Precious Engineered Stone
Story by Mark Greenawalt,©December, 2006
Nature has provided the design community with some absolutely dazzling building materials. Interior designers have consistently specified granite, travertine and marble to transform ordinary spaces into elegant sanctuaries. Recently, however, science has allowed us to engineer a beautiful product that is in many ways superior to these time-tested raw materials. It’s a man-made recipe but we still owe a great deal of gratitude to Mother Nature for providing its primary ingredient: quartz.
Commonly referred to as quartz surfacing, it has already stolen a five percent share of the market for kitchen counters and bathroom vanities in the United States. It is comprised of over 90 percent quartz and is fabricated to be stronger and more durable than marble and granite while providing a polished finish that is stain and scratch resistant. The quartz is mixed with specially formulated polymer resins and then doped with pigments for an extensive array of color options.
Caesarstone, a leading manufacturer of quartz surfaces, explains the process, “the mixture is compacted into slabs by a special vacuum and vibration process at a pressure of 100 tons. The slabs are then moved into a curing kiln until they assume true stone properties, but with greater performance and higher resistance to stains and impact.”
The slabs produced are commonly 56” x 120” at 2 cm and 3 cm thick. One of the magical features of quartz surfacing material is that it can be cut to a thickness of a quarter inch and drenched with water heated at 190 degrees until the polymers become pliable. At this point, the sheet can be bent and curved to a desired shape. It will retain the new shape as it cools. Try doing that with granite.
Fortunately, quartz is a very common mineral found in the Earth’s crust and its hardness on the Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness is 7. Comparatively a diamond is 10, iron is 5 and a penny is 3. Mined quartz crystals boast a cornucopia of colors and translucencies from the clear and rose quartz varieties which first come to mind to onyx, amethyst and tiger’s eye. This variety, coupled with the imaginative array of pigments, makes it easy to see why more high-end facilities are choosing quartz surfaces over the more established stone counters.
“The designer has the ability to choose from an extensive pallet of colors and patterns, knowing with certainty that the surface will be consistent,” says Jim Grant of Spellman Hardwoods, Inc. who represents Caesarstone in Phoenix. “The customer can have the look of granite, concrete or limestone without the imperfections, veins and random discolorations found in naturally occurring stone slabs.”
Caesarstone is currently proving to be popular in many high-profile projects locally including Cielo, Portland 38, Montelucia and the Lofts at Kierland.
Interior designer Mark Bowland of Scottsdale says, “I choose Caesarstone for the industrial look they can achieve. It’s less organic than the natural stone solutions. It also has the added advantage of being mold and mildew resistant, a very important consideration.”
The typical installed costs of quartz surfaces start at $55 to $75 per square foot. High end surfaces like the Concetto line from Caesarstone go up to $400 to $500 per square foot for versions that contain larger quartz stone crystals for translucent effects or large cuts of the more elusive amethyst or petrified wood. The costs include field measurements and the design templates, cutting and fabrication, installation costs and of course, the material cost of the manufactured slabs. Overall, the costs are comparable to mid to high quality granite surfaces.
Natural granite has reigned supreme in the preferred materials list for everything from kitchen and bathroom counters to walls and fireplaces for centuries, but it has a few inherent flaws. Aesthetically it is not uniform in pattern or color and contains fissures and small pits within the minerals. It requires sealing and it is very difficult to repair if it chips or breaks. For these reasons, scientists focused their efforts on creating a substance that replicated the grandeur of marble and granite, sans the negative components that could be produced at a comparable cost. Corian and Avonite were the engineered building materials that preceded the commercial debut of quartz surfacing by more than twenty years, but their polyester and acrylic composition did not incorporate the strength and luster that has now been achieved. Many manufacturers have entered the market with their version of the quartz surface building material including DuPont’s Zodiaq, Cosentino’s Silestone, Formica’s Crystaline and Samsung’s Staron.
Top kitchen and bathroom supply showrooms throughout the Valley have quartz surfacing on display and there are several qualified installers to choose from locally. Choosing to use it may be the easy decision, choosing the color may be more challenging. From sparkling reds, blacks and blues to honed limestone and concrete simulations, there is certainly a look to suit everyone’s tastes.
This article can also be found on-line at http://www.contact-mag.com/issue7/details.htm