When searching for the perfect choice of solid surface material in the residential design sector there is much to consider. Homeowners not only want benchtops, vanities and counters that look the part, they also need the material to be durable, easy to maintain and fit in with their lifestyle and budget.
Manufacturer of quartz surfaces, Caesarstone, champions the benefits of quartz for kitchen benchtops, bathroom vanities and counters.
Quartz surfaces are created from approximately 90 percent natural quartz aggregates, organic pigments and enhanced polymer resins. The end result is heat, stain, scratch and chip resistant. Caesarstone is available in 48 quartz finishes, each of which has the authentic look of stone or marble.
The design flexibility with quartz is another benefit of the product. Caesarstone’s brand manager, Linda Hannah, says when it comes to the latest trends in solid surfaces, more and more customers are leaving the stark white kitchen and bathroom behind and moving over to darker tones.
This desire for darker colours has seen Caesarstone's ‘dark rituals’ collection of quartz surfaces highly sought after.
Global trends forecaster and frequent collaborator with Caesarstone, Li Edelkoort, notes that kitchens are traditionally very white, but in a dramatic shift they are now making a move to the dark side, featuring black quartz, charcoal granite and black cast iron.
“While at first, the choice of black for the kitchen seems surprising, it is actually logical and connected – it is as stylish as the black bowls and plates we are now choosing to present our food on,” she says.
Another trend that continues to build momentum as a top choice for floors, walls, benchtops, vanities and splashbacks alike, is the concrete look.
“We saw the concrete decorative trend beginning to emerge about five years ago and launched Australia’s first concrete quartz surface finish, Sleek Concrete, in 2014,” Caesarstone’s brand manager Linda Hannah says.
“Since then we have released eight other concrete finishes and have seen both the commercial and residential sectors embrace them.”
Caesarstone’s concrete-inspired finishes take influence from unique materials such as oxidised steel, weathered cement and hand-poured concrete.
For a more refined look Fresh Concrete, Raw Concrete and Sleek Concrete offer choices from the white, grey and taupe colour palettes. Meanwhile, Topus Concrete combines mineral formations found in nature with the rugged patinas of industrial materials.
“The concrete-look collection is suitable for benchtops, splashbacks, vanities, walls and furniture,” Hannah says.
One of Australia’s favourite cooks, Maggie Beer, is already on board with the concrete-inspired trend. The kitchen in her new Adelaide city apartment by kitchen designers, Farquhar, features Caesarstone’s Rugged Concrete.
“When I first walked into Farquhar and saw the stone display, this stone [Rugged Concrete] was on it, and I never deterred from it. I just loved it. I love the graduation of colour; it’s not all matte, it’s real. It feels like concrete,” Beer says.
Another material that no doubt comes to mind for solid surface choices is laminate. Laminates have been a popular option for surface materials for the better part of 85 years, but over that entire period, they’ve been getting better and better.
Australian company, Laminex, which has been producing laminates for more than 80 years, is paying ever-increasing attention to contemporary design movements and the changing needs of architects and designers.
Neil Sookee, Laminex product design manager, explains that materials such as timber and stone are not perfect in nature and that’s part of their appeal, but nowadays, laminates are able to reflect these characteristics with incredible likeness.
Decor in the Laminex Woodgrains collection, such as Raw Birchply, Natural Walnut and Rural Oak, delivers an authentic representation of the colour, texture and character of natural timber grains. Combined with the low-gloss tactile chalk finish, it’s realistic to the touch too.
Neil notes a desire among architects and designers to honour and respect trees, using every possible piece of them, including those with sap lines or mould stains.
“This same philosophical approach now spills over into digital print representations of timbers, where we aim to celebrate the grain of the wood itself and interfere with its characteristics as little as possible,” he says.
This is particularly evident in textural woodgrain decor such as Laminex Delana Oak and Planked Urban Oak, which replicates the look and character of aged timber.
This realism is also reflected in the Laminex Minerals range, where marble-inspired decor finishes like Crema Venato and Nero Grafite are detailed with true-to-life veining patterns and shifts in tone and colour.
In line with Ceaserstone's style predictions, Laminex has also pinpointed the rising prominence of dark interiors, particularly in kitchens.
To cater for this, the company has launched Black Birchply within the Laminex Colour Collection. It offers the textural effect of black-stained plywood, with an almost tonal character created by the woodgrain detail visible through the black colourwash effect. It comes in a natural finish and low-gloss, tactile chalk finish.
The other key driver behind the return to laminate benchtops is an increasing awareness of their hard-wearing performance. Even a stone will discolour over time, and in direct light, veneers will fade fairly rapidly, but laminates just keep on keeping on, as they have great UV resistance.
“The porosity of laminates is also so low that it’s negligible in most circumstances and this makes them highly water resistant,” Sookee says.
When considering using laminates, it is important to understand the difference between high-pressure laminate and low-pressure melamine in order to choose the right product for the project. Because while they may look the same, they do not perform the same.
High-pressure laminate, or HPL is created when sheets of technical kraft paper are treated with water-based resin and decorative surface papers are treated with water-based melamine resin; the papers are dried and cut to size, then collated together and pressed under high pressure and heat. The end result is a versatile and highly durable decorative surface that’s resistant to heat, UV, moisture and everyday wear and tear.
By contrast, decorated board, also known as low-pressure melamine or LPM, uses medium density fibreboard or particleboard as a rigid core, with melamine-impregnated decorative paper bonded to both sides.
HPL is the best choice for medium-impact applications like kitchen benchtops, bathroom vanities and wall panelling, where it’s adhered to a solid substrate. In comparison, the extra thickness of LPM and the fact that it is a pre-finished panel, makes it a cost-effective solution for structural work such as cabinetry carcasses, doors, panels and furniture.
Moving away from laminates, another alternative to consider is Corian. Created by a company called Dupont in 1967, it is produced through a mixture of acrylic polymer and natural minerals. The main ingredient is Alumina Trihydrate, derived from bauxite ore, one of the main components in the manufacture of aluminium.
It is primarily used as a countertop and benchtop surface, although it has countless other uses. Corian is also non-porous, so stains cannot penetrate its surface. With proper cleaning it also resists the growth of mold, mildew and bacteria, making it a healthy choice for kitchens and bathrooms.
In terms of visual appeal, it is available in a wide spectrum of colours with the choice of three finishes – matte, satin (standard) and gloss.
A recent project where Corian was a standout feature, was in the design of two luxury beachfront penthouses in northern New South Wales by architectural interior design company, Ultraspace.
Mark Gacesa of Ultraspace says the company chose Corian for most of the hard surfaces in its custom design work to achieve the “calming and high-end look of a light natural stone but without the fragility and maintenance”.
“Because I was using Corian, I was able to allow several thermoformed sweeps and curves into the design process and the Corian also allowed me to have the design as seamless which is something that I love,” he says.
Corian can also provide unique opportunities within the bathroom space. In one renovation, it provided the opportunity to create an entire bathroom without any tiles or grout. It also meant that the basins, benchtops and splashbacks could be seamlessly joined so no silicone joints were required. Avoiding tile grout and silicone means the bathroom will never have mould issues and remains easy to maintain and clean on a daily basis.
The thermoformed basins, thermoformed benchtop to splashback detail, thermoformed vanity drawer fronts and thermoformed floor to wall details are also incredibly unique.
With hundreds of colours, patterns, and textures to choose from for surfaces across the home, it's easy to be spoiled for choice. Once you know what look you're after, it's essential to examine several options to find the material that will be the best fit for the homeowner's lifestyle.