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Look Beyond Laminate for Kitchen or Bath

The choice of surfacing material is the cornerstone of a successful kitchen or bath remodel, and today's consumer is fortunate to have more choices than ever before. Although laminate is still the dominant material--about 60 percent of all kitchen countertops are newly surfaced in laminate--other materials such as solid surfacing, tile, granite, stainless steel and marble are beginning to reach respectable shares of the kitchen and bath market. Selecting a material from a catalog is one thing but designing and installing it is quite another. The key is to make sure your contractor can properly install or fabricate the material.

There's just about no limit to the colors, textures and patterns you can create with surfacing materials. For example, Askilan is a solid surfacing material composed of quartz, glass fiber and bauxite that actually looks like granite but weighs much less. It comes in ten colors. Solid surfacing is very resistant to staining or heat, and is impermeable so bacteria and fungi can't grow on it. Its durability is matched by its flexibility. Fabricators can work wonders by creating custom decorative edges or patterns to your order. The problem is, there are not many qualified fabricators and installers in the United States, and that limits availability in some regions.

On the laminate side, you can choose from a plethora of patterns, solids or wood grains. Laminate continues to be the most popular and cost-effective countertop material. On the downside, laminate is vulnerable to chipping, scratching and burning. Once damaged, a laminate countertop might need to be replaced.

While each has its own quirks, tile, granite, marble and stainless steel are worth considering, too. Although more costly like solid surfacing, sometimes designers take a mix and match approach, blending these materials with laminates for an appealing blend at a reasonable cost. Ceramic tile comes in a huge variety of shapes and sizes from 3/8 to 2-inch squares to rectangular, round, hexagonal or even triangular shapes. Make sure the tile is rated at least 6 or 7 on the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association 10-point scale for scratch resistance. Marble can be striking and elegant in the kitchen or bath. Marble also is porous which makes staining and scratching a concern. Stainless steel is making a comeback for its cutting edge, commercial chic, although the homeowner must avoid scratching and denting this relatively expensive material, too. Whatever you choose, take time to evaluate the cost-benefits. Remember to consider how long you plan to live in your home and can enjoy your remodeled kitchen or bath, versus how much the investment may or may not pay off at resale.

Sources used to create this article include Janice Anne Costa and Kitchen & Bath Design News.

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