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Statement-Making Surfaces

There’s a reason why so many customers come into our showroom describing the type of countertops and backsplashes they’ve been dreaming about before they ever mention the cabinets. Though most designers wait to address those surfaces until after the kitchen layout is finalized and cabinetry materials and finishes have been chosen, customers realize that the countertops and backsplashes have a major impact on the overall “wow factor” of their new kitchen. Think of your new kitchen as a luscious dessert. If your cabinetry is the cake, the foundation upon which your creation will be built, then the countertops and backsplash are the sweet icing that will top off and complete your confectionary work of art.

For this topic, we turned to the pros with whom we regularly partner for counter and backsplash design: Gina Occhigrossi of Terra Tile and Marble, and Nancy Epstein, founder and CEO of Artistic Tile. Terra Tile has two showrooms in Westchester and Duchess County, while Artistic tile has nine showrooms across the country. These women each offer a unique perspective on both regional and nationwide trends in this field.

Gina Occhigrossi says that, although gray is still having a design moment, most people in the northern suburbs aren’t using pure gray. They’re leaning more towards warmer tones and what she calls “greige”, a warm gray with a touch of beige. In general, warmer tones are more popular, though she finds that white is still an “in” choice for many.

For countertops, Gina is seeing the rise in popularity of both quartzite (a natural stone) and quartz (a man-made material). While quartzite is harder than marble and generally easy to maintain, quartz is virtually maintenance free. Though quartzite slabs are mostly available in white to gray tones (with streaks of pink, red, yellow or blue, depending on its mineral content), quartz is available in a much wider array of colors and patterns, simulating a variety of granite and marble patterns in both warm and cool tones. The pattern and movement can be subtle or bold, or even no pattern at all, for that modern homogeneous look.

Fantasy Brown Quartzite by Terra Tile - Kitchen by Bilotta Designer Paula Greer, CKD and Architect Robin Zahn

But don’t think granite has become passé. Gina says granite is still an option for counters, often honed to give it a new twist. Although mixing granite and quartz in the same space is gaining ground. The island becomes the focal point of the room, where you’ll often see a dramatic granite being used, while the perimeter is the backdrop in a subtler quiet quartz pattern. When granite IS being used, Gina is seeing customers being drawn to honed or heavily textured “leather look” finishes.

Asterix Granite in a Leather Finish by Terra Tile on Display in Bilotta of Mount Kisco

And whatever the material, the days of the elaborate ogee or Dupont edges are gone! Today’s edge is a simple and clean eased edge. Now a “fancy” edge is a 2” mitered edge, especially on the island.

As for backsplashes, Gina says the modified “subway” tiles still reign supreme, but in a variety of sizes such as 2x8, 2x9 or even 4x12 instead of the ubiquitous 3x6 format. Over-the-top, fussy backsplashes have gone by the wayside in favor of more monochromatic, soothing looks. That being said, Gina feels there’s a growing trend toward laser-cut marble mosaics.

Clean and Classic Ceramic Subway Tile - Kitchen by Bilotta Designer Jeni Spaeth

One of the biggest concerns of homeowners considering a tile backsplash is grout: they worry about staining, cracking, and discoloration. Today’s grouts are nothing like they were 15 years ago and manufacturers are constantly adding state-of-the-art improvements to this product, including stain resistant options.

Although this month’s topic focuses primarily on countertops and backsplashes, Gina did comment on a few trends for floor tiles. One of the biggest floor trends is the wood-look porcelain. She also sees a greater interest in larger tiles such as 24x24. The larger the tiles, the fewer the grout lines, which results in cleaner unified “carpet-like” effect.

Nancy Epstein of Artistic Tile offers a fascinating perspective on urban vs. suburban trends for countertops and backsplashes, since five of her nine showrooms are located in the major markets of Manhattan (two showrooms!), Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco. In those areas most customers come in with a designer or architect. As a result, the designer’s encouragement emboldens the customer to take a risk and choose something they love instead of settling on a “safer” option.  For example, their #1 best seller is an intricate yet delicate tile from Michael Aram’s “Orchid Dimensional” collection that would appear to buck the trend toward simpler backsplashes. They consist of 3-D hand-carved orchid flowers, petals and stems in Thassos on a ground of either polished white or honed black marble. Definitely not safe but most certainly stunning, elevating tile to a work of art!

Bianco carrara orchid dimensional wall tile by Artistic Tile.

Photo Courtesy of Artistic Tile - "Orchid Dimensional" from the Michael Aram Collection

Not surprisingly, Nancy feels that New York City leads the world in launching design trends. What happens here doesn’t reach Chicago for another 4-6 months and only progresses to the rest of the country within a year or more. And in her opinion, designer-led jobs are definitely more “fashion forward “and more beautifully executed than homeowner-led jobs.

Another trend that Nancy sees more frequently in New York City is that these homeowners are more likely than their suburban counterparts to continue the countertop slab up into the backsplash, as seen below. This unbroken line of material on these two adjacent surfaces creates a space-enlarging effect that is at once classic and modern.

Calacatta Gold Countertop and Backsplash by Artisitic Tile

Calacatta Gold Countertop and Backsplash - Kitchen by Bilotta Designer RitaLuisa Garces with Artistic Tile

In Nancy’s showrooms, grays, blues and metallic are the most popular backsplash choices right now. The customer who isn’t afraid of patterns may gravitate toward a glass with metal tile such as their “Jazz Glass Fan Club”, featuring a textured fan motif in ombre cream and brass. Another popular backsplash featuring metallics is their “Tuxedo Park Deco” field tile, which fuses marble with metal in an elongated hexagonal shape.

Glass and metal tile from the "Jazz Glass Fan Club" by Artistic Tile.

Photo Courtesy of Artistic Tile - from the "Jazz Glass Fan Club" Collection

Do you love the idea of spotlighting a metallic finish on your backsplash, but would rather not commit to a bold pattern? Then the “Michael Aram Collection for Artistic Tile” could be just what you’re looking for! The theme of this grouping is subtle embossing on a ceramic tile with either a bronze or steel glaze.

Ceramic tile embossed with bronze glass by Artistic Tile.

Photo Courtesy of Artistic Tile - "Gotham Steel" from the Michael Aram Collection

Whether the customer decides on pattern or plain; textured or smooth; matte or shiny, the prevalent practice is to have all the backsplashes in the room remain consistent. And most of Nancy’s customers will select their cabinetry before tackling the backsplash and counters.

If you’ve been perusing Pinterest and Houzz and are already a little weary of grays and blues, hang on: Nancy predicts that four years from now, we’ll be seeing a refreshing return to greens, pinks, burnt reds and more!

Nancy Epstein’s close collaboration with designers and architects has taught her that these pros don’t want to keep repeating the same materials for every job. They’re always searching for new options that will help their designs stand out as unique and one-of-a-kind. So Nancy continually updates her showrooms with the latest colors, patterns and formats to provide them with fresh inspiration.

So are you feeling overwhelmed? Yes, the sheer volume and variety of available products can most definitely make your head spin. So rely on your design professionals to help you navigate your way through the sea of options. Your completed kitchen will surely reflect the fact that experts had a hand in its creation.

Images provided by Artistic Tile and Bilotta Kitchens.

This post was written by senior designer, Paulette Gambacorta. Paulette has been designing kitchens with Bilotta for over 22 years.

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