By Nigel F. Maynard. The 2003 Watermark Awards: BUILDER's first kitchen and bath contest Quartz of Appeal

Home buyers seemingly cannot get enough of granite. Even so, one of the hottest and fastest-growing countertop surfacing materials today is an engineered stone product made primarily with natural quartz.

"People are really into the natural look and feel of quartz surfacing, but they also like the improved benefit," says Jenny Sullivan, marketing manager for Le Sueur, Minn.-based Cambria. "It comes in more colors than granite and offers a more consistent look."

Manufacturers say the engineered product is an improvement on granite; it does not have to be sealed, comes in many more colors, and it has a higher quartz content. Granite is made up of about 50 percent quartz. The engineered product usually contains about 93 percent quartz, which makes it look more consistent.

High quartz content also reduces maintenance. The surface is non-porous, stain resistant, and heat resistant. It never needs sealing and will never fade. Plus, it offers new choices for buyers who have seen all the patterns that natural granite has to offer.

"The trend is toward more natural-looking colors, but we offer unique colors [as well] like yellow, blues, and reds," says Michael Heylmun, director of sales for Cosentino, which manufacturers Silestone. Silestone comes in 40 colors. Cambria is available in 30 colors, and Caesarstone, manufactured in Israel and distributed by Los Angeles-based U.S. Quartz Products, is available in 36 colors.

Luxury Unlimited

San Francisco Model Kitchen, Estero, Fla.

Best kitchen in a production home--over 3,000 square feet

This model-home kitchen is located in a market where buyers customarily pay $700 to $900 per square foot for a home. The design and product selections had to measure up to luxury expectations, says architect Donald Evans, principal of The Evans Group in Orlando, Fla. "Our goal was to show people what luxury is all about," he says.

But Evans needed to strike a delicate balance as well. The typical buyer here wants casual spaces that read elegant. To that end, Evans used custom-made cabinetry to conceal the kitchen's integrated appliances. The cabinetry is carried through to a drop-down ceiling, which contains up and down lighting and a combination chandelier/pot rack.

Laurence Taylor

The cabinetry features two of the hottest trends in the kitchen and bath today: hand-rubbed glazed finishes and boxes that feel like furniture pieces. It also delivers on the several essentials in high-end kitchen design--a stainless steel commercial cooktop, granite countertops, and tumbled marble backsplash.

Instead of the typical oak or stone floor, the architect used bamboo, another hot product known for its dimensional stability. Bamboo gives the room an elegant look. Installed on the diagonal, it creates a casual feel as well. "The placement also makes the room look much bigger than it already is," Evans says.

Centrally located in the 4,108-square-foot home, the kitchen allows easy access to the garage, formal dining room, eat-in area, and a walk-in butler's pantry.

Entrant/Architect: The Evans Group, Orlando, Fla.; Builder: Kane Custom Homes, Bonita Springs, Fla.; Interior designer: Naples Design Collection, Orlando