State of the Stone Industry
The stone industry has played a key role in shaping how we view and interact with dwellings, commercial locations and infrastructure. Innovations over the years have led to an evolution of how the commercial and residential sectors integrate stone into their projects and this report aims to inform, as well recommend other ways to look at the application of stone – particularly when building or renovating a new home.
A Brief History
Before the year 2,000, the market was completely dominated by all-natural stone and if you worked in the industry, you had to be a Stone Mason. You had to have a qualification and the courses required to work with natural stone are still available at TAAF, to this day. Whether it’s a Certificate in Stone Masonry (Monumental/Installation) or greater, these courses taught how to work with head stones, carving, installation and kitchen bench tops. One thing to note is that these courses don’t include the other side of stone masonry – laying stone blocks etc.
Following this, engineered stone was introduced, and anyone who could afford to purchase the machinery was able to produce kitchens. This disruption had a significant impact on the industry and changed stonemasonry from a craft trade, to (in some opinions) a watered down, ‘push button’ service – something that was easy for almost anyone to do. Because the previous barrier to entry (of long study, apprenticeship and mastery of the craft) had now been removed, the industry became flooded with people who saw a gap in the market and wished to exploit it. This flooding of new, inexperienced businesses led to an increase in poor sentiment and lost trust for Stone Masonry, as a result. Regulations, at the time, were introduced but they related more to health and safety.
One of the contributing factors to the increased demand is the fact that building companies were offering free stone benchtops to first homeowners, as a part of their new home packages. This cheapened the product and prices dropped as a result. The product was then perceived as a lower socio-economic market product, in that cheap price range. This perception prevented people from wanting to purchase engineered bench tops as much. If they wanted to spend good money on their kitchen, and have it looking nice, they tended to steer away from the cheaper looking engineered stone in the direction of natural stone. They saw it as being a product that was ‘given away’.
Nowadays you get a lot more patented product and engineered stone is being marketed more as a man made, natural looking product. It is being produced with veins and grains through it, endeavouring to appeal to the higher end of the market, rather than the first home buyer end of the market.
This holds true today, even with the available price list, where anything with a vein or grain running through it can be double or triple the price of the plainer looking products of the standard builder range.
Note: The trend over the last couple of years has seen ceramic bench tops now come into play, as another competitor to stone.
As far as stone is concerned, you have engineered stone, natural stone, and a ceramic slab, which is basically a tile – compressed mineral, baked as a ceramic. This attracts a higher price than the others and is trickier to work on. This keeps out the ‘cheap’ players, with their ‘push button’ technology, as it is a lot more complex product to produce.
Currently there are different thickness options for stone bench tops, such as 20mm or 40mm. People tend to purchase the 20mm, as it is a less expensive option and still looks good. The 40mm options have been available for years and the 20m is a new initiative.
The trend for 2021 looks to be heading toward a more streamlined look – flush with the cabinetry – a sleeker finish than we’ve seen before. The cabinetry has no doors and no overhang on the stone. The trend for ceramic bench tops is also increasing this year and into the next five years, with the same sleek look. If you want to build a kitchen now that will still look on point for the next five or ten years, then you should consider a ceramic kitchen.
5 Stone Trends To Be Aware Of…
Trend #1 – Ceramic is the New Stone
Natural and engineered stone have various limitations for both, including being prone to UV damage and heat damage. Ceramic is perfectly fine outdoors, heatproof, relatively easy to work with, if you have the right equipment and appropriate knowledge. Ceramic can be produced nice and thin, without the weight issue that can come with the other products.
Ceramic can be used in wall cladding and any other type of commercial industry as well. A very versatile product.
For the average home, and user, you cannot go wrong with ceramic, it is almost bullet proof compared with the others. You have to seal natural stone at least once a year and engineered stone, as mentioned, is prone to heat damage. Both natural and engineered stone are also prone to scratching; whereas, ceramic ‘ticks the boxes’, in that it is not prone to scratching or heat damage and does not have to be sealed each year.
Trend #2 – Contrasting Colours
This is a good way to emphasise the colours you have chosen, where you can have a different coloured bench top and splash back. Or, a different worktop and island bench – becoming a feature where contrasting, opposite colours complement each other really well, much the same way you would use a different coloured paint on a feature wall – the colours could ‘pop’ and come alive. This could become a talking point, where people could come into your kitchen and notice something a little bit different, out of the usual from the monochrome colours.
Trend #3 – Application of Stone
There are plenty of applications for stone rather than just kitchen bench tops. Using stone in kitchen splash backs are a perfect example of this. They are easy to wipe down and you can flow the colour of your bench top up the wall, or use a different, contrasting colour, as mentioned above. Stone can also be used in outdoor kitchens.
Whatever a cabinet can do, a piece of stone can do – the applications are limited to your imagination. Whole staircases can be built using stone, along with bar tops, tables, and walls to name a few more. Pieces of stone can also be hung on walls and used as art.
Trend #4 – Natural Versus Engineered
Bear in mind that both natural stone and engineered stone have their uses and can complement one another very well. As long as you look after your natural stone products, they will look good and perform as expected. A discussion with a competent consultant will assist you in determining which product will be best suited to your budget and needs.
As Precision Cabinets is one of the few home renovation companies who can provide stone and cabinetry work, we were a key consideration following two referrals – one from the building sector and another from a homeowner.
Trend #5 – Design Features
There are opportunities in terms of the types of design features available. You don’t just have the option of a 20mm or 40mm look, you can have the shadow effect look, streamlined look or the bigger chunkier look with facia’s on them, almost like you have craned a ‘slab’ into your kitchen. The versatility of the product means whatever style you are after, it can be made to look like that.
Want to know the 6 most common issues arising from getting an engineered stone benchtop for your kitchen?Download this Free Guide Today!
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The best way to select the right stone bench top for your needs is to have 40+ years experience in the stonemason industry. The second best way is to read this engineered stone guide written by our very own Managing Director, Matt Schoof (and his 40+ years of kitchen experience)!
You will know exactly what to look for and how to care for it so you extend the life and look of your custom bench top.
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If you are thinking of putting stone into your kitchen, speak to an expert; someone who has experience in dealing with natural stone. Because, ideally, someone who has worked with natural stone would have worked with engineered stone and can help you understand the differences between the types of stone and will assist in making the right decision for your home. Someone who only has experience with one type of stone will not be in a position to help you make an informed decision. You need to talk with someone who is an ‘all-rounder’ with experience in more than one product.