Friday, July 20, 2012

The bizarre cult of granite countertops

What is it with granite countertops? I thought I had left them behind in Canada, slowly leaking radon gas into all those updated kitchens, to be blamed in future for a cancer epidemic.
And often quite ugly.
But in La Prensa this week there was an ad for Las Colinas Residencial, a little housing development outside San Pedro Sula. And the selling features included "cocino con mueble de granito."
These are tiny houses, crammed onto small lots. The two-bedroom houses are 675 square feet; the big four-bedroom, two-storey models are 1,130 square feet.  Two colours of paint, PVC windows, 10 per cent down and payments as low as $257 a month, even at 10 per cent interest rates. (Interest rates are remarkably high here, a big drag on the economy. The problem, a business guy said, is that people just don't feel an obligation to repay loans. I got the impression he didn't.)
But the houses still had granite countertops.
A cultural anthropologist could probably do a doctorate on the allure of granite countertops. They can be nice, I'm sure, cool and smooth. But how did they become totemic, a necessary feature in every remodelled kitchen or condo development in Canada and Honduras?
I've never actually had a granite countertop. In the first house I co-owned, we replaced the bad formica with better fake wood-strip formica, one of the few home handyman projects I've done that has worked out. We painted the cabinets white and added red plastic knobs from Ikea and stuck a portable dishwasher into a space under the counter. Presto, a kitchen reno.
In our place here, which rents for about $325, the counters are tile, and not all that well done. But they serve.
But many Hondurans, like Canadians, apparently want granite. Maybe they plan on some serious baking, and need a cool surface to roll out their brioche dough.


Anonymous said...

Granite countertops are so passé.

If you want the real deal... go with concrete counters coloured to match your red knobs, or whatever.

scotty on Denman said...

Granit counter tops are no more bizarre than any other
building material and interior design cult. Once something has been endorsed by "experts" it either becomes code or de rigueur fashion statement. Either way, after this point they become money-makers until they slowly lose their trendiness or are proven unsafe or ineffective. In anycase, there's a rush to be fashionable but tardiness to correct overlooked defects.
During the rush part, when demand outstrips supply, a lot of money can be made, which can attract charlatans.
Many a poorly installed granite countertop I've seen. Can't tell you how many times I've seen co- or sub-trades puzzling over the latest innovation, and using tons of silicone sealant to make up for shortcomings, a lot of which is overlooked because of the overpowering desire to be trendy. But, as far as countertops go, it's mostly a matter of what one's sense of taste can stand.

Building material cults are, on the other hand, much more serious. The cults are highly visible: vinyl siding cults, hardy-plank cults, tyvek cults, rain-screen cults, blueskin cults, all of which probably have shady histories of how they became code requirements, like we couldn't have done without them. Don't see much building wrap around anymore; at one time it was required but, after it was discovered it didn't breath as well as advertised, causing mouldy rot situations, we're back to good old tar paper. Firefighters are starting to realize the disadvantages of vinyl-sided houses built close together as fire can easily spread. And every one remembers leaky condo syndrome poorly flashed stucco in rainy climates, to much reliance on Tuck tape to seal out water, silicone goo, also. All of them were once trendy building methods till they failed. Condo owners were hard hit. Some lost their life savings.

Look at the hundred-year old houses, no house-wrap, no silicone goo, no blueskin, and they're still good. What out for new trends. We use the old ways because they work.

And oriented-strand-board? Don't even get me started.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Thanks for putting into words a question untrendy me has asked myself many times: WTF is up with the granite counters?

Bernard von Schulmann said...

It is all a style thing, in a commercial kitchen they use steel counters because they are a better product

As said...

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Anonymous said...

I really like that pic. After reading the article,I guess granite is not for everyone. Although they are popular, beautiful, and very durable. It's nice that there are lots of alternatives for those who want to be different. I like having options, and this time I'm shopping in Victoria for countertops options from a reputable source.