Finishing Touches: Countertops & Backsplashes

Among the most important of “all those other materials” are countertop and backsplash surfaces, which Landau says impart a kitchen with a truly custom look. Surfaces of metal and stone—either natural or man-made, like Caesarstone or Silestone—continue to be popular. The man-made materials offer a cleaner look, more solid colors, and, especially, a more exciting variety of textures, like suede, velvet, brushed, or leathered; textured surfaces are big in today’s kitchens. “When people enter the kitchen,” says Richard Brooks, president of Brooks Custom, a Mount Kisco company that specializes in surfaces, “the first thing their eyes go to are the countertops.”

Brooks says several trends have emerged as particularly strong in this area, including increased use of wood, especially American black walnut with a stain-proof and waterproof marine-oil finish in dark chocolate brown. And butcher blocks continue to have a place in the kitchen as food-prep surfaces, he notes. “But where we used to do a blond maple chopping block, now we do a walnut version in chocolate brown.” Among the most innovative wood-related trends, however, is the use of live-edge wood countertops, in which the organic edge of the tree remains and the natural wood’s “figure”—its knots and natural waves in the grain—are highlighted. “The bark is pulled off to the white sap wood and then we use a marine-oil finish,” says Brooks. “The uneven edges puts you in touch with the natural aspect of the wood for a more organic feel.” While oak and rare woods are often used, walnut, says Brooks, is the most popular choice here.

Open floor plans, which help rooms “flow” harmoniously, are one of the hottest new kitchen trends.

Ornate and fussy is out; sleek, chic, and functional is in. And granite-only countertops? That ship has sailed, too.

Another trendy countertop choice, for a very post-industrial look, is concrete. “It started about 12 or 15 years ago and is really growing now beyond our expectations, for countertops as well as islands,” says Brooks. “What’s happening in the commercial sector is now coming into residential.” While shades of gray and earth tones are used most often, concrete can be offered in any color in the Benjamin Moore color chart, says Brooks. Also cutting-edge for countertops—and backsplashes—are hammered, distressed, and textured zincs and metals in a dull pewter gray, especially for a secondary wet bar, says Brooks, with no coating or lacquer required. “Not everyone is aware of it, but zinc is a bacteriostatic, or hygienic, material,” he says. “Germs die faster on it than on stainless steel.” And brushed stainless steel—like the front of a refrigerator—is increasingly popular for backsplashes and is easy to keep clean—just use Windex. Glass, either in tiles or glossy sheets of very forward-looking back-painted glass, is gaining traction. While glass, like concrete, can be painted any color in the Benjamin Moore chart, light gray, metallic silver, and a muted gray-blue are especially on-trend. So what doesn’t Brooks see a lot of anymore? Kitchens that are totally granite or marble. “We no longer do everything in one material,” he notes.


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