Counter Culture

About counter tops

Story by Allison Lind
Photography by Hank Drew

Granite, marble, soapstone and even butcher block have become counter top classics. But recently a new class of materials has been making waves on the design scene — offering innovative and creative options for counter tops that defiantly break the bounds of predictable design. Give them a little time, and these surfaces may become classics themselves.

Hit the Pavement

From underfoot to under food, concrete has found new purpose. Though it’s been used for commercial counter tops for about a decade, concrete is a relative newcomer in the residential market. In recent years its popularity has soared because it can be tailored to fit the fancy of each individual homeowner.

Endless color options, customized built-ins such as soap dishes or cutting boards, and inlays of marbles, crushed granite, glass and rare gems are a mere sampling of what can be done with concrete.

“There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it — you have literally unlimited options,” says Tommy Cook, principal artisan for Absolute Concrete Works, located outside Seattle in Kitsap County (360-297-5055 or absoluteconcreteworks.com). “With concrete, we’re able to add customization options at the higher end that just aren’t available with other mediums.”

Get Your Own

For the custom-concrete look in your kitchen, contact one of these experts:

Absolute ConcreteWorks, 5795 NE Minder Rd., Poulsbo; (360) 297-5055, absoluteconcreteworks.com

Dogpaw Design, 1416 NW 51st St., Seattle; (206) 706-0099, dogpaw.com

Or, if you’re interested in the do-it-yourself route, try Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel Co. (5228 Shilshole Ave. NW, Seattle; 206-784-1234, sbsg.com), which has a great selection of concrete color pigments.

Enter a New Ice Age

If you love concrete but aren’t interested in a custom counter, you’ll want to check out a new material to hit the design scene that takes concrete to a whole new, prefabricated level. Cement is combined with 75 percent postconsumer recycled glass in an environmentally friendly process to create IceStone®, a certified green material that offers a striking variety of smart color options—from Ivory Cloud to Tuscan Sunset — while quietly paying homage to Mother Earth.

The finished product resembles terrazzo but with more radiance and depth, and it is currently carried exclusively at Ambiente European Tile Design (227 NE 65th St., Seattle; 206-524-2113, ambientetile.com).

Icestone has quickly become Ambiente’s fastest selling product, according to Udo Reich. “Its green aspect combined with its appearance makes it so appealing,” he says. “The glass lets light go deeply into the product — it’s stunning. And there’s not a lot of good-looking green products out there right now.”

The material is most commonly used as a kitchen counter top surface, where Reich says its perfect match is a glass-tile backsplash. “They just complement each other well,” he says.

See the August issue of Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, on newsstands through August 2006, to see an image of an IceStone counter top and great materials to pair with it.

Dazzle with Shine

Not to be outdone by concrete and glass, quartz, a primitive mineral typically used in jewelry, has pushed its way to the surface and is bedazzling counter top design.

Leading the quartz-counter top movement is CaesarStone® (caesarstoneus.com), a visually striking surface that comes in colors such as Apple Martini, Tequila Sunrise and Pacific Reflections, as well as many beautiful neutral colors with pigments made of actual limestone.

“It’s the big news right now — quartz is really happening in counter top design,” says Brian Balmert, co-owner of the Seattle contemporary kitchen showroom Urban Ease (2512 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-443-9546, urbanease.com).

Even more impressive than its appearance is its function. Because it’s nonporous, quartz is impervious to stains, scratches, cracks and burns. Made of 93 percent crushed natural quartz and polymer resins and pigments, CaesarStone is even more durable than granite or marble.

“There are so many different colors and visual textures to choose from — you can literally put it with anything from a classic wood kitchen to a high-gloss lacquer kitchen,” says Urban Ease co-owner Paul Nadolny. “No matter what, there’s going to be something that will fit.”

Bold colors require careful placement, however, Nadolny warns: “Something like the Apple Martini is great for a small accent, such as a bar top; it won’t dominate but adds sparkle and pizzazz to the kitchen.”

Don’t be afraid to step out of the classic counter-top-design box and experiment. With the creative looks possible from this new class of materials, maybe it’s time to change your counter culture.