Counter Encounters Part 1

Written by home-improvement  |  09. November 2004

By Michael Lovis Ferruzza Hello All, One of the most important decisions you will make when planning your new Kitchen is the Countertop. It will greatly influence how your kitchen looks and functions. Let's review what's out there and discuss some of their advantages and disadvantages. I will divide them into Economical, Mainstream, and Exotic. The Economical choice: The least expensive material commonly used today is high pressure Laminates. It comes in an enormous range of colors and textures. Some common brands are Formica, Wilson art, and Nevamar. These tops are manufactured by gluing a plastic laminate sheet to a particle board or plywood base and machining the edges to create different effects. The laminate itself is only about 1/32nd to 1/8th inch thick but is very tough and generally stain resistant. This surface can now be fabricated to lengths up to 12ft without a seam and is also a good choice for backsplashes. There are many edge treatments available such as wood molding, Corian, and metal strips or leave the edge square. If you do however, there is a telltale seam at the corner as the material has its pattern only on the surface and the substrata is dark. There are 2 common ways to avoid this problem. Switch to "colorcore" a laminate with the color all the way through, or get a "postformed" top. Colorcore is more brittle and not as tough as standard laminates. The Postformed top, unless you are on the tightest of budgets it is wise to avoid this. While it eliminates the telltale seam by folding over the edge, the manufacturer must use a very thin laminate to get this normally rigid material to bend. And to make matters worse as it gives with one hand by taking away a seam, it takes with the other hand by now requiring you to have a mitred seam in every corner! And worse of all, it just screams cheep! ADVANTAGES Stain resistant, tough, wide variety of colors, inexpensive, postformed tops can eliminate the splash seam. DISADVATAGES It can chip or delaminate, cannot easily be repaired, can look poor, postformed tops must have mitred seams in corners. TIP Go with square edge tops now and upgrade when financially feasible. For more unusual patterns try "Abet Laminati" brand laminates, an Italian import, but it will add slightly to the price tag. Mainstream Lots of choices here. Butcher Block Lets start with factory produced Butcher Block. It's 1 1/2"x 1 1/2" maple or oak mass produced in standard counter depths and cut to length. Note#1, this is different from custom Butcher Block which will be discussed later. Note#2, You must commit your self to its use. By that I mean use for food contact and cutting OR use as a standard work surface, i.e. No Cutting. Cutting will pierce the protective coating and it will discolor from water and food. Food contact requires a non-toxic coating like mineral oil. Like Laminates it is heat resistant but at higher temperatures, it can scorch. But it is pleasingly solid and tough. Edges can be machined into a variety of shapes but it only comes from the factory square or sometimes bullnosed. ADVANTAGES Solid feel, inexpensive, corners can be butt joined as opposed to mitred. DISADVANTAGES Constant temptation to cut on it, seam in corner, low cost factory produced types have very limited design options. TIP Buy stock pieces and modify them yourself to vary the design and add individuality. CORIAN by Dupont This is the original man made acrylic solid surface material. A good overall choice. You can make it plain or fancy. LOTS & LOTS of design options (I will devote a complete future article on design options of this material alone) It is, after Installation, completely seamless! One piece looks exactly like another and even the adhesive has the same coloring so when joined in place, you would be very hard pressed to find any seams. This material is the only material that the average homeowner can himself buff should it get scratched. Use a white 3M Scotch pad (Note: dark solid colors will require additional buffing with a power buffer.) Colors run from solid to speckled and sandy to chunky style. There are about 100 colors in 6 different price levels depending on color and particle size. Sinks are available out of the same material (not all colors) for a completely seamless counter, even the splash can be incorporated. NOTE: there are other brand names of solid surface materials but be careful. Performance may vary and the price difference may not be worth it. Proceed with caution. If you are going to spend the money, go with the best. ADVANTAGES Great design options, seamlessness, can be buffed in the field, sinks available. DISADVANTAGES Can be pricey, must be templated introducing a delay in finishing your kitchen. Look varies from warm to sterile. TIP Have the splash "coved", that is, formed so that the deck seamlessly rises to form the splash for the ultimate seamlesness. Also try more than one color in a pattern inlay across the splash. GRANITE These days the most popular material. Pricey but very high value. This material is durable, heat proof, scratch resistant, and Gorgeous! You must use a quality cabinet to use granite due to its weight and please gentle readers, do not cheep out here use a good installer. There is a high degree of handwork on a granite top; granite itself is not inordinately expensive but the labor is. A quality installer is worth the extra money. He will come on time, do a proper install without damage, may provide additional reinforcing of the granite itself, will have shorter lead times, will have smooth edges and gentle curves, and tight seams which for the most part will be unnoticeable. Granite by being a natural material, is by definition, not totally uniform; each piece has its own character so proper planning of the layout is demanded of the fabricator when encountering swirls and patterns which add movement to the counter top, something you cannot get in a man made material. This Beauty is its greatest asset. Some granite crystals are large and clear which enable you to actually look into the solid material itself for a 3 dimensional effect. ADVANTAGES Gorgeous!, no 2 the same!, heat resistance, many design options, can be used to bring the colors of the room together DISADVANTAGES Order what you think you will need now; God made a limited supply of any specific color. Can stain from oils, Needs to be sealed regularly, can get very expensive, You will need to view the slab from which it will be cut, remember every piece is different. Also must be templated. TIP If you want to try a warmer finish then the standard cold stark polished surface, try "Honing" for a warm matte look. Next installment will continue with exotic materials and some unusual applications. Regards, Michael Lovis Ferruzza PS. I will be happy to offer a free critique of your kitchen project if you email me with a digital photo & layout, email address and a contact number. ---------- Michael Lovis Ferruzza is a Kitchen Designer with over 20 years experience. He keeps current with new trends and innovations. Once, a remodeling company owner, he is familiar with all facets of construction. Available for private consultation and design and rendering services; you can contact Michael at 914-646-0688.

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