27 July 2008


IMAGE: The Uba Tuba granite shown here was chosen for its beauty and compatible style, durability and potential home value enhancement in a recent kitchen project I designed. Happily, it is also among the lowest radon-emitting granites on the market today.

Yes, the truth is that granite can raise the radon levels in your home. And yes, radon in significant quantities is a serious cancer risk. So… Are are your granite countertops going to give you cancer? It’s highly unlikely, as most emit radon in minute amounts, amounts far lower than the soil beneath your home.

Dr. David J. Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University in New York, told the New York Times in an article that published on July 24, 2008, that the cancer risk from granite countertops, even those emitting radiation above background levels, is “on the order of one in a million.” You’re likelier to be struck by lighting, he added.

Dr. Brenner does add, though, “If you can choose another counter that doesn’t elevate your risk, however slightly, why wouldn’t you?” I think that question may be most appropriately asked by those with compromised immune systems, especially by smokers and cancer survivors. There are numerous benefits to owning granite countertops that I’ll get into shortly.


If your health has been compromised or you’re pregnant, and now becoming concerned about the radon levels in your granite countertops, this one-page fact sheet from a company that specializes in radon detection may be helpful to you, as can its link to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction. A professional tester can either ease your concerns or accurately inform you as to the potential risk presented by your top.

The New York Times cites exotic stones that are just entering the U.S. market as potentially having higher radon content than the more familiar Uba Tubas and Giallo Venezianos that have been gracing so many American homes for years. Samples of the most widely-used granite patterns have already been tested and found within safe levels. A frank discussion with your granite supplier and kitchen designer would be a good idea if you’re considering an exotic granite.

In the meantime, for a healthy person, the risks associated with normal, daily American life – like car accidents, diabetes and heart disease – are far likelier to occur in your lifetime, and are totally unaffected by your countertop material. I still feel comfortable presenting it to my kitchen and bath design clientele.


Granite has been used as a building material for thousands of years. This might make you wonder why the long-known presence of radon in its composition is creating an uproar now. The simple answer is competitive pressure. Even the sometimes sensationalistic Fox News reported this sober business news item: “The EPA issued its new statements late Friday, following media reports citing junk science and inconsistent testing results, that created public concern about granite countertops as a source of radon gas.”

The New York Times piece mentioned above also notes: “Allegations that granite countertops may emit dangerous levels of radon and radiation have been raised periodically over the past decade, mostly by makers and distributors of competing countertop materials.” Since these manufacturers are presenting one of granite’s potential negatives, let me present what I feel to be a more accurate and complete list, along with granite's many positive attributes.


Granite is a natural, porous stone. Its porosity leaves it vulnerable to bacterial penetration and staining. You must keep it sealed.

Sealing adds an extra expense and chore to your life, albeit not a very expensive or time-consuming one. Home centers carry in-stock sealants, but acidic foods and liquids can eat through them if left standing on the countertops for long periods.

Granite can be costly. Not everyone can afford this material, even though wider availability has made it less expensive than in decades past.

Granite is extremely hard, so placing a glass on it as you would on a laminate or Corian-style countertop can crack the glass.

Granite can crack if subjected to excessive heat in the same spot repeatedly. Most people believe you can put a hot pot directly on it. You can if you must in an emergency situation, but you shouldn’t as a regular habit. Use a trivet to protect your tops.

Because granite is extremely hard, many people believe it’s OK to cut directly on it. I wouldn’t recommend this practice either. Granite is both porous, as mentioned above, so you can stain your tops or risk bacterial penetration, and so hard that it will dull your knives.

As granite is a product of Mother Nature, it does not come with a factory warranty. Some countertop suppliers – aka fabricators – offer a sealant warranty with stronger coatings, but that’s only as lasting as the economic health of the companies offering them.

Granite is rarely repairable. If it’s misused, you will almost certainly have to replace that entire section from a new slab.


Granite is one of the most beautiful materials available for your home and will enhance its style.

Each slab of granite is unique. Some are so distinctive that they add a personalized artistic statement to your room.

Granite is one of the most heat-resistant countertops available.

Granite is one of the most scratch-resistant countertops available; only a diamond or another piece of granite or quartz will cut it.

Granite countertops have a high perceived value, which can potentially contribute to an increase in your home’s market value.

Granite creates among the most durable countertop options available today. Only quartz rivals its hardness and longevity.


If you decide to choose granite for your home, please consider the following: Granite will only look as good as the fabricator’s skill and attention to detail allow. An unskilled installer will create seams that are highly visible, tops that are uneven from one section to another, poor pattern matching at turns, sloppy installation of undermount sinks, unsightly gaps and poor edging. So please think twice before you call the company posting street signs for $9.99 granite. You do get what you pay for in this area and talented trades truly earn their fees and referrals.

22 July 2008


I multi-task all the time. You probably do, too. So why shouldn't your kitchen? It's already the busiest room in your home. Here are four multi-tasking tools to make "family central" live larger, work smarter and store more.


This handy unit, shown here, from U-Line, is the ideal party zone appliance. It can make ice, keep frozen treats frozen and store your cold drinks in the same 24" space a standard beverage fridge would normally occupy.


If your microwave is only reheating left-overs and making frozen vegetables, consider it an under-performer. In the same space, whether built-in or over-the-range, you can add a second oven to your kitchen by upgrading to a microwave-convection combo, and even a microwave-convection oven-warming 'drawer' unit. Most of the major manufacturers are adding these capabilities to their offerings and they're well worth considering, especially at holiday time when turkeys, side dishes and pies are all vying for the same cooking space! One combo unit that I've specified for numerous happy clients trading up from a standard micro is the GE Profile Advantium.


Sure, your backsplash looks really pretty with all the decorative tile you've got on it now, but those 18 typical vertical inches between your countertops and your wall cabinets are sure under-worked! Put them to work, too, with a backsplash organizing system that can free up countless square feet of drawer space. It also puts added storage exactly where you need it most. For example, place a spice shelf above the space where you prep your food for cooking. Or hang a utensil rack near your cooktop, where you can reach a spatula when you need one. Hafele is a good source for these organizers. Home centers carry them from time to time, too.


Just like your backsplash, your ceiling is sorely under-tasked. Sure, it's providing a space for your lights and maybe a ceiling fan and vent. Put it to better use with a lighted pot rack. This will take some stress off your overworked base cabinets and make it easier to find the pots you use most often. It will also provide some focused task lighting on your island or peninsula, if you have one. (If you don't, please skip this option so no one hits their head!)

15 July 2008


AVOIDING MISTAKE #2: MICRO VISION (Right) Image from a local client project -- Note how the family room cabinets match the island in style and finish, and how all the architectural elements harmonize.


I'll bet you didn't expect that one from a kitchen pro, did you!?! One of the hats I wear as an independent designer is to provide a "reality check" perspective. This mistake was more in evidence during the past few years than in today's housing climate, but I still come across part-time cooks who want $10,000 pro ranges. (Do you really need all those BTUs?) In general, a $300,000 house does not warrant a $100,000 kitchen, unless its lived in by a professional caterer or chef, or a really serious hobby cook.

While statistic show that kitchen remodels return more of their investment cost than almost any other home project, this does not hold true if you dramatically over-spend. Think in terms of a 10- to 25-percent investment level relative to what you could realistically sell your home for in today's market, (if you're ready to start your remodel), not yesterday's (wistful) or tomorrow's (hopeful).

If your home is at the starter/entry level of your market, stay closer to the 10% spending level. (Yes, that's going to limit your material choices, but work with a local pro to get the best bang for your housing buck!) At the middle of your market, stay in the middle of that 10- to 25-percent scale. At the luxury end, you can freely venture into the 25% range if you wish. Finally, consult some real estate experts in your area to advise you on what you should be spending relative to your home's value and community norms.


Almost every home being built today has an open layout that puts your kitchen on display to your great room, dining area and other nearby public spaces. This calls for a higher level of design integration -- what I call "Open Plan Design" -- than most older home's closed-off kitchens. This means that the cabinetry finishes and styles, the countertops and even appliances need to work visually with your other nearby furnishings.

So... while you may adore a Tuscan or French country look, think hard about whether this style will work with your adjacent rooms and the architecture of your home. (If you've ever had friends who bought the kitchen of their dreams, only to have the rest of their space look dreadful afterward, they might have succumbed to micro vision.)

Here are some tips to avoid this mistake yourself. Consider the home's door and window casings -- or lack thereof -- along with any fireplace surrounds, open archways and crown molding to "reality check" yourself on whether the look you desire will look out of place in your home. Also consider those cherished family heirloom furniture pieces and high-value, large-scale furniture pieces that you're planning to keep after the remodel to ensure that what you're putting in the kitchen will look great in the same open space. (You don't need to get all matchy-matchy, but you will want to coordinate.) I've had clients bring a drawer or chair from their prized set to the cabinet selection room. You might try this, as well.


This relates to Mistake #2, but it goes far beyond... And can be much more costly. Don't choose a look for your kitchen based on its current, most-likely fleeting popularity, (remember Memphis in the 80s?), but on how long you personally have loved similar styles and how successfully it works with all your other major, lasting, much-loved purchases.

You may have the budget for frequent remodels, but I doubt if you have the stomach for them.

09 July 2008


I love quartz countertops. I love their family-friendly ease of use. You never have to seal them, as you do with natural stone. They're non-porous, which is more sanitary, and very stain resistant. I also love their hard-to-destroy durability. Finally, I love their manufacturers' warranties. (Mother Nature does not warranty her marble, onyx or granite products.)

Often called engineered stone, quartz, like cola, is sold under different brand names. The material is pretty much the same, though, like Pepsi, Coke, RC, et al, each will appeal to different tastes...


Caesarstone has some contemporary colors like lime green, orange and blue. It also has some nice concrete alternatives. My favorites, though, are the new Concetto series, made with precious stones, (shown here). Since I spotted these billion dollar beauties at KBIS 2008, I can't wait to find the right project for this line.


Those colors that try to look like granite don't. My favorite Cambria color, which I recently specified for a client's master bath, is Hyde Park. It's a quiet grey-green with a near translucent quality.

Cambria Nugget: Cambria is certified for Kosher Kitchens by a Rabbi. Isn't that just so cool!


DuPont's product has some colors that stand in nicely for concrete or Absolute Black granite, without their maintenance issues.


Silestone has a nice built-in feature: Microban antimicrobial protection. All engineered stone countertops are non-porous, as mentioned above. Silestone goes one step further in helping to combat contaminants. It's the germ-fighting overachiever for overprotective parents and germaphobic hypochondriacs. Aesthetically, most of the Silestone line tries too hard to look like granite, which it doesn't. The style I really like is the Leather Series, which has a soft matte finish evocative of honed stone. Unfortunately, the Silestone website doesn't really show them, so you'll have to visit a Silestone dealer. FYI, their biggest U.S. account is Home Depot, so stroll to your local Big Orange kitchen department for a look.

Silestone Nugget: Because Silestone is sold so widely at Home Depot, it can sometimes be hard for other accounts to get the slabs they need. Also, since the slabs come from Spain, if your color choice is back-ordered, you could be waiting quite a while for your tops to show up. (I've had clients in that position before.)


Induction cooking isn't new, but it is certainly enjoying renewed attention. Deservedly so. Here are some of the benefits of this clean, green cooking machinery:

Speed Demon:
Induction heats water faster than pro-style gas burners. I got to witness that myself at the GE Monogram Designer Training earlier this year, where the induction cooktop whupped a 15,000 BTU cooktop in a race to the boil. (Don't just take the word of perky TV pitch women!)

Energy Saver:
Induction is more energy efficient than electric or gas. The PR folks at Windcrest make this point: Induction transfers 90% of the energy created to the pan while radiant cooking like gas or electric coils are capable of only 50 to 55% energy efficiency.

Safety Patrol:
Induction works through electro-magnetic energy transfer between the burner and the pot. Happily, only the pot and the burner around it get hot. As soon as the pot is removed, the burner cools down again. This flameless technology is great for families with young children and any household members with limited vision.

KBIS 2008 Induction Nuggets: A couple of very cool induction products shown at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show last April in Chicago included:

Viking's new range with induction cooking. Right now, induction is typically available on cooktops only, so you'd need a separate single or double wall oven. This induction range is ideal for smaller kitchens, and induction is a great upgrade from electric. (FYI, it's not on their web site yet, but as an official KBIS blogger, I was allowed to bring my camera onto the show floor and took a photo of it, which I share with you here!)
Kuppersbusch, a 133-year-old German company not yet well known in the U.S., is offering an induction wok. At their ridiculously out-of-the-way booth at the show, they demo'ed this appliance and it's truly phenomenal. I think even Martin Yan might like this product.

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