This is my second post in a series of hard finishes blogs in which I’ll highlight some of my favorite looks in solid surfaces. There are a seemingly endless number of choices, for residential and commercial projects alike which can be overwhelming to make a selection. Natural granite and marble is still widely used, but I really like some of the alternative choices that are available.
Although I do mention many brand names in my blogs, I do not receive any compensation. These are manufacturers that I have used in my projects and feel confident in sharing these resources.
This is the #1 trending material in solid surfaces and the styles range from very realistic looks such as statuary marble and limestone to bold and colorful solids and organic patterns. Quartz is an excellent choice for the consistency in material, value, durability, and maintenance. There is something for everyone in quartz surfaces.
So, what is manufactured quartz? It is created from crushed natural quartz aggregates, pigments, and polymer resins. It is very dense with no porosity, so stains, bacteria, mold, and mildew will not penetrate the surface. Some manufacturers, such as Silestone, add an antimicrobial agent, Triclosan, to their matrix, which can be used in healthcare applications, or homes where fastidious cleanliness is paramount. Frequently, quartz is my top choice for countertops.
Photo: Corian Quartz (formerly Zodiaq), Calacatta Natura
Photo: Cambria USA, Swanbridge
I am drawn to concrete’s subtle movement and natural “patina”, which is what gives concrete its unique quality, but it does come with some “caveats” that need to be considered before making this selection. Basic concrete is comprised of small and coarse aggregates, sand, and Portland cement, which is mixed with water, and then cured to a solid form. Pigments and other aggregates such as broken glass, broken mirror, shells, and stones can be added during forming or mixing.
Concrete can be used on vertical and horizontal surfaces and it can be formed. It can be honed or polished. Concrete is porous, so it will absorb water and can stain, even if treated. One of the beautiful aspects of concrete is that is does develop a patina over time, which gives the surface a unique character, but it may require polishing to maintain its surface appearance. Some people do not like this type of “living” material, in that instance, I would not recommend its use. Concrete does however lend a great deal of design creativity since it can be molded, embossed, formed, and pigmented.
Photo: Ryan Gamma; Interior Design: Holly Dennis Interiors;
Concrete counters and Fireplace surround by Jake Brady Concrete by Design
Terrazzo can be traced back to the ancient world, and the terrazzo we use today in airports, malls, and grocery stores is derived from a type of Venetian pavement. Similar to concrete, it can be poured in place or precast. It is comprised of marble chips, stone chips, glass, and a cementitious binder and/or a polymer binder. It can be used on floors, walls, and countertops. Additional aggregates may be sprinkled on top of the mix before it sets. After curing, the surface is ground even and polished. We’re seeing a resurgence of terrazzo being used on floors, countertops, and walls.
Even though Terrazzo is mostly poured or formed in place, we’re seeing some material that comes conveniently in slab form (60” x 120” x 3cm) for about the same cost as other solid surface materials. With so many pigments and aggregates, such as recycled glass bottles, there are many options for your project. Vetrazzo is one example of terrazzo in slab form. Vetrazzo incorporates post-consumer materials, such as broken glass from wrecked automobiles or curbside recycling bottles, oyster shells, and mirrors into the composition, producing a sustainable product which can be used for LEED credit.
Although terrazzo is quite durable, it is not scratch resistant and may require polishing to maintain its original shine.
Photo: Vetrazzo, Floating Blue
One of the newest surfaces now available and becoming more prevalent is large-format porcelain stoneware. Comprised of the same materials as porcelain tile, with the main difference being its scale; very large formats, such as 162cm x 324cm x 12mm thick (63” x 127” x ½” nominal). It has many uses but is particularly well-suited for counters, backsplashes, and shower surrounds.
Because the composition of porcelain stoneware is compact and non-absorbent, this material has an excellent resistance to stains and detergents and they do not require any protective surface treatment. Porcelain stoneware also has the ability to withstand extreme temperatures and thermal shock, making it an ideal finish to be near high-heat sources. Another very important feature is that the material is colorfast, unlike many other solid surfaces. The material can be used indoors/outdoors and can be exposed to direct sunlight without fading or change of color.
Photos: Atlas, Plan porcelain slab
Acrylics and Resin Surfaces
Another group of products that have a great deal of design flexibility are solid-surface acrylics and resins. These materials, which are comprised of proprietary acrylic or resin compounds, are offered in a wide variety of colors and designs.
Due to their design flexibility and durability, we see this finish quite often in hospitality and commercial applications. They can be used in horizontal and vertical applications, and can be applied straight, curved, and thermo-formed. Many acrylics and resins are also translucent, so they can be back lit. They are also offered in a broad range of sheet sizes and thicknesses to fit the needs of your project. These materials are very durable, non-porous, and resistant to many chemicals, making this an excellent choice in commercial and healthcare applications.
Photo: Avonite, White 8016
This blog just scratches the surface for hard finishes. There is a vast array of solid-surface products available and most of these products can be found at stone fabricators and tile showrooms. If you are having difficulty making a selection, hire a professional interior designer who can guide you in making the choice that is right for you. Many designers are available to hire for brief consultations, which can make your project less burdensome.