As designers, we help our clients make certain important decisions in the design of their home. And whether that be a kitchen or a bath, one of those decisions addresses countertops since they play a significant role in the design of those spaces.
Many choices and options are available for counters and making such a decision is an important and key element and something not to be taken lightly. Certainly natural materials such as granite, stone, marble and slate are timeless choices. And man-made materials such as solid surface products that include quartz as a part of their content are wise and smart since they can provide a cleanable, virtually seamless installation.
But there are several other materials worth consideration if only for accent materials.
The first is glass. A thick, translucent slab of glass is tough, sanitary and has a pleasant tactility, while still remaining easy to clean. Available in a huge variety of colors, finish and patterns, it certainly isn't the least expensive choice but can provide a certain "glitz" to a kitchen or a bath.
It is important to use cutting boards so as not to scratch the glass but as important, keep knives razor sharp.
The most unusual alternative countertop recently introduced at EuroCucina, the trade event for kitchen and bath cabinetry, came from Italian designer Arrital, courtesy of Arpa Industriale. Referred to as a “nanotech matte material,” the Fenix NTM countertop is anti-reflective, anti-fingerprint, self-healing, and soft to the touch without being... well, soft. It felt great under our hands, and looked great.
Solid wood and wood-finished countertops have become most popular in recent years, often contrasting with or overlaid on a stone or synthetic material. Choices include everything from mahogany and ebony to light pine and even bamboo. Often paired with matching cabinetry to create a minimalist yet warm look, there is some minimal maintenance and care required to keep the counter looking fresh.
For some of us designers, stainless is nearly as played out as granite. But when combined with other materials, it can be a real standout. Stainless counters gleam under light, are pretty indestructible and make a dramatic statement. One might consider using this material on an island or perhaps at a wine bar or accent counter.
When it comes to countertop finishes, tile is pretty old school. It’s a style that’s generally beholden to a certain era or area—especially homes of the 40x and 50s.
They stand up to a lot of wear - except for minor chipping that can occur with a lot of use. In bathrooms, tile can provide a texture and a pattern that can provide an added dimension. Plan on sealing the grout on a regular basis to keep a clean look and avoid a dingy appearance.
More and more people are realizing concrete’s value for making countertops. Shapes of concrete countertops are only limited by imagination and the ability to build the forms.
With the use of color pigments and in combination with various aggregates including glass and metals, the spectrum of colors and patterns available in concrete countertops is virtually limitless. One thing to keep in mind is that concrete counters must be occasionally sealed to prevent stains. Creating a concrete counter can be labor intensive so prices are often as much as natural stones like granite and marble.
Paper.. really? Bet you never ever thought paper would make a countertop but it can be quite effective. Products made from compressed, recycled paper provides a non-porous surface and a lifetime of stain resistance since it absorbs virtually no water. The paper "matt stone-like surface" is extremely rigid and dense, lending to additional applications beyond countertops and mars may be sanded or rubbed out with an abrasive pad. We used to see these as lab counters in college and they would stand up to all sorts of abuse.
Still confused? Too many choices? Keep in mind that your choice should be just as much about the function as the visual effect. Price may influence your decision, but keep in mind that you are going to live with your choice over the years... perhaps even decades. And the price per square foot stretched out over a decade equalizes the choices we shared in this post.
And STILL CONFUSED?
We can help. Call us for a complimentary consultation and we'll help provide some direction and advice. After nearly three decades of practice, we can give you the kind of well informed guidance to make your decision the most proper and appropriate one.
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My study of the works of Frank Lloyd Wright has enabled me to experience 84 sites up close and in person. From California's textile block homes to the subdivision he created in New York State, from Florida Southern College to Taliesin West, his work continues to inspire design professionals after more than 100 years.
Many who follow Wright's legacy closely are concerned about preserving his work. Recently the David Wright home, the house Mr. Wright designed for this son, went on the market. After much angst and loosing two buyers, the home was purchased and will be preserved. A collective sigh of relief was heard by those who champion historic preservation efforts.
And in Oak Park, IL, historic preservationists plan to increase the area around Wright's home site to include the numerous prarire-style homes built in the twenties and thirties. While some are not too happy about the prospects, perhaps making their own home hard to sell, it sets up this zone to protect what is no doubt the beginning of an important and significant American architectural style unlike any others.
Having had the ability to travel and lecture, I have been able to spend a couple of hours and/or sometime a couple of days to visit a Wright building. home or places of worship and ponder what it must have been like to have seen him directing the contractors and crews in the construction of his buildings.
Several places offer tours and provide great accessibility to the property. One example of his work that is very accessible is the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, AZ. If you go, plan to stay in one of the rooms in the original building or in a casita so that you can imagine what it would have been like to stay at the resort during the 40s and 50s when it was THE hotel retort of the southwest. While he may not have been the architect of record for this property, there is no doubt that he was deeply involved with the owners during its development.
It is doubtful that any recent past nor current design professional will have such a legacy as that of one enduring architect, Mr. Frank LLoyd Wright.
Eileen Gray, avant-garde artist, designer and architect, was one of the leading members of the Modern Design movement. While not as well known, she was a progressive pioneer in the execution of multi-purpose, built-in furniture and use of plywood, tubular steel, cork, plastic and other industrial materials.
Born in Ireland in 1878, the youngest child of a wealthy Anglo-Irish family, her father encouraged her in the study of the arts. She attended the Slade School of Fine Art in 1898 and traveled to Paris with her mother to attend the Exposition Universelle. It was a “world’s fair” of sorts and it provided her much inspiration.
What is often unknown about Gray is that she studied for years in Paris with the Japanese lacquer artist Seizo Sugawara. There she mastered the art of lacquer and pushed the envelope of this craft adding gold, using silver and experimenting with texture in the finishes of cabinetry, moldings and screens, earning her a well respected name for her works.
The E-1027 Villa, the vacation retreat of Gray
She spent a career designing in much the same way as Frank Lloyd Wright ~ designing every element of the spaces.
Glass partitions, zinc-covered cabinets, corrugated sheet metal, transparent celluloid fabric used as mosquito netting. Gray used all those materials which resulted in a refined environment of comfort, utility and above all, beauty.
But it would be her design of one table that most know her by. This multipurpose piece is officially known as E-1027 Table, a piece she designed for her vacation house in southern France.
The Classic E-1027 Adjustable Table.
The cliff-side retreat was an L-shaped building with a flat-roof, floor to ceiling windows and a spiral stairway to the guest room. It was both open and compact. And the E-1027 tables moved about the house as needed, changing heights easily, sliding under furniture to save space.
Today, from classic traditional to modern contemporary interiors, the classic form and shape of these tables are used in every room and for a variety of purposes. Bunched together and adjusted to different heights, they make great bunch tables.
We carry a very fine reproduction of the E-1027 table. For us, it makes a great side table near one's favorite chair as a place for a drink, the remote control and the daily reading. But we've seen them used as night tables in a master bedroom.
Since I first stumbled upon his work in person in a suburb of Chicago like many others, I have been in love with Frank Lloyd Wright. Oh yeah,.. certainly his design work captivates, his love life makes for better reading than any reality show and his creative genius makes others pale by comparison. But it is more than just what he has designed, well over a thousand buildings and structures. It is more than the creation of interior spaces that seem so perfect to live in, so right for each site and so individually, uniquely Wright.
For 92 years, here was a man who continued over and over again to shake off the design norms and break the rules. There were no sacred cows when it came to the design of work and living spaces. Wright was the right man and the right time to force us re-consider how we live and work with a unified collection of materials, designs and methods.
I think it is fascinating to study people who are just different. Wright was different. There is something captivating about individuals who just don't think in the same way as many of us do. Thomas Jefferson was also such an individual, as is Apple's Steve Jobs. These individuals, Wright, Jefferson and Jobs are revolutionaries. They changed the world in their own way. Where does that kind of thinking and creative ideas originate from? I often wonder if this "design thinking" starts deep in the left or right side of the brain.
I am indeed lucky in that I have been able to visit over 80 of Mr. Wright's sites to see for myself, up close and in person his work ...each of these special places of art designed for a variety of clients. Visiting each, I try to image the conversations that Wright might have had with each client about their project, certainly dressed in cape, holding a cane and a perky pork-pie hat. His commanding style most certainly made more than a few clients ponder from time to time if they hired the right person. But once he delivered, few could question his genius.
Recently I had the occasion to visit his Scottsdale home, Taliesin West last week for an evening tour. Colleagues of mine were in town, Sandy, Sue and Lisa and all wanted to see Mr. Wright's creation in far northwest Maricopa County. Arriving before the sun kissed the horizon after a rather warm desert valley day, I grinned like a kid at Christmas at seeing the buildings,... just as I had done so many times before. This time, with the late afternoon light changing to evening amber, each structure seemed to not just be built upon the sand and rock but actually to grow directly from the earth with little effort, roots deep in the bedrock below the desert sands.
We were guided by a rather well-versed docent, an individual who shared his wisdom and knowledge after some ten years of experience as a tour leader for the property. Being on the property and in the spaces as the sun went down behind the distant mountain range was amazing. The buildings began to glow, at first golden in color,...then changing to ruddy red as though they were becoming hot glowing embers. The electrical lighting, something that did not exist when Wright first landed on the site, made me feel secure, comfortable and at home in this desert camp of Mr. Wright's. I tried to envision what a guest might have felt, just waiting in anticipation for Mr Wright to enter the great living room space, perhaps his wife Olgivanna getting ready in their quarters near by to stroll in and to greet their visitors. I imagined classical music floating near the beamed and tented ceiling, likely by Beethoven, being played by an apprentice on the 7 foot grand piano in the living room.
I sat in the living room on the cushions of the built-in seating. Looking around the space, I tried to imagine what Mr. Wright must have been thinking when he purchased the 650 acres out in this far desert location, in fact so far out, that there wasn't even a defined road for the last several miles until one was made to provide access for his Cherokee Red painted automobile. What was going on in his head when he set up camp in this remote space whose only other residents at the time were desert mice, a few snakes, coyotes, and saguaro cactus. Had he designed this desert rock and wood camp in his head as he traveled from Wisconsin with students in tow or, upon his arrival, did it come to him all at once? Was Wright a visionary or genius? Perhaps both.
Being there in the evening at magnificent Taliesin West was such a fine experience. Daylight quickly died out. Night arrived. The sounds of the desert began. The glow of distant Phoenix lighting up the sky to the southwest contrasted with the monsoon storms in the east illuminating the sky like fireworks. And then of course...there I was experiencing these camp grounds. The Wright buildings,... each made of rock, sand and wood, his camp in the desert crafted and all of it together made me love Mr. Wright that much more.
After Fifty Years, A Stainglass Window Designed By Frank Lloyd Wright Is Returned To Its Home
This Wright glass panel returned to its original site.
Many who know me know of my fascination, interest and passion of the work and life of Frank LLoyd Wright. It continues with my many visits to Chicago but this one particular trip to the Oak Park, IL Home of Mr. Wright in the summer of 1984 started it all. It was personally and professionally significant and opened my eyes to the architecture and design of this remarkable individual in a way that a text book could not.
During the tour, a grey-haired docent dressed in pork pie hat, cape and carrying a walking stick, a most regal individual by the name of Lyman Shepard, guided a walking tour around the neighborhood pointing out the homes designed by Mr. Wright ...and those homes that Mr. Wright despised, which by the way, were all that were not designed by Mr. Wright. But during that stroll in Oak Park, Lyman brought to life the work, style, and detail of Mr. Wright that I had simply not appreciated nor fully understood before.
There was so much to understand and absorb of Mr. Wright's legacy that since that summer of 84, I have made it a point to visit as many properties as time permits,.. to date traveling to close to 80 of them at last count ...from New York to Hawaii, from Oregon to Florida and of course both Taliesin in Wisconsin and Taliesin West in Arizona. Just a few weeks ago, I returned to the Robie House to see the results of the extensive restoration efforts and was pleased to see the care that is being taken to preserve the building. And in the past while having a home in Florida, I have supported the restoration efforts at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida since in my opinion, Mr. Wright used the opportunity to "build a temple of education in the middle of an orange grove" as a living laboratory, trying out various designs before using them as details for other clients.
So I am always interested in reading about Mr. Wright and any efforts to preserve his buildings. Recently a story in the New York Times caught my eye. It's about the return of a stain glass window, what Mr. Wright called light screens, to the Darwin Martin house in Buffalo, NY. After being removed from its site nearly 60 years ago, the owners of the glass light screen have returned it to the home. It is a great story. CLICK HERE to read it.
Michael is an award winning interior designer based in Palm Springs, CA. He is a Professional Member of the American Society of Interior Designers and a member of the ASID College of Fellows.
As a Certified Aging In Place Specialist, he creates smart looking spaces that are safe and secure and create homes for a lifetime.
And with thirty plus years in the profession, he has honed his humor, elevated his passion for design and sharpened his wit to not take anything too seriously except his design work.