Are the new porcelain slabs right for your renovation?
I have out-of-town clients who wants something fabulous on the new three-sided gas fireplace we're installing into their home. Normally, my go-to would be an amazing natural stone with tons of character - something that draws your eye to what has always been the feature and focal point of any room.
The fireplace manufacturer (who shall remain nameless) has made my normal selection process a little more challenging because they require any stone surrounding the opening of their fireplace unit to be porcelain. Using natural stone or quartz material will, according to the distributor, "void the warranty."
So, what's a girl to do when faced with this conundrum? Well, instead of opting for a humdrum, predictable porcelain tile (which to be clear, is a feasible solution), I investigated some of the newer large format porcelain 'slabs'. As you can see from the images above, these ain't your mama's old-fashioned porcelains! In fact, some of the options available through local suppliers are sleek and modern and would make even the most seasoned designers look twice to ensure they were actually porcelain.
According to people in the know, these "ultra-compact surfaces" are extremely hard and durable and depending on their finish, offer a scratch-resistant surface for counters and walls. Make no mistake, many are turning to this new option in an effort to use materials that appear singular and extravagant.
So, are there drawbacks? Well, in my humble opinion, there are several:
Because it's a relatively new format for this material, the finish and style options are limited.
Porcelain is a hard stone that can be difficult to cut without chipping, so the fabrication process is slower and therefore, more expensive.
Most suppliers do not carry inventory on porcelain slabs, meaning the material is often special order - which means you need more time to obtain the product. By comparison, most countertop manufacturers who template stone or quartz require 10-14 days for fabrication and installation.
The veining and/or pattern of porcelain does not run through the slab. In a wall application, this might not be a problem, but for a counter application, it can cost more to try to match the edge of the counter to the top of the counter. With most quartz material and all natural stones, the veining and/or pattern runs through and through the stone, allowing fabricators flexibility on the edge detail they offer to clients. In fact, the old-style Ogee edges (the round-step look) are not doable with porcelain for this very reason.
I've had success finding extra-large slabs in natural stone and quartz in an effort to eliminate counter seams where possible. To date, the largest slab in porcelain that I have found is 4'x8', though I imagine, where there's a will, there's a way. Ask your supplier if they have larger options if you want to avoid seams on a large application.
If you're planning your own research into this product, be sure to check with your supplier to ensure you understand the requirements of porcelain fabrication and installation. Also ask your supplier about whether or not a warrantee is available for the product.