There's been a change in consumer attitude, marked by people following their own style sense, rather than the trends. “Consumers have become more assertive,” says Gin Guei Ebnesajjad, manager of product styling and development for DuPont Surfaces, Corian and Zodiaq. They are smart and color-savvy, too, she says. As a result, their kitchens carry a creative punch that standard kitchens just can't match.
Homeowners personalize kitchen countertops in a variety of ways, from creative use of standard materials to designer-inspired plans with custom-order materials. Homeowners can customize their counters using one or more of the following elements:
Color: A custom color or stain may be the easiest way to make a countertop your own. Fabricators and manufacturers can often create shades to match or complement a swatch of wallpaper or a stone product. Using tile, perhaps on a backsplash, homeowners can create a custom pattern using standard colored tiles.
Embedded objects: Fossils, colored glass, metal flakes, semiprecious stones, and special mementoes are finding their way into custom-fabricated kitchen countertops, most often in counters that have even color tone throughout, like concrete, engineered stone, or solid surface. Once the objects are embedded, the surfaces are finely ground to reveal hints of the treasures within. Ready-made embedded countertops are also available. Caesarstone Concetto, for example, is an engineered stone featuring gemstones placed in the slab matrix during manufacture for a dramatic look.
Special finishes: Nearly every surface material features basic and custom finishes. With stainless steel, for example, hand-applied custom finishes can create one-of-a-kind patterns. Embossed, patterned, or hammered finishes are available for copper or stainless steel. Concrete and solid surface can have a high polish or gloss, matte, or satin finishes.
Edges: Edge treatments can be traditional or modern. Sculpting an edge with a minimalist round-over or square edges can create a sleek look. Intricate styling can be achieved with layered edges like concave, wave, or cove and bead. With wood, an unusual edge treatment can showcase the grain.
Backsplashes: For solid surface, a fabricated beadboard-style full-height backsplash creates a watertight and visually appealing design that is highly unique. Setting a few handmade tiles in a backsplash makes a huge and personal statement.
Inlays: Inlays can be anything from lettering in concrete to deer tracks, Jalapeno peppers, or flowers scattered across solid-surface tops.
An inlay may have sentimental value or simply be a cool design. In Ohio, Brutus Buckeye and the Ohio State logo were cut into a solid-surface top for homeowners who are big Buckeye fans. The designs were created with liquid inlay, says Todd Werstler, CEO of Tower Industries in Massillon, Ohio. “When people find out they can do these inlays, they tend to jump all over it.”
Properly done, a countertop with inlays is one homogenous surface. For solid surfaces, inlay designs are typically cut into the material by a computerized CNC machine programmed with the design. The inlays themselves can be of hard material or liquid resin. One method requires creating the inlay and recessing it into the space routed out-like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. The other uses a liquid fill that is sealed, planed, and leveled with the top.
Kitchen Countertops that Glow: Counters can be personalized to glow or light up. Mory Ludwick of Premier Countertops in Omaha, Neb., describes how a pocket can be created in a translucent countertop backsplash and fitted with rope lighting. “The whole backsplash will glow,” he says.
Lumistone photoluminescent acrylic can be used as a solid surface, an inlay, or an edging. It has long-lasting photoluminescence when recharged by natural daylight or artificial lighting, so when the lights go out, the neutral white surface lights up as a cool blue. No electricity, wiring, or bulbs are required.
Customized Countertop Costs: Personalized kitchen countertops are most commonly found in high-end kitchens, where designers and fabricators can create personalized looks with special crafting and unusual materials. Caesarstone Concetto, for example, costs from $400 to $500 per square foot. Such a unique surface treatment is well suited to use as a visual centerpiece, like a center island, bar, or backsplash.
For homeowners sticking to a modest budget, custom touches work well when incorporated with unusual off-the-shelf products. A stripe of contrasting material fabricated into a solid surface top might only add 5 percent to a project. A one-color inlay might cost a few hundred dollars, while a multicolor inlay project could run to $1,200. A marble backsplash at $100 a foot may become a strong vertical focal point for the kitchen while the rest is completed with standard materials.