Ask the Experts: Hard Surfaces 101

Tips and trends in tile and stone for your home

While consumers often have a general idea of what they want for their home’s hard surfaces, choosing materials such as stone and tile requires more consideration than a simple preference of color or substance. The complexities of natural stone and the beatings your surfaces might take can turn one quick decision into buyer’s remorse and an expensive redo. While granite countertops and travertine tiles were once king, the stone and tile industries have evolved to include a vast number of products and options, all with varying pros and cons for certain applications. This season, we’re asking our experts for a little clarification on today’s trending surfaces.

As a global manufacturer of kitchen and bathroom countertops, sidings and sinks, Cosentino has long been a supplier of popular stone surfaces. From Scalea, Cosentino’s line of natural stone and Sensa, a premium, treated granite, to Silestone quartz and the new, innovative Dekton, a surface made of glass, porcelain and quartz, Cosentino’s products all feature different properties.

According to Jodie Amore, general manager of Cosentino New Orleans, the biggest cause of buyer’s remorse happens when a customer isn’t fully informed about their purchase.

“I feel like it is our responsibility to explain to customers when they visit the showroom what all their options are and all the details,” she says.

Amore recommends customers view full slabs prior to fabrication to know what to expect of a stone’s appearance.

It’s important to have confidence in a stone’s veining and color, but what about its other properties? As more people choose solid surfaces for shower walls, tub surrounds and fireplaces, there are more considerations than appearance alone. Marble, granite, quartz, quartzite, and now Dekton — which material is best for which application? How do the surfaces behave differently?

“When choosing a material for your project, it’s crucial that you learn what to expect from each type of stone long-term,” says John Cognevich, president of Stone Interiors, a local stone fabricator and one of the few in Louisiana to be fully accredited by the Natural Stone Institute.

“For example, marble is a soft stone that lives with you; its appearance will change and age over time,” says Cognevich. “Some customers love that feature, but if you want your countertop to look exactly the same five years down the line, then marble may not be the right choice for you.”

For this reason, quartz has become extremely popular for kitchen countertops — an engineered product, quartz can resemble marble while being non-porous and much more durable. In addition to porousness and durability, materials react differently to moisture and temperature changes.

“Marble, for example, can take extremely high heat, making it well suited for a fireplace surround; whereas engineered quartz is susceptible to heat and would not be appropriate for a fireplace application,” says Cognevich.

As the popularity of quartz has risen over the last decade, so has the confusion over quartz versus quartzite. Quartz is an engineered stone surface made of a combination of natural quartz and other materials. On the other hand, quartzite is a natural stone that offers a light, translucent, marble-like look.

“Quartz countertops have a more consistent color and pattern, while quartzite countertops have a more natural, almost marble appearance,” says BJ Farrell, vice president of sales and marketing at Campbell Cabinets. Farrell personally loves the natural look of quartzite in colors like Taj Mahal and Cristallo. Due to its somewhat translucent characteristics, Farrell notes the design possibility of backlighting quartzite.

“It’s definitely a conversation piece in a house with a backlit onyx island or quartzite bar countertop,” says Farrell.

Chris Kornman, co-owner of Entablature Design-Build, is also a fan of the natural beauty offered by quartzite. As an alternative to marble in the kitchen, quartzite offers durability and natural beauty.

However, quartzite tends to be more expensive than engineered quartz, which has made large strides in marble-like designs over the years.

“Ten years ago there were probably 20 colors of quartz, and now there’s around 100,” says Kornman. “Every year they are getting better and better at making it look like natural marble, giving consumers the beauty of natural marble without the maintenance issue.”

At DMG, Interior Designer Madeline Bernard is a big fan of quartz for this very reason.

“Quartz is a product that has the best of all the countertop worlds and is my favorite stone to work with,” says Bernard. “It’s durable like a granite, beautiful like a marble, and consistent in color like a solid surface. This engineered stone is non-porous, low maintenance, and has great design possibilities.”

As a designer, Bernard gets to have fun with all of these materials. She recently designed a waterfall countertop island — where the solid stone surface extends down the side of the island — using a bold, contrasting, monochrome stone. The island created a focal point to the home while expanding the kitchen’s prep area as well as its seating.

At Entablature, Chris Kornman also loves a waterfall design. One of his favorite applications for a waterfall countertop is the bathroom vanity.

“With a waterfall, we can make the vanity look like a piece of furniture — rather than going wall to wall, it’s a standalone piece with a beautiful look,” he says.

While stone has long surpassed tile as the go-to hard surface for a countertop, tile is still very much a part of the conversation when it comes to floor and wall surfaces. Kornman notes that large-format tiles are still trending upward, including larger format subway tile.

At Floor & Decor, chief executive merchant Lindsay Swenson loves the rising creative and bold use of tile on walls.

“We’re seeing stone and tile installed where wallpaper once was used,” says Swenson. “Creating architectural focal walls out of stone and tile is everywhere.”

To avoid buyer’s remorse with tile, Swenson recommends a three-pronged approach. First, buy what you love, not your second choice. Second, unless you’re prepared to change your tile over the years, go with a timeless approach rather than a trend that runs the risk of being dated. Third, when installing stone tile, always ask your installer to use a premium sealer. When in doubt, she says, buy it yourself.