Topping Things Off
The hottest trends in countertop design and fabrication
incorporate mix-and-match colors, materials and inlays with designs
that are personalized and low maintenance.
By John Filippelli
Call it a sign of the times, but simple, streamlined and low
maintenance have become the buzzwords for today’s hottest surface
treatments. While consumers love the look of mix-and-match
materials and unusual inlays to spruce up countertops and
backsplashes, they still seem to be trending toward clean lines and
looks that are as functional as they are fashionable, according to
designers and fabricators interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design
That doesn’t mean customization and personalization aren’t still
high on consumer wish lists. However, function and budget equally
important to many consumers, who increasingly are demanding
beautiful designs that are not only easy on the eye, but easy to
clean and maintain, too.
To that end, heat-, water- and scratch-resistant materials such
as polished granite and acrylic solid surfaces are popular choices,
with fabricators noting that they are integrating these materials
into more and more projects in a variety of interesting
As far as edge treatments go, today’s designs seem to favor
elegant curves or simple honed edges.
Still, in some quarters, more elaborate designs prevail, such as
the triple waterfall edge design created by Jason Borden, owner of
Mesa, AZ-based BB Solid Surface, for his own personal kitchen.
Borden lives and works with the motto: “Create an edge that has
never been done before,” and his work is testimony to some of the
innovative possibilities fabricators can bring to life.
Anna Maria Vona, v.p. of Philadelphia, PA-based Carmana Designs,
also favors creative countertop design, citing a recent project
which had mosaic tile inlaid in a pattern outlining the major sight
lines of the kitchen.
The broad range of materials available today have also created
greater color possibilities, with advances in fabricating
technology making it easier than ever to combine colors and
materials in unique designs and patterns.
“Color combinations are more creative and exciting today,”
points out Laurel Behning, ASID, CID of Plymouth, MN-based Laurel
Behning Interiors, Inc. She adds, “The trend is definitely to mix
materials and colors, such as pure quartz products or man-made
products, like concrete, metal and glass, with granite, stone, wood
and even volcanic ash.”
Vona believes that “Consumers now have absolutely overwhelming
choices to make, with the addition of glass and metallic inlays. It
is our job to help steer them in the direction of appealing choices
for their budgets, lifestyles and aesthetics.”
On this and the following three pages, Kitchen & Bath Design
News looks at some unique projects showcasing today’s hottest
Designer Uses Natural Materials to Help Overcome Kitchen
Asked to soften the blow of a client’s nightmare vacation, Carmen
Vona and Anna Maria Vona of Philadelphia, PA-based Carmana Designs
knew there was only one thing to do: Create a dream kitchen.
Says Anna Maria Vona, v.p. for the company: “The client had an
existing SieMatic kitchen that was completely damaged when a water
pipe broke while she was on vacation. Water had poured through the
walls of her kitchen over a two-week period.”
As a result. the entire kitchen had to be ripped apart from
ceiling to floor.
For the remodeling project, the client had one very specific
request. “She wanted the overall design theme to use completely
natural materials wherever possible,” Vona reports.
While the type of material was established, how the material was
to be used was another issue. Vona explains: “The client insisted
on having the black absolute granite with a simple, flat edge that
was honed rather than polished. [Since she is an avid cook], our
professional opinion was for the black absolute granite to be
polished [to reduce maintenance].”
Vona notes that the wall area where the three convex pull-out
pantry cabinets are located had an existing dry wall closet that
had a tangle of existing plumbing lines and a fire hose encased in
the wall. “The curved pantry doors were fabricated around the
closet by building a false cabinet ceiling and then fabricating the
doors to look seamless,” she explains.
In fact, Vona notes that one door of the three pull-out pantry
doors is actually the door to the old closet, which still services
water lines for the kitchen.
“The triumph of design and fabrication was a trompe l’oeil
effect. No one can tell that one of the pantry doors is the door to
a closet,” she says.
Accenting the countertops are custom cabinets with stainless
steel pulls that create a warm, cohesive look to the space, Vona
1950s-Style Kitchen Features Metallic
Harkening back to a simpler time, this 1950s-style kitchen,
fabricated by Benicia, CA-based Laminations Unlimited, suggests a
desire for all things metal, says Ally Canning, sales/estimating
for the company.
“We are witnessing a definite increased interest in the ’50s
look using metallic edges and backsplash panels,” she reports.
“The client selected Topstone 100% acrylic solid surface
material in S-001 White because it is a bright white with more
translucence than some other solid surface whites,” she offers.
Canning notes that a brushed stainless steel laminate for a 1/2″
inlay was also selected, centered in the 1-1/2″ front edge and
placed 1/2″ down in the top of the splashes.
She continues: “Routing a 1/2″ channel out of the Topstone edge
and splash about 3/16″ into the material provided ample room to
inlay the laminate without difficulty. It turned out to be very
She continues: “We [also] had a client request that we use a
laminate brushed stainless steel inset for the front panel of her
trash compactor, as well as behind her free-standing stove, to
complement her stainless steel sink and appliances.”
She adds that the company is also working on a project that
features countertops in two colors of a boomerang pattern for the
kitchen and family room area with 1-1/2″ polished aluminum
Fabricator Helps Solve Client Budget Issue
Asked to supply the solid surface countertops in this L-shaped
kitchen, Daniel Phillips, custom fabricator and owner of Temecula,
CA-based Maranatha Solid Surface Specialists, Inc., faced the
challenge of creating a customized look on a limited budget.
He relays that the homeowners looked at several solid surface
brands, but their budget only left room for solid colors. They
found the answer they were looking for in Samsung Staron Pebble
Blue countertops, which offer beauty and texture while allowing for
the addition of a solid surface sink.
The couple also requested a custom-built island with a rounded
café-style breakfast bar and a stovetop cooking area. However,
fitting the island around the kitchen’s two wood columns presented
a difficult installation challenge.
“The main challenge was the radius of the upper bar,” he says of
the project, which also features a matching backsplash. “But a
simple template helped there.”
He adds that the gasline to service the cooktop was in the post,
so he had to cut the upper part and seam it together around the
“Since the post was already installed, we had to work around
it,” he describes. “We built the upper bar 1/2″ wider, doing the
mate cut with a Penske straight edge. We notched out for the post
and then seamed it back together.”
The project is a prime example of clients seeking to personalize
their kitchens, according to Phillips. However, he notes, “We
believe that if you don’t offer a custom product and you are a
custom shop, you are putting a limit on how custom your shop can
Perhaps it was that both clients just happen to be medical
professionals. But, when Kevin Holmberg of Port Angeles, WA-based
Quality Encounters was asked to supply countertops for this kitchen
that were hygienic and easy to maintain, he didn’t think it strange
at all: He saw it as a reflection of a growing industry trend.
“We believe infection control in the workplace and the home will
become a major focal point in the upcoming five to 10 years,” he
states, citing a nearby Naval Hospital that has been undergoing
countertop, sink bowl and wall cladding as another example.
While sanitary and maintenance concerns were key for this
project, aesthetics were also an important consideration in the
project, which included two large countertops, a bar top, an island
with cooktop, the kitchen windowsills and switchplates and outlet
For Holmberg, the overall design challenges were met so well by
the architect and general contractor, respectively, that he was
able to focus entirely on the clients’ needs, which also called for
extended wall backsplashes above the countertops.
“The project was ready for the templating of the countertops and
full-height backsplashes when we arrived,” he notes, adding that
the full-height backsplash required that the solid surface fit
precisely at each intersection adjacent to cabinets and walls.
To meet this challenge, “a 1/4″ m.d.f. template was manufactured
on-site to insure the perfect fit of the product that is reproduced
in the shop using solid surface materials,” he describes.
He continues: “This project falls right in line with the trend
of combining natural materials with manufactured products. The
Samsung Staron Aspen Amber countertops combine neutral colors in a
granite look that blends well with the other kitchen surroundings
and is carried into the large dining room, including a very stately
looking slate fireplace.”
He adds: “Manufactured products offer features, such as ease of
use, that make it a more desired product. Another aspect is the
ability to maintain our homes [in] a minimal amount of time.”
He concludes, however, that regardless of the trend, there are
certain constants for clients.
“The need for simplicity, in both maintenance and visual impact,
is of major importance and will continue to be an issue that needs
to be addressed in the years ahead.”
Fabricator Uses Hard Seams to Seal the Deal
Gustave Blume, president of BLUME’S Solid Surface Products in
Freeport, PA knows how to seal the deal.
“The customers had a design in mind and they worked directly
with our installers on the plans, determining what we could and
could not do on the project,” he describes.
Working from layouts supplied by the clients, Blume notes that
he had the shower base and other pieces done in the company’s shop
and then transported to the project site.
“Everything had to be hard seamed even the ceiling,” he notes,
adding that it was crucial that the bathroom be water tight.
To accomplish this, the bathroom was done with Corian Venaro
Natural Pearl, taking eighteen 12′-sheets to complete, he
“The vanities, countertops, surround around the whirlpool,
flooring and baseboards all fit completely inside the 4’x6′ shower
stall,” he adds.
He notes that the shower stall ceiling, which was designed at an
angle, was particularly challenging. “With it being 1/2″ material,
the ceiling had to be fitted and hard-seamed while holding it in
place above the working area. The ceiling sloped up because it was
in the corner of the house.”
He continues: “On the floor, they used epoxy grout instead of
regular grout so it would adhere to the Corian.”
Furthermore, the baseboards and the moldings around the mirrors are
made of Corian, with each making a design that was decoratively
etched into the Corian.
He notes that using Venaro for this project was tricky, due to
its directional pattern, but adds: “Corian can be fabricated to
make different designs that give a decorative look to backsplashes
and various other options.”
He concludes: “We see that people are getting away from the
ordinary, mainly because architects and designers are more educated
[and] material selection is getting greater.”
Kitchen Countertops Complete Neo-Gothic
Part of the 2003 ASID Showcase Home in Minneapolis, MN, this
Neo-Gothic kitchen not only offered challenges but opportunities,
says Laurel Behning. ASID, CID of Plymouth, MN-based Laurel Behning
“The design challenge was to create efficient countertop square
footage so both clients could cook for children and guests while
providing for catering needs,” she explains.
Cambria, which is featured on the kitchen island and along the
perimeter, is also carried through the mudroom, bathroom vanity,
master suite, butler’s pantry and the fireplace in the basement,
“The largest fabrication and installation challenge was the
radius countertop templating over the base cabinet separating the
kitchen and the breakfast room.There was a gap below the farmhouse
sink when the countertops were installed,” she explains.
Therefore, Behning selected Corian for the sink, with Corian
also added to the sink edge at the fabricator’s shop.
Tumbled limestone counter backsplash tiles with accents of Gothic
Revival Deco tiles as well as a custom, faux-finished range hood,
antique wrought-iron scrolls at the widened doorway to the
breakfast room and an oval, recessed, hand-painted, lit dome over
the oval center island, were also added, she says.
“Welshpool Black” Cambria was selected for the peripheral
countertops to contrast with the limestone backsplash tiles and
highlight the bronze metal accent tiles, with the “Victoria”
Cambria chosen for the center island to enhance the limestone
backsplash tiles, Behning concludes.
Custom Fabricator Uses Personal Kitchen to Challenge His
Whenever Jason Borden, owner of Mesa, AZ-based BB Solid Surface,
begins work on any fabrication project, he issues a challenge to
himself and his crew: Create an edge that has never been done
So, left to his own devices, Borden decided to fabricate the
counters in his own home and see just how unique a design he could
“The best thing about solid surface is that you can use your
imagination and create the impossible,” he explains. But, doing the
impossible does not come without its challenges, he adds.
“In this particular situation, we were facing two hurdles. One
was removing a section of the decking 1/2″ wide and 1/4″ deep to
provide for our inlay across the entire countertop. Second was the
building of the triple waterfall edge,” he says.
Offering that “the biggest challenge in fabrication is mastering
the glue lines and making sure that all of the seams are tight,” he
notes that he and his crew chose to do “old-fashioned hand sanding”
to accommodate this need.
Further describing the triple waterfall edge, he adds: “We
determined that the edge alone added uniqueness to what was once a
basic solid surface counter.”
Having selected LG HI-MACS for the counters, he adds that this
project somewhat distills the myth of high aesthetics leading to
“Most of the time, the customer stays standard and does not get
fancy,” he offers.
But, should a client elect for an upgrade, Borden knows exactly
what he or she will request: “The biggest upgrade that people do in
solid surface is high backsplashes. The customer always has the
option to have outlets and switchplates to match the color of the
countertops. Therefore, the fancy splashes that we do tend to be in
granite countertops, for example, with a crackle wave or chiseled
“Fabricators definitely make their money on the fancy edges, but
only select customers will pay for these upgrades,” he
Being a custom fabricator, Borden notes that there is not so
much an overall trend in fabrication, rather more of a
“The maintenance-free materials are considered to be the
Cadillac of countertops, such as heat-, water- and
scratch-resistant surfaces. This is usually found in granite and
quartz surfaces, while solid surface has the advantage of being 100
percent repairable,” he adds.
Backsplash Features Diamond Etching
Asked to create a seamless look that would complement the
décor of this kitchen remodel, Robert Penn, president of
Holbrook, NY-based Penn Fabricators, was more than willing to lend
“The clients wanted a Corian sink fit into a stone quartz top
and a Corian backsplash fit on a diamond pattern to make it look
like tiles,” explains Penn.
“[The way we fabricated it], it was all one piece with no grout
lines. It needed to be a seamless look,” he quickly adds.
Furthermore, Penn notes that the clients picked out all the
counters and wood flooring which complement the browns, blacks and
beiges found throughout the home as well as a Zodiaq counter with a
lighter color for additional accent.
“The countertops are Zodiaq Alpha Brown with Corian Mojave,
complemented by tile routered backsplashes in Corian and a Corian
873 Glacier White sink,” he says. “The tops feature a 1-1/4″ eased
edge [for added detailing],” he further notes.
Penn continues: “The smaller particulate on the countertop is in
the Sierra group of Corian. They really kept it simple and didn’t
want to overpower the edge. It was a simple round over.”
But, according to Penn, the most unique element of the space is
the diamond etching that was worked into the backsplash a
suggestion made by the clients that Penn liked so much that he now
displays similar pieces in his showroom.
To that end, Penn notes that his company has even built a new
facility and bought C&C automated equipment to keep up with the
different trends and applications that spark his interest.