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Ask a Designer: Choosing Stone Counters


Which types of stone make good kitchen counters?

It is best to use granite, because it is really durable, and not as porous as a marble or a limestone. You do see people, because for a specific look, going towards limestones and marbles and things, but some people tend to try to steer you away from that, because it is a softer material, it is more porous, but you can use it, just not as easy to maintain as a granite or quartz product would be. Again, a trapertine is going to be really soft, more porous material. Soapstone, same, which we use a lot. Soapstone is very soft. If you have a kitchen that you want kind of an older look, and you don’t mind, after ten years, having the soapstone be a little bit beat up, or, in areas that you work more, having a little worn look to it, I think that’s okay.

If someone’s wanting a countertop that’s going to stay very pristine and clean, soapstone is probably not the way to go. I have marble in my kitchen. It is a little soft, had to get used to that, but I like it a lot. There’s something about a marble [flag 00:01:21] with the [veining 00:01:22] and the beauty of that, that you’re not going to get in a solid surface. There’s no granite that’s pure white with a [inaudible 00:01:29]. Unfortunately, they don’t have that. So, there are some materials that you can get, like I said, a similar look, but you’re never going to get that exact same look.

Ask a Designer: Appliance Trends


Q. What are the latest appliance trends?

Christine Moritz: The biggest appliance that's kind of gone out of a little bit is the trash compactor. That's the only one that I've really seen that has kind of faded away just because we've had new inventions with the pullout trash bins and things that you can keep hidden within the cabinets. So I think that that kind of took the place of the trash compactor. Otherwise, though, I think wine coolers, I mean, those are a big trend. People do like the dual refrigeration for wine coolers. Warming drawers are great. Our lives are constantly busier and moving around, so that's something that really works in today's lifestyle. But I really do like the pullout microwave drawers. I think early on, I mean, it was always the micro hood was over top of the cook top. So there was a home for it. Then with all the inventions with new hood designs with stainless steel hoods, all the different new looks that kind of created that big focal point for your cook top, the microwave kind of lost its home there. So we started putting them in wall cabinets to keep them at eye level which works well, but they've become bigger, just kind of stuck out in places. So putting them in base cabinets or drawers is a new trend. Fully integrated appliances are really a neat new trend in terms of putting panels on dishwashers, refrigerators to kind of have them blend seamlessly into the design, make them look more furniture-like. That's a big trend to kind of have more furniture for your kitchen.

Eileen Suhajda: We have people who are doing a huge commercial range with a custom hood, a microwave maybe on the side center, and then a set of oven cabinets. They usually have more than one oven. Sometimes they have the gas range and they'll have electric ovens because they like the baking in electric better. So we can have the dual fuel combination. We have cooking areas where there are actually deep fryers set into the counters, griddle pans, grills. So there could be several areas set up. This cabinet has a built in coffee espresso machine so that people can make their own espresso and cappuccino. For people who probably go to Starbucks everyday and want that fresh ground or fresh brewed espresso type of drinks. Then they can get it right in their home. Now we have residential lines, but it has the commercial look and it has the commercial features, but it's actually reengineered for a residential application.

Ask a Designer: Clean, Safe Countertops


Are some countertops cleaner or safer than others?

Janice: Definitely the stone countertops and the composites, the quartz material countertops are very sanitary because they are steel and so things do not penetrate into them. Wood countertops you have to be a little more careful with the sanitation because they are porous. If you're going to be using your wood countertops to cut on, you can't cut meat on it and then turn around and cut something else on it. You need to make sure you disinfect it because it is a porous material. [Solid surface 00:00:38] is very very good as far as cleanability because it's an acrylic material. It's not porous at all. Laminates, again, are not porous, but you can't cut on laminate because you're going to leave knife marks.

Any countertop you really shouldn't cut right on the countertop anyway. You should have some sort of cutting surface that is completely dedicated doing your chopping and cutting. Those smaller surfaces, again, are easier to maintain and keep clean and disinfect than an entire countertop. Bacteria can sit on the surface of anything. It's how well you can clean it and how easily you can clean it to get the bacteria off. Any countertop, if you cut on it or prepare food on it, you're going to have bacteria. If you don't clean it, it 's going to remain there.

Ask a Designer: Quality Cabinetry Features


What features define quality cabinetry?

I would say definitely looking at a dovetail drawer versus a butt-jointed drawer you’re going to want a wood drawer box. Dovetail would be a more sturdy construction.

You’re going to want to see what the sides are made out of as far as the plywood versus particleboard. You’re going to want a material that’s a little bit thicker on the bottom of the drawer as well as you want a little bit, at least three-quarter shelves inside the cabinets.

The finish definitely has to be a good quality finish. Look at warranties when you’re look at cabinetry to see how long they warrant their workmanship and their finishes over the long term.

The finish is probably going to break down if it’s not a quality finish from touching it. You won’t be able to clean the wood as easily if the finish starts to break down.

Now they’ve come out with all kinds of fancy things. They have the Blumotion which is a soft-close. That’s not mandatory. It definitely is a very sexy option that you could put in. It keeps the kids from slamming the drawers. It will make your cabinets last longer.

Ask a Designer: Cabinet Types


What is the difference among ready-to-assemble, stock, semi-custom and custom cabinets?

It’s pretty much ready to assemble, it’s out of the box, it gets put in it, and those are pretty much what you’re going to see at the Home Depots and Menard’s and Lowe’s. Those are the ones that the handy-man can pick up and do a project pretty quick and are probably the least expensive. There will be a difference in construction, obviously a difference in finish. There’s less choices. They’ll be stapled cabinets, as opposed to dowels and duck-tail joints, and so on.

Stock cabinets come manufactured in specific sizes and cannot be modified. Custom cabinets are made specifically for kitchen orders. They can be modified in size, in height, depth, width; and that’s because the factories to make their own doors most of the time. So, most factories that make stock cabinets have specific door sizes and cannot changes those, so we end up using those in projects that are a little bit more budget-conscious. Also, with custom cabinets, you end up being able to customize the finishes, so you can make it a little darker or a little lighter; add more glaze, take glaze away. So, you have a little bit more control over the design of the kitchen and the final project.

Semi-custom allows some customization to the cabinets, but a lot of times what happens is you pay a price for that customization, because they have to pull it out of the line, make a change to that cabinet, and order doors special. So, a lot of times, when you try to do a semi-custom cabinet as a custom cabinet, it’s not as pristine or precise as a custom cabinet. Most of the time, semi-custom does not allow width changes; it’s mostly in depth.

Ask a Designer: Countertop Prices


Why are some countertop colors more expensive than others?

Trisha: Because of what goes into the material to make it that color. As far as a Corian, a zodiac, a solid surface material, it’s easier for them to make the solid colors. There’s more work and more materials involved in making the different types that has different colors, so it’s going to be more costly. As far as the stone, I think it’s the cost of the stone itself, the more exotic the stone and the more of its [inaudible 00:00:43] cost the more that material is going to cost to put on your countertop, versus a granite that’s more readily available and less expensive.

There’s definitely a handful of … A, granite, that you think it in all of the same price point. Then you got a nice wide range of the cost granite, that’s probably were most of them are categorized in is kind of mid-range price. Then you’re going to have a more exotic material on it, and limestone and things like that. They’re going to be in that C category for its cost.

Ask a Designer: Easily Maintained Materials


Which countertop materials are easiest to maintain?

Terry Kenney:  Granite has been in the earth for a long time. When it's mined and brought out, it has some natural flaws and fissures and so on, so it will resist staining and scratching and heat just based on its natural makeup. It will ruin knives if you cut on it. Once it's polished or sealed, it will probably not stain. Although, there are some granites that might be a little bit more porous and do offer the opportunity of staining if you're not real diligent in your cleanup. Most of what will stain a granite countertop would be more like the oils, a ketchup bottle, or an olive oil bottle that might sit on the countertop. You might get a ring from that as opposed to spilling a glass of red wine and having it sit on the countertop.

The other countertops that are easily maintained are all of the manmade materials. The engineered quartz countertops typically have the same kind of resistance that granite does because it uses the same material along with manmade materials. Corians and the synthetic countertops, the darker colors, when they scratch, you can see that even though it's color through and through. The likelihood of them staining is … the darker colors probably won't, but you do see after many uses that Corian sinks they do stain.

Limestones and those kind of stones are more porous and used all over Europe, but they will stain and they will scratch. Here in the United States we like to have things pristine, and we like to make sure that it's going to stay that way.

Butcher block is something that I don't really recommend for use over the entire kitchen only because of the bacteria issue. It's not something that I recommend that people chop on or chop meat or anything like that on because you can't clean it that well.

All the metals are just gorgeous to use, but they are living [inaudible 00:02:04]. They will change over time. It is not going to look the same today as it will in three weeks in three years from now.


Ask a Designer: Countertop Colors & Materials


Are there guidelines for mixing countertop colors and materials?

Trisha: I don’t think there is any specific rule. I think again, you have kind of the freedom to do what you want. But if you want to look good [laughs], I think that it’s going to depend on the size of the kitchen and the space that you have too. I would say that you probably don’t want to do more than two different countertops. But, if you have a really big kitchen with different areas that can handle maybe a third material, then I think you can do that. But generally, you don’t see that big of a kitchen that often. I would say you probably want to stick to no more than two surfaces. You’re going to work that second surface not compete with the main countertop.

For instance, most granite have a lot of different color and movement and things like that in them. So I come to with an island or wherever your other piece of countertop is, to have that be a little bit more neutral. Whether it’s a wood top, stainless steel top, maybe a Corian top, or another granite that’s a black or more solid in color, just so that you don’t have the patterns and the colors competing with each other. Because then it gets a little confusing and a little too much statistically to look at.

Terry: I try to stay away from mixing too much material in the kitchen only because then you’re not having the consistency of the material throughout, you lose the feel. Some change to wood or some other specific type of countertop, like a concrete type of counter, might add to the texture visual texture in the kitchen. But I wouldn’t mix too many of the different materials.  

Ask a Designer: Framed vs. Frameless


What’s the difference between framed and frameless cabinetry?

Terry: In America, we make furniture and cabinets with a face frame on it, which is about an inch and a half to an in inch of face frame that runs around the outside front of the cabinet so that you end up having a little bit of area behind the face frame where things get lost. Frameless cabinets are also known as full access cabinets. There is nothing on the outside of the cabinet; it’s just basically a box. All of the decorative elements are attached to that box. The Europeans started that construction. They use man-made materials for that, typically. That’s because in Europe, they save the woods for the exterior of the cabinet were account. They don’t have much wood over there as we do here.

Ask a Designer: Stainless Steel Pros & Cons


What are the pros and cons of stainless steel?

I think some of the Pros to this is the look of it and its value, as well as … I guess people could say it's easy to clean, and then not easy to clean. I know that a lot of people that cook a lot like to use it. They love the stainless, because they do feel afterwards it's really easy to clean up and be done with, as far as it being kind of a sterile surface.

You could look at a Con and say with a full stainless steel refrigerator and/or dishwasher, if you have children, you'll get a lot of fingerprints. As far as a daily maintenance, it's a little harder to keep up. [Then and the part 00:00:48] with the paint on it, we are not going to see all those little fingerprints all over the place. That would be the biggest Con. The biggest concern that I see with clients is that fingerprints, and their children, and not wanting to have to deal with that. Overall I think going with stainless is definitely something that's a good idea.