Saturday, May 17, 2008

shameless plug, part un: KITCHEN COUNTER TOPSOk, so I am not a salesperson - I've never been a salesperson. I'm not gonna lie, people might have called me that at one point or another, however, I could not ever be one of those scary guys trying to sell you a car (although I have been offered that position). And however much I love retail, I could also never be the person on the sales floor of a retail store trying to "make you a deal" on a sofa or lamp or something. I can't stand those people.

I do LOVE helping people create beautiful rooms though and that's the way I look at my new job - since I'm an architect and designer's specification rep. I basically just try and get them to specify my products. If I had horrid products this would be difficult - but thank God I don't!

So for the first shameless plug, let's start with counter tops. Here goes!
Keep in mind that I am not expert by any means, but if you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to e-mail them to me and I'll do my best to come up with an answer.
This is a major debate of course: what should I, as a home owner put on my counter tops? In the midst of a housing crisis most homeowners realize that in order to sell their home, there has to be something unique and different about it in comparison to the same house for the same money down the block, but at the same time their home has to coincide with certain particular norms that society says you just HAVE TO HAVE in a house nowadays. In my particular area, that one MUST HAVE is granite - I HATE GRANITE!
Let's get this straight, I think it is beautiful, however, I was trained as an interior designer and one of my professors (Dr. Burpitt to be specific) drilled in my head that under no circumstances whatsoever were we allowed to specify a product that to our knowledge was not capable of performing for our client's needs. After all, that's what "desecrators" do, NOT designers! So my thing against granite is purely for performance sake, forgive me for my hatred.

To begin with, natural stones are porous - which of course is ok, assuming you have it sealed and re-sealed. But in this age of "quick fixes" and "instant gratification" I find it hard to believe that the massive array of consumers who buy granite counter tops do this as they are supposed to.
My other major problem is that it isn't environmentally friendly at all, because it is a natural resource that is continually and daily depleted. There have even been studies to show that it is harmful to your health and emits chemicals such as cancer causing radon. Enough said, right?

My major conundrum with this whole "natural stone" thing is that I have this amazingly passionate love affair with carerra marble. There just isn't anything like it - but it has the same drawbacks as granite AND it costs significantly more. Just what is a stylish girl to do??? Thankfully, I have several solutions to my dilemma:

Option #1) There's always stainless steel - a stunning, but cold counter top, in addition to the fact that it scratches and smudges quite easily and is certainly not the most affordable of solutions.

However, you can always go with a "brushed stainless steel" that is less lustrous (great alliteration, huh?) but doesn't show those fingerprints quite as much. If you go with a restaurant-quality steel, it is of course stain proof, easy to roll dough on, and you can set a hot pan on it any day of the week and twice on Sunday

Option #2) Manufactured stones - such as my particular favourite: Gibraltar.
Seriously, solid surfaces blow my mind - you can't cut on them, you can't set a hot pan directly on them, however - you can't stain them a bit and moreover, have you ever seen a seam in these jokers? No - you just can't see a seam if its done right. Plus, it is much more affordable than most other stones. Just be sure to look for ones that 100% acrylic - if they have any hint of polyester they're gonna scratch more easily. On top of that you can fully integrate your sink with an "under mount" to avoid seams where germs and bacteria love to hide.
Option #3)Of course there is always laminate. This is (because its affordable) the red-headed step child of counter tops. Since this is the main product I sell and since I my hair just happens to be an amazing shade of ginger, I have problems with it's place in consumer's eyes. Most of my clients use it in commercial installations, but most higher-end homeowners want something "better". In my humble opinion, I sort-of think this: splurge for great and expensive floors (they ARE what you walk on after all!), invest in fabulous appliances, buy cabinets that will last a few lifetimes, hire a professional to plan the kitchen so that it works for the way you cook, and blow your budget on all of these things instead of your counter tops, basically because you can do all this, upgrade your laminate and still have beautiful, serviceable tops that enhance your home without destroying the environment, your pocketbook, and your family's health.
Now of course you want the "under-mount sink" just like everyone else does, but you can actually get that with laminates too!
I should also mention that most laminate companies do their part to make sustainable products - Wilsonart laminate (the only AMERICAN manufacturer) was the first to get Greenguard certification. They use recylced kraft backing papers, re-use steam in their facilities, recommend water-based glues instead of chemicals, and sell their by-products to other industries to prevent waste. In addition, you can use backings that have trace amounts of harmful chemicals in it instead of plywood that is laced with VOCs.
I'm planning to install laminate in my home right now - with my white cabinets, vintage hammered black hardware, and black and white checkerboard vinyl floors, its gonna look great! (keep in mind vinyl isn't the same as it used to be but that's a whole other topic - don't judge people don't judge!)

These are not your grandmother's laminates!:

With post-form laminates you can even get rid of those horrible brown seam lines that tend to break and create gorgeous edges like this:
Option #4) Now we come to my personal favourite: WOOD! Seriously guys, never underestimate the power of wood in creating a luscious texture in your home - we already know this because of wood floors. If you're a serious cook you know that wood chopping blocks, no matter how much effort you have to put into them, really are the best things around, so installing wood as a whole counter top in at least part of your kitchen enables a look that should certainly be duplicated more often (even if it is just in the form of a wooden table in the middle of your kitchen). Most experts agree that wood counter tops have the least impact on the environment.
My personal favourite at the moment is the usage of more earth-friendly woods, such as rehabilitated architectural pieces like old floor boards or even antique farm or trestle tables. The newest product to jump on the green bandwagon is bamboo. We all know that bamboo, as a renewable resource is all the rage in floors at the moment. Alot of the bad publicity it has gotten over the past few years is because of cheaper versions on the market at the "big box" stores. Bamboo renews itself approximately every 7 years, but it is the strongest in mid-life so it should be harvested between 3-5 years of age - if cut down before that expectancy it is too soft and cut down after around 5 years, it is too brittle. But this stuff is great, it can be stained any colour, comes in a variety of styles, has no formaldehyde on the surface and is more affordable than solid surface - its basically perfect is what I'm saying.
The point of this article is not to trash any particular product or "sell" another, my goal is just merely to tell you to go out and find something different. Do something explosive! Get a reaction from people other than "oh, I have that same top in my house!" Be original, be creative, and learn to love your counter tops in the process! Whatever your choice (and this goes for all the materials you invest into placing in your home) research your decisions, find a salesperson you can trust, find a company with a good reputation to install the products, and learn what you have to do to maintain your surfaces and save your money in the long run.
I should probably mention that there are new green products on the marketplace daily - check out the Green Home Guide for more details on products using paper, recycled glass, and other fun, but gorgeously green materials.
All photos are from Better Homes and Gardens or Cottage Living Magazines.


Mrs. Limestone said...

Oh good - looks like your comments are working for me again.

I'd have to say that while I agree with your dislike of granite, it really is a very easy to maintain surface and very resistant to damage. I had it in my last house and while Im sick of the look,I htink its very practical.

Meander said...

Thanks Mrs. Limestone! I love your test so I definately cherish your opinions and welcome them any day of the week and twice on Sunday!!! I agree that for alot of people Granite is a great choice, but I do have reservations about using it personally for myself or specifying it for a client. In addition, I think that people should always be educated on the pros and cons of products before they purchase them.

Leslie said...

i don't love granite either, and this post is so very informative. thank you so much. what do you think of soapstone or concrete? thanks. leslie