Are you concerned about how your home’s countertops will hold up?
Countertop performance is often an afterthought during design and is taken for granted by many homeowners, but if you are trying to achieve a particular aesthetic or work with a tight budget, you will need to understand which elements of the countertop selection process can create risks for your kitchen design.
If you haven’t renovated before and you have been lucky enough to live in houses with good countertops, this may be your first time thinking about performance options and price points. In kitchens, baths and laundry rooms that we design and install, counter surfaces demand more reliable performance than almost any other decision that our clients make. How to get the durability you need combined with a color theme that’s consistent with your cabinets and other finishes? Read on!
At Bellweather Design-Build, we have a deep network of trade partners and vendors that we like to work with. We determine which of our partners to engage based on the complexity of the design details. For example, a particular countertop fabricator may provide a competitive price point for basic granite and quartz options, but they may not have the ability to install a waterfall edge or a reinforced overhang. They might not have the expertise to install a matched, single piece backsplash that you've designed.
For this story, we thought it would be helpful to give you some answers right from one of our regular installers. Angelo's Marble and Granite is a family business in Philadelphia, located near our offices. They’ve been around for more than 20 years and we use them often. We love having a friendly and professional vendor to help educate our clients during the complex selection process. Stephanie Hoffmeier from Bellweather (BW) interviewed Danny and Erika, from Angelo’s Marble and Granite to answer some common concerns about countertops.
BW: “What’s the most challenging aspect of helping homeowners decide on countertops?”
Erika: “Countertop material options and styles can seem endless and they come in varying different price points. Considerations can depend on your cabinet layout in combination with the slab selection, the size of slab, seam placement, and vein direction, to name a few. Typically, homeowners aren't purchasing full slabs but rather purchasing the amount of material needed from the slabs.This can sometimes create waste and increase costs.”
Danny suggests: “Using remnants for smaller kitchen counters or vanities are great ways to save money. If you ask your supplier, you can mix remnant materials for a two-toned countertop scheme for cost savings especially on smaller projects.”
Erika: “Each brand of countertop material has their own price structure and can be difficult to price by per square foot. A quartz manufacturer like Cambria, made in America and with that comes a higher price tag. Cambria does have some of the most unique designs not found in other brands.”
We found that some clients in the past became overwhelmed with decisions during the material selections phase and weren’t able to focus enough attention on the countertop decision, despite our guidance. Once a countertop has been templated and fabrication begins, there’s no going back to change the color! We decided to stage the countertop decision point earlier in our material selection process and that has largely eliminated any regrets, but there’s still a lot of pressure to get it right!
BW: “A common question that our clients ask us: ‘Which is better, Quartz or Granite?”
Erika: “Because there's no one size fits all formula or right or wrong answer, we ask our customers a series of questions to help guide them in the right direction. Granite and Quartz are both extremely durable and stain resistant. Start with color samples of the overall design and color scheme of the other materials. We ask them: Do you want to see lighter or darker counters next to your cabinets? Do you like visual flow with veins or a more conservative pattern, or no pattern at all?”
It’s important to consider the following features when selecting your countertop material: durability, maintenance, color, finish, thickness, edge profile and radius/corner profiles. Some materials and tones are warmer, some on the cool spectrum. Countertop selection requires a unique set of decisions and it’s best to approach this from an educated vantage.
Based on what we see in kitchen design trends and during our visits with clients to countertop showrooms, white and off-white counter themes are in high demand. Most of our clients have busy families, enjoy cooking, and not surprising: they’re concerned about counter staining. White marble is a less expensive alternative to quartz, but you may already know that most marble does eventually stain, no matter how well you seal it. Granite on the other hand does not stain, but sadly does not come in lighter colors.
We recommend quartz as the most durable countertop material option when light colors are required. Maintaining your quartz countertop requires minimal effort. For these reasons, quartz has become the countertop material of choice in most higher quality kitchens during the past 15 years but it’s certainly not a new product. First developed in Northern Italy, quartz has provided the same durability and stain resistance for more than 50 years!
Another reason quartz is in high demand: alternate materials like butcher-block, marble and soapstone for your counters can be risky if you're sensitive to variance. You’ll find natural features in these materials that may come as a surprise if you are expecting consistency of finish.
Also, hardwood, marble and soapstone are relatively soft when compared with granite and quartz. Even with some precautions, normal use over the years will eventually wear down the surfaces of these materials and look tired. Granite is also low maintenance, but most granite suppliers suggest annual sealant application (which is not too difficult to apply). Quartz typically doesn’t require any upkeep – cleaning your quartz surface daily with a non-abrasive cleaner or gentle soap and water is all you’ll need to do.
Visiting the slab yard and finding the right slab is often described by clients as an emotional and fun experience. It’s a visual treat to explore the options and see what materials come from different places in the world. There is a lot to learn!
Danny: “Some clients are adamant about using a stone made in America. When that’s the case, we'd recommend either Cambria Quartz, Caesarstone Quartz, or locally quarried stone slabs.” All of these companies provide samples.
For marble, Erika suggests using, “Vermont Danby Marble -- which has some of the most beautiful marbles in the world and is one of our top selling materials. Rather than ‘pick a color to get a quote’ approach, we prefer to educate our prospective clients. We explain the options and discuss porosity rates; where in the stone is quarried; the composition and identity of the material; and pros and cons of their options even before we have a confirmed job.” As a family owned business, they’ve built their company with high standards and take pride in their work. Danny states, “Most of our employees have been with us for 15 years or more, which speaks volumes!” and we’d agree.
Erika continues by saying “quartz continues to be 50% of our business. With so many options and brands it does get overwhelming for some customers. The idea is 'fall in love with a slab 1st, then let's talk pricing. If that particular color or brand falls outside of the budget, we’ll work with you to find alternatives or similar styles at better price points.”
The countertop edge and corner profiles for your new countertop are secondary decision after selecting your color, you’ll need to consider. This may be a small detail but it can create a big impact – especially if you aren’t aware of what it’s going to look like after fabricated.
There are some edge options that are available to you at no charge, while other edge profiles are an up-charge due to the need for additional labor. Some options for edge and corner profiles available include: eased, 1/8" round, 1/4" round, half bull nose and 1/4" bevel. Countertop edge profiles that are typically upgrades are: double ogee, single ogee and full bull-nose.
Countertop Fabrication Rule: Measure Twice, Cut Once
Even though we’ll carefully work through these details with you during our material selection process during design (and possibly at the slab yard), we’ll circle back to these decisions to re-confirm these details again during construction.
Our team works through a 3-point check and signature custom material ordering process; this includes a final review the countertop color, finish, corner and edge profiles for final confirmation from the client before sending the template out for fabrication. We require all clients to sign off on the countertop spec and visually see a representation of the corner and edge profile decision before they’re counters are crafted with the fabricator. Once it reaches the fabricators hands, your countertop design is set in stone – no pun intended!
Our clients are typically visual people and appreciate the time we’ve taken to ensure that the decisions made represent their expectations for design intent and budget. We do our best to ensure our client's remodel is a success for many years that follow!
Visit Angelo's Marble and Granite here.
Read more about kitchen countertop layout options here.
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