Counter Intuitive

For kitchen counters, it’s hard to top Zodiaq



has recently developed Zodiaq, a product that looks and feels like
granite, but with a more consistent color.







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   THE latest in kitchen countertop materials is a
granite-like substance called Zodiaq that its maker hopes will become as
popular as the natural stone.

   Dupont, which years ago created the hottest-selling solid-surface
material called Corian, has developed a whole new product that looks and
feels like granite, but with a more consistent color.

   "It’s so new that we are being cautious with it," said
designer Brad Robinson. "Right now there is a very loose distribution network
for Zodiaq." Dupont says its new material is composed of 93 percent quartz,
which provides aesthetics coupled with extraordinary strength and durability.
"Zodiaq is the latest miracle of science," according to Mac McCall, business
manager, Dupont Zodiaq.

   "As beautiful as quartz is in its natural form, it’s not
applicable that way for use as countertops or tub decks. Through ‘science
creativity,’ we have been able to transform nature into an expressive material
for interior applications." In a home setting, Zodiaq quartz surfaces can
be used for kitchen and bathroom countertops, wet bars, tub decks and shower

   This new product comes in 16 colors, ranging from Cloud
White to Vortex Black. Consistent color is its primary advantage, according
to Mr. Robinson and kitchen designer Sue Moreland.

   "It has many of the same qualities as granite, but you
can get lighter colors," Ms. Moreland said.

   "Granite comes in a variety of colors, but typically dark.
Zodiaq offers colors that granite cannot."

   But don’t look for this "miracle" product to be less expensive
than granite. Its the same in cost or even a little more, according to the

   Concrete is another countertop surface material. But it
gets very little notice in many regions.

   "Concrete is one of the fastest-growing materials for
countertops," Mr. Robinson said. "It’s very durable, and it has a unique

   It can be smooth or rugged in texture, bright or subdued
in color. Because it is porous, it would require a sealant to help protect
against stains.

   Some of the most widely used countertop materials include
laminate, solid surface, solid-surface veneer, ceramic tile and granite.

   • Laminate
countertops, composed of a thin plastic laminate bonded to chipboard, plywood
or fiberboard, continues to be the countertop material of choice in this
area, according to the designers.

   "It’s the most popular, because it’s the most affordable
material," Ms. Moreland said. "It ranges from $24 to $46 a linear foot.
It is attractive and comes in a wide range of colors. But price is the biggest
reason for choosing laminate." Laminate, which has been available for decades,
however, has some distinct disadvantages. It has visible seams, non-repairable
if burned or scratched and it can only be used with drop-in sinks.

   • Solid-surface
countertops are basically composed of acrylic-based materials. Corian is
the most popular brand name.

   "Because the color and pattern goes all the way through
solid surface, you can buff a scratch, nicks or burn out of it," Ms. Moreland

   Solid surface countertops are rich in color, very durable,
seamless, stain resistant, nonporous, easily repaired and easily cleaned.

   "Solid-surface countertops come in wide variety of colors,"
she said. "They have the beauty of natural stone."

   They are also more adaptable to design than natural stone.
Many customers create borders by using two different colors.

   "One of the main advantages of a solid-surface countertop
is you can have a sink and the countertop all in one piece," Ms. Moreland

   Solid-surface countertops are pricey, which is its primary
drawback. They can cost as much as $150 a linear foot. A solid-surface sink
would be about $900.

   • Solid-surface veneer
(SSV) was created in hopes of providing some of the advantages of solid-surface
countertops at a reduced cost. Most solid-surface materials are one-half-inch
to three-quarters of an inch thick, where SSV is one-eighth-inch thick.
The veneer is glued down to a substrate of particleboard.

   "It typically is about 25 percent less than solid-surface,
but it can cost as much as Corian, depending on the options you get," Ms.
Moreland said.

   • Ceramic tile
is another material that can be used for countertops. "It is heat-resistant.
You can set hot pans on it without harming it," Mr. Robinson said.

   And designers can create a wide variety of styles with
tile. "Tile can look very attractive, but it can be hard to clean," Mr.
Robinson said. "It has an uneven surface. And it is porous. It needs to
be sealed."

   • Granite
is a hard igneous rock that was formed by heat and pressure. It’s ideal
for countertops and food preparation islands. It is so hard it resists stains,
flames, food acids and cutting.

   "It’s bulletproof," said Rich Murray, who owns Rich Murray
Granite and Marble Works. "On the hardness scale, granite is a nine, where
a diamond is a 10."

   Granite has a richness and natural beauty that man-made
materials can’t match, according to Mr. Murray, whose shop is the largest
fabricator of natural stone in central Illinois. Because it is a natural
stone, it is unique in its colors and patterns.

   But granite is not perfect, Ms. Moreland said.

   "It shows seams, which is a disadvantage," she said.

   "And some people don’t like the feel of granite because
it holds a chill. But holding a chill can also be an advantage. A chill
makes it a good surface for candy-making or baking."


   Granite has become increasingly popular in recent years.
A survey by the National Kitchen and Bath Association found that granite
and solid surface materials are used about evenly in kitchen remodeling
jobs, according to Bill Schankel, a spokesman for the association.

   Most people believe granite is much more expensive than
the man-made solid-surface materials, Mr. Murray said.

   "It’s roughly the same cost as the high-end solid-surface
materials," Mr. Murray said. "And I have tons and tons of granite remnants.
By going with remnants that makes a job much cheaper."

   Mr. Murray said he installs about three or four kitchen
countertops each week. A typical job using granite costs about $3,500.

   "But we may do an island in granite for $800 or less,"
Mr. Murray said.

   "I think the ideal would be a solid-surface material for
the main countertops because it doesn’t show seams and I could incorporate
a solid-surface sink. It would go together in one seamless piece. Then I
would use granite on an island for its natural beauty.

   "The higher-end countertop materials are expensive, but
they can really sell a house. They can be viewed as an investment."