Granite may be going the way of plastic laminate as the preferred material for kitchen countertops. Today, the granular, igneous rock is less popular than engineered stone, commonly referred to as quartz.
“About 75 percent of our clients are opting for quartz over granite,” says Bill Millholland, executive vice president of Case, a design-build firm in Bethesda, Md. “More people want a contemporary aesthetic in the kitchen, and the clean look of quartz goes with that. Granite goes better with traditional decor.”
In renovating their kitchen with Case, Bethesda homeowners Chris and Bryan Leibrand did not even consider granite for the countertops. They chose Caesarstone’s Bianco Drift, an engineered stone that looks like marble. “I really like the color and low maintenance of the material. It makes cleanups easy,” Chris Leibrand says.
Harder and less porous than granite, quartz is more consistent in color, texture and pattern than natural stones. It is stain-resistant and does not require sealing like granite and marble to maintain its original appearance.
“For me, it was a matter of maintenance more than a look in choosing quartz,” says Rossnyev Alvarado, an engineer who renovated the kitchen of her 1930s Colonial in the American University Park neighborhood with the help of Washington-based Kube Architecture. “I didn’t want to have something high maintenance in the kitchen, especially if it requires special treatments every so often. We tested several materials before deciding on Caesarstone, which was found to be the most resistant to heat, wine stains and daily use and wear.”
To fabricate the artificial stone, manufacturers such as Caesarstone, Silestone and Cambria blend crushed quartz with resins and pigments, pour the mixture into molds and apply pressure to compact the slabs, which are cured and polished into the final product. The quartz is then cut and finished like real stone.
Chevy Chase kitchen designer Jennifer Gilmer says 60 percent of her customers are choosing quartz over natural stones, “partly because modern kitchens are hot right now. In these kitchens, the less pattern the better, and quartz helps to keep the clean look.”
Popular colors for quartz countertops, Gilmer says, are white, off white, gray and black. “There are good options for a marble look that are getting better and better with all the quartz manufacturers, and we’re selling a lot of those,” she says.
Kitchen project manager Richard Subaran of Aidan Design in Silver Spring says he recalls that only a decade ago, 70 percent of high-end kitchen designs incorporated granite countertops and only 30 percent featured quartz. “Now those percentages have flipped. White quartz is flying off the shelves.”
Still, Subaran says, “there is no comparison between real marble and quartz. Marbles have depth, one-of-a-kind veining.” Quartz, on the other hand, is typically more uniform in its colors and patterning.
Some homeowners who like marble but do not want to deal with its upkeep are choosing quartzite as an alternative. Not to be confused with manufactured quartz, the metamorphic rock — formed when quartz-rich sandstone is subjected to heat and pressure — is harder and sturdier than marble but has a similar look. “It has beautiful veining but doesn’t stain,” Gilmer says.
In choosing between natural and artificial stones, homeowners should keep in mind that quartz is not necessarily less expensive than granite or marble. Eddie Castro, vice president of Stone and Tile World in Rockville, says quartz can range from about $65 to $135 per square foot, including fabrication and installation costs, compared with non-exotic granite at $50 to $60 and marble at $55 to $95 per square foot installed. Quartzite ranges from about $90 to $120 per square foot, including installation, Castro says.
Gilmer likes combining natural and engineered stones in her kitchen designs to achieve durability and beauty. “We recommend composite quartz on the counter and slabs of marble or marble tiles on the backsplash.”
Those homeowners who still prefer granite are requesting stones with a more solid, “calm” appearance, Gilmer says. “They do not want polished or honed surfaces,” she says. “They want a textured finish, which has several names, like leathered or patinaed.”