14 April 2008

Listen while I opine some more about counters.

I love granite as a counter top material. It has a liveliness and a depth to it that other materials can't come close to. How cool is it to bring something into your home that was once part of the seething cauldron below our feet? It's neat stuff all right, and when it first started to appear in American homes about 20 years ago it was a luxury item. Now it's everywhere and using it in a kitchen renovation is practically a standard. As it's caught on and become more popular it's also become less expensive. No one's giving it away, that's for sure. But gone are the days when it cost as much as a car to have put in your house.

As it is with most things, granite is beginning to suffer from its own popularity. The fact of its near omnipresence has certain segments of the market looking for something else. Don't get me wrong, you cannot go wrong with having granite counters. But even so, my mind does wonder sometimes to what else is out there.

I mentioned Quartz tops in my last post and I want to look at a couple of other new materials that are beginning to show up. As with most new stuff, these new materials are making some inroads in the high end. And just as it does with just about every other aspect of life in a consumer culture, what the high end goes for today is what the masses go for tomorrow.

I often refer to Quartz as a variation on terrazzo. Well, there's a company called Vetrazzo and they are onto something. Vetrazzo is a Richmond, CA based company that makes actual terrazzo for use as counter tops, and they make it out of recycled glass. It's really pretty stuff in the right setting. The pattern above and to the left is Indochine Amythest and it is made from discarded glass and fine grade cement. It's shiny, hard, scratch-resistant and all of the other things you'd expect a counter to be. Yet because of its glass content, it has a depth that quartz tops can't touch. To the right is a pattern called Green Vetrazzo. I'll give you a quarter if you can guess its primary ingredient.

Also interesting and incredibly expensive is a product from France called Pyrolave. Pyrolave the counter material is made from a very dense volcanic rock from the Auvergne region in France. Pyrolave quarries this volcanic rock in the same way that one would quarry granite or marble. Then they do something completely different --they glaze it the way one would glaze pottery. Pyrolave is available in many colors, in both glassy and matte finishes. These counters are templated on site, fabricated in France and then installed by team of crack tradespeople flown in just for you. I can't imagine how much all of that costs by the time it's all said and done, but what's notable here is their method. Glazed stone is a material unlike anything I've ever seen. I touched a Pyrolave counter at a trade show last year and I was really blown away by it. It feels for all the world like a single piece of ceramic. Absolutely amazing stuff, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if some enterprising Yankee came up with a way to do a similar process to a more prosaic material.

So what does all of this mean? Well, it means that there's a world of innovation out there and someday soon, those innovations will trickle down through the market. Just in time for people like me to rediscover Formica. Hah!


  1. the cool thing about Vetrazzo and the other recycled materials is that they're truly sustainable. Quartz is made of 25% petroleum resin and granite is mostly quarried in the third world under little to no enviro regulations. Not to mention the carbon emissions of shipping it around the world.

  2. You're absolutely right and thanks for the reminder that I haven't been beating my sustainability drum very much lately. Stay tuned though, I have some new countertop materials to write about that are even more sustainable than Vetrazzo.

  3. I looked at installing Pyrolave countertops when we re-modelled our kitchen in the UK and the range of colors and the finish is just jaw-dropping. the problem as Paul so rightly says is that the price is jaw-dropping as well - particularly when you bear in mind the process he describes for the US market!

  4. Mark, are you in the UK now? What sorts of counters are popular there? What did you end up using after rejecting Pyrolave? Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. Paul

    Welived in Kent, but we actually moved to Florida three years ago. In the UK right now Granite is the overwhelmingly popular choice, but some of the newer greener alternatives are taking hold slowly.

    For the project in our kitchen in the UK we used a product which is now called TrendStone from a company called Granite Transformations. They produce what I can best describe as a granite laminate that they fabricate and wrap over your existing countertops. It gives the look and feel of granite for a lower cost. They do a similar product using glass (I think recycled). One of the cool things about it (if I remember correctly) is that it can be bent to a certain radius and they had used it on a curved wall in an example I saw in the UK.

    We are just looking at starting a project here and I'm thinking of using Vetrazzo, which I had never heard of until I found your blog - so thank you!

  6. I'm glad I could be of some help to you Mark. Finding unusual stuff around here can be tough though. Let me know if I can be of any help.

  7. Because, you know, used glass is such an environmental problem that we really need to pat ourselves on the back when we find a way to recycle it.

    If you want to be green, DON'T REMODEL. If you're remodeling, any claims to "greenness" are mere posturing.

  8. Ahhh, my favorite contrarian weighs in. While I'll agree that most claims of green-ness are posturing not all of them are. Finding second and third uses for already manufactured products like glass is a laudable endeavor, though glass is a relatively easy mark. I'm still waiting for a practical, feasible and marketable reuse for plastic.


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