It is good news for the environment that home sellers are now being told by realtors to forget changing their formica countertops to granite and replacing their oak cabinets with high-end cherry to make their homes more saleable. Statistics from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and Remodeling magazine surveys show this is the second year in a row that all 35 projects in the Cost vs. Value Report had an increase in home improvement dollars recouped at the resale of the home and the best investments were again on home exterior improvements.
Granite countertops which were the in-material for a few years are expensive, weigh a lot, take a heavy mining toll on the earth, and have become ubiquitous and déclassé. The future of the kitchen is no longer granite as displayed in Milan, Italy at EuroCucina 2014. There various popular alternatives included stainless steel, tempered glass, ceramic, wood and mosaic tiles:
- Tempered glass is thick, translucent, tough, easy to clean, comes in a huge variety of colors and has a pleasant tactility. It was featured in several German design homes by Leicht.
- Ceramic counters are scratch-resistant, easy to clean, cool but not cold to touch, and described by one representative in another Leicht house as the "closest thing you can get to indestructible." A wooden surround looked especially nice with a dark gray finish countertop.
- Solid wood and wood-finished counters included earth-friendly bamboo, light pine, and mahogany either contrasted with or overlaid stone or synthetic material. A minimalist but warm look is created by matching cabinetry to countertop wood.
- Stainless steel is most popular as the healthiest countertop material as used in surgical hospitals and commercial kitchens. It is easier to keep germ-free but readily shows fingerprints and smudges and production is very rough on the planet unless old ones are being repurposed.
- An old material that re-appeared at EuroCucina was mosaic tiles in hues of red and orange on Minacciolo’s Minà multi-function island. It provides rather a retro-look.
An article about high-end kitchen countertop choices on HGTV's website shows more alternatives to granite:
- In a blue-and-white kitchen, designer Kathleen Walsh mixes materials like Vermont White Quartzite in a prep zone with watershed-finished walnut on the breakfast bar area to define functions of a large central island.
- For a new-age countertop, designer Magued Barsoum chose custom-colored cast concrete for the swoop of island countertop with backsplash tiles in similar turquoise. Cast concrete counters are appearing in high-end kitchens because they can be handmade, are so adaptable and look customized with surface variations and integrated drainboards.
- To make a kitchen look like it was part of an original older home, designer Kirsten Marshall topped an island serving as a prep and dining area with Statuario Marble with a three inch mitered straight edge and perimeter counters with Caesarstone Raven quartz with a half-inch mitered straight edge. Marble is prone to water spots and acid etching and difficult to maintain although much of the still standing Roman ruins were built with marble. It is treasured by candy makers, but home owners must be amenable to its patina and change in character that will emerge over time.
- For low ecological impact, architect Mihaly Slocombe sourced Red Ironbark timber and wood flooring from a bridge demolition, finishing the counterops with clear sealant and waterfall edges. The wood is Australia's densest timber, extremely durable and full of character. Some people repurpose old bowling alley lanes or other old wood sealed with polyurethane.
With upscale interior renovations returning less than 65 percent of their cost, and in areas where there are still plenty of foreclosure bargains and an abundance of housing inventory, buyers are not impressed with granite countertops. However, kitchen remodels currently increase home value by about 3 percent more than adding new baths.