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Review - 2008 KBIS Show
By Al Gerhart, FabNet Contributor
April 21, 2008

Plenty was going on at the 27th annual KBIS Chicago this year, held at the McCormick Place on the lake shore of Chicago. Around nine hundred vendors and an expected 40,000 attendees were packing the show isles. Quite a few vendors had some new products or additions to their existing lines. There was so much to see that it took two days to walk the show floors. There was a large crowd, although some vendors claimed the numbers were down from last year. Our state’s economy is booming so we spent a bit more this year.

Stone Impressions.com, had some very impressive natural stone backsplash accents and murals. They had a line of existing art work, or you can send them a digital image that can be printed on the stone tiles. You can also send them the tile. Prices start around $90 per square foot, or around $360 for a nice behind the stove or cooktop, very reasonable for quality artwork. The image is protected with two coats of an epoxy coating, and will stand normal cleaning processes. The line impressed me enough that we purchased one of their dealer sample packages. We got three large murals, around 28" wide and around 24" tall, then a dozen of their backsplash sections, enough to represent the line and the different color combinations. The cost was $595 delivered.

Craftstone Products of Tennessee was showing a drop in stainless steel “Gravity" sink that was unique in that a recess was routed into the granite, quartz, or solid surface, with the sink being glued in place with knife grade epoxy, resulting in a flush mount effect.

I know, I know, you aren't supposed to do that because of thermal co-efficient differences, but the owner claims that there have been zero problems in the three years. Craftstone has router bit cutters for solid surface and stone, for around $200. The sinks range fom $90 for a small bar sink to $200 and up for the kitchen models. Craftstone also has templates available for cutting out a perfect recess for their "Gravity" sink line.

I personally would not install one of these sink in a quartz or solid surface unless the sheet manufacturer gave me the okay, but the process does eliminate the undermount sink issues. I might give one a try on our granite tops because there is not warranty with. Craftstone did not provide a website, but can be reached at craftstoneproductsllc@aol.com

Wood butcher block tops were in abundance. Wood Welded had a clever marketing strategy. Their staff was dressed as ball players, the booth was decorated in a baseball theme, even had "baseball trading cards" for each type of wood top. Wood Welded has been in business for over a hundred and twenty seven years, offering a variety of custom cut tops or blanks for fabricators that want to cut their own. Prices start at $20 and can go up to $85 per square foot. Visit www.Butcherblock.com for further information.

Several months ago Linda Graves had mentioned Zinc countertops coming into vogue and sure enough there was a company out of Pennsylvania selling a line of Pewter and Zinc countertops. Kitchens by Metallo fabricate these tops to order, from a template you supply. The material is one piece appearance, with seams being soldered and polished flat. Edges can be embossed in a variety of patterns, or standard bull nosed, beveled or ogee edges are available. The material comes in a variety of finishes supported by a ¾” wood substrate.

At $250 per square foot, these counters won't be for everyone, but for a unique high end kitchen, they would certainly make any set of cabinets look their best. Kitchens by Metallo claims antibacterial qualities due to the copper content of the metals and the solder is lead free. For more information, visit www.metalioarts.com 

Kitchen by Metallo also had some interesting vent hoods for cabinets, and while not countertop related, they were unique enough to catch plenty of interest.

Several soap stone companies were present including Green Mountain, M. Teixeira Soapstone and Dorado of Austin Texas. We spent quite a bit of time with the owner of Dorado, Bo Barkley, who was particularly well informed about his product. He had some truly black soapstone, not the usual green/black color. They ship via truck line if you aren't in the local area.

VT Industry had their line of Pre-formed laminate countertops, showcasing three curved edges, the Geneva, Barcelona, and Valencia. These edges mimic the ogee and other premium edges in stone, giving an alternative for those wanting the granite look without the maintenance issues of natural stone.

They had two tops done in the new Formica colors in the Radiance line, they had what looked like imbedded quartz flakes, giving a shimmering appearance when viewed from the side.

Staron was showing five new colors complimenting their Tempest line.  See the new colors at www.staron.com





Hanex was showing two lines of solid surface. The Brionne series looks like a quartz surface while the Bellassimo has more movement and veining, much like marble. The Bellassimo edges were problematic, tending to have more of the darker veining since the edges were stacked. Not unattractive, just not as nice as a regular solid surface edge.

Hanstone also introduced five new colors in their quartz line, Teslin, Aspen, Piave, Basento, and Liscia. See the colors at www.Hanstoneusa.com

Meganite was showing their Green Guard solid surface products.

Mystera was showing a new marble look solid surface, a very good duplication of the natural product without the need to seal.

Cambria had a new line of Accents, a series of door pulls, light and outlet covers, paper towel holders, cheese boards, and drink coasters. These accessories are available in all 36 colors of their quartz line are available, taking 3 to 4 weeks for production and delivery. Pricing has yet to be developed, but contact www.cambriausa.com for more info.

Vetrazzo, a manufacturer of recycled glass/cement countertop sheets, was introducing three new colors, Midnight Eclipse, Envy Green, and Cool Titanium. Of course the guys in the Vetrazzo booth remembered our own Gene McDonald after meeting him at the Surfaces show. Vetrazzo counters were in several cabinet booths scattered across the show as well. Vetrazzo can be reached for more info at www.vetrazzo.com.

Lots of vanity and kitchen glass countertops were on display. Some had rough, lumpy bottoms as part of their charm. Some had thickness issues at seams, or had slight warpage.

Several granite companies were present, mostly low end products, although Caesar Stone had some gorgeous natural stone going for around 20 times the normal granite cost.

One granite manufacturer, Murano Collection, had an unique approach. They offer low cost granite counters from only $10 per square foot, less than most laminate. The process is advertised as "carpenter" friendly, easy installation, and low cost. They have a patent pending on a sink that runs all the way from front to back, eliminating the need to cut a sink cutout, rodding, polishing and even drilling faucet holes. The sink overlaps the stone, hiding cutting errors.

The slabs come seven feet lengths in standard countertop and island depths. Counters come in eight colors with square eased edge. Murano completes the package with stocked inventory, accessories, training and advertising materials. Existing fabricators also have the option of purchasing the sinks and blanks, with products being shipped out of Saint Louis, MO.

Countertop prices range from $75 per slab to $188, islands (34' x 85") from $150 to $320 and sinks from $199 to $299. This product is not for the luxury market, but could be a great up sell from laminate. More info can be found at www.muranocollection.com

Another low price granite counter provider is Stone Quest. What caught my attention was that a $9.95 per square foot granite could be fabricated here in America by American workers. The entire fabrication process is done here in Carteret, New Jersey.

They have a 500 square foot minimum, so this service is tailored for multi unit construction, or large projects. They will work your stone or select from their inventory. This would be perfect for the shop wanting to test the waters in the granite trade, perhaps by fabricating once per month, the ten slab minimum could be met. They have modern European equipment, and a quick turnaround. They can be found at stone-quest.com for more information.

A company selling thin granite honey comb backed panels, said their product sold for one third the price of granite. They can sell blanks or completed tops to fabricators. The owner claims there are no issues with expansion co-efficient.

We saw lots of familiar faces and names and several FabNet supporters had booths at the show. We were fortunate enough to spend our lunch with Kevin Cole and his crew from Surface Fabrication. Also present at the show was the President of BuildClean.org, Sara Selber, who gave us an update on the progress of the testing efforts being conducted. FabNet received plenty of praise for the info on the FabNet site from the sales staff manning the booths. Very few had not heard of the site or visited.

We conducted a rough count of the types of counters shown in design and cabinet company booths, not counting any booths selling countertop products, mainly to gauge the direction of the countertop industry. We counted 15 granite countertops, around 20 quartz tops, and over 50 solid surface countertops. Laminate also has made a comeback with even high end cabinets showing laminate tops. Lots of glass tops, perhaps the material the stone industry will add to enhance the bottom line.

About the Author:   Al Gerhart owns and operates The Carpenter Shop www.thecarpentershop.net along with his wife Christina.  Al has been doing woodworking since 1979, and working solid surface since 2001. Al and The Carpenter Shop were featured in Surface Fabrication Magazine in May of 2007. Al can be reached at al@thecarpentershop.net

A dozen or so wood counters, although most of the designers would admit that they would not use them throughout the kitchens they design. One granite top was memorable, having a broken cooktop rail patched with clear packing tape.

Hundreds of quality booths, some like this Wellborne booth probably cost a half million dollars to transport, setup, staff, and tear down.

Just about anything you can think of was there for the kitchen and bath business. One rather bizzare product was a foot pedal for flushing a regular toilet, at least I thought it was bizzare till Christina wanted one. Did any one else out there know that women tend to use their feet to flush toilets? Sure came as a suprise to me.

Of course I had arranged to have a vast army of germs present. This picture was taken just before we stormed the MIA booth. It didn't go well though, as soon as the germs saw the granite tops, they just crawled up on the counters and started breeding. Any hopes our horde of minions trashing the booth went completely unfulfilled. Of course the MIA denied they were germs, after a quick meeting they denied they were breeding, then released a press release claiming a good vinegar rinse would remove the most of the bacteria as well as any resulting stains, were they there in the first place.

For those planning a trip to the 2009 KBIS show in Chicago, it is best to stay downtown near the Convention center and use the shuttles. Parking is expensive, $16.00 at the center, and forget about finding a parking place on the street. We had to circle for a half hour in the afternoon, looking for a parking place downtown so we could have a late lunch. Valet parking runs around $12 plus tip, making it the best way if you need to meet someone. Traffic is horrific, a twenty mile commute will easily take an hour and a half one way, even during the day. Saturday afternoon was just as bad.

We stayed North of O'Hare airport, at the town of North Brook, for a quick ride to the airport very early Sunday morning. Plenty of motels and hotels in Chicago, but some of the areas are not what I would consider "safe". When we go to a convention, we usually try to see some of the local sites, something not easily done at Chicago with a three hour commute time.

Next time we plan on getting in early, staying one night and taking a red eye flight back home. Our flight/hotel package from OKC was only around $300 per person, due to taking early flights and staying out of the downtown area. Car rental for three day stay was under $50 for all three days, including fees and taxes. A better approach would be to spend a bit extra for a downtown hotel and save the commute time and expense. Luggage can be checked at the show for a nominal fee if you arrive straight from the airport.

About the Author: Al Gerhart owns and operates The Carpenter Shop www.thecarpentershop.net along with his wife Christina. Al has been doing woodworking since 1979, and working solid surface since 2001. Al and The Carpenter Shop were featured in Surface Fabrication Magazine in May of 2007. Al can be reached at al@thecarpentershop.net
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