Granite’s reputation for its durability and its association with luxury high-end kitchens has made it the countertop of choice for many homeowners over the past two decades. Some familiar patterns such as black and white flecked salt and pepper counters have become so common in new construction they have lost much of their original appeal. Granite with vibrant blues, variegated patterns with flowing black veins and patches of red and brown are becoming more popular. As the availability of granite selection increased, the popularity of granite has also expanded the supply.
It has its ups and downs and the passion you felt the first time you gazed at your kitchen countertops may have faded but that feeling is often replaced by a deep and lasting appreciation for the natural patina and timeless classic look of marble. Marble wears the past like a favorite coat remembering every scalding cook pot, knife nick, and salsa mishap. The biggest pitfall with having marble countertops in the kitchen is that marble is porous and absorbs liquids that cause stains. Acids like wine, vinegar, lemon and tomato juice can eat away the polish and leave the stone discolored in a process called etching. Marble is also relatively susceptible to chips and cracks. If that wasn’t enough, marble is one of the most expensive natural stones available.
You probably saw your first soapstone countertop in chemistry class. Although soapstone is non-porous and does not need to be sealed as many natural stone products do, it is normally treated with mineral oil to evenly darken the stone. Soapstone is relatively soft and can easily be machined to create matching sinks or carved drain boards in the countertop. Although it scratches easily, small scratches are virtually invisible after the application of mineral oil and large scratches or chips can be sanded out with normal sandpaper. The color choices are limited to various shades of gray with some slightly blue and green hues. The color is usually uniform although some slabs include quartz flecks or subtle veining.
Not to be confused with “quartz”, the common industry term for crushed quartz that is formed into sheets with resin, Quartzite is a naturally occurring stone. The most popular variety, quartzite super white, looks similar to heavily veined gray and white marble. It does not share marble’s tendency to stain or etch and is similar to granite in its ability to resist scratches and chips.
It is very resistant to heat and won’t easily mar from contact with hot pots and pans. It doesn’t scratch or chip easily and liquids like oil cleaners, wine, tomato juice and vinegar that normally leave a stain on natural stone do not soak into the slate.
Although the color and pattern selection is more subtle than granite, slate is available in many shades of black, gray and brown. Slate fits well where splashes of color are featured elsewhere in your kitchen decor. The price of slate is one of the lowest for natural stone countertops which makes it a top performing budget minded option.
Limestone is another natural stone that is finding its way into the kitchen. As a sedimentary stone, it is relatively soft and porous. It requires proper sealing and maintenance to stay stain free, but the beautiful almost creamy appearance of limestone leads some people to believe it is worth the effort.
Engineered or manufactured stone surfaces are becoming the go-to product for hard wearing floors, walls, and countertops. From shopping centers to schools and hospitals to hotels, anywhere that gets heavy traffic or constant wear but still needs to keep looking great you’ll find engineered stone. For kitchen counters, engineered stone combines all the stain and heat resistance capability of the best natural stone options and surpasses them in structural strength. While engineered stone has been criticized as being too uniform and lacking the earthy beauty that comes from the organic patterns and flaws in natural stone, new designs and manufacturing processes now offer more choices. Engineered stone is made of crushed stone bound together with resin. A common composition includes approximately 66% by volume crushed stone (93% by weight) and 34% resin. The resin can also include colorants.
Quartz or manufactured quartz or agglomerated quartz is gaining favor among many designers and is closing the gap with granite as the most popular kitchen countertop material. Quartz consistently matched granite’s performance on tests for stain, scratch and heat resistance. When comparing the long-term cost of quartz and granite, quartz pulls ahead as the low maintenance champion. Quartz has also been winning high profile fans including the likes of home style diva, Martha Stewart.
Manufactured quartz can be designed to look like marble without the high cost and relatively poor durability. It can also be pigmented in any number of colors from brown to dark green, blue and red.
Granite is a relative newcomer to the manufactured stone countertop market. As well as a standalone, it has been finding its way into mixtures with quartz, sand and other stone in various manufactured stone products.