Few items can impact a kitchen or bath like stone.
The same space can go from sunny and serene to dark and dramatic with the switch of a slab. But as Les Owens of LRO Residential notes, it goes far beyond countertops: “We do a lot of integrated stone sinks made of the countertop materials, shower thresholds, floating shower seats, and marble for baseboards in the baths when possible.”
Not in The Same Vein
There will always be a time and a place for Carrara marble. But with so many bold choices in natural stone, more homeowners are embracing exotic styles—and finding with great risk comes great reward. To create the perfect amount of drama without overwhelming, “Less is more,” says Susan Newell of Susan Newell Custom Homes. “And placement is key.” Limiting your choice to smaller or specialty spaces—just the kitchen island, for instance—can also help keep the cost of pricy rare stones down. “Ask your builder to show you exotic remnants [which can be had] at a fraction of the cost,” says David Leite Custom Homes’ David Leite. Green Onyx and Petrified Wood available at Walker Zanger; all others at Aria Stone Gallery.
Wall to Wall
Make a (back)splash—and then some—with walls, floors, and more made from solid slabs. When covering a large area, David Leite Custom Homes’ David Leite notes that manmade materials are not only more cost-effective and durable but have aesthetic upsides, too: “Manmade stones are easier to use in large areas where you are trying to carry the stone’s veining across longer spans.”
Full Effect, Fraction of the Cost
Using tile made from stone can reduce material expenses 3:1, says Barringer Custom Homes’ Sheri Barringer, though you may make it up in more tedious installation costs. And Ben Coats of Coats Homes warns that tile—cut thinner than slabs—is more susceptible to breaking or cracking due to extensive use or soil shifts. “In residential, those materials just haven’t stood the test of time yet,” he says.
Adding metallic elements in your kitchen or bath can create a range of looks: Copper hearkens back to Julia Child in Paris, while sleek black gives a masculine edge.
- Open Concept: Are open shelves still a kitchen favorite? Builders we polled say they remain prevalent but that a mix of open and closed storage is most functional. Says Barrow Builders Group’s Erik Gouin: “Open shelving should be used as an accent—you need cabinets to hide less attractive everyday dishes.” We love seeing copper cookware get pride of place on coordinating shelves (left) and minimalist serveware contrasted with industrial materials (above).
- Metal Bands: We’re suckers for an accent! Add metallic details to cabinetry, drawers, and more—or go full-bore, says LRO Residential’s Les Owens: “Metal doors with wood frame cabinets are gaining popularity at the moment.”
- Good Hoods: The hood can often be the central visual element of a kitchen, so let it shine—literally!—in metal. “Everyone wants a pretty kitchen,” says Ben Coats of Coats Homes. “It is the heartbeat of the home.”
- Home on the Range: A hot item in kitchens today, metal ranges are (almost) too pretty to cook on—and can command a pretty penny. (See “What a Steel,” right.) But price isn’t the only thing for which you’ll need to budget: Michael Munir of Sharif & Munir Custom Homes says appliances are selected in the architectural plan stage to ensure proper space planning: “A poorly laid-out kitchen is a disaster to the homeowner that needs it to function well.”
“Steel shower surrounds are definitely becoming more popular,” says Tatum Brown Custom Homes’ Mark Danuser. But before you take the plunge, be sure you understand the materials and upkeep involved. “It’s very important that the right type of steel (stainless or galvanized) is used and that it’s sealed correctly,” Danuser says. “It will also require maintenance over time to keep it in great shape.”
You can’t have a kitchen or bathroom without water, so you better make sure the fixtures, faucets, tubs, sinks, and showers you use to deliver that all-important H20 are top-notch.
Possibly more than any other space, trends in kitchens and baths come and go, with one of the latest being wet rooms—fully waterproofed or “tanked” bathrooms in which the shower is open to the rest of the space. While some homeowners are embracing this option, builders we polled say they’re not widely incorporated due to the expense of waterproofing, humidity-reducing ventilation, and additional materials like tile and glass. However, in the right setting, it can evoke a spa-like feel, plus, notes Scott Clouse of Redo: “They can be more efficient from a space standpoint.”
To Free or Not to Free?
Though freestanding tubs became de rigueur in recent years, they’re not always the most user-friendly choice, given their lack of storage. (And while their classic appeal is universally acknowledged, they’re also not a favorite of builders’ to install, as SCH Homes’ Neal Calhoun admits: “Chalk freestanding tubs up to something we do but never enjoy the process of—only the end product!”) Fortunately, the pros have found ways to make drop-in tubs look lovely, using stone to create custom surrounds that aid in both looks and function. Wondering how the costs stack up? Says Barrow Builders Group’s Erik Gouin: “We think about the financial expenditure of a freestanding tub with decorative filler and the undermount tub with a stone slab as a ‘wash.’ ”
When it comes to wood, the beauty is in the details.
Natural wood cabinetry brings warmth and texture into the home, but it’s important to know that stain-grade materials can cost as much as 50 percent more than paint-grade ones. The builders we talked to had different thoughts on whether the process to stain wood was more or less labor intensive (read: costly) than painting—many cited they netted out nearly the same. But the key to a beautiful finish, says David Leite Custom Homes’ David Leite, is in the conditioning: “This is crucial to prevent blotches and inconsistent color.”
Who says wood should only apply to cabinets? We’re seeing the look incorporated into ceilings, walls, and more. Ben Coats of Coats Homes encourages homeowners to get creative with it: “It’s one of the most prominent ways to create a design exclamation mark in your home.” Builders are seeing all sorts of unique usage, from geometric designs on ceilings and natural wood countertops to stain-grade vent hoods.
Create Texture with Unique Wood Finishes
When it comes to wood, the beauty is in the details. “Great millwork and wood accents are the secret [to a warm space],” says LRO Residential’s Les Owens, who also sources reclaimed wood from across the country for an extra wow factor. But don’t overdo it: Our builders agree that reserving detail treatments for special accents creates the biggest impact.
“Great millwork and wood accents are the secret [to a warm space],” says LRO Residential’s Les Owens, who also sources reclaimed wood from across the country for an extra wow factor. But don’t overdo it: Our builders agree that reserving detail treatments for special accents creates the biggest impact.
Natural light is a non-negotiable—but you don’t have to be a square about it.
Shapely windows are one of the most effective ways to add architectural interest in a small space. As with anything custom, non-traditional window shapes typically command a higher cost but otherwise shouldn’t hinder a project. “Heights, widths, and mullion bars have to be well thought out and ordered prior to the start of the project for them to be on time, but that is no different than standard-shaped windows,” says Alford Homes’ Greg Alford. Most builders we spoke to quoted eight weeks as a standard turnaround time.
House of Panes
Despise doing the dishes? You might hate it less if you’ve got something pretty to look at. It just makes good sense to put places where you spend lots of time—like the bath, the range, and the kitchen sink—in front of your most inspiring views. Your builder can guide you through considerations to take into account. For example, notes Harrison South of Bauhaus Modern Homes, “[With] any features such as sinks, tubs, or showers, one must consider the potential of moisture. If a window sits in a wet area, we specify fiberglass products.”