is creating a backlash, says Peggy Stafford, owner of Stafford Tile & Stone on Magazine Street. She says her clients “have progressed beyond granite with respect to slabs.”
“It is becoming a bit [passé] because it has been marketed so broadly. I mean broad by, well, you see them in $129,000 condominiums … it is better than laminate,” she says.
Stafford’s clients, whose kitchen renovations average between $75,000 to $100,000, are choosing marble, limestone or travertine. She says most want the Old World charm of marble and are selecting softer colors with neutral tones of cream, chocolate, gray or taupe. “They are looking for honed finishes, softer color palettes with more veining—something that is more appealing,” she says. “Most marbles are more attractive than most granites.”
In fact, when trendsetter Martha Stewart unveiled her new kitchen this fall, she used marble on both countertops and islands. Marble does require more maintenance—it will scratch and lose its shine over time, developing a unique patina. Owners have to be vigilant about stains.
“I try to talk my clients out of marble on their countertops in kitchens,” Molero says. “It is extremely porous. It is the same reason you wouldn’t want limestone in your kitchen. If you put a glass of red wine on your counter, it is going to soak it in.”
Stafford says that proper sealants will make marble more stainresistant
and her clients are willing to put up with more maintenance for its timeless look.
Tile in Style
One thing many are not willing to put up with, however, is the long wait for installation. Stafford advises impatient renovators to consider tile. Designers across the country are creating gorgeous counters using imported hand-glazed ceramic tile or beautiful colored glass.
One of her clients actually tiled over her granite counters with a mosaic of glass tile. Among the advantages of glass is that it’s impervious to stains, heat-resistant and about half the cost of stone.
It can also be delivered in days.
“Our office could measure your tile countertops and have it all ordered, paid for and delivered before the cabinets are installed,” Stafford says.
Homeowners can also opt for marble or granite tiles that offer the polished look of stone without the long wait. Some glass tile can also mimic the look of stone or concrete. In the past, some have shied away from tile because of fears of hard-to-clean grout lines.
New clear sealing techniques fill in these lines, making them much easier to clean, Stafford says.