What’s Hot in Countertops, Sinks and Faucets
Handcrafted Copper Kitchen Apron Sink, courtesy of Artisan Manufacturing
|Oh, our poor kitchens. They have so much on their collective plate. They have to meet our cooking needs, and sometimes they must double as a genial social setting, provide storage space or serve as an alluring stage to attract buyers when the house goes up for sale.|
Such multi-purposing is made trickier by the fact that so many elements go into each function, from sinks, faucets and countertops, to refrigerators, ovens and dishwashers, to cabinets, islands and shelves, to floors, lighting and windows.
For countertops, sinks and faucets alone, the choices can be daunting. “If people really want a $700 faucet, they end up deciding to buy a $400 faucet instead. The problem, of course, is that once you start lowering the price, you probably can no longer buy American-made products,” says Larry Goren, owner of Hardware Designs in Fairfield. “That’s a conundrum because it doesn’t help our sick economy to recover.”
As if kitchens weren’t under enough pressure.
When homeowners need to make decisions about countertops, sinks and faucets, experts concur that all three should be considered at the same time for the sake of functionality and aesthetics. There are those who insist on mixing styles, materials and colors to add theatrics to their kitchen. Sometimes these wind up looking dramatic, sometimes comical.
What influences our decisions? Media culture and the entertainment world do to some extent. A European kitchen feel – or more specifically, Tuscan – has been in vogue for some time, though it seems to be waning. Time-influenced styles also come and go, from an antique look (early 20th century), to retro (60s and 70s), to vintage (unqualified craftsmanship), to minimalist (unassuming), to space-age (the Enterprise). We also have to contemplate the buzz phrases, such as functional sculpture and green. Functional sculpture concerns how all elements blend and work together in visually interesting ways; green is all about environmental responsibility.
The considerations seem to get more complex every year. The best advice is to embark on a countertop-sink-and-faucet road tour. Not a virtual tour, but a real one, and make an informed decision only after the tour is complete.
“There are a lot of products to choose from, but I’d certainly stay away from the Internet, which cannot provide the knowledge and customer service a showroom can,” offers Susan Ciambrone of Atlantic Plumbing in Long Branch.
Ciambrone, echoing the sentiments of suppliers in the region, adds homeowners are looking for something special and want to do what’s in style. “I always tell my customers to make their wish list and they’ll be surprised when they find the list fits into their budget,” she says. “If it doesn’t, we’re here to figure out how to make it fit without compromising their overall design.”
In countertops, granite and quartz have been hot for years and remain strong in the kitchen court of public opinion, although some retail professionals say they have become commodity items that have lost some of their luster. Still, natural stones and minerals provide richness in texture and color, plus durability, that satisfies millions of consumers. Some people are using granite tiles today instead of a solid granite countertop because the look doesn’t suffer even though it costs less.
Thousands of local fabricators across the country provide custom-made granite and quartz countertops, including several in New Jersey, and some national suppliers are gaining in popularity because of their presence on the media scene.
Courtesy of Caesarstone
One of the hottest right now is CaesarStone, which specializes in quartz. They are headquartered in Southern California, though one of their main factories is on a kibbutz in Israel. Countertops by CaesarStone were part of House Beautiful’s “Kitchen of the Year” in 2009 and 2010 and were featured on “The Today Show.”
Corean and Zodiaq, both manufactured by DuPont, are popular and agreeable mimics of granite and quartz that are mixtures of polymers and chemical compounds. Why the attraction? Because they are often less expensive than the real thing. They also are nonporous, strong, resilient and resistant to mold and mildew. Their biggest attraction, though, is the abundance of colors and styles.
Concrete and butcher block are two other trendy though less popular choices. As with some other materials, concrete can be molded to include seamless integrated sinks, providing a classy look. Butcher-block countertops actually become a kitchen accessory.
“We’re starting to see concrete becoming the new granite,” says Jeff Doremus of Moe Distributors in Morristown. “People are asking about it. But then again, it’s being shown in all the home-style magazines and on all the house-makeover TV shows.” It’s another example, he says, of life imitating television.
Stainless steel sinks have provided a cool look for decades, and still do. That’s why they’re still hot. They’re strong. They last. They complement the styles and colors of most countertops and faucets. There is a consumer lust for deeper, wider sink openings, which may be yet another result of all the TV cooking shows. The challenge is that economic conditions force many of us to utilize the spaces we already have, as opposed to expanding. Wider, deeper sinks aren’t always an option.
The Elkay and Kohler brands always vie for the top spot in consumer dedication. Rohl and Moen give those top two a run for the money, while Artisan has been sneaking into the national kitchen consciousness through increased media exposure.
“We usually recommend Kohler sinks for their quality,” says Betty Olivera of Mendoza Marble & Granite in Wharton. She notes that consumers seriously weigh cost against quality, and both cost and quality against appearance.
Cost has been winning out.
Newark-based Artisan, whose high-luster, satin finished sinks have long been fashionable (they make faucets, too), has seen a significant increase in sales this year – 40 percent in the first quarter alone – indicating its growing popularity. The company is making quite a splash these days with their decorative patterned copper sinks too. Their hand-tooled interiors create a truly dazzling finish.
The company is pleased that its new Vitreous China Sink Collection has contributed to its exceptional growth. These sinks, which like most others come in square, rectangular and oval and in a variety of sizes and depths, are crafted from a clay mixture fired at intense heat to turn it into a durable, glossy glass-like surface.
From Atlantic Plumbing, Ciambrone reports that a fireclay farm sink from Rohl is her top seller. Farm or farmhouse sinks mimic the style of rural kitchens from days past, are usually deeper than average sinks (and usually more expensive) and come in cast iron, fireclay, copper, granite and stainless steel.
“With faucets, some customers like a modern look and some like an antique look,” says Olivera. “Their homes usually reflect that and influence what they purchase for their kitchen.”
While that may be true, one glance at the magazines, TV shows and people’s homes would convince anyone that we prefer sleek, curvy, shiny faucets and matching handles. Many look like liquid mercury solidified into the shapes of fancy typefaces.
“Grohe single-hole faucets are our number-one seller,” shares Ciambrone. “One hole provides a cleaner look and produces a faucet with a sprayer all in one.”
Other top brands include Kohler, American Standard, Delta, Moen and Blanco. They all make sleek, curvy, shiny faucets. Single-handed pull-out faucets lead the market, and most are stainless steel, polished nickel or brushed nickel. They can be viewed as either modern or antique, which is why they’re so popular.
As much as it pains professionals like Larry Goren to admit, American manufacturers are cutting down on stock because of fiscal considerations. “But they’re not cutting down on quality. The quality is there in American goods,” he stresses.
The economy has put the spotlight on cost, though the argument could be made that the cost of replacement and repair should put the spotlight on quality.
“As a business owner, I cannot stress enough how important it is to buy American,” Goren adds. “It’s good for the economy, and it’s good for our own heads.”
It may be good for our kitchens, too. Heaven knows, they deserve a break.
Mendoza Marble & Granite