On The Rocks

How Granite Countertops Became an American Obsession


***Additional commentary by Michael F Coiro.


If you’ve ever seen an episode of House Hunters, half of those people would rather have granite countertops than a roof.

Changing consumer tastes that caused the shift — big global market forces have a hand in the granite takeover as well, led the Granite countertop explosion we’ve experienced, especially in South Florida*** over the last 20 years, in particular the years leading up to the real estate market crash in 2008.

Here then are a few reasons offered by Emerson Schwartzkopf, editor of the industry publication Stone Update, as to why homebuyers became granite-obsessed maniacs:

1) More countries started getting into granite. Especially Brazil.
If you’re a bettor, it’s generally a safe wager that someone’s granite countertops came from Brazil.

Before the mid-’90s and 2000s, Italy had a leading position in granite processing, but things opened up after that.

For the most part, American imports of finished granite are dominated by Brazil, China, and India, with Brazil providing about half of the worked granite supply.

Just what kind of scale are we talking about? It’s massive. Based on estimates from the US International Trade Commission, total United States imports of processed granite were about 206,000 metric tons in 1996. In 2014, they exceeded 2 million metric tons.

Slightly down from their peak in 2006 of over $2.5M. That’s a massive increase by anyone’s standards***.

The leading exporters then and now are Brazil, China, and India.

2) Shipping granite got easier

As volume increased, prices dropped. In the years running up to 2008, Arc Stone at one point had no less than 20 containers of slabs in one week, being unloaded at our facility. At times, we were taking bundles directly out of the containers and putting them immediately onto our trucks for distribution. Accordingly, this explosion in demand resulted in natural stone, at one point being among the largest commodities imported through the port of Miami and our guess is this was similar throughout the country***.

“Containerized shipping is not the newest thing on the block,” Schwartzkopf notes, but its rise had an influence in lowering granite prices.

3) Granite became easier to cut

Technological improvements in stone cutting and fabricating equipment vastly improved, and as with stone itself, became more affordable.***

When a granite slab arrives at a shop, it gets cut into the appropriate rough size and is then hand-shaved by someone operating an industrial grinder. But today, computer controlled saws can make major cuts, like the hole for where your sink goes, more easily.

“Everything has been influenced by computerized controls,” Schwarzkopf says. While granite used to be impractical and niche, computer cutting has made it much easier to work with.

4) The housing boom exaggerated every trend

The timing of the granite boom is closely tied to that of the housing bubble of the 2000s. That’s probably not a coincidence.

As builders put granite into their homes, it quickly became a standard. In turn, even older houses needing renovation latched onto that granite mania.

“Granite went from being a premium option to a sales come-on,” Schwarzkopf says.

For many of our clients, home builders offered (and still offer), Granite as a STANDARD. Home buyers could then UPGRADE to more exotic natural stone counters if they wished to. Arc Stone and many if not all of our competitors, very quickly “categorized” our material into “groups” to coincide with the price bands builders offered their customers for natural stone countertop choices (group 1,2,3 or A, B, C etc)***.

Admittedly, there are some benefits to granite as a material. New varieties have given it more color and range since the ’80s, and it has some advantages over competitive materials like marble, which is likely to etch or stain. But a big part of its appeal is an impression of luxury that, thanks to changing globalization, technology, and housing trends, makes it an affordable indulgence for the middle class.

Can anything stop granite mania?

A lot of people like granite well enough. But for anyone who’s spent too much time watching HGTV, it’s hard not to wonder if our nation’s brightest minds will ever break free from their granite addiction.

For now, it’s granite, Schwarzkopf says, but with a few important caveats. Marble is rallying as white becomes a big color again, and there’s a strong trend in recycled surfaces that allow for both flash and environmental consciousness. Quartz is also starting to gain on granite. In a few years, you might see more countertops made from materials like recycled Skyy vodka bottles:

Still, for the most part, there’s little reason to believe that the granite fervor will disappear. The big trends that helped it become a hit continue to make it a realistic luxury option for the middle class. So be prepared — you’ll probably be seeing people screaming, “Oh my god, granite countertops!” for a while, even as quartz gains ground.

From our experience in South Florida, Quartz** has taken off in a big way, cannibalising granite slab (countertop) sales in general. Also porcelain slabs are gaining ground, as has nano glass and recycled glass slabs. White marble has also become a sought after luxury material as design trends have changed from old world mediterranean to modern, clean european style kitchens and baths, as well as newer hotel decor for lobbies and guest rooms. Since we are Italian Marble Specialists, we are quite pleased with this trend. And while it’s true that marble is a softer material and can etch and scratch v. Granite and Quartz, we can prevent stains with a high quality sealer (which as luck has it, we offer a few….;))***

Have questions? Comment? Or need more info? We would love to hear from you. email us

**(Pictured below Statuario Quartz Slabs by Quartzmaster, available directly at arc stone & tile)

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