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DESIGN LINE: Selecting Stone Counters

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


In this kitchen, a bold quartzite on the island highlights the wood cabinetry, while the main counters are Caesarstone. Both materials are incredibly durable and stain resistant, which is essential for an owner who does not want a lot of upkeep. Design by Kelly Taylor Interior Design; photo by Nat Rea.

Gone are the days when we slapped some laminate on a substrate and called it a counter—thankfully!  From modest to elaborate homes, most people are looking for stone (or at least something that looks like it) for their kitchens and baths. However, all stones are not created equal. 

Choosing the right stone for your home can be as complicated as the veining in the stone itself. While this brief piece won’t impart everything you need to know about this glorious material, here are some pillars of wisdom on a few common interior stones:

Granite: Not always my favorite look, but this stone can really take a beating.

While many people use the word “Granite” to mean any generic stone, granite is a very specific type of igneous rock.

Pros: A dense, durable, non-porous rock, granite is heat, scratch, and stain resistant.

Cons: Aesthetically challenged. Usually very loud and speckly; my favorite granites are solid black.

Care: Very easy to maintain. So dense that you may not even need to seal it.

Limestone and Marble: My top choice for ethereal beauty in a bathroom.

Marble is a lovely choice for a bathroom, where there are fewer opportunities for staining and etching. In a kitchen, marble tends to etch and discolor faster over time. Some people love this natural patina, but if you don't, it may not be the right choice for you. Photo: Nat Rea.

Limestone is a sedimentary rock. Marble, its sister, is essentially metamorphosed limestone, so it’s typically harder. As counter materials, they act in much the same way.

Pros: Beautiful, light colors which add texture and subtlety to an interior. Over time, ages with use, which can add a rich patina to the surface.

Cons: A porous sedimentary rock, it will absorb oils and other liquids. Also, it's carbon-rich: acidic materials like lemons, tomatoes, hair products, etc. will etch the surface immediately upon contact.

Care: Must be sealed regularly (every 3 months), and even that will not completely eliminate the etching.       

Soapstone: An excellent choice for kitchen or bathroom counters if you’re going for that charcoal gray look.

A metamorphic rock which is typically light gray with hints of blue or green and flecks of white veining. 

Pros: Non-porous and stain resistant, soapstone is impervious to chemicals, acids and heat. As with limestones and marbles, a weathered or aged appearance will occur over time. Soapstone can be left natural and light gray or oiled to produce a dark charcoal color.

Cons: A bit soft, soapstone will scratch, nick and dent over time. There aren't any real color choices here, so that can be limiting to your design. Slabs are usually small (approximately 30” x 80”) so it’s better for the counters than a kitchen island.

Care: Must be oiled very regularly (every month), in order to retain a darker finish. If un-oiled, the material will stay a very light gray. Scratches and nicks can be lightly sanded out of the stone.

Quartzites: My personal favorites for the kitchen, these stones pack aesthetic punch and take a lot of abuse.

A metamorphosed sandstone which is composed primarily of quartz, but do vary widely in composition.

Pros: Extremely strong and durable, quartzites are typically scratch, stain and acid resistant. Further, they can be found with unique veining and lots of light colors.

Cons: Take care that the stone being called a quartzite really is composed of mostly quartz.  If there is any carbon content, it will etch just like limestone or marble.

Care: Sealing cannot hurt, but most quartzites are non-porous.

Quartz Agglomerates: While they lack the unique beauty of natural stone, these engineered stones can't be outmatched for durability.

Ceasarstone and Silestone are the two most common “engineered stones” that are commonly used today.  Their eco-friendly counterpart is Eco by Cosentino, which is made of 75% recycled material.  These are not natural stones, but they are good alternatives and extremely popular.

Pros: Extremely strong and durable, and therefore hard to crack or chip, quartz agglomerates are also stain, heat, chemical and scratch resistant. They are available in a wide range of colors and come with long manufacturer’s warranties.

Cons: These materials are very basic in character; no veining or unique characteristic from slab to slab. And yet slab thicknesses can vary in size, producing difficulties when seaming two pieces together.

Care: The good news? No sealing is required ever, and therefore these surfaces are maintenance free.

Some general tips for your new stone surfaces

Once you’ve chosen your stone, make sure you maintain in properly:

Daily Cleaning: Never use chemical cleaners such as 409 on natural stone. Stone should be cleaned with specific stone cleansers only (I like to dilute them generously with water).

Regular Sealing:  Dupont StoneTech makes a line of stone sealers, which should be applied every 3-6 months to more porous stones.  Enviroseal 7 is a low-VOC product which can be applied to some stones.  Mineral Oil will keep Soapstone looking deep, rich and consistent in color.  Be careful to find out from your stone supplier what product is best for your stone before you start sealing.

Ultimately, whether subtle or bold, choosing the right stone is as much about how it looks as how it behaves.  If you love an aged patina, marble counters may be just for you.  Otherwise, you may be better off with something else.  Whatever you do, ask plenty of questions and make sure you get the stone that’s going to work for you.

Kelly Taylor is the 2012 recipient of New England Home magazine’s “5 Under 40” award for excellence in design as well as Rhode Island Monthly magazine’s 2012 Gold Award for residential interior design.  She practices residential and commercial interior design in Providence, Rhode Island.  Please find her on twitter at @ktidnet or visit her website at www.ktid.net.


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