The look and feel of marble and wood are appealing, but when the dog scratches your floor or your best friend dribbles red wine on your center island, your enthusiasm may fade. Luckily, there are many products that mimic the appearance of natural materials while offering numerous benefits to homeowners.
“Homebuyers are open to the idea that what they choose doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” says Leigh Spicer, national director of design studios for Ashton Woods, a homebuilder based in Atlanta. “They can have a blend of natural and not-natural materials in their house.”
Many buyers today are conscientious about their impact on the planet, says Spicer, so they think carefully about what they are taking from nature, how non-natural materials are made, and how they need to be maintained.
“Sometimes the reason buyers choose manmade materials is to save money, but just as often it’s because some natural materials are less durable and require more maintenance than an artificial version,” says Spicer. “In addition, many of these products are healthier because they have anti-microbial elements.”
Materials such as marble, granite, and wood are typically more porous than manmade alternatives, making them easily damaged by spilled liquids and a haven for bacteria.
“Some natural materials are softer than manmade materials and prone to chips, scratches and dings,” says Carolyn Elleman, a designer and interiors specialist with Case Design.
Of course, buyers care about how their home looks, so an added benefit of some manmade products is that they can look even better than natural materials, says Lee Crowder, senior model home and branding manager for Taylor Morrison Homes and Darling Homes.
“For example, natural granite has variations in the veining and colors, so buyers are sometimes disappointed when it’s installed and doesn’t look as they expected it to from the sample they saw,” says Crowder. “Manmade materials offer a repeatable pattern.”
Most homebuyers and homeowners are also price-conscious and know they may need to make trade-offs when making design decisions.
“Even though many of our customers are ‘ritzy people,’ the number one reason our customers choose alternative materials instead of marble or wood or other products is to save money,” says Elleman. “The second reason is durability.” Among the manmade choices popular with buyers today are:
Quartz is by far the most popular countertop material, says Spicer, primarily because it has the look and feel of granite or marble with a more uniform color.
“It’s also appealing because it’s more affordable than granite and more durable,” says Spicer. “If you want to save more money, you can go with a thinner quartz surface or choose last year’s color. Just like with cars, they’re constantly bringing out new patterns and colors, but if you go with last year’s model you can often save money.”
Porcelain tiles and cultured marble counters have long been popular alternatives to natural stone in bathrooms.
“We installed porcelain tiles in the shower and on the floor in one bathroom that looks exactly like marble but was less expensive,” says Elleman.
Luxury Vinyl Planks (LVP)
Luxury vinyl planks look like hardwood flooring but are waterproof and much less expensive, says Elleman. In addition, seven-inch wide planks are available, which makes them faster to install.
“Site-finished hardwood flooring can have variations, so even million-dollar buyers sometimes opt for vinyl planks if they want a consistent whitewashed or grey floor.”
Since vinyl flooring is waterproof, it works equally well in the laundry room, kitchen and bathrooms as it does in living areas, she says.
Enhanced Vinyl Planks (EVP)
Technology allows manmade products to look better than in the past, says Spicer.
EVP can be made with realistic-looking wood grain or look like marble or natural stone.
Spicer says they often showcase hardwood and EVP adjacent to each other in their design center so that buyers can see how difficult it is to tell the difference between the products. EVP is less expensive than hardwood, waterproof and more durable.
Luxury Vinyl Tiles (LVT)
Luxury vinyl tiles look like tile flooring but are typically less expensive as well as easier to install with a “click-and-lock” system, says Elleman. “Some people find tile flooring cold, so the vinyl tiles also add warmth,” she says. “Sheet vinyl is another alternative that can look like regular tiles and yet be far less expensive.”
Melamine kitchen cabinets can be made to look like painted wood and yet are far more durable because of their coating, says Elleman.
“One of my client’s kids ran straight into the cabinet with a tricycle and didn’t even make a slight ding in the melamine,” says Elleman. “A wood cabinet would have a dent in it.”
MDF, which refers to medium-density fiberboard, is made of wood fiber, resin and wax. Spicer says technology has improved the look of MDF, which is a durable alternative to wood.
Stikwood & Artis Peel-and-Stick Reclaimed Wood
Stikwood and Artis are brand names for a product that’s both natural and manmade since they use thinly shaved reclaimed wood with a peel-off adhesive.
Many buyers today are transitioning to manmade stone products, made from a concrete mix with aggregate stones, because they can be less costly than natural stone and offer more flexibility.
Solid Surface Counters
Manmade products like Corian are less expensive than quartz and Spicer thinks they may make a comeback in popularity. Just like quartz, solid surface counters are sealed and much easier to keep clean than marble and granite.
Wallpaper is making a comeback among homeowners, says Spicer, particularly because you can produce crisp images in a large format. However, she says attempting to use wallpaper to replicate brick or tile or some other surface with a texture doesn’t always work. In that case, she says it’s better to use a product with some actual texture to it rather than a flat static image.
“So many things go into the choice about which material to use,” says Crowder. “People care about the look, they want something consistent and elegant, but more people today are also conscious about how things are made and installed. They want to know about the safety and healthiness of the products they’re putting in their homes.”
Manmade products are becoming trendier, says Crowder. Whether it’s for durability, low maintenance-living, a consistent look or saving money, buyers today are open to comparing their options for natural and “unnatural” materials for their new homes.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.