All About Counters

History and Valley-Specific Information

Today’s open floor plans and big kitchens make surface choices for your countertops an important specification. When making a significant decision, it’s helpful to understand the options… So, read on to discover the interesting history of countertop surfaces.

In the beginning, Formica was THE brand name of plastic laminate countertops. Formica was invented and patented by Westinghouse Corporation in 1912 as an insulation for electrical wires, and by the early 1950’s, evolved into what we still see today in low cost surfacing requirements. Made by sandwiching craft paper that has been saturated with phenolic resin together with a decorative top sheet and pressed under heat and pressure, Formica became a brand name that was used to describe a product (just as Kleenex is to tissue). It’s available in 256 colors, woodgrains and Matrix patterns. As the patent ran out, many companies created their own brands, offering technically the same product, each with over 200 different colors and patterns from each manufacturer. (Wilsonart, Pionite, Nevamar, Interior Arts, Abet Laminati, etc.) A typical firm will have over 1,000 different color and pattern choices available to pick from.

In the 1960’s a Dupont chemist invented what is known today as Corian solid surface countertops. This product was all the rage in the 70’s and 80’s. It is an acrylic product that started with just one color (white) and has morphed into an option with over a hundred color choices. After their patent expired, it opened up the door for another dozen or so companies to offer the same product at various price points. (Avonite, Formica, Hanex, Livingstone, Hi Macs, Wilsonart, etc.)

Granite and Marble have always been around at a premium in cost. In early 2000’s, about 98% of homes that had granite were Bianco Antico, Colonial White, Giallo Santo, Lapidus, Baltic Brown, and Uba Tuba, which are all cheaper options. Most track home builders started transitioning to granite as standard to upgrade from solid surface or laminate. Eventually, with cut to size programs and pre manufacturing in China, granite started to make its way into multi-family apartments.

The Quartz industry started with the machinery used to make terrazzo tiles from Breton S.P.A. in Italy. As companies bought the machinery and experimented with different ratios of resin and aggregate, they landed on a perfect combination of 93% quartz aggregate and 7% resin, plus color. Using quartz aggregate gives the material more resistance to damage, and the resin makes it completely non-porous. Quartz is the fourth hardest mineral only proceeded by Topaz, Corundum and Diamond. When this category was first launched there was a severe pushback from the local fabricators because it was new. As a man-made product, it came with a set of best practices for cutting and machining the slabs that required more water on the saws and pre-drilling corners before cuts. Once the shops got the hang of a process worthy of up to a lifetime warranty, the product class took off. Now it is highly preferred by the fabricators. The current brand names that are available (and well supported) are Caesarstone, Silestone, HanStone and Cambria.

The next category is in infancy stages in the USA and is getting some of the same feedback from the fabricators, as it is at a similar phase that quartz was in 2004.

Porcelain slabs are going to be the next level of countertop surfaces that perform on an even higher level than quartz. There are a few companies that are jumping in with no real leader yet. Dekton, Ascale, Sapienstone, NeoLith and Lapitec are the current brand names in the market and some claim to differentiate themselves with terms like Sintered or Ultra Compact. Sintering is a process that all of the products go through and same with Ultra Compact. Base minerals for all of the brands is sand, feldspar, glass and quartz with Kaolin clay used as a binder. These minerals are fired at extremely high temperatures that cause them to all meld together taking on the characteristics of all of the ingredients in one slab. Porcelain slabs are typically larger than Quartz slabs, so they are great for the larger islands that are being designed. Porcelain slabs have a high pixel image embedded into the surface so you could have a picture of an $11,000 marble slab on a $1,200 porcelain slab that will never fade.

The Phoenix Metro has many places that you can go pick out hard surfaces like Granite, Marble, Quartz and Porcelain. Below is a list of four that our clientele have used previously:

Galleria of Stone

Location: 750 East Covey Lane #145

Phoenix, AZ 85024

(602) 354-3229

Beautiful air-conditioned showroom with marbles that are unique. They carry quartz, and porcelain slabs as well. One unique thing about Galleria of Stone is that they list the actual price of the slabs on each slab in the showroom. It allows good choices for the consumers with no sticker shock later in the process. This company features products from Antolini in Italy.

The Stone Collection

Location: 4101 South 38th St.

Phoenix, AZ 85040

(602) 889-2067

The Stone Collection is located south of the I-10 off of 40th street and is well worth the drive. They boast a great 15,000 sq. ft. front office showroom with separate rooms to showcase actual installations of Granite, Marble, Quartz, Vetrazo, tile and Porcelain slabs. The warehouse features a well lit and air conditioned 100,000 sq. ft. of space to view a wide variety of full slabs. No appointment is necessary.

Cactus Stone

Location: 401 South 50th St.

Phoenix, AZ 85034

(602) 914-2202

Cactus Stone has been a local business in the valley since 1973. They have a remote showroom in Scottsdale on 15551 N. Greenway-Hayden Loop that will showcase tile, porcelain and vignettes showcasing their surfacing products. The slab showroom is at the 50th  st. location. They are currently remodeling the front office of the slab warehouse to showcase some of the newer materials.

Arizona Tile

Location: 14700 N. Hayden Road

Scottsdale, AZ 85260

(480) 991-3066

Arizona Tile is another great choice with many locations around the Valley. The Scottsdale location showcases a very large area for tile and a separate large air-conditioned area for viewing full slabs. No appointment necessary.

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