Philippa Turrell takes a look at the compelling and comprehensive offer of worksurface materials.
While quartz has undoubtedly been the recent success story for worktop sales, it has a way to go to dominate the market. Laminate still has the greatest share of the worktop market. Product director for worktops at IDS Ian Holmes offers some statistics on market share: “Sales of laminate are consistently strong and they represent around 75% of the market.” And this can be reflected in the portfolio of distributor HPP which re-launched its worktop offering last year, doubling its range. Marketing manager of HPP Dan Mounsey explains the company has “seen an increase in sales of laminated worktops of over 60% when compared to the previous financial year.”
But its popularity is not simply because laminate the cheaper option. Managing director of InHouse Wayne Dance retorts: “It is easy to assume that laminate equals cheap but that’s not the right equation.” Laminate now boasts enhanced print definition and textures, which has elevated the design aesthetic of the material. Drawing influences from the quartz and natural stone market, laminate is not only able to mimic natural materials in décor but can also replicate the sleek, slimlines of its thinner profile and offer textures too. Wayne Dance of InHouse adds: “The Schuller C Collection features a 19mm laminate worktop in 51 finishes that include stone, wood effect and neutral tones.”
Challenged by quartz
However, the market for laminate has been challenged over the past 10 years by a wider variety of materials, from natural stone and timber, through to manmade solid surface and quartz. In particular Ian Holmes of IDS cites the rise of installer ready solid surface and quartz have “nibbled away most at laminate’s market share because they enable consumers to trade up on a budget.” It can be reflected in the sales of Maxtop Quartz, which is a modular worktop featuring a Polypropylene honeycomb core, making it more lightweight than standard quartz surface. Managing director of Maxtop Quartz explains: “The huge development of high rise accommodation had seen a move initially from laminate to fabricated stone and quartz. In the last two years, the ease of handling and lightweight nature of Maxtop has proved to be a revelation for those companies who have taken the lead in innovation. From a zero start two years ago, over 2,500 Maxtop Quartz worktops have already been installed throughout the UK in high rise units.”
And the upsell from laminate to quartz is a trend that is unlikely to waver, as consumers who have perhaps experienced HPL in the past want a more prestigious and pricier worksurface. Managing director of CRL Stone Simon Boocock says greater consumer understanding, an increase in colour options an increase in colour options, as well asaccomplished kitchen retailers upselling their customers, have all helped spur the move from laminate to quartz.
Taking on top-end
But quartz is not simply a threat to the lower priced end of the market, it also has its sights on the premium market against natural and manmade stone, such as concrete. At one end of the scale it offers colour consistency, which by its very nature (pun intended) cannot be found in stone. While at the opposing end, it can now mimic inconsistencies of colour or veining found in granites and marbles. Simon Boocock of CRL Stone continues: “For this reason, we are also gaining traction from customers that might have traditionally opted for natural material. Once a consumer understands the inherent drawbacks of natural granite and marble – the fact that it chips relatively easily and it is porous – it is easy to transition them to a material that has the same look but without any of the problems.” And Laurie Davie, marketing co-ordinator, of Cosentino UK agrees: “Particularly in demand are the marble inspired finishes, allowing customers to achieve that premium look at home without the hassle of difficult maintenance.” In fact the marble effects form part of its Silestone Eternal and Dekton Natural ranges. And this trend is joined by the continuing demand for greys in interiors, with concrete also becoming an influence in worktops. Director of Karonia, which supplies solid surface worktop brand Mistral, Andrew Pickup adds: “We have seen sustained demand for marble-look products as well as numerous shades of grey, emulating the appearance of stone through to concrete.” In fact, such is the growing popularity of concrete-inspired colours, Cosentino will be expanding its range to cater for demand.
Ceramic throw down
But quartz and solid surfacing are not the only worktop material making waves in the worktop market; enter the latest technology of Fenix NTM or (Nano Tech Material). It features a supermatt surface, meeting the trend for softened textures, and can heal micro scratches by rubbing with a sponge or applying gentle heat. And this material is joined by the likes of ceramic with thin profiles, which Simon Boocock of CRL Stone believes will actually be the next big growth area in kitchen worktops. Wayne Dance agrees: “Thin profile ceramic worktops are immensely popular right now.”
Dance continues to explain why he believes ceramic will grow in significance for kitchen projects, and its ability to create a seamless finish across the kitchen: “Ceramic surfaces capture consumer interest. The design for these surfaces is not just limited to worktops. Side returns, back splashed and even cabinet fronts mean the hardwearing and adaptable ceramic surface creates a new look in kitchen design. When thin worktops became a critical element in design, it made sense to continue the link with matching side panels. And naturally when advanced manufacturing is used to create hard wearing, natural surfaces that create statement designs, another trend kicks off.”
Certainly the wallpanelling trend has been picked up by the quartz manufacturers, with CRL Stone having introduced tiles and the likes of Cosentino promoting Dekton as a cladding both indoors and out. And, in a circular worktop journey where we return to the laminate market, manufacturers point out such has been the evolution of the material it can now offer homogenous surfacing. Head of UK operations at Rotpunkt UK Matt Phillips comments: “Did you know that worktops and splashbacks are now looking to furniture for inspiration with laminate solutions now available for synchronising kitchen doors, work surfaces and dividing walls in the same material and/or finish?”
What is clear to see in worktops is that the trends are not in isolation, but materials are inspiring colours, textures and profiles across the board. Whatever the budget, designers can create the latest homogenous kitchen looks, sleek slimline profiles and natural affects from laminates through to quartz and ceramics. But while these are the trends for 2018, you can be sure there will be future developments coming through in the next few years, with marketing director of TheSize Mar Esteves Cortes already believing thinner profiles are giving way to thicker looks (see Expert View). So just as kitchen furniture evolves, expect the only horizontal touch point – the worksurface – to simultaneously progress as a design statement, just to top it all off.
Marketing director of TheSize Mar Esteves Cortes explains the surface trends for 2018 span rediscovered classics to bolder colour contrasts.
Thicker, Deeper, Fuller
Where we saw the 2016-2017 market turning towards thinner, slighter surfaces, we are now noticing a definitive sea change in the sintered stone market. A growing number of requests for thicker slabs over the past six months has indicated there is an increasing preference for broader surfaces, which convey a reassuring sense of robustness when used as a kitchen worktop. Available in all manner of colours and finishes, these surfaces add a distinctive focal point when incorporated into kitchen design as an island or dining table-top.
The industry is continually improving processes, as much as we are developing new colours and finishes we are also committed to refining existing ones. Our expectation is that, in conjunction to ambitious and other worldly patterns, we will also see an increasing amount of enhanced finishes, building on the impressive array of natural stone-inspired surfaces currently on the market.
Hyper-realism is a feature which more and more designers are looking for, especially the ability in capturing the authenticity of natural stone. They are looking for something realistic; it quite literally tricks the eye. Perfecting Sandstone-style effects will be at the heart of this move, as more clients look to incorporate the richly-textured, yellowish stone within their homes. Fiendishly intricate, the subtle effects will provide plenty of challenges to manufacturers, looking to capture the spontaneity of the real thing.
Turning up the Contrast
A greater appetite for natural-looking stone and a wider variety than before has encouraged residential designers to be much more adventurous with their use of colour. In particular, we have seen contrasts of lighter and darker stone, used judiciously in the kitchen space, to create a stylish design statement. We have also noticed opposing textures being used, such as rough sandstone and wood-effect surfaces off-setting polished marbles or smooth cement.
Back to the Future
Nostalgia is nothing new, but across the industry we’ve noticed a revival in appreciation for design classics. Terrazzo immediately springs to mind. Throughout 2017 we noticed an increase in demand from both architects and specifiers for Terrazzo, alongside other vintage stone designs. This playful and colourful stone once so popular, from bank floors to DIY applications, is finding a new lease of life as a chic surface in the home. Characterised by bold patterning and cosmopolitan sophistication, Terrazzo has resurged in popularity largely thanks to its eco-friendly and low-maintenance qualities.
Following the popularity of dark marble surfaces throughout 2017, the market is looking to other dusky stones to inspire their new introductions for the coming year. The depth and contrast offered by igneous rocks such as basalt, obsidian and soapstone, has inspired manufacturers to be adventurous. We expect to see plenty of surfaces which encapsulate beautiful detailing of these stones, including beautiful, complex swirling, deep grains and organic, continuous patterns true to the look and feel of the real thing.
Polished to Perfection
One particular project which stands out for us is a project we undertook with renowned French Patissiere Anne-Sophie Rischard who asked for a polished finish to improve the consistency and texture of her pastries; the surface itself is perfectly smooth with incredibly low porosity, ensuring an unblemished dough. As baking becomes more popular in the domestic kitchen, we are seeing more requests for this type of finish which we feel is only set to grow.