Hi everyone, it’s Grace, Social Media Manager for EHD and trained interior designer. You haven’t seen my name around these parts much, but I’m always in the background, promise. When Emily and Arlyn asked me to take a stab at writing this post, between all the fear that flashed through my eyes and the sirens that went off in my non-writer head, I had to laugh. Ironically, in college, I had a couple of geology classes that I thoroughly enjoyed. We had to memorize so many rock types, which stone turns into what, and also be able to identify them from a photo or sample on command. I surprisingly aced those classes and enjoyed all the lectures, so naturally, I thought being a geologist was my calling. Because obviously all you need in order to become a geologist is be great at memorizing all the rocks! My young and naive self told my dad about my amazing career discovery and he literally laughed at my face while reminding me that geologists go and spend time on the ground under the sun. I hate going outside and spending time in the heat (my kryptonite). Crushed and dejected, I was, I tell ya. But just because I couldn’t pursue that path doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the things that have refused to be memory-dumped out of my brain from those days.
Today, we’re talking to you all about stone slabs for your home, how to pick them, and the pros and cons of each. And while EHD has had its fair share of kitchen and bathroom designs, we’re by no means the absolute pros, so to fill in the missing pages from our own research, Brooke, our amazing contact at Bedrosians (where we got most of our slabs for the mountain house), set up a call so we could pick the brains of a few people in the company. Going for natural stone can be a commitment, but stick with us and you might just end up with the stone of your dreams.
There are a lot of options, most you wouldn’t be using in your everyday space like a kitchen or bathroom, so we’ll only go through some of the more popular ones in the market right now. But first, there are three things to consider before running out and buying that milky white marble with gorgeous blue-gray veining you just saw on Instagram.
1. What is your lifestyle?
Listen up! This is, hands down, the most important tip of all (and everyone that we talked to at Bedrosians agreed—thanks Michael and Anna!). Think about your lifestyle and how you are as a person. Dig deep, guys. Are you an extremely busy person who is normally running late in the morning and don’t have time to meticulously clean up a massive spill as you frantically run out the door, or are you a helicopter parent to your surfaces? This is a safe space. There is no judgment here. You can be honest to yourself. Wherever you lie on this spectrum, there is a perfect stone for you. For instance, as I’m sure you’ve heard, marble is soft and picks up stains easily while something like an engineered quartz or even natural quartzite are much harder stones that resist chipping, scratches and wear-and-tear.
2. Where is this stone going to go?
Now that you know your capabilities, think about where you want to put this dream stone of yours. Kitchen countertop? Bathroom vanity counter? Shower floor and surround? A wall feature? In each of these areas, the stone will be exposed to different kinds of traffic, liquid (wine, citrus, vinegar, products, etc.), and level of moisture. Certain stones will definitely work better in some areas than others, though that’s not to say that they should never be used in non-recommended areas. We just want you to be aware of the stone’s limitations so that you know how to properly care for it.
3. What’s your budget?
Make sure you come up with a realistic budget for yourself (with maybe a cap on how much you’re willing to spend) before you start choosing and wanting to buy everything to your heart’s desire. To give you a quick rundown about pricing (don’t worry, we’ll go into specifics in a bit), on average, granite and marble are generally similarly priced, travertine and limestone are cheaper, and quartzite is more expensive because it is harder to find and quarry. In general, these are the factors that determine the price of your stone:
- Actual stone slab (the main driver for which is transportation cost as it has to be quarried, transported, and shipped from the site)
- Availability (if it’s rare and there isn’t a lot of it, then it’ll cost more)
- Fabrication cost (how many cuts are needed, how many seams are there, plus extra if you want it honed or leathered)
Stone is usually sold polished, but some might be available pre-honed. For our stone slabs in the mountain house that were honed or leathered, our fabricator found a guy who was able to add the finish for about $650 a slab.
Let’s chat about marble first because in case you’ve been living under a rock (ha!), you know that people are absolutely obsessed with marble. I know that you know that we here at EHD are obsessed with it, too. (I mean, how can you not be?! Have you guys seen that Montclair Danby marble in the Portland kitchen and media room wet bar?
While there are many different types of marble (the variety of colors in veining is from the different minerals present in the areas that they are quarried from), the most popular ones are Italian marble. You might have heard of them: Carrara, Calacatta, and Statuario. Keep in mind though that for whichever type of marble you’re looking at, there are different grades within each type depending on where exactly they were quarried from (meaning that cost can really vary, though on average, marble is about $50-$100/sq ft, but a rare Roman Calacatta Gold marble could range from $80-$260/sq ft).
But now you’re asking, “Which one is the best and most low-maintenance of all??” I wondered the same thing, so I asked our friend Michael. Short answer: there is no difference between the three in terms of porosity (ability to absorb liquid). All marble, no matter where it is quarried from, is composed of calcite. So while it looks like a tough material, calcium is still going to be sensitive to acid no matter what. Lemons, wine, vinegar, and other acidic items are not marble’s friend and will cause etching. The acid essentially dissolves an area of your marble surface as it reacts with calcite; think science class volcanic eruption experiment minus the mega explosion!
A similar problem can happen on marble flooring, as Anne from Bedrosians’ PNW market told me. In one of their showrooms with polished marble flooring, daily foot traffic over the years has self-honed a pathway and you can see a dullness contrasting with the polished stone on the rest of the floor. But do not despair, not all is lost! You can still have your house where marble dreams are made of! Here’s how:
- Get a sealant for your marble (or any other kind of natural stone) and make sure to reseal it every couple of years. Your fabricator will usually do this for you during install, but for future reapplication, you can get a $20 to $60 a bottle from your local hardware store. An impregnating seal is recommended by stone companies for harder stones due to the solution being made up of smaller molecules, allowing it to get into the stone a lot easier.
- You can choose to hone or leather your marble to help hide blemishes, etching, or dullness (though this will also etch your marble a little bit easier). Honed marble will give you a matte and smooth finish, while leathered marble will give you a matte and textured finish. In simplistic terms, the textured finish is achieved by going at your marble with a sander and acid wash.
- Every one to two years (depending on the amount of action your marble gets), have a professional come in to repair your surface for a couple hundred dollars (depending on what it’s been through). They’ll bring in their sandpaper or polishing pads and make your marble look pretty damn close to new again! Don’t be afraid that it is easily scratched and is not acid-friendly because YES, marble can be restored, and the patina that it gets over time is also a desired look by some (like Emily!).
Very important note: Sealing will not necessarily prevent your marble from etching, or from getting scratched for that matter. It’s not the hardest of stones in the grand scheme of things; Michelangelo did sculpt from it after all. Make sure you’re using a cutting board and wiping spills right away. If you think of looking at marble on a microscopic level, picture the letter “W” with the troughs being tiny little pores that get filled with sealant; in this scenario, the pores get filled and become protected, but on some level, the three tips of the “W” are still exposed and prone to being etched or stained.
Granite is a silica-based rock that typically has a speckled look from crystallized minerals that formed and cooled underneath the earth’s surface. I read on this one geology website that in the stone industry, granite is any stone that you can see visible grains from that are much harder than marble. This is where you get your granite varieties (the standard speckled granite is probably pegmatite and something with visible bands is probably gneiss, but let’s not get into that). We’ve all seen the usual builder-grade kitchen countertop, but similar to marble, there are different levels of granite, some with very beautiful flowing patterns and mottling in various colors. You can get a more standard granite for the low, low price of $2/sq ft even, but on average it is similarly priced to marble at $50-$100/sq ft. Once you get to the mid to upper ranges though (think $90/sq ft and up), you can get some really pretty stone with lots of different colors that make up its pattern.
Because it is considered to be a hard material (read: scratch-resistant), it’s great for kitchens and areas that will take a beating. If areas do get chipped, repairs are fairly easy as you can get a professional to refill chipped or cracked areas with some granite dust and epoxy resin, color-matched to your specific stone. It’s not as porous as marble, so you don’t really have to worry about staining and wiping spills right away. (Tip: Ask your fabricator or installer for the type of sealer they used on yours so you can get the same one for future reapplication; sometimes different sealants react badly with one another.) Granite is also one of the more heat-resistant stones so no need to worry about having to place a too-hot baking sheet directly on the counter. That said, be careful with slow cookers and such appliances that retain heat for long periods as they might crack your surface.
If you’re able to find a slab that speaks to you, it can kind of be just as pretty as marble (for a relatively similar price), but without all the upkeep and maintenance of actual marble.
Not to be confused with quartz (which I’ll address later), quartzite is characterized by streaks and striations that are kind of similar to marble, and can also come polished, honed or leathered. But unlike the softer marble, quartzite is much harder and durable (a 7 on the Mohs Hardness Scale—marble is a 3…diamonds a 10, for instance). Just like with every other natural stone, it should be sealed during installation, and resealed over time, to protect it from stains and other abrasive materials. (Strong chemicals, in general, could ruin a stone’s sealant over time.) Because it is not a very porous material, is scratch-resistant, and is not sensitive to acid, it’s a great alternative for shower surrounds and hard-working kitchens. Remember that striking emerald stone you guys picked for the Mountain house kids bath? That’s quartzite! It’s also UV-resistant so they are great for indoor and outdoor use without having to worry about fading issues from sun exposure.
So now you’re thinking, “Enough already, Grace, you’ve sold me on quartzite!” GREAT! My job here is done. Almost. You might be surprised to find out that marble is in fact not the most expensive of stones out there. That distinction goes to none other than our quartzite friend over here; on average being $60-$120/sq ft though it can definitely get even more expensive. Our stone expert friend Michael says that because quartzite is typically harder to find and quarry (it’s such a hard material that they need diamond cutters for the job), its price and fabrication costs can cost you a pretty penny. But hey, if you’ve got the change to spare and you’re looking for a striking and low-maintenance natural stone alternative to marble, quartzite just might be the one for ya!
If you’re looking for other options that won’t break the bank as much, but will most likely endure many accidents and mishaps, you should consider composite stones, aka engineered stone. Guys, meet quartz and porcelain!
Quartz countertops are not to be mistaken with the mineral quartz (read: rose quartz, amethyst, and the likes, yes, I’m talking about those same crystals that you have in your intention corner for positive vibes). In the stone industry, quartz countertops are a type of engineered stone made up of loose quartz mineral aggregates, mineral pigment, and a binder (usually resin).
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the cream surface with tiny little speckles throughout, but quartz can actually come solid or even textured as well. And you might be surprised to find out (as was I) that you can get it in a polished, honed, lightly textured, or rough finish. They can be used in practically the same way as natural stone, as countertops, vanities, cladding, and even flooring.
Emily used quartz counters (White Cliffe Matte from Cambria) in the mountain house kitchen, but went with a solid color to let the wood of the cabinetry shine. It’s a stylistic choice, but also a lifestyle choice because she didn’t want to spend her time up there babysitting countertops.
And because they’re engineered and makes use of resin as their binder, they’re non-porous (aka very resistant to staining), durable, acid-friendly, and generally requires no additional sealing. A low-maintenance stone for a “low-maintenance” gal like me! You can cut all the lemons you want for your spa water and peel all the oranges you need to get that perfect twirl for your old fashioned. But quartz’s greatest feature is (kinda) also its greatest downfall: that same resin used to bind it in production makes the stone sensitive to heat! So unless you want burn marks on your precious countertop, don’t put extremely hot things on it! And by extremely hot, I mean anything above 300F. That’s what a trivet is for guys! Or a towel, that works, too.
Btw, if you’re thinking of using quartz for that outdoor kitchen you’ve been dreaming of, you should know that it’s not very UV-friendly like quartzite. When placed outside, there’s a high chance that sun exposure will cause fading and none of us would want that for you.
Porcelain slab countertops, on the other hand, are a newcomer (relatively) in the stone industry game…in the US at least, I’ve read that it’s been around in Europe for a while. Similar to your porcelain dinnerware, when used in this capacity, it has some more additives and is fired at a higher temperature which makes it extremely hard and strong.
It is very much resistant to chipping, scratches, and general wear and tear (Velinda has them in her home and basement kitchenette—above, Bedrosians Magnifica Basalto porcelain countertop slab—and loves them), though that’s not to say that it won’t ever crack or break, with enough blunt force, it can. I also read somewhere that ceramic knives could potentially scratch your porcelain surface (because they fall under the same grade in the hardness scale). Oh, and remember when I said earlier that quartz can’t take the heat? (I’m so punny, ha ha.) Porcelain, because it literally took the heat during manufacturing, has no problems handling hot pots or tools! No more worrying that your curling wand will burn your pretty stone (just your pretty hair?).
One of the best things about using porcelain countertops is that you can use high definition inkjet printing technology to get photos of natural stone (or any pattern really) printed onto your porcelain slab. Your stone company should have a database of high-resolution patterns that you can choose from. INSTANT CALACATTA MARBLE OF YOUR DREAMS! Without the upkeep and commitment required from the real deal. Our other friend Anne from Bedrosians said that the process is much like office printing, but on a grander scale. A large computer-controlled printer installed in the manufacturing plant applies mineral glaze components instead of ink. The image files are pulled from the computer and imprinted onto the slab; the more images used, the less the pattern repeats, making it look as realistic as natural stone. (Bonus Perk: the glazing aspect means no additional sealant is required to protect the surface from moisture and staining).
I know I said I’m all for quartzite, but I think I’m all about porcelain now. And did I tell you that you can even install it directly over an existing countertop? And and and! Because it’s made out of clay, it’s considered to be a very green material that can be recycled for use in other products at the end of its life cycle.
And because we know that’s A LOT of information to remember, we put together this handy dandy matrix for you to save and reference when it comes time to pick stone and surfaces for your home.
Now, there are a few more natural stones on this sheet above which we haven’t touched on yet (like limestone and soapstone) since those are less popular, but here’s a quick crash course in case you want to know:
Limestone and travertine are both sedimentary rocks formed out of layers of compacted sandstone and seashells. These two have a high calcite content like marble (in fact, marble WAS limestone in a previous life) so they are very sensitive to acid and could corrode in a similar way to marble. Limestone, usually ivory and beige in color, has that beautiful rustic texture that is popular in use as pavers, tiles, and slabs in exterior designs. Travertine, used mainly as a building material, is also a popular choice for facades, flooring (great as pavers), and wall cladding. In the last few years that I’ve spent scrolling through Houzz, I’ve seen a lot of people use it in bathrooms. It comes in a polished or honed finish, and filled or unfilled. Travertine naturally has holes that can be filled in with a mixture of stone dust, water, and glue. It isn’t typically used as a slab countertop, but more as an outdoor flooring or cladding material where it is often desirable to leave it unfilled with a chiseled finish to add to its rustic look.
Soapstone is a talc-based stone that can range from gray to charcoal to black in color with little to no veining. It also happens to be the softest mineral out there. This means that while a lot of people use this as a working kitchen countertop (or science labs in school settings), it is very prone to scratching. Not to worry though because you can erase these scratches with mineral oil, which also acts as its sealant and is great if you want to go for a darker look.
BEFORE WE LEAVE YOU, IT’S BONUS TIP TIME!
Once you picked your stone type based on budget, lifestyle and placement, there are still other decisions to be made such as stone thickness and edge profiles.
Let’s start with thickness: Natural stone slabs typically come in a thickness of either 2cm or 3cm. 2cm is the standard practice here in California because of labor laws, FYI. That 1cm difference between the two slabs apparently makes the thinner option weigh half as much as the thicker option, and causes less accidents in fabrication and installs. The rest of the country generally uses 3cm slabs, which eliminates the need to both install the stone over plywood and have extra edge pieces.
On to edge profiles: We figured a graphic could do most of the talking here, so here are all the options in one quick reference sheet:
Eased edge (which is also just your basic straight finish) is not usually an upgrade, but most of these other profiles are and can range from $20-$36 per linear foot, so make sure to account for that in your budget if you have a stylistic preference.
And that’s all we have for you today. You’re ready to get your stone on! Hopefully, you feel like you have more information to make the best choice for your home and your lifestyle, but please ask more questions should you have them. If we can’t answer them, I know the readers here probably can because you all are a wealth of knowledge from your own projects.
We know this was a very nuts-and-bolts post, and probably not the sexiest topic, but if you have any requests for other useful posts like these that would help you (or would have helped you) in a renovation, let us know. We’re happy to put on our backpacks and take out our notebooks to school ourselves and then pass on the information in a digestible format.