Varying Countertops

by WOHe

What would we do without countertops? Once installed, these
unsung heroes of the kitchen and bath quietly blend into the
d’cor and do their jobs. They serve so many purposes,
withstanding a barrage of abuse and requiring minimal care in
return. Unwittingly, we take these stationary workhorses for
granted that is, until they finally wear out or some unfeeling
visitor points out their once fashionable, but now outdated,

Like most elements of the kitchen and bath, countertops have
made great strides in fabrication and design since the scallop and
boomerang designs of the 1960s.

To find out more about the amazing array of countertop
offerings, I consulted Ren’e Hytry, fellow Color Marketing
Group member and v.p./design with Formica Corp.

The prosperity of the 1990s caused consumers to demand upscale,
real materials such as granite, stainless steel and butcher blocks,
Hytry said. While today’s buyer still has that champagne taste,
tighter economic times and better faux materials have caused many
to turn to look-alike laminates that imitate natural materials. In
addition, today’s consumer no longer desires the solid, pure
colorations or the trend toward “matchy-matchy” decorating for all
kitchen materials seen in years past. Instead of matching (almond
appliances, almond countertops, almond flooring, etc.) they are
willing and ready to experiment and experience the visual depth
offered by textures and patterns.

“Consumers today are much more sophisticated where aesthetics
are concerned,” Hytry said. “They are interested in mixing and
blending materials, colors, textures, patterns and shades within a
room space. High-touch materials with visual depth are the latest
product developments driven by consumer demand.”

Texture is just as important for bathroom countertops, but
recent trends include more custom applications and, thus, larger
tops. No longer is the bathroom vanity simply a cabinet box with a
cap on it. Over the past five years, the bathroom has evolved to
encompass complex countertop arrangements, including wall-to-wall,
multi-segment and multi-level configurations. Plus, with the trend
toward stone-finish tiles for the floor and wall, stone and
stone-look countertops have gained in popularity.

Other home trends that have created additional countertop
display opportunities include home office, Great Room and home
entertainment spaces. The home office concept has gone from a card
table shoved into a corner to a work environment that accommodates
commercial-style work functions within a stylish and personal
space. The great room boom has prompted consumers and designers to
think “outside the box,” putting islands in multi-use gathering
areas and expanding furniture touches throughout the home. Home
entertainment has experienced a 21st-century revival, with digital
media and plasma screens, creating new opportunities for built-in
configurations. The truth is, wherever the need for a work surface
exists, a new and varied countertop landing space is created.

Showroom Success
As with any aspect of
showroom sales, displaying a variety of current options for
countertops is important in achieving success. “Every product
category is all about customizing, so give your customers plenty of
choices,” Hytry said. Samples should be kept tidy and dust-free, in
an easy-to-access, user-friendly selection center.

To keep your displays fresh and inviting, Hytry suggests setting
aside a part of your annual showroom improvement budget to update
countertops every two years. Since cabinetry tends to have a little
longer life span than other elements, updating paint, decorative
hardware, sinks, faucets and decorative treatments are quick and
economical ways to keep your customers’ interest.

To increase your countertop sales through showroom design,
develop a strong relationship and flexible manufacturing agreement
with a quality fabricator. When choosing which countertops to
display, try to create a mix of current materials, techniques and
price points.

Create your own “treasure boxes” filled with appealing
backsplash options and edge details, so consumers can easily
experiment with actual combinations.

Whenever possible, be the first in your market to show new
products, techniques and ideas for the lines you carry. To maximize
the impact of this strategy, consider creating a new product area
or use fabricator samples to create unique installations. Keep your
own business strategy in mind by calling attention to add-ons or
upgrade features you want to sell.

Finally, remember that above all else, good design from the
samples you choose to the finest details of an installation impacts
your professional reputation.

Staying Current
When updating your showroom
displays, it’s important to know what new looks will be coming next
to make potential countertop switch-outs as easy as possible.
Tone-on-tone treatments exhibiting visual light reflectance and
physical textures, such as pearlescent materials, are now beginning
to emerge. Also, in response to the consumer’s demand for durable,
easy-care surfaces, Hytry said we can also expect to see
manufacturers attempt to replicate metal and leather looks for

Four to six years into the future, we can expect to see
countertops trending back toward solid colors, according to Hytry.
But until then, consumers are having fun with the texture elements
offered by natural materials like stone, leather and metal.

“Right now, consumers are in love with visual and tactile
texture, for both authentic and imitation materials,” she said. “It
is essential to show your customers a variety of textures and
colors throughout your showroom to satisfy this need.”

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