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Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Tired of granite? You have options

  • Stainless steel material for counters is now being made with fine patterns that resist fingerprints.

    Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times

    Stainless steel material for counters is now being made with fine patterns that resist fingerprints.

  • Lava stone is quarried from a volcano in France, enameled and then fired at high temperatures.

    Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times

    Lava stone is quarried from a volcano in France, enameled and then fired at high temperatures.

  • Glass countertops can be lit from below for dramatic effect. They are heat-resistant and easy to keep clean.

    Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times

    Glass countertops can be lit from below for dramatic effect. They are heat-resistant and easy to keep clean.

To anyone reading the real estate ads in recent years, it could seem that granite was the only material worth using for a kitchen counter, as important as updated electrical or a reliable roof.
Granite isn't going anywhere.
But many designers and homeowners are turning to glass, manufactured stone, metal and other materials to create counters that work for people who actually cook as well for those who see the kitchen as a decorative accessory.
"What consumers now have seen is there is kind of this granite fatigue. Everyone has granite," said Ed Rogers, the director of business development at CaesarStone US, based in Van Nuys, Calif.
CaesarStone and other brands, including Silestone, sell engineered quartz, a durable product made from more than 90 percent crushed quartz mixed with a resin.
Manufacturers are producing dozens of colors of engineered quartz, some of them trying to replicate the look of other stones or concrete, at prices comparable to those of midlevel granites.
Both a virtue and a drawback is its consistency -- no fossils or natural quirks, though that could change too as companies work to mimic the natural variations of marble or add a leathery surface texture.
Glass counters, too, are shining. Lighted from below, they can add an appealing glow to a kitchen. Buyers also like the hygienic qualities of glass in these days of the hand sanitizer.
The ubiquitous granite has moved some homeowners to other choices that are new and appealing to green consumers, such as engineered quartz, as well as some that have been around for centuries, like soapstone or marble.
Improvements to other materials, such as stainless steel with fine patterns that resist fingerprints, have made alternatives more popular, designer Troy Adams said.
One of the materials he likes to use is lava stone, which is quarried from a volcano in France, enameled and then fired at high temperatures.
That doesn't mean the old standbys, including solid surfaces such as Corian, are gone from the market, particularly in budget-minded kitchen plans.
Wood -- often used for cutting blocks or other inserts to countertops -- also can work for counters, whether in a farmhouse kitchen in the city or a sleek contemporary space.
Many companies also are working to make their products -- natural and manufactured -- as eco-friendly as possible. Consumers who care might check a product for its percentage of recycled materials, which varies considerably, or the conditions of its mining.
Cosentino reports that its Eco line is made of 75 percent post-consumer or post-industrial materials, including mirrors, glass, stone scraps and porcelain. Other counters are being made from recycled glass or recycled paper sealed with wax.
"Granite is going to stay as long as they keep on digging," said Oren Osovski, an L.A. contractor and interior designer.
Concrete
Pros: Modern, industrial look. Can be made in any shape and in a variety of colors.
Cons: Can stain and crack, though that also may be an appeal. Relatively expensive. May need a sealer and wax applied periodically to protect against staining.
Granite
Pros: Huge range of colors and prices. Durable. Stain- and heat-resistant, though some sealers commonly used to combat its porous qualities can be damaged by excessive heat.
Cons: Some designers say it has become overused.
Tile
Pros: Budget-friendly. Unlimited color and pattern choices. Durable, heat- and stain-resistant.
Cons: Grout can stain and be tough to clean. Not a smooth surface for some cooking tasks.
Glass
Pros: Looks new and modern. Can be made in many colors, patterns and shapes. Translucent qualities enable natural light to pass through. Nonporous, heat-resistant, easy to clean. Can be made from recycled glass.
Cons: Shows fingerprints. Can crack or break.
Marble
Pros: Classic looks. Sometimes has translucent quality. Great for making and rolling pastry dough because it's cool to the touch.
Cons: Can stain.
Laminates
Pros: Huge range of colors, patterns and finishes. Budget-friendly. Easy to maintain.
Cons: Not as durable as other types.
Engineered quartz
Pros: Extremely tough. Dozens of colors and patterns. Easy to clean. Consistent color and detail. Many manufacturers, including CaesarStone, Silestone, Cambria. Considered more sustainable, as remnants often can be recycled.
Cons: Lacks unique colorations and details found in marble or granite.
Stainless steel
Pros: Durable. Stain-resistant. Looks like a professional kitchen. Other metals, such as zinc and copper, lend an unusual appearance that will change over time.
Cons: Can show fingerprints and scratch.
Wood
Pros: Can be used as a chopping board.
Cons: Shows knife marks. Susceptible to water damage. Requires periodic reoiling.
Other natural stone
Pros: Slate, soapstone, quartzite, lava stone and others can provide a variety of looks. Soapstone gives a traditional farmhouse appeal, while lava stone is as modern as can be. Some can be made into sinks as well.
Cons: Depending on the rarity, it can be expensive.
Solid surfaces
Pros: Products such as Corian come in a variety of shapes, colors and finishes. Nonporous, low-maintenance. Can be made into a seamless piece.
Cons: Can be stained or scratched, though marks can be repaired, sometimes with just an abrasive cleaner.

Story tags » Home ImprovementInterior decorating

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