So who's buying quartz and exactly why are they buying it? Chris Wicki, director of Select Design Studio in Plano, Texas, says her firm's clients usually want a product with the performance of granite and the color and consistency of a manufactured product. “Some people are searching for a specific look,” she says. “A countertop may look different from the granite sample once it's fabricated, so the consistent color of quartz works better with their overall scheme.”
While manufacturers play up the benefits of a consistent product, purists say this is the main reason they avoid quartz altogether. “Granite is just more natural-looking,” says Jeff Sheiner, co-owner of The Granite Shop in Smyrna, Ga., who has an obvious bias. “Quartz doesn't have the natural depth.”
Alexandria, Va., architect Charles Moore, AIA, concedes more positive attributes to quartz, but he, too, is turned off by its uniformity and lack of visual interest. Ultimately, the architect, who's known for his high-end remodels of old houses, finds stone-look quartz products unconvincing. “For us, the materials are seen as an imitation, so we prefer to use the real thing,” says the principal of Moore Architects. A material that tries to imitate another product draws more attention to itself, underlining the fact that the client couldn't afford the real thing, he concludes.
But manufacturers contend that the material's true strength is its ability to assume unique looks. “Quartz is competitive with the hard, shiny look of granite, but it offers more colors,” says Aunet. This gives consumers the option of choosing bold reds, concretelike grays, and bright yellows and blues. Moore agrees that the ability to take on a bold look is the product's main advantage. “Almost everybody will ask for [real] stone, but every now and then someone will ask for blue Silestone,” he says. “When someone asks for a funky color, then that's a better argument for quartz.”
As noted above, quartz colors, patterns, and finishes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Formica produces 16 colors, Cambria sells 28, and DuPont offers 33. CaesarStone's 40 and Cosentino's 49 are the most in the industry. Caesar-Stone offers several outlandish hues, such as apple martini and tequila sunrise, plus six honed finishes. Cosentino also has bright colors, as well as products with Microban antimicrobial protection and a new finish that simulates the look and feel of leather (see “Solid Ground”).
Cosentino public relations manager Gina Covell says the company's 10 manufacturing lines allow for more colors and finishes. “We also offer vanity tops, integrated sinks, and backsplashes,” she says.
Contrary to popular assumption, quartz is not necessarily cheaper than stone. In fact, with the widespread availability of lower-priced granite from a number of different countries, including the United States, quartz is frequently more expensive. Prices range from $50 to $85 a square foot, compared with $39 for some of the budget granites. “Buyers always expect [quartz] to be cheaper, but it's not,” says Wicki.
The Granite Shop's Sheiner also counters companies' claims that quartz is substantially easier to maintain than his wares. Granite is not that susceptible to staining and only requires resealing every two years, he says. “Sealing is really simple: Spray on the sealer and wipe it down with a cloth.”
Still, the force of quartz's popularity and acceptance, and the options and benefits it offers your clients, cannot be ignored. The product, manufacturers say, is harder than granite, consistent from slab to slab, and never requires sealing. With these advantages, it's a solid alternative to stone.