Remodeling your kitchen? Coming down with a case of granite fatigue? Never fear, a remedy is available: Install a countertop made from recycled materials. The new look can personalize your kitchen and boost the health of the environment, too.
Countertops may contain colorful fragments of recycled beverage bottles or porcelain from old plumbing fixtures such as sinks and toilets. Even recycled paper is making an appearance as a counter surface.
The Kitchen Studio showroom in the Kansas City, Mo., Crossroads Arts District features a PaperStone countertop that is used as a desk. The subtle color variations - Cabernet, Chocolate, Plum, Indigo and Evergreen - remind Kitchen Studio co-owner Sue Shinneman of rich leather.
"The color goes all the way through. If you cut something on it with your knife, you're not going to see white," Shinneman says of its durability.
"Basically, they just press the paper together, and it's a very hard surface," says Kitchen Studio co-owner Katie Ott.
"I spill," she sheepishly admits. "I always have a salad and olive oil, but it cleans up very easily. And I haven't scratched it and have binders on it all the time."
Richlite, another company that makes recycled paper countertops, boasts that the material is used for hard-core surfaces like skate park ramps and backer boards for fiberglass boats.
John Ditto chose PaperStone in a dark green about two years ago when he replaced his laminate kitchen countertops. He mulled over samples of quartz composite and recycled glass in concrete before choosing the paper-based surface.
"The recycled glass had a very busy pattern. I have a small kitchen ... and I was afraid it might be a little bit overwhelming," Ditto says. "I am really pleased with the PaperStone." He marvels that he can set hot pans on it without worry, and he simply wipes up spills with a dishcloth.
Occasionally if water on the surface doesn't bead up, the countertop requires a touch-up buffing with beeswax. Another plus, Ott says, is that recycled paper countertops feel much warmer to the touch than stone, making the surface ideal for eat-in kitchen counters, bathrooms and home office desktops.
With limitless possibilities in color combinations, glass is one of the most popular recycled materials for countertops. Several brands utilize recycled glass in a concrete or resin matrix.
Eco by Cosentino uses chips from broken mirrors; some IceStone styles take salvaged shirt button chips from the factory waste; EnviroGLAS EnviroMODE features recycled porcelain tubs, sinks and toilets; and Vetrazzo Millefiori showcases multicolored shards of art glass.
Karen Tenenbaum says she and her husband, Wayne, fell in love with the look of the EnviroGLAS - and the idea of reuse. "When we saw it, we were just bowled over." They remodeled their 1970s kitchen in June and with the help of Built by Design in Olathe, Kan., and Elements of Green in Kansas City, Mo.
"It was a very exciting process to be able to pick the colors," Karen says. "I picked brown, amber, black and a pale green with porcelain and a porcelain-color resin. And I picked bigger chunks of glass because I didn't want a really busy countertop. There will be no one else in Kansas City that has the same exact countertop."
Shinneman notes that recycled glass countertops can be custom-mixed. "We have clients that ask, 'Do they have one that's made out of wine bottles? Because I have a wine tasting room, and I'd love to have a top that's crushed-up wine bottles.' People relate to them. There's one style named Ale made out of beer bottles."
There are many possibilities with glass, including a concrete matrix (a combination, however, that is more susceptible to stains from acids such as lemon juice). As for installation, Shinneman says that almost anyone who works with stone versions can install glass countertops, and carpenters can handle paper counters. Pricing is comparable to standard granite, Ott says.
Sarah Soden chose to top a hutch in her kitchen with EnviroGLAS that features pale greenish windshield pieces and amber beer bottle shards.
"It's in a darker corner without windows, so we wanted something kind of sparkly to wake it up." Plus, she says, it was a visual way to teach their kids about the reduce-reuse-recycle mantra.
"I love the results," Soden says. "It's the hardest-working piece of furniture in our house, because it's right where we walk in. It's where backpacks get set down and mail laid down. And when we have company, we clear it all off and use it for serving."
If you're looking for an all-natural option, Elmwood Reclaimed Timber in Smithville, Mo., specializes in reusing wood from old barns, houses, schools and other sites.
"We've created kitchen countertops out of almost any species, from something very clean to something very rustic with a patina to it," says Brent Kroh, Elmwood sales vice president. "A lot of our old boards have knobs and holes, but you can fill them with an epoxy."
They make butcher block, plank-style tops and counters for eat-in kitchen bars or islands. And with the proper finish, wood can even be used next to the sink, Kroh says.
Wondering where the wood may have been in its previous life? "All of our antique materials are certified for recycled content, so we have to be able to track the material from the original structure," Kroh says. "We make sure none of our materials has been treated with a toxin. We also kiln-dry our material, and that eradicates any mold spores."
Designing countertops with recycled material is a great way to express yourself. Peter Crump, owner of Urban Stone Concrete in Kansas City, has added post-industrial content to the concrete in custom-molded countertops, as well as recycled bottle glass.
And Stew Langer of UroGlass in Kansas City sandwiches recycled glass between new glass. "It looks like ice floating," he says.
"I had an architect approach me with the idea. ... With the advent of green building, I got to thinking, 'Why should we be throwing all this stuff away?'"