Today, I want to talk about selecting natural stone countertops.
We’ve always loved the look of natural stone, and the great news is that it’s gotten much more affordable in the 12 years we’ve been dealing with this sort of material (we’ve renovated a lot of houses). Is it cheap? No, but it’s much more widely available and manageable for more homebuyers now than ever before. Here are some things to think about when looking at choosing natural stone.
Decide What You Can Afford: Tiles or Slab?
There are two ways you can do natural stone counters in your home: tiles or slabs. Tiles are a much less expensive option to slab and give you the same natural and beautiful look.
Going the tile route means you’ll have grout lines in your counters. A good tile installer can run a very thin grout line that minimizes what I like to call Gunky Grout. Slab counters are more expensive because they are custom fabricated to the dimensions of your kitchen by a fabricator, which means additional labor cost. They do give a more seamless look, however. We decided to go with slab.
Decide On Your Aesthetic
Natural stones are incredibly diverse. Some are dense, some have lots of movement, some are simple, some are chunky, some are very consistent from slab to slab and others have wide variation. Spend time browsing Pinterest, Houzz, Decorpad and one of my favorite sites, Granite Gurus. Here are some examples of granite with different aesthetic properties:
Santa Cecilia Granite: we used this in our home in Scottsdale, AZ. It is a very uniform granite, with a bit of movement and some small “chunky” bits throughout.
Juparana Persa Granite: see how this has much more movement and variation than the Santa Cecilia?
Black Soapstone: this has a very uniform background color, but unusual veining patterns:
Educate Yourself About Maintenance and Durability
All stone is not created equal. While most natural stone is relatively easy to maintain, some varieties can be softer or more prone to chipping, etching and staining. Some need to be treated or sealed on a regular basis. Make sure you do your research before selecting. Aesthetics are important, but so is upkeep and knowing what you’re able to commit to and how hard your lifestyle might be on a particular stone.
You’ll see a lot of Carrara marble used for kitchen counters in design magazines and on Pinterest. So is soapstone. But we are heavy kitchen users – we cook nearly every day and always have hot pans going directly on hard surfaces, spills, and of course, there are the ever-destructive kids. After consulting a lot of online resources, we concluded that these materials would be too hard to maintain and protect against damage.
That left us thinking we’d need to go with granite again. We love granite, but we also love doing something unique and different in our kitchens. That’s when we happened upon quartzite. Quartzite has all of the beneficial properties of granite (resilience and easy maintenance) with all of the beauty of marble. So that’s the route we ended up taking.
Think About Finish
Many natural stones now come in different types of finish: polished, honed, leathered and more. Polished stone has a shiny, glossy finish that reflects a ton of light and is smooth to the touch. If you have granite counters, chances are that your granite is polished. Other stones, like travertine, are commonly honed – which gives the stone a matte finish but not very much texture.
Leathered finishes, like honed, are more matte in look, but have a ton of texture. When you rub your hands over the stone, you can feel small gradations, bumps and variations in the stone.
There is no right or wrong finish aesthetically. We’ve always had polished stone, and decided that this go-round, we’d try a leathered finish. We like the idea of having more texture and less gloss. Fortunately, our quartzite came leathered and did not require any additional treatment by the fabricator.
Think About Backsplash
Decide whether you’ll be using the same stone for your backsplash as for your counters. You have lots of different options here! You can use the natural stone as a full backsplash, install a partial stone backsplash (usually 4 or 6 inches high), or use a completely different material for the backsplash. Clearly, the more of the stone you use, the more expensive it will be.
We selected a bit of a “busy” stone with a lot of movement, so we decided to install the counters with no backsplash, live with it for awhile and then decide what material we’ll use for our backsplash.
Know Your Timeline
Having natural stone counters installed takes time, so don’t expect to have your counters overnight. If you go the tile route, you’ll have to select your tile and it can take several days for an installer to complete the job.
If you are going with slab, the process is as follows:
* you select your stone (either via a retail outlet or by visiting a slab yard to select the exact slab that will be used in your home – I highly recommend having a hand in picking your slab if you’re choosing a material that has a lot of veining or variation)
* you find a fabricator. If you’re going through a home improvement retailer, they’ll take care of this piece for you. If you’re buying slab direct through a slab yard, they can refer you to competent fabricators.
* once you find a fabricator, you’ll need to provide them your countertop renderings so they can accurately bid out your job. Remember, the cost of your slab does not include fabrication if you’re purchasing direct.
* the fabricator will then schedule a “templating” of your countertops. This involves the fabricator coming in, placing plywood on your cabinet bases and measuring exactly how the stone needs to be cut and laid.
* after templating, you wait for the granite to be fabricated and cut. Then you’ll be ready for installation.
Once you have your natural stone counters, ENJOY. They will bring years of beauty and elegance to your home with the proper care and feeding!