Stop the Unknown Stone

Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash

By Emerson Schwartzkopf What’s more important in a kitchen or bathroom: a hard-surface countertop or a can or two of paint? Read almost any current piece on home design, and the answer is obvious. Or, as the ad slogan says, Ask Sherwin-Williams. It’s likely not your answer, and it’s certainly not mine. We’re in the business of customizing premium, long-lasting, practical surfaces that enhance the looks of homes, condominiums, and apartments. Of course we’re going to say our product outranks a few gallons of latex coating. In terms of durability, utility and adding value to a property, we can do a great job of proving that. Apparently, those qualities don’t count for much. Start reading the home-décor magazines, newspaper sections and websites, and you’ll quickly catch on. In makeover descriptions and breathless trendspotting pieces, there’s a constant brand-name roll call of products, detailing the paint, the appliances, the sinks, the faucets, the wood stains, the cabinet-door pulls. What’s on top of those cabinets decorated with your-brand-name-here paint? Take a look at a few examples I pulled from this week’s review: “a light-beige countertop” “white quartz” “a marble-look quartz” “dark granite” “white marble” “quartz with vein patterns” Yeah, just some anonymous hunk of stuff tossed into the home. It’s there, just like the dirt around the rose bushes. Time to move on to the distressed-pine charging station in the guest bedroom. Perhaps one of the larger offenders here is Houzz, where detailed lists of tile, paint, lighting and dishracks cite brands and colors, and then there’s this generic lumpo slab tying the whole design together. (It’s gotten so annoying that I’ve quit looking at Houzz, which made a big splash at industry trade shows a few years ago and culled juicy prospects before disappearing.) To anyone dealing with hard surfaces, this is heresy. Even with the multiple names for the same material with quarried and manufactured surfaces, there’s always something beyond the most-generic ID. “Quartz with vein patterns?” You mean veining like Statuario? Calacatta? Carrara? Maybe Nero Marquina? Higher-end projects that appear in publications also aren’t done on the cheap. If there’s a quartz surface in one of those pictorials, it’s usually a brand-name product like Caesarstone®, Cambria® or Silestone®. You’ll likely see the model number of the under-cabinet espresso machine before an indication of a brand, let alone the pattern name. The crazy part of this is importance of the item often is the opposite of the price. Yes, you can spend $500 on a really nice faucet, in excess of $7,000 for a posh name-brand range, or $100 for a gallon of ultra-deluxe paint. Point to any single item, however, and kitchen/bath countertops will take up a much-larger share of the budget. So why, in the immortal words of Rodney Dangerfield, do hard surfaces get no respect? There’s an argument in the industry that less-expensive natural stone in the 2000s housing boom and Chinese quartz in the late 2010s made the surfaces more of a commodity than a luxury. There’s plenty of weight to that, but it doesn’t make sense that someone pays no attention to an item costing thousands while focusing on something worth $200 or so at best. And is there something in a house that seems more like a commodity than, well, paint? We may not need to spend more on marketing as an industry – every dollar would help, of course – as much as we need to establish identity. We tend to be anonymous far too often when it comes to the low-profile jobs in the residential sector when those are likely the main fuel for nine out of ten fabricators out there. (OK, I just drew that from thin air, but try to knock it down.) Getting that identity and respect is up to us as a group and individually. Getting the general population (and, frankly, some fabricators) to realize there’s a choice in types and brands is a national, regional and local effort. As an industry, we also need to get pushy about our wares in the design community, demanding professional-to-professional respect instead of oafs hauling in any old nameless crap. Self-promotion is also more than adding a logo on the website; it’s noting your involvement with every job and demanding to know that there’s something more than granite, marble and quartz. Most of you do a great job of this every day, but don’t slack off … not when there’s a can of paint demanding better pride of place.