The modern kitchen is a multi-use area. Not just for cooking anymore, it’s a place for entertaining, eating, bill paying and homework. Kitchens have become the general social center of the home. With so many activities centered in this one room, homeowners are demanding living spaces where form doesn’t necessarily follow function. The layout and materials in our kitchens establish a specific vibe, while simultaneously creating an ease of daily flow and activity. One way in which these kitchens are being created is to utilize a variety of materials through countertops, tile, appliances and other methods.
No one wants their kitchen to be an exact replica of their neighbors and rarely do two people have the exact same preferences. With so many different choices and looks, customization is conceptually simple, and now simpler to execute as well. The problems of the past, with certain materials being costly and impractical to work with, are no longer the case with materials such as stone, solid surface, concrete and glass now being more user-friendly and practical to work with.
Working with only one material is a lot like working with only one color, it might be a great color, but when a room is only blue or red it can be overwhelming. Having a kitchen with mostly quartz or mostly granite is equally overpowering, especially with two mediums that have such strong characteristics. Using wood or glass strategically around the kitchen can soften the feel. Likewise, incorporating one of the many new “green” surfacing options, like PaperStone or Vetrazzo, as an inlay can add visual texture to a solid surface countertop.
With today’s hectic schedules, functionality plays a major role in the kitchen. We want our countertops, appliances and everything else to be as efficient and maintenance free as possible, while still remaining aesthetically pleasing. The problem with many surfaces is they require special cleaning agents. Fabricators know you cannot simply apply the typical all-purpose kitchen cleaners to every stone and metal countertop or surface. This can be a huge deterrent for consumers looking to incorporate various materials into their kitchen décor.
No one wants the headache of remembering which cleaners go with which surfaces and running the risk of potentially ruining the material if the wrong cleaning agent is used. Luckily, some sealants prevent this hassle and protect stone, metal and glass from stains and other markings and give homeowners the option of using ordinary household cleaners. However, some sealants have a limited life and must be reapplied annually. It is essential to do your homework on sealers so you can tell your consumers what they can and cannot use with their investment.
Some surfaces are better suited for certain tasks. Areas next to the stove should be able to withstand heat and cutting, while serving areas may not need to stand up to the same harsh conditions. Sanitation is another important aspect to consider when choosing a surface. Anti-bacterial and anti-microbial surfaces are especially attractive for families. Antibacterial properties of kitchen surfaces should be considered if the area is going to be used for food preparation. Another crucial property is anti-mold, although thorough cleaning should prevent this, once mold sets in, it can be very tough to remove.
Given the current economic climate, tighter budgets can significantly reduce the size of incoming projects. However, decorating or remodeling with multiple surfaces can reduce the cost of an overall renovation for consumers and fabricators by allowing fabricators to use smaller pieces of inventory that have gone unsold or cut back on initial costs leaving more money for the consumer to spend on popular up-selling items, like an upgraded edge profile that will cost a fabricator little to no money to produce. Only using expensive materials in moderation can help scale back the budget, while still achieving the desired look. Expensive materials should be used in prominent locations or as accents if the budget is tight. Less expensive materials can be used to round out large remaining spaces.
Using tile is a great way to keep projects within budget, because much like using multiple surfaces, you can use multiple tile materials and sprinkle the more expensive variety sparingly around the room. If a consumer is looking for simple kitchen renovations, offering backsplashes in nontraditional materials consistent with the home design is cost effective, not just for the consumer, but also to the fabricator. This is another way to utilize scrap materials or other existing inventory that can tie up your cash flow. For example, if a customer is looking to darken or lighten a kitchen, a backsplash can offer a way to offset that problem by utilizing simple tiles or other smaller pieces of excessive inventory of an opposite hue.
Besides the obvious choices of countertop and flooring materials, many people are looking for other ways to customize their kitchen. Backsplash designs offer many options for customization and they can be done using a variety of materials. For the budget conscious project, this is a great accent space to experiment with a more expensive material and with more detailed design elements due to the small size of the space. For example, using tile with etchings or other designs is perfect for a backsplash because the space is functional and also near eye level, so the detail of the tile won’t be lost.
NOT JUST A TREND
The use of multiple surface materials is here to stay. The level of functionality and efficiency required from today’s kitchen and the current state of the economy, demands homeowners have more choices. Advances in technology along with consumer demand are pushing the development of newer and more economical surface and décor materials. Composite materials are being manufactured that contain metal and glass, throwing the doors wide open for custom designs never thought possible that consumers will want. This is great news for homeowners not willing to settle for their second choice in material and for fabricators who won’t have to worry about working with difficult or scarce materials. Also, rarely do homeowners find only one material with which they would like to decorate. Because there are so many creative uses for incorporating these materials into an aesthetically pleasing design (countertops, flooring, backsplashes, etc.), you can offer truly limitless options and ultimately customize a project to suit individual customer tastes.
About the author: Kelly Kane is the Director of Marketing for Questech Corporation. She has 18 years of experience working in technology, consumer goods, retail and decorative tile.