The Crossover Point – Cost vs. Coveted: Next Generation Countertops Have Arrived

By Jessica McNaughton

There is a sweet spot in the countertop market where a product is both unique and economically palatable. In recent history, this spot has been occupied by granite and quartz products. More recently, however, quartz and granite have become commoditized and ubiquitous in much of the new construction and renovations. This leaves a gap for the discerning consumer or designer who is looking for the “next thing” – something unique that won’t blow the budget.

At the same time these mined materials are vacating the sweet spot, a family of products has quietly entered and matured in the market and is now uniquely positioned to fill that sweet-spot void. Environmentally friendly products were long burdened with the perception of exorbitant price tags, second-rate asthetics and questionable performance. Those days are long gone as manufacturers have improved their prodcuts and consolidated, merged and streamlined their operations, resulting in price reductions, operational efficiencies and market education that have dropped them squarely at the intersection of cost and uniquity.

These materials are modern surfaces. They are what is next in the countertop space. If you think that Twitter is a fad or that social media is a passing fancy, stop reading; you will not grasp this. The next generation of consumers cares about sustianability and health. They have been educated to do so, and it is engrained in their psyches. The current wave of designers, architects and homebuyers will be acutely aware of material health, and they will incorporate this into their decision making. Recycled, reclaimed and bio-based materials mean something to the next generation. They know that by using these materials, we slow the depletion of finite, natural resources, which is good for their generation and generations after them.

Historically, sustainable materials hovered around the sweet spot, but they don’t anymore. They now sit squarely in the sweet spot.  So this is where we are today: sustainable, attractive, and unique products that are economically viable:

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So what constitutes modern surfaces? Here are some examples:

  1. Recycled composites – Did you know that recycled paper can be turned into material more durable than stone? PaperStone is a great option for taking material out of the waste stream instead of out of the earth.
  2. Recycled glass – Concrete and glass is a good option for taking glass and/or fibers from the waste stream and creating a beautiful surface. IceStone, Merge and Vetrazzo are examples.
  3. Recycled solid surface – The amount of waste that can be used in solid surface is astounding, and some manufacturers have found a way to do this and create a modern aesthetic. Durat has been doing it for over 15 years.
  4. Bio-based composites – Consider a bio-based composite where an organic base is infused to become more durable. TorZo has some great options.
  5. Quarried-stone waste – Another option is a surface that takes the “leftover” stone from quarrying and repurposes it into a surface that has the same features as the original stone but does not leave it for waste.

Modern surfaces incorporate all three elements of the current market demands. They hit a reasonable price point, they are unique and they have a sustainbility profile.

One sign that modern surfaces have arrived is the reaction of the quartz and granite producers to this market shift. Prices for quartz and granite have decreased, slicing margins for everyone in the supply chain. To protect their margins, producers are setting up in-house fabrication cabability and requiring exclusive arrangements with fabricators. As countertop fabricators get squeezed by manufacturers who used to value them, it is only a matter of time before fabricators start looking for new materials and new partners to help them sustain and grow their businesses.

Modern Surfaces were prominently on display at GreenBuild this year, with a booth dedicated to Durat, IceStone and PaperStone, the three anchor brands of the modern surfaces concept.

About the Author

Jessica McNaughton is the president of CaraGreen, a distributor of sustainable materials, and co-authored the book Understanding Green Building Materials.  She has her bachelor of science in electrical engineering and her MBA from the Ivey Business School.  She is also a LEED-Accredited Professional (LEED AP), and sits on the ISFA Board of Directors.

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