Home > News > Industry NewsIndustry News

Granite is now the surface of choice

Leap Stone (July 03, 2008)

The natural surfaces have grown more popular in household projects

Author: Bob Karlovits, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Granite and quartz have survived a rocky stretch a few years back to rise to the top of the heap in kitchen counter materials. The natural surfaces have grown more popular in household projects, being seen as artistic but practical. "Nature just does it right," says AnnaMae Lenkey, who is wrapping up a kitchen makeover with granite countertops in her Fox Chapel home. "I knew that was what I wanted as soon as I started looking at the granite."

Ruth Thompson, an interior designer from New Angle Designs in Hampton, says granite is "like a piece of art" in the variety of colors and hints of shade through its variegated surface.
Five years ago, Blume′s Solid Surface in South Buffalo, was working almost entirely in the cutting and preparation of what was then the biggest major rival to the natural surface, says the firm′s Michelle Goetzinger. The company, near Freeport, was working with solid-surface acrylics, often known by the brand names of Corian or Wilsonart Gibraltar. Now, she says, 75 percent of their work is granite. 

Sean Russell from the kitchen division of Crescent Supply in Lawrenceville says 70 percent of that firm′s work is in granite, 25 percent in quartz -- and the rest is made up of everything else.
Jeffrey Backus, president of Manor House Kitchen and Bath, says his firm also saw growth in that direction, so he built a Greensburg cutting facility called the Granite Factory about five years ago. He says 90 percent of their work is in granite and quartz. "Ten years ago, the only granite you saw was is in really custom kitchens," he says, "but now it is everywhere."

He says five years ago, his firm bought $500,000 in granite a year. Now its supply runs to $3.5 million. The popularity, it would seem, is a matter of the aesthetic and the practical. But it has another side, too. "It is a matter of marketing," says Steve Erenrich, president of Patete Kitchen and Bath Center in Carnegie.

Supply gets bigger, cost gets less

That marketing issue becomes a cyclical one, Erenrich says. As desire for granite leads to more jobs, those jobs lead to more granite being brought in. "It is one of those supply-and-demand things," Backus says, agreeing with Erenrich on how the greater amount of granite available leads to a lower price. Six or seven years ago, the professionals say, there was a major difference in the price of natural products and solid-surface acrylics. Now, Backus estimates, solid-surface and granite-quartz countertops can be purchased for about $125 a linear foot.

Of course, that all depends on the type of granite being used. Solid-surface acrylics are man-made and prices can be controlled, but granite comes in different grades. It is possible to get granite or quartz at $59 a square foot, says Crescent′s Russell, while it also is possible for that price to be $99. Erenrich says a countertop job could cost $3,900 or it could go to $8,900 with a better grade of stone.

Stone quality can become a matter of surprise.

A customer can look at a display in a shop, Erenrich says, see an attractive counter and order it, only to find out the available granite is of a higher quality. That means a high price. Or the look of the available granite is different, leading to disappointment. Now, however, Goetzinger says, a customer can usually go to a cutting facility and find the piece that will be used, so the look and grade are known. "Sometimes, you can even get lucky and find a piece the was left over from another job," she says. "The cutter was just going to get rid of it, so you might get a good price." Nancy Sakino Spears, who owns Interiors By Decorating Den in Upper St. Clair, says homeowners have become more particular about choosing countertops because kitchen jobs have become more important. Kitchens often are the centerpiece of the house, she says, and renovations can go up to $40,000, so the choice of proper material has become more important. "They are looking for the best color with the biggest impact," she says.

Stains, scars and repairs

While granite and quartz have moved into the lead in the countertop business, professionals are quick to point out their competitors have a variety of strengths -- and weaknesses.

• Scratches and marks in solid-surface acrylics can be buffed out and polished, they say, but the most-telling aspect of that statement is that it is made at all. Stone surfaces are not subject to scratches from knives or scars from the heat of hot pots or skillets.

• On the other hand, solid-surface tops are impenetrable, say Goetzinger and Abe Sambol from Stein′s Custom Kitchens & Baths in Oakland. That makes them anti-bacterial and popular for use in hospitals and schools.

• Erenrich points out that the hard-wearing granite is porous and can be a stain victim. For instance, he says, if some olive oil is left accidentally in a spot for several hours during a kitchen job, it can leave a stain that would have been avoided with solid-surface acrylics. "But," he adds with a laugh, "you can just use the olive oil on the rest of the surface as a seal, and make the color the same."

• Sambol says solid surfaces can be bent, and that seams between pieces are virtually invisible because of the molding used in making the joint.

• Concrete tops are fashionable and attractive, Erenrich and others say, but are even more vulnerable to stain, prone to crack and a fertile home for germs. The designers and dealers all say they do very few concrete projects.

• Laminate countertops, better known by trade names such as Formica, are not waterproof and are susceptible to stain, marks and scars, the professionals say, but can be excellent in lesser or lightly used areas. Backus says the cost, at perhaps $25 a linear foot, makes them extremely attractive for places such as gamerooms, hobby areas, commercial lunch rooms and the like. Laminate makers also have developed ways of making those surfaces look stone-like, the professionals say, elevating their appearance.

Sink-mounting also becomes an issue. Sinks can be under the counter with stone and solid surfaces, an efficient and attractive style for kitchen use. Undermounted sinks allow countertop dirt to be wiped directly into the sink.

Erenrich and Sambol point out that is not possible with laminate tops, a drawback that works against the low price. They point out that an advantage of solid-surface acrylics is that sink bowls can be custom-made and then mounted to the countertop. Because of the nearly imperceptible seams in the solid surfaces, Sambol says, the result looks like it was carved out of one large piece. There are many other routes for homeowners, the professionals say. Sambol points out that marble and stainless steel countertops have some popularity, while Backus says some homeowners are adding wood to change the overall look of a counter. Erenrich says ceramic counters and backsplashes are popular on the West Coast, but not here. "I don\\\\\\\'t think people want to see grout every four inches," he says.