Lis and I took a trip up to Home Depot today to look at materials and finishes. I suspect Lowes would have had a more extensive showroom, but our other errands took us north today. We did learn a lot about what we each do and don’t like.
We looked at flooring first. We seem to be pretty much in agreement on what we want: porcelain tile that looks like stone, something in the cream/red/brown family, dark enough to look rich and not show dirt easily. Something like what’s on the left would be fine. We both agree that we’d want to do something other than a boring grid — maybe a running bond or diagonal pattern (like we have now), maybe with a border in strategic locations, or some accent inset tiles. Porcelain tile is a much better choice than actual stone in a kitchen, mostly because it won’t stain.
We then spent some time looking at cabinet door wood species and styles. We’re just looking for general preferences here, not even close to making an actual decision. The most interesting conclusion we came to is that even stained to a very similar color, maple is nowhere near as beautiful a wood as cherry. This difference is much more evident in person than in any photo I have seen. I think it’s very likely we will wind up with cherry cabinets in a light to medium stain. Also, we want to see the wood grain — finishes like glazes or burnishing detract from the wood. That these finishes are generally extra cost is just a bonus for us.
For door styles, neither of us likes a slab door — way too modern for our tastes. Lis also does not like a plain Shaker-style door (plain rail & stile with no ornamentation); I do like these, but not for this house. Neither do I like a raised panel that is too fancy — particularly since the end grain of these panels tends to take the stain differently than the rest of the door, which IMHO looks sloppy. I have a slight preference for rail & stile doors (as opposed to mitered), and a slight preference for a flat (rather than raised) center panel. I’m sure we’ll find something we both like from whatever manufacturer we wind up with.
We saw a backsplash we both really quite liked. This is travertine tile in a harlequin pattern, and although the pewter inset tiles need to go, the border on the bottom is also quite nice. I think we might want to do something different in the stove area to help set it off — especially since I’m concerned about oil & dirt from the stove on natural stone. What that design might be, I have no idea at this point. Also worth noting is that, with a tile wall behind the range, there is a shorter backguard available to allow more tile to be visible, and allow slightly more room for pots & pans on the back burners.
The final surprise for me was countertops. You’ve seen my post about soapstone; while I do think it’s a great material, I agree it’s probably too dark for the look we’re going for. So we looked at quartz & granite countertops today. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice some of the quartz counters look.
The major advantage of granite — besides looks — is that it’s very heat resistant. The major drawback is that it can stain from colored liquids and also from oils. The darker granites are more resistant to staining, but we’ve already established that we want a lighter counter.
Quartz is a manmade product. The manufacturer takes quartz (and other) rocks, crushes them to specified sizes, and packs them along with resin (epoxy) and colorants to form a slab. Because it’s a manufactured product, it’s more consistent in appearance than granite — which is good because it’s easier to work with and match, and bad because it lacks the variations and wild patterns that make natural stone slabs special. Quartz is impervious to staining by common household liquids, but can be damaged by high heat (the resin part, not the stone).
The early quartz counters used very fine particles — essentially sand — and looked very artificial and modern. Over the last few years, though, there are some more natural and striking patterns, like the one I’ve posted here. (Yes, this particular example does not really go with the other material photos in this entry, but there are other similar ones in different color families.)
Paying attention to my own cooking over the last several months, I’ve observed many more instances of spilling some colored liquid or oil on a counter than wanting to put a hot pan on one. Given this, and the recent advances in quartz’s appearance, I suspect we will wind up with quartz counters on the perimeter of the kitchen, with a different countertop material — maybe soapstone, maybe wood — on the peninsula / bar area.