Category Archives: Counter It


Oops, took a minor hiatus. Wish I could say I have been sunbathing in this amazing weather, but, nope. Working on some fun projects though that we will be telling you about soon. What do you think about making a vanity from an old bed frame? We might just do that.

Anyways, on to our featured material for this week. We do have a slight obsession with countertops because they are such an important element, both functionally and aesthetically. And I hate to tell you that granite is one of my least favorite materials because you might curse me and never read my blog again which will make me sad so Im not going to tell you that. Im just going to keep telling you about more and more options that are not that thing that Im not going to tell you is one of my least favorite materials.

Today we are talking about IceStone, which is a recycled content material that has been used in a variety of residential and commercial applications such as kitchen countertops, bath vanities, bar tops, conference tables, reception areas and window sills. If you have any doubts about the sustainability of this product, just check out its many 3rd party certifications. IceStone is the only gold level Cradle to Cradle® certified surface in the world (basically everything about it is sustainable), and has even been installed in the USGBC’s headquarters. Sold.

The three main ingredients are 100% recycled glass, Portland cement, and pigment. It is not made with petrochemicals or resins, so it is free of VOCs and will not fade. The surfaces are made in Brooklyn, NY and the cement is sourced from York, Pennsylvania.

A Designer’s dream, it comes in 21 different colors in ranging hues and vibrancy so you can have some fun with your selection. In order to make darker colors, pigment is added to the cement binder. To make lighter colors, the glass fragments become the color and the binder is white. So pretty…

Icestone is a truly sustainable company, dedicated to helping the environment and their community. Since 2003, they have diverted over 10 million pounds of glass from landfills.

Icestone is also a “For-Benefit” corporation (otherwise known as a B corporation), meaning they value social, environmental, and financial considerations equally. IceStone’s goal involvement with the B Corporation community is to provide leadership, teamwork, and the models to fortify the presence of sustainable businesses. They strive to treat their employees well and pride themselves on being diverse. Because production of Icestone involves the use of a lot of water, they have a large water recycling system in which they reuse the water within the factory which is located @ the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

To learn more about the manufacturing process and company, check out this video.

What do you need to know?

Since Icestone does contain a mixture of porous cement and glass, it is not truly as durable as granite. Hairline cracks are a common problem in concrete products, so installation needs to be done carefully. Get an installer who knows this product.

Icestone has to be regularly sealed. The product should be sealed and waxed every 6 months depending on use (how to know when it is time to seal: if you put water on the slab and it beads up, you can go a bit longer without sealing, if the water sinks into the slab, it is time to seal). Granite usually also has to be sealed, although not as often. Sealing is easy, don’t be scared off by this. Give a little, get a lot.

Excessive heat may also be an issue with Icestone, the company does not recommend placing a hot pot on their surface. But hey, that’s what trivets are for. Soapstone is one of the only materials we recommend placing a hot pan directly on.

Any liquids or stains should be cleaned up immediately, Portland cement is porous so staining could occur especially if not properly sealed.

Icestone is made partially of glass, so what about scratching and etching? Icestone claims that scratching is not an issue unless you take a key and run it across the surface, however it may etch with contact of acids and strong alkaline cleaning products. According to Dwell magazine, who did a test on several new countertop materials, yellow mustard etched the surface. We are just the messenger.

our materials vignette

Since Icestone is sensitive to heat and subject to etching and staining, it may not be the perfect material for your kitchen depending on your use. Consider how much you abuse, or don’t abuse, your counters. Perhaps it is better matched for a bathroom. Mix it with a clean white, warm wood, pop of color and you have yourself a fun little space.

Maintenance: no oil and vinegar based products, harsh chemicals, bleach ammonia, and/or acid based cleaning products.

Price: $80-160 per square foot (installed)

Each slab measures 52.5 inches wide, 96 inches long and 1.25 inches thick.

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What do you do when you want the look and feel of real wood, but can’t afford – or don’t want to deal with – the solid kind?  You put some Treefrog on.

Treefrog Veneer, that is.

Do you love exotic woods but the price tag, especially the shipping tag, makes you run screaming?  Do you have cabinetry that could use a modern facelift because we are way beyond the 80s now?  Do you prefer surfaces that aren’t filled with natural imperfections?  Then you gotta check this stuff out.

What’s the story?

It’s real wood.  And 5 of their most popular veneers are real – FSC certified – wood.  Meaning the wood comes from forests that are regulated by strict environmental, social, and economical standards as certified by a 3rd party. They use common and fast growing species like poplar and turn it into exotic responsible look-alikes.

It’s HPL-backed, meaning you can install it like any other laminate.  Check with your supplier for recommended adhesives.

It’s pre-finished, so no worrying about how it will really look when all is said and done.  It’s free of imperfections, so no unnecessary waste or planning due to the condition of a slab.  Don’t get me wrong, imperfections can be beautiful!  But sometimes they aren’t the right look especially for cabinetry, and they can make installation a nightmare.  All depends what you are going for.

The dyes are water-based, so no sketchy chemicals to concern your health with.

Here are some fancy installations.

black macassar

walnut crown

black oak

Our color pick is they Grey Oak Groove paired with a clean white solid surface and pop of color.  

grey oak groove paired with ModDotz glazed porcelain tiles in pistachio

How about on cabs like this?  Gorgeousness.

Oh but this one is sooooooo fun too!

coffee bubinga burl

Pick out one you love here.

See…. I do love imperfections…

I won’t bore you with the process of how veneers are made, but it’s pretty cool.  You can read more here.

Sheet sizes are 4’x8′.  Recommended installations are vertical surfaces and horizontal surfaces that will get lighter wear.  Typical substrates are plywood, MDF, particleboard, sheetrock, and rigid plastics.

Clean with a soft cloth using mild soap and water or non-abrasive glass and wood cleaning products. Wipe up any spills immediately.

Got anything you want to put a Treefrog on?

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Happy Presidents Day! With an extra day off this weekend Im sure many of you are thinking about your home renovations, so seems like a good time to talk countertops? 😉

If you are looking for a solid surface option that is a little modern, industrial, vintage-y… ALKEMI is a fun option with its post-industrial aluminum scrap flakes. The two available lines are ALKEMI-acrylic from Buffalo, NY and ALKEMI-polyester from Baltimore, MD. The acrylic v. polyester refers to the resin material which binds the scraps.

Make you think twice about not recycling your cans?

ALKEMI-acrylic is the no-VOC option made using recycled acrylic, and is SCS (Scientific Certifications System) certified to have a minimum 91% recycled content. It can be recycled endlessly after its life cycle. Finishes can be from matte to a high gloss.

ALKEMI-acrylic, color: Clear 500

ALKEMI-acrylic installation

ALKEMI-polyester is low-VOC made using virgin polyester resin and is certified to have minimum 34% recycled content. It is offered in classic or honed finish options. The classic displays whole aluminum flakes and honed displays the cut edge of the aluminum flake. Both options are offered with a smooth top coat finish, and can be seamed, sanded and polished by the fabricator.

ALKEMI-polyester, color: natural, finish: classic

ALKEMI-polyester, color: natural, finish: honed

The nitty-gritty. ALKEMI is stain-resistant against most common liquids, however any acidic liquid (including red wine – uh oh) can stain if left to remain on the surface for an extended period of time. Same goes with scratches. It is a durable product but excessive abuse and wear may compromise the surface. Good news is that these types of stains/scratches can be sanded and polished off to restore the surface.

Within the ALKEMI-polyester line there is an opaque option, which we like best when talking residential designs. The opacity gives a warmer look and tones down the amount of visible scraps. Our color pick is the Lace 300.

Alkemi-polyester, color: Lace 300, finish: honed

With its more modern feel we think it would look stunning in a bathroom paired with a vintage black vanity and brushed nickel fixtures/accessories. Something along the lines of this…

but maybe add in some drama with tiles and pendant lights like this…

Would also work great in a vintage kitchen like this…

What do you think, would you consider this type of countertop for your home?

Additional install info…

Sealants: ALKEMI does not require surface sealing but the exposed cut edges of ALKEMI-polyester should be sealed with a clear coat resin.

Maintenance: use soap and water or gentle liquid cleansers, free of bleach and ammonia.

Price-wise it is comparable to a Corian or Granite. ALKEMI-acrylic is offered in sheet sizes of 36″x72” and 48″x96”. ALKEMI-polyester is available as 36″x120” and 36″x96” sheets. ALKEMI-acrylic tabletops are available in many standard sizes.

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Squak Mountain Stone

A whole week since my last post – what the heck happened.  The “daycare call”, bonfire parties, Pats parties, holiday, work.   Whew.   Who knew January could be so eventful.  Anyways, this blog is flowing a little like my head these days — all over the place.  Hopefully that’s OK with you.  Im so happy to have new followers, and I love getting your comments.  Tell me more!   It gets lonely here in blog world and I’ve never been good at doing all the talking.  But today Im craving some product talk, so here you are.

Meet Ameé Quiriconi (photo by Elena Dorfman)

Grad school project turned gorgeous and sustainable countertop material? Meet Ameé Quiricon, a grad student who concocted (by hand, in her garage) a countertop with raw ingredients that can be found in any local community. Even better, she is recycling ingredients that have already been used by consumers and industrial facilities in her local Seattle area.  Did I mention she makes these slabs by hand?

Originally inspired by Papercrete (recycled paper pulp + cement binder), Squak Mountain Stone is a paper and cement-based composite countertop that has the look and feel of natural soapstone (which you know we LOVE!) and concrete — but with a lesser carbon footprint.  Must know more!

Ingredients:   low carbon cement, waste fly-ash, crushed glass dust, mixed waste paper, and pigments.

The post-consumer recycled content is 2.5%, post-industrial recycled content is at least 49%.  Cool things to note.

  • Fly-ash is generated at a Washington-state coal-fired electrical generation facility.
  • The mixed waste paper comes from a small home-based document destruction business in WA.
  • The recycled glass is mainly waste from local window manufacturers that is collected and processed by a local glass recycling company.

Slabs come in either half slab 28″ x 96″, or full slab 56″ x 96″, and are 1 3/8” thick

I have three favorite things to note about this product.   First, it has a “live” edge that boasts an amazing texture (referred to as voids and pits, or more simply “holes”) paired with a super soft top surface.  This might sound weird, but it is sort of like a lasagna.  On the top its smooth, but when you cut into it you see the layers and textures of the ingredients.  Love this!  All of the countertops we typically install have a smooth perfected edge, but Squak is not afraid to reveal it’s completely organic imperfections.

Second, it exudes warmth.  From it’s rustic look, to its tactility, to the 6 color options.  It is sure to warm up any space, no matter what the style.

Squak Mountain Stone has 6 warm color options.

Third, here goes my childhood nostalgia.  It smells like Play-doh!!  And if there is one smell from my younger days that brings me back, it is Play-doh.  I swear I only played with the stuff because I was obsessed with the smell.  I can’t think of any other product samples we have in the studio that I “sniff” on a regular basis. TMI?

I know, I know…this product is not for everyone’s countertops, style-wise and maintenance-wise.  Squak Mountain Stone may stain, show scratches, and chip especially at the live edges.  But much like a lot of natural products that are not chemically treated, it will develop a patina and change as it ages.  Kind of like all of us, ha.  You just have to be OK with that.  Embrace it.  The stone can be sealed with a non-toxic and highly durable soy-based clear coat, a food grade natural wax, Tung Oil, or other products of your choosing.  Low sheen recommended.

From an aesthetic perspective we love this stone because the finish is matte and the colors are neutral.  It brings nature and texture into the space, allowing you to add pops of color in your backsplash, lighting, and other accessories.  And if it’s not a match made in heaven for your kitchen countertops, what about using it for other surfaces?  Think bathroom vanity, tub surround, bench top, table top, desk top, coffee table top, tile, fireplace hearth, and so on.

Squak Mountain Stone installation

Our color pick here is the Hazel, which looks amazing against a stark white sink. Mix in some greens and natural fibers and you have yourself a kitchen that exudes good health.  Makes me want to go plant an herb garden.

Squak Mountain Stone in Hazel

Our materials vignette

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ECO by Cosentino: a recycled materials countertop.

ECO by Cosentino is a durable and stain resistant countertop material that has received Greenguard and Cradle to Cradle certifications.   We love it because it is made of 75% post-consumer/post industrial materials that are being diverted from landfills… glass bottles, windshields, windows, mirrors, porcelain dishware, sinks, toilets, and industrial scraps.

eco by cosentino, post-consumer porcelains

Eco’s resin binder is made of 22% corn-oil, and the slabs are polished with a diamond blade to add a natural shine that does not require any sealant. Additionally, Cosentino reuses approximately 65 million glass bottles per year.   During the manufacturing process, 94% of the water used is recycled, and all minerals come from quarries that follow strict stewardship guidelines.

Our color pick:  White Diamond.  It’s fresh, clean, bright…perfect for a bathroom pick me up.  Pair it with Lush Vapor Frosted tiles from Modwalls and Hakwood European Oak flooring for a little coastal living.

Our material vignette

What do you need to know about installation/maintenance?   We installed the White Diamond in a master bathroom 2 years ago and it has held up wonderfully.  Slabs are 63″x 128″, and soap-water (or gentle pH-balanced cleaners) is the best way to get it clean.  Installation must be done by a certified professional.  10-year limited warranty.

eco by cosentino white diamond installed



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Soapstone Counters

Soapstone is a material that has been used in New England homes for hundreds of years.  From fireplace hearths, wood stoves, sinks, to countertops – soapstone can literally outlive your home.  And if you are going to invest a chunk of change in your countertop, that seems pretty important to us.

What?  Soapstone is a metamorphic rock, which means that the rock has been altered by heat and pressure over time.  It is largely composed of mineral talc, which gives it that soft to the touch texture we really love.

Soapstone mine in Virginia (photographs by Palmer Sweet)

How?   Soapstone is quarried like granite and marble.  Mining does of course require the use of non-renewable energy to get from point A (mine) to point B (your home).  We’re told mining soapstone is less impactful than granite or marble because there is no need to cut away large chunks of landscape, or dig deep into the earth.  Soapstone mines are also much smaller.  Soapstone is typically sourced from Virgina, Brazil, and Finland  – check with individual manufacturers to see where theirs is sourced.

Why?  Our favorite thing about this material is that it gets installed in your home in its natural state.  You get to enjoy the natural texture of a natural stone.  Beyond having to cut the slab to size, or alter the edging if desired, there is no need for any additional modifications.  No sealers.  No chemicals.  Just add a little mineral oil now and then to assist with an even color tone as the stone naturally darkens over time.

The Goods.  Soapstone is completely non-porous and impenetrable, so naturally stain and bacteria resistant.  It is also completely resistant to acids and heat, hence why it has been used in chemistry labs or for heat stoves.  You can move a pan from the stove to your counter without a trivet.  Since soapstone is a soft stone with no sealant, you may notice it can scratch more easily than a granite.  Good news is that you can refinish soapstone time and time again by sanding it down.

Colors range from light greys to dark blacks, and some have blue or green hues depending on where it was mined.  Veining can range from almost none, to lots.   Some slabs have very large veins that give an abstract painting sort of effect, and some veining will have color.  We have found that some clients love the veining, whereas others want a more even-tempered look.  A great opportunity to play with design intent.

Tip:  Some manufacturers only carry 1-2 types, so before you (or your GC) commit to working with a specific manufacturer, check to see what they offer.  You may need to do a little investigating.  Always see your whole slab first (or send your designer) and identify what sections should be templated for the designated counter areas.

recent soapstone installation

We used Soapstone in a recent kitchen renovation and paired it with a Carrara marble tile backsplash and stainless steel appliances.   Timeless, beautiful, and durable.

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