Trends are Changing for Surfaces!
Natural stone’s presence has the power to profoundly transform spaces— adding character to an island, transforming a wall into an architectural focal point, or redefining the entire volume of a room when utilized as flooring.
As the price for traditional white marble gets further out of reach, the focus has shifted away from the blue-gray understones of white stones to warmer, earthier palettes ranging from luxury beige to soft black and dark gray. The trend is noticeable in tiles and slabs made to simulate natural stone, too, with large slabs of book-matched marble remaining in vogue, but now in new color variations.
Cabinetry tones are earthy in colors such as blue, sage green and terracotta exuding comfort, hope, strength and confidence. Calm, grounded and rustic wood accents and decorative tile replicating historical artisanal frescoes and Venetian plaster balance the look. Semi-opaque stains used for both cabinetry and wood floors, showing just a touch of woodgrain, are also on-trend. For fixtures, the trend is toward matte and brushed finishes.
Perhaps the leading trend in surfaces comes from the pandemic spurring a heightened desire for outdoor living and socializing. In turn, the technological advancements creating more use possibilities to use exterior and interior engineered stone tiles, slabs and paneling to give spaces their own skin. This opens up the door for completely new home exterior looks.
Both waterproof and weatherproof, quartz and sintered stone are popular natural stone simulants used for countertops, backsplashes and other kitchen finishes, and they are gaining in popularity for indoor and outdoor residential wall claddings and flooring. Porcelain started the other way around—first as a surface for flooring, wall cladding and building facades, and then becoming fashionable as a countertop material.
Quartz and sintered stone surfaces can be the best of both worlds—natural and engineered. To make quartz surfaces, crystals are mined, then ground into a dust or an aggregate that’s fused with resin binders under intense heat and pressure to form a solid slab. Pigments are added during the process to add color to the countertop. Sintered stone is manufactured using a process that mimics the way natural stones are formed. Minerals and stone particles like the ones found in porcelain or granite are carefully selected for quality, color, and texture. These particles are then subjected to extreme heat and pressure to bond the particles together, without the need for resins or bonding agents.
Porcelain, quartz and sintered stone are all less expensive than natural stone, but more expensive than ceramic tile. All are harder than granite and have better resistance to staining and scratching, while none usually require sealing. Deciding what surface to use will come down to:
Price: Sintered stone and porcelain are about the same price and slightly less than quartz. On the floor you’ll pay more to use any of these products than you would for ceramic tiles, but their advantages include better durability, water resistance and weatherability.
Finish: Porcelain finishes are limited to high-gloss or matte, while quartz and sintered stone can be honed, polished or leathered. Like quartz, sintered stone can be made to show the granules with natural stone, but it can also be made to look like natural wood, or a smooth surface.
Installation: Sintered stone flooring, porcelain and quartz can typically be installed using common thinset adhesion and grouting techniques similar to ceramic tile installation. The durability of the non-ceramic materials makes larger format tiles less likely to break, though harder to handle. Their toughness also makes them harder to cut through. These things usually make them more expensive to install.
Durability: Quartz flooring can be subject to cracking and is meant for indoor use only as it tends to crack with sudden temperature changes. Quartz panels cannot withstand high temperatures and can be affected by UV rays over prolonged periods of time, limiting their outdoor use. Porcelain slabs are lighter than quartz, but more fragile during installation. The ability to make sintered stone in light weight 3 mm thicknesses that are virtually indestructible gives sintered stone slabs a huge advantage.
Weight: The thinness of sintered stone can allow longer counter overhang with less supports and when used on the walls, the extremely thin sheets do not rob any inches of space. The slabs can also be used on ceilings. Porcelain tiles are heavier than ceramic, but sintered stone is lighter, making it a more durable yet easier-to-install choice with large format floor tiles are desired.
Slippage: Slip-resistant surfaces can be engineered in quartz and sintered stone manufacturing processes.
Recyclability: Though porcelain is made of raw materials like clay, silica, feldspar, flint and other mineral oxides, it is not recyclable like sintered stone and quartz.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Adjectives used to define luxury when it comes to surfaces are: comfortable, clean, sophisticated and warm. Both indoor and outdoor spaces must be designed to integrate all elements of life going on under roof, including work, home and social.