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Jo Ann Thompson had lots of questions when she and her husband, Steve, decided to remodel the kitchen in their Bowling Green home this year, but one thing was never in doubt: the Thompsons wanted granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.

Those choices thrust the couple into an ever-growing cadre of consumers who have welcomed materials into their homes that once were the purview of factories and businesses. Industrial materials such as stainless steel, nickel, concrete, granite, and bronze have become as common in small-town subdivisions as in big-city industrial parks.

The reasons are many, but durability and shiny clean looks are among the top factors why many homeowners have gone industrial.

“We talked about it for about a year before we made the decision to remodel our kitchen,” says Jo Ann Thompson. “When we decided to stay in our house and remodel, I knew I wanted granite countertops. Most of the time, there is what you want and what you settle for. I didn’t want to settle for something else with the countertops even if I had to give up something else.”

Why?

“Because every kitchen I liked had granite countertops,” she says. “Plus, I just liked the look and feel. They are shiny and feel great. You can also set hot things directly on them.”

Just don’t try that in the Thompson kitchen. Thompson admits to being protective of her new granite surfaces.

Thompson had to be protective of her decision as well. When she invited designers to see her kitchen and hear about her plans, one suggested that her kitchen was too small to warrant the expense of granite and another said it would be too much trouble to do the re-arranging she wanted. But Thompson had done her research—perusing Web sites and talking with vendors—she knew the pros and cons of granite, and the cost differential between it and other options. The fact that she had a smaller kitchen was never a factor to her. She had made her choice.

Choice is a key word in incorporating industrial materials into your home. There are many choices, and the latest trend is an eclectic blend of industrial and traditional, old and new.

Step into the Zoellner home, also in Bowling Green, for a stunning example. The Zoellners live on an iconic tree-lined street where the homes were built in the 1940s and are as popular today as when they were built. Like most of the homes, the Zoellners’ has undergone some major renovations, particularly the kitchen.

Today, the kitchen retains its original hardwood floors. A high-end Bosch gas range with retro styling provides another nod to the home’s original era. It is topped, however, with a contemporary glass and stainless steel hood. The inset cabinetry has an old-world furniture look and goes floor to ceiling, also a popular trend. The countertops are made of concrete colored a dark brown and black, a look that reminds Zoellner of a buckeye.

Richard Zoellner, of Barren River Renovations, is not the only one who likes to mix it up when doing remodeling work.

“I get a lot of requests for a contemporary mix using industrial materials with an Asian feel. Stainless steel is still in, but on higher-end kitchens the refrigerator and dishwasher are covered with panels that match the cabinets.
Retro-look refrigerators and ovens are popular.”
Zoellner explains, “There is also a lot more color in the cabinetry, reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s. You see a lot of cobalt blues and pearl whites. It is interesting to mix the old and the new.”

Realtors say granite and other industrial materials are sought after in homes of every price range, but are predictably easier to find in homes in the $200,000 plus price range.

“More modern materials—granite, tile, hardwood floors, bronze and brushed nickel fixtures, and stamped concrete—are all popular,” says Lynn Davenport, a realtor with RE/MAX Real Estate Executives in Bowling Green. “People want these things.”

However, Davenport warns that if you are planning to sell your home, you will probably not get all your money back from these expensive upgrades. He says fresh paint and a good cleaning will net a higher return on investment. The modern materials may, however, help sell the house faster.

The rest of the good news is that some items, such as granite, have gotten less expensive in the past few years.

David Cook, owner of Countertops & More in Bowling Green, says granite prices have dropped 50 percent in the past 10 years.

Back at the Thompson house, the new cabinets are filled with dishes and the granite countertops gleam as sunlight seeps through the blinds. A microwave, range, and counter-depth fridge are now in place, and—you guessed it—all have a stainless steel finish.

“If she’s happy, I’m happy,” jokes Steve, who truthfully is also as pleased as Jo Ann with their decision to go industrial.

If you are thinking about using industrial materials in your design, here are some things to consider:

Concrete
Stephen Price and his extended family have an unusual thing in common: they all have concrete countertops in their homes. Stephen and wife Christina’s countertops are black in the kitchen and a tannish green in the front bathroom. A four-inch square backsplash in the kitchen is also made of concrete.

Stephen’s parents, Elaine and Ferrell Price, chose a cream color concrete, while Stephen’s sister and her husband, Beth and Brian Butt, chose a graphite look. Stephen’s brother and his wife, Bill and Rebecca Price, went with gray, a little darker than concrete with no color added.

“We didn’t want to do granite and we didn’t want laminate or Corian,” Price says. “The concrete is a different look. It suits me and my wife. We would put it in again.”

If you are considering concrete, here are some of the pros and cons, according to Price:

Pros
• Any color you want is available and in virtually any shape.

• Concrete can be done in decorative shapes (called stamping) and made to look like almost anything, including brick, stone, etc.

• You can also make sinks, drain boards, and more out of concrete.

• It provides a sleek, contemporary look.

Cons
• It will wear and crack. There is no perfect seal although sealants are improving. However, many contend that the cracks give it character, and they can be filled and smoothed out.

• Concrete countertops need to be waxed on a regular basis.

• It will stain, and there is no way to remove the stain.

Stainless steel
Stainless steel is a dark metal, and highly resistant to stains. It looks light because it reflects light. Commonly, stainless steel consists of 10.5 percent or more chromium and more than 50 percent iron.

There are three major classes of stainless steel:

• Austenitic: Typically used in household appliances and institutional food preparation utensils.

• Martensitic: Commonly used in fine knives. Martensitic grades are strong and hard, but are brittle and difficult to form and weld.

• Ferritic: Cooking utensils made of this type contain higher chromium levels.

As with all surfaces, there are pros and cons, although stainless steel has more pros than cons, particularly for use in the kitchen.

Pros
• Stainless steel is one of the most hygienic surfaces for food preparation, and is extremely easy to clean because the surface has no pores or cracks to trap dirt, grime, or bacteria.

• It needs little care and won’t chip or easily rust.

• It will not affect flavor.

• With proper care, stainless steel will last more than 100 years, and it is 100 percent recyclable.

Cons
• Stainless steel cookware should have a heat-diffusing base made of a better heat-diffusing material such as copper or aluminum.

• It is not good to store food or liquids in stainless steel cookware after cooking.

• To keep the surface smooth and scratch-free, do not use abrasives, bleach, or ammonia.

Granite
Granite is a natural stone. It is one of the hardest surfaces, quite durable, heat- and scratch-resistant, and therefore easy to maintain. It comes in various colors and structural compositions. Not all stones are exactly the same. Each lot will have unique characteristics attributed to the specific granite.

David Cook, owner of Countertops & More in Bowling Green, says there are two broad classifications of granite: natural granite, which comes straight out of the ground in slabs, and man-made granite, known as engineered stone. The man-made granite is about 92 percent quartz, a major component in natural granite, but polymers are added to engineered stone to give it texture and look.

“We recommend that people look at the individual slab when choosing granite,” says Cook. “If you look at a small sample, the larger piece will probably look different because granite is a natural product with variations in it. Some stones will vary more than others. For example, Gaillo Velenviziano is fairly consistent in its pattern, but it has a peach undertone, which can vary from a faint peach cast to the color of an actual peach. With Juparana Columbo, no two pieces of the stone will be the same.”

Cook says there are not really different grades of granite in terms of quality, but there is commercial grade and residential grade granite. The difference is in the amount of variation in the stone. Residential grade, or grade A, has less variation than commercial, or grade B, granite. One other factor is important. Natural granite must be sealed twice a year, while engineered granite does not require sealing.

“It’s really a question of whether you want consistency or not,” Cook says. “Some people like the differences while others want more consistency.”

Cook doesn’t sell the granite overtops, which are offered as an alternative to the more expensive complete counters. They fit on top of a regular countertop and give the look of granite, without the need to take out the old countertop.

“The stone is only a quarter- to a half-inch thick,” Cook says of the overtops. “If you drop a can out of an upper cabinet, it could chip it or break. With a regular granite countertop, the stone is three centimeters or about one and one-fourth-inch thick. You have to really abuse it to chip it or break it.”



KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: WEB SITES ON INDUSTRIAL MATERIALS

For a listing of 13 Web sites on home trends, industrial materials, appliances, and countertops, go to home trends.

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