Corian to Cork: New Trends in Kitchen Materials

As granite becomes almost ubiquitous, buyers are wowed by stylish Corian, quartz, and even cork.

February 1, 2009

Granite countertops may still impress some buyers, but true trendsetters will be on the lookout for kitchens that incorporate some of the hottest new materials. A countertop, backsplash, or floor in a dazzling material may be just what’s needed to give a room a stylish kick and spur a sale.

Help educate home owners about the growing list of new possibilities, including the pros and cons of various materials. A trendy look carries a lot of weight, but durability, affordability, and sustainability also count.  

We asked design experts about the hottest and freshest materials, and some old favorites, that can make a big impact in the kitchen. While some experts agreed, we found some differing opinions on each material’s pros and cons. Because every buyer’s style is different, urge clients to study materials up close and find the answers to these key questions:

  • How durable is it?
  • Will it stain or crack?
  • Does it need to be sealed and resealed? How often?
  • Is it eco-friendly?
  • Does it come in slabs, tiles, or both?
  • What surface is most suitable for this material?
  • How much does it cost to buy, install, and maintain?

Another piece of advice from the experts: For the best overall look in a kitchen, never use a material as the only surface in a room. “Too much of any single material loses freshness,” says designer Mick de Giulio of DeGiulio Kitchens & Bath in Chicago and Wilmette, Ill.

Materials to Consider

Concrete. Simple, clean, and durable, this material can be left rough or honed, stained a color, edged with another material, and sealed, although some scratches and cracking may be inevitable, says designer Mariette Barsoum of Divine Kitchens in Westboro, Ma. It can also be sculpted into curved countertops. Installation is critical, and the best installers charge top dollar, often $275 a square foot, says Arthur Tanturri, owner of Chelsea Fine Custom Kitchens in New York. Do-it-yourselfers can cut costs by following advice from Fu-Tung Cheng’s book, Concrete Countertops Made Simple (The Taunton Press, 2008).

Quartz. Engineered or manmade quartz, plus epoxy resins, creates the material that’s generically referred to as quartz. However, manufacturers also call it by other names: Cambria, Zodiaq, CaesarStone, and Silestone. Colors vary, but all are durable and heat resistant. “It provides the look of granite but doesn’t have that material’s porosity,” says Naperville, Ill., designer Joan M. Kaufman. It can also be heated and molded into curved shapes, says Doug Durbin, owner of NuHaus, a design firm in Highland Park, Ill. Some designers like the consistency of its colors and patterns; others think such sameness looks unnatural and prefer the one-of-a-kind slabs of granite and marble. Price varies by the slab selected, but it can be more costly than a natural stone.

Bamboo. Eco-friendly, warm, and available in different hues, bamboo is a durable wood-like grass that can be used on any surface. It requires sealing. When it comes to price, top-notch bamboos rival high-quality granites. Jeff Taub, owner of Kittle’s Flooring Co. in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., favors the strength of strand bamboo, which is mixed with resin and compressed.

Mosaic glass tiles. A hot contender for today’s favorite material, these tiles are sustainable and available in a rainbow of colors, textures, and sizes. They can be mixed with metal, stone, and ceramic tiles for a rich textural display. The downside is price, which is comparable with or even greater than nice granite. Chicago designer David Kaufman likes to use glass tiles in different sizes and shapes on a backsplash.

IceStone. Recycled glass is mixed with cement to create IceStone, a speckled surface that’s chip- and burn-proof, although four times costlier than good granites.   

Hardwood. Wood will always be a classic, but the specific species, colors, and widths come and go in popularity. Frank Fontana, host of HGTV’s “Design on a Dime” currently prefers darker woods such as Brazilian cherry, walnut, mahogany, and oak-stained ebony. He also likes wide planks that mimic barn floorboards. New York designer Jeani Ziering thinks reclaimed teak flooring is an elegant must-have.

Cork. Though it may look soft, this flooring material wears like wood and can be dyed with vibrant reds, greens, blues. It’s also affordable, at $15 to $18 a square foot.

PaperStone. Durable and sustainable, PaperStone is made from layers of recycled paper in thicknesses of ¾-inch to 11/4-inch, making it suitable for countertops. Edges can be varied. Price is comparable to lower-end granites but a seasoned installer is essential, says Durbin.

Marble. Another natural material, marble’s elegance comes from its classic simplicity, quiet color range, and subtle veining. Though durable, it’s more porous than granite and requires periodic sealings, says David Kaufman. Some consider it a bad choice for kitchen counters, but Fontana thinks it’s fine as long as home owners understand how to care for it. Honing helps it withstand wear, says Jacksonville, Fla., designer Judith Sisler Johnson. Prices can be steep, $10 to $12 per square foot compared with $8 to $10 per square foot for granite that’s the same size and comparable quality, and $6 to $10 for porcelain, says Tanturri. A middle-grade granite slab might run $80 to $110 installed; the same size and quality marble slab would be 15 percent more.  

Granite. Like a black cocktail dress, granite will never go out of style, even if it is something that everybody owns. This natural material looks freshest when selected in a classic color or one of the newer but low-key variations such as sky pearl or black with gold or tan veining. Available in tiny mosaics, larger tiles, and slabs, its price depends on the thickness, edging, color, and finish. Prices have dropped due to competition, though newer granites like rainforest green may still run as high as $250 per square foot, says Durbin.

Other Options to Consider. Though less popular, and on the pricey side, here are some other materials our experts mentioned:  

  • Alkemi. This recycled metal with a jewel-like look shimmers and is resistant to chipping.
  • Copper. It offers an elegant sheen, but it can ding, so you may be safer using this material on walls rather than counters or floors.
  • Leather tiles. Another green material, these tiles offer a rich dramatic look in a variety of skins such as ostrich and vibrant colors like orange.
  • Pyrolave. A French-made glazed Volvic lava stone that’s hard, heat resistant, and comes in vibrant tones can cost $250 a square foot and require a seam because of its lengths.
  • Seeta. Environmentally-friendly and made by Torzo Surfaces from sunflower seed hulls, this material is durable, green, 100-percent formaldehyde free, and available in multiple colors and patterns. It costs about the same as an average-priced granite does, says Los Angeles designer Sarah Barnard.
Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

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