As homeowners look to personalize their home, countertop companies continue to expand their portfolios and push the line in design and technology. Regardless of price point, homeowners expect to be able to choose from a wide portfolio of materials and designs.
“Like any other investment in their home, homeowners are highly protective of the investments they make in their counters. They want assurance the products they are installing into their kitchen are going to withstand the test of time, and not stain or scratch,” says Lorenzo Marquez, VP Marketing for Cosentino North America. “They also want to be sure that it isn’t going to require constant upkeep or frequent maintenance.”
Summer Kath, senior director of business development for Cambria, notes that “trends in natural stone countertops in the past five years have moved away from granite looks to light and bright marbles and monochromatic. Homeowners are loving the classic white looks with natural veining and movement. Quartz countertops have evolved rapidly in the past five years to answer these changing trends. You’ll find natural quartz countertops that have the unique look of marbles and pure whites that are sometimes hard to find in nature. In the next five years, we expect to see more demands for linear movement in countertops and different surface textures.”
Marquez also notes the trends toward light tones. “We have observed a growing demand for lighter, natural stones, such as marble, across all segments of the market,” he says. Materials such as marble, however, often come with high maintenance requirements. Alternatively, manufacturers like Cosentino, for example, take the look homeowners are asking for and develops designs inspired by natural stone that give the desired look but without the high maintenance.
“In terms of colors and different looks for counters, we’re seeing neutral hues, including creamy whites, soft grays and muted blacks, gaining popularity,” Marquez says. “Clean, contemporary lines are continuing to dominate kitchen design and texture is also an important element.”
Natural stone patterns dominated laminate offerings not too long ago, but Gerri Chmiel, senior design manager with Formica, is starting to see that change. “Stylistically, countertops are much different. Starting in the early 2000s it was trying to get the look of natural stone. We’re finally moving away from that. We have the new younger homebuyer who wants something different. Everyone is trying to figure out what the new millennial wants.”
At the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show last January, Formica launched a new line of laminate in partnership with Jonathan Adler. “We wanted to partner with somebody who would resound with the residential audience,” Chmiel explains. “He has a great presence with residential stores and is someone who is very approachable and dynamic. He’s excited about laminate. The Greek Key and Malachite patterns are ones he designed and has worked with in the past; they were adapted for the laminate collection.”
Angela George, marketing communications specialist at VT Industries, says interior trends dictate laminate design. “We’re starting to see more wood grains and a few quartz-looking laminates coming on the market,” she says. “You can get that beautiful look you’re seeking and pair it with low maintenance. It’s a win-win.”
“Laminate can let homeowners be serious and playful at the same time,” says Tammy Weadock, public relations/social media manager at Wilsonart. “Homeowners are getting more creative with their pattern and material choices. With the evolution of high-resolution printing and reproduction, the design potential has exploded from realistic stones and woodgrains to poppy bright patterns. Textured finishes make the story even more interesting – adding dimension and depth to designs with woodgrain and stone ticking to more abstract linearity. All of this contributes to the rebirth of laminate, which is a very different material than it was in our grandmothers’ days.”
Weadock also comments about the trend in mixing materials. “Mixing a woodgrain countertop with, say, a decorative metal backsplash adds a little glamour and personality to the space. Or mixing a natural stone island with a laminate perimeter can extend a budget.”
Chmiel is part of a global design team – she has counterparts in Asia, Australia and Germany. “Inspiration comes from everywhere,” she says. “Between the four of us and our global VP, we really work at tracking what’s trending. We look to real materials to see what’s happening. We talk to consumers and have focus groups. After research, we sit down and plan what to introduce. But this is all done with the understanding that when you’re dealing with laminate you can’t be too far ahead of the curve or it’s not approachable, while at the same time we do want to trend forward.”
Cambria’s products start with nature, Kath says. “We look at natural elements of earth and quarried stone, but add our own internal guidance to create styles and designs that complement and enhance the home. We also strive to innovate with internal talent and create new looks.”
Weadock explains that to anticipate consumer interest, Wilsonart’s design team travels worldwide to research trends. “We also attend trade shows; review research on trends in design, home, fashion and the industry; and collaborate with multiple resources to identify themes in design and patterns that will appeal to a broad range of consumers, as well as architects and designers who specify materials for building projects. With all the new surfacing options out there, it’s no wonder that laminate may seem like yesterday’s news, but that’s why we spend so much time creating relevant designs and refining our performance story.”
Kitchens typically have the lion’s share of countertop square footage in a home, and, with the kitchen’s shift to heart of the home status, counters are getting bigger. Marquez observes, “Counters have grown in size as homeowners have increasingly demanded large-format kitchen islands to serve as the home’s central hub, rather than the traditional kitchen table so many of us grew up with. Simultaneously, we’ve witnessed a surge in the amount of space being devoted to counters in the kitchen, as these oversized islands serve as a central gathering and working space, bring together the room and, in some cases, replace a traditional kitchen table altogether.”
Weadock also notes consumers using the kitchen for more than cooking. “It is a business center, a homework area, meeting area and a main hub of the home,” she says. “As such, kitchen countertops need to be durable, as well as fashionable, and reflect the homeowner’s personality and style.”
“Laminate countertops have undergone some huge technology advances,” George says. “Key laminate manufacturers are trying to revamp and revitalize laminate’s image. It’s been around since the ‘50s and is a durable solution, but has fallen out of favor with the rise of some other options. The key for laminate moving forward is that it is trendy and versatile. Expanded edge profiles also have shaped the industry. The profiles and patterns make for an affordable option that elevates the look of laminate.
“Technology has changed,” George continues. “Laminates are getting better and better all the time. I feel the future of laminate countertops will be with the edges and how realistic they are. Edge options combined with the number of laminate options make the possibilities endless.”
Weadock also comments about the expanding edge profile options in laminate, specifically mentioning decorative edge profiles and mitered edges, both of which remove the dated brown seam line from years past.
Laminate application isn’t limited to just countertops, though. “One of the cool things about laminate is there are so many ways to use them,” says Chmiel. “We’ve seen laminate as built-in shelves or recladding of an old wood surface. It’s a great way to freshen something up a bit. I had lunch at a restaurant recently that topped its old tables with coordinating laminate. The tables were flea markety, but had a fresh new surface. It was really cool.”
Laminate also can be applied to walls, but Chmiel does caution about installation. “It cannot be applied directly to drywall or gypsum. It has to be put on particleboard or plywood before it’s put on the wall,” she says.
Weadock envisions laminate moving onto other surfaces in the home. “We’re looking at places where the high-performance surface defies heavy traffic, like kids’ rooms, craft rooms, laundry rooms and garages. There are many vertical surfaces that beg for more playful or dramatic details, like cabinetry, backsplashes or walls with bold geometric shapes and painted woodgrains.”
“Manufacturers will continue to push boundaries with the development of proprietary technology to enhance and improve stone surfacing and create products that not only will stand the test of time, but also offer flexible solutions for a range of design challenges,” Marquez predicts. “It’s important to recognize that counters are one of the most utilized elements of a kitchen and, as such, need to withstand all varieties of usage demands. The market is demanding surfacing materials that meet high-performance standards and also add value to their home. Further, homeowners expect these high-quality and design-friendly materials to be accessible for their needs, regardless of budget and price point.”