Chicagoland's Building Industry Publication

Countertop Decisions No Longer Etched In Stone Alone

As the frigid, blustery Chicagoland winter fast approaches and the holiday rush subsides, it’s time to look to those mid-winter interior remodeling projects once again. The new year may be one where a complete transformation of living spaces rejuvenates an old look and breathes warmth into the long, cold weeks ahead. A great place to start is the heart and soul of any dwelling - the kitchen of course - and a well-laid plan for new designs may pay off for builders and consumers alike in both personal satisfaction and home value appreciation. In kitchen as well as bathrooms, the traditional focus of remodeling design starts primarily with the most visible and important area components: the cabinets and counters.

There is a seemingly overwhelming variety of cabinet products, materials, designs and construction methods available on the market.; making the right choices can have a make-or-break impact on an interior spaces. Just as there are plenty of decisions to make regarding vertical surfaces, it is important to make an educated decision on horizontal countertop surfaces as well. Creative utilization of pattern, color, texture and form for kitchen and bath surfaces is a key element in producing an effective aesthetic appeal. Choosing the right materials from among the number and variety of products available requires some education about, and research into, the market.
There are dozens of natural materials that are standard in countertop utilization. Stone continues to remain as the industry standby. From solid granite with its numerous variations to exquisite cultured marble and functional slate, stone offers a classic look, quality feel, and durability.


Laminates, glazes, porcelain and ceramic tiles are consistently employed as well. High-visibility natural materials with a non-traditional look, such as custom-shaped glass and polished metallics, are in vogue to suggest a more techno-art look.

At the other end of the materials spectrum lie the increasingly popular synthetics which offer traditional looks created from modern technology. Advances in chemical resin processing, extrusion molding and thermoforming techniques have increased synthetics’ durability, flexibility and overall cost effectiveness, thereby opening new aesthetic possibilities for the builder and remodeler.

Parksite Inc.’s Rick Brems (Batavia, 630-761-9490) advises, “builders should realize there are numerous product lines with multidimensional uses,” each of which has particular advantages for a kitchen or bath. DuPont’s CORIAN™ remains one of the most popular and highly recognized product lines and is moving into a prominent position as an industry standard, the same way laminates did years ago.

According to Brems, it is “harder yet more forgiving” than acrylic-covered plaster and can be more easily repaired. The thermoforming process that heats the surface allows it to flex and form to a specified shape requirement. This has the advantage of preventing it from losing its shape and hardness as it cools, giving it a great deal of design flexibility. On the other hand, he is also quick to point out that builders and consumers alike need to take a realistic approach and understand that the impression that Corian™ is indestructible can lead to unadvised uses or mishandling of the surface. As always, a well-informed purchase leads to the fewest headaches and the most pleasing results.

Another popular item in the new wave of countertop synthetics is Avonite™, developed in 1983 as an alternative to natural surfacing materials. Sandy Langenberg of North Star Surfaces (847-695-5632) says Avonite™ offers a nonporous, bacteria-free surface with a light, warm look that is easy to fabricate, form and design. It’s also seamless, doesn’t require a sealer and has a renewable surface that removes scratches and burns with light sanding. Its composition consists of a 3/8” thick particulate which is a clear, rather than colored, resin and thereby creates a “more realistic stone surface,” Langenberg said. It also has a straight-through grain that allows it to be cut and formed to any necessary pattern. She has noted builders and homeowners alike reading about and keeping up-to-date on the latest surface products to learn about all design options and flexibility.

Rick Johnson from Verso Enterprises Company (Carol Stream, 630-653-TOPS) echoes Langenberg and points to Avonite’s advantages as well its “look and feel of stone but with a greater deal of quality control that you can’t get from natural materials, whose quality can vary.” It comes in an increasing variety of surface patterns and designer colors; the crystal series, according to Johnson, is one of the most popular choices.

Just as every surface has its own design requirements for the builder, Avonite also has maintenance requirements particular to its composition and wearability. Johnson stresses the need for builders to educate the end-user on proper methods for surface upkeep. “Ninety-nine percent of problems the customer experiences,” Johnson points out, “can be eliminated by simply matching the proper cleaning pads and solutions to the surface, and also by remembering that they are ‘living’ surfaces that need attention and proper maintenance.”

The components of any successful, aesthetically pleasing as well as functional, kitchen or bath - whether in a new home or a remodeling project - are careful planing; knowing all of the materials, designs and products available; understanding their advantages and disadvantages; and selecting the right surface for each application based on budget, use and other factors.

Just as a good roof will complement and accentuate a strong exterior design, a well-designed, well-laid and well-maintained countertop surface will enhance the beauty and value of an interior space.

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