Counter Culture

In today’s brisk market, kitchen and bathroom countertops command attention. These top choices provide beauty, form and function for busy south bay homeowners.

WRITTEN BY SUZANNA CULLEN HAMILTON


For years, there was one word repeated three times that defined real estate: “location, location, location.” However, while three defining words remain, the new catchphrase is “location, kitchen, bathroom.” There’s no question that after finding the best location, the two features that sell a home are the kitchen and the bathroom.

Appliances can easily be replaced and cabinets can be refaced or painted, but no change makes more of an impact in today’s market than the countertops. Tile countertops are not only very dated; they’ve proved to be unhealthy when bacteria become trapped in the grout. Corian is still a good solid surface option, but there are so many other beautiful, durable materials that Corian is no longer among the most popular selections.

So what do discerning homeowners seek in kitchens and baths today? They want products that are contemporary yet timeless; sophisticated yet understated; highly durable yet beautiful. Those are tough specs for any product. But several not only meet those standards; they surpass it.

1. MARBLE

For decades white marble has been a favorite of designers and chefs. Martha Stewart, Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay share an affinity in their personal kitchens for white Calacatta marble countertops. It is timeless and elegant—and the perfect material to roll out dough for baking. Europeans have integrated white marble into their kitchens for centuries, but they value the patina that softens and changes with age.

Alternatively, Americans are not so receptive to products that age–particularly countertops.

Marble is a highly porous material that requires a lot of maintenance if the pristine surface is to be preserved. It stains easily and is susceptible to chips and scratches.

Although it’s heat-resistant, it will stain if burned. Experts recommend that it be resealed every six months in order to maintain the original patina; however, another approach is to embrace it for the classic material that it is and to love the softness that comes with age in this millennia-old product.

Marble is also an expensive product, so it’s wise to compare prices. For example, white Calacatta marble is very expensive due to rarity and the stark white color with bold veining, but white Carrara marble is surprisingly affordable due to its wider availability with a softer color palette.

2. QUARTZ

The long refrain of “stainless steel appliances and granite countertops” is blessedly over–in part, thanks to the exhaustingly overused phrase expounded on HGTV. Today homeowners are smitten with quartz both for the glossy, slick, modern aesthetics as well as the extreme durability. Quartz is nonporous, so it resists heat, stains, freezing and bacteria—thereby making it one of the cleanest and most durable products in the market. Additionally, because of the high durability, quartz is easy to maintain and retains its beautiful glistening surface for years.

Quartz products are frequently known by their trademark names such as Silestone, Caesarstone and Cambria, but there are many types of solid-surface quartz products on the market that come in a plethora of patterns and price points that are sold through numerous dealers. Cambria has become a go-to source in Manhattan Beach. The family-owned American company sells a wide range of patterns that appeal to a posh market.

3. HONED OR LEATHERED GRANITE

Although polished granite countertops are not as popular as they once were, honed or leathered granite remains a sophisticated choice for elegantly understated interiors. Honed granite is achieved when the granite slab does not receive the final buffing phase that yields a polished surface. The result is a satin or matte finish that quickly gives way to a rich patina due to its susceptibility to stains. While leathered granite also has a matte finish, it also has a slightly waved texture that is both visually and physically substantive.

The countertops can be resealed every few months to retain the original surface; however, that somewhat defeats the purpose of having countertops that have the depth and patina representative of the millennia-old slabs from which they’ve been carved. Whether selecting honed or leathered granite, both types are perfect for a subtle yet refined interior where a high-gloss finish is either not appropriate or not desired.

4. SOAPSTONE

Soapstone is not frequently found in South Bay kitchens and baths, but that might be attributable to the color palette and finish of the product. It’s a natural product that’s high in talc, and the satin color ranges from light grey to a dark charcoal that’s almost black. The finish is more understated, so it’s frequently found in homes that are sophisticated yet restrained … where a homeowner is more attracted to Napa or Nantucket than Santa Monica–think Alice Waters versus Giada De Laurentiis.

Soapstone is nonporous, so it’s stain- and heat-resistant. But it is susceptible to scratches–something that homeowners of this product don’t mind since they like an earthier vibe to their kitchens. ¢

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