You can probably blame the formerly white hot housing market for the elevated position of granite in the home building industry. During the boom, granite became so popular that even entry-level houses and the most basic of condos offered the stone as standard in the kitchen.
The result of this conditioning is that home buyers are likely to want (or expect) a countertop surfacing that is a little more than basic. Richard Brooks, president of Brooks Custom, a countertop and kitchen products fabricator in Westchester County, N.Y., says most buyers—no matter their income level—want a countertop that is durable and low maintenance but also attractive and different.
“The people with money still want something distinctive,” Brooks says. “Those clients who have bigger budgets are not deterred by the higher costs of more unique materials. We are seeing people consistently choosing butcher-block tops, premium wide-plank wood countertops, and stainless steel or zinc countertops.”
In addition to wood, which has been making a strong comeback, materials such as engineered concrete and glass, bamboo, paper-based tops, various recycled-content products, and that old standby, laminate, are prominent offerings on the market. Laminate remains a good option for buyers with smaller budgets, but today the product offers more than the typical choice. Temple, Texas–based Wilsonart, for example, says some of its new contemporary laminate surfaces “mimic heavier organic products and give a trendy look without a trendy price.”
Another material making steady gains on granite is quartz, a surfacing made from 93 percent quartz and resins. “Over the last 10 years, quartz has evolved the most from an aesthetics and installation standpoint,” says Lorenzo Marquez, vice president of marketing for Stafford, Texas–based quartz manufacturer Cosentino North America, maker of the Silestone brand. “Now colors have a lot more depth, movement, and shine, allowing designers to incorporate more choices into their projects.”
Depending on the source of your information, quartz is either the best thing since sliced bread or a choice that is no better or worse than granite. Countertop Specialty, a countertop fabricator in Dallas, says on its website that marketing is the main reason for the buzz.
“Despite marketing efforts by makers of engineered stone to try and convince you otherwise, there isn’t any significant difference regarding performance, function, cleaning, or price between granite and Cambria or other brands of quartz countertops,” Countertop Specialty writes on its site.
But many buyers prefer quartz for a variety of reasons. Premier Countertops in Tupelo, Miss., said in an interview last year with The Commercial Appeal that quartz is “slowly eclipsing sales of granite” at the fabricator’s plant.
Quartz offers colors that mimic granite, but it also offers a larger variety of colors, and manufacturers continue to come up with new ones on a regular basis. These new colors, Marquez explains, are even more consistent and more uniform than the old hues. Moreover, quartz manufacturers, he says, have introduced products with lower opening price-points to keep up with the competition in natural stone.