The Cold Hard Truth About Stone Countertops

While there are many (many!) elements that come together to create the overall look of a kitchen, it is the cabinetry and countertop selections that typically have the most visual impact. Both are prominent features in any kitchen’s aesthetic, yet when choosing countertops, the function should be considered as much as the form.

Much like appliances, countertops are a “workhorse element” when it comes to preparing food. A countertop material that is stunning, but fragile and prone to chipping, or susceptible to burning, is a problematic option for most home cooks. A material that pairs visual appeal with durability and longevity is a much better choice, which makes natural stone the go-to selection for most homeowners.

Judy Whalen, a designer at Roomscapes, and Marco Barallon, corporate showroom director at Clarke Distribution, discuss the various pros and cons of popular stone countertop materials.

Available in a plethora of colors, with natural striations that enhance its beauty, granite continues to remain a popular choice with many homeowners.

A granite countertop with an ogee edge.

“Granite is tougher than other stone options, like marble and natural quartzite, and it stands up well to regular wear and tear. It also resists scratches and heat and is relatively stain resistant,” says Judy of the pros of granite, adding, “New finishes for granite, like honing, leathering, and brushing, can achieve interesting, unexpected looks.”

This granite countertop has a leathered finish which adds texture.

For some homeowners, the natural striations of granite are actually detrimental. “Homeowners can find it too busy,” says Judy.

As is true of our South Shore kitchen and bath showroom, at Clarke Distribution, showrooms and test kitchens for Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances in Boston and Milton, MA, visitors will find many different varieties of countertop material used in the kitchen vignettes.

“We like to show varying options in our showrooms, so our clients can see the differences of materials,” says Marco.

Two choices that are proving especially popular at Clarke are quartz and neolith, both of which are nearly as durable as granite, but don’t have the “busy factor.”

“Quartz surfaces provide a solution to staining and resistances that some surfaces do not, and neolith, a sintered stone, is extremely durable and takes extreme temperatures,” explains Marco.  “Both are processed materials that have different properties. They differ in thickness, and in the materials used to produce them.”

Neolith is so durable that it’s the top choice of countertop material in the “live areas,” the working kitchens where chefs do cooking demonstrations, at Clarke, according to Marco.

While not as durable as granite, quartz or neolith, for some homeowners, nothing compares to marble. The upscale, classic appearance of marble is simply incomparable.

While these countertops look like classic marble, the material is actually quartzite.

“Even though it looks stunningly expensive, marble can actually cost less than other natural stone countertop materials,” says Judy.

Both heat-resistant and cool, making it great for rolling out pastry, marble is a softer stone, so it can scratch and stain, but, “When it’s expertly installed and properly sealed and maintained, you can expect to enjoy the beauty of marble for a lifetime,” says Judy.

With the same gentle veining of marble, yet a more durable composition, natural quartzite is great choice for those want the look of marble without the required upkeep.

Another example of quartzite, this one is “White Rhino.” Dan Cutrona photo.

“Soap and warm water are all it takes to make quartzite look fantastic,” says Judy.

There are, however, cons to quartzite.

“Quartzite can stain, so spills need to be cleaned up quickly, and it can be damaged by sharp objects, and show wear in highly used areas,” Judy explains. “Sealing usually needs to happen once a year. While that’s something you can do yourself, it’s still a factor when thinking about this material,” she adds.

For some homeowners who may have concerns that natural stone countertops might look cold in their kitchens, Judy often suggests incorporating strategically placed wood surfaces.

Here our designer paired quartzite with warm wood. Dan Cutrona photo.

“Whether it is an eating bar to cozy up the room, or in a work area for texture and function, I love to incorporate wood in a kitchen,” she says, adding, “It pairs so well with our historic homes and casual coastal cottages.”

After discussing the various options, the final choice on countertops is, of course, the client’s.

“With every project a great deal of time is spent discussing, and educating our clients on their new countertops,” says Judy. “As a designer, it is always my goal to pair a client with the type of countertop they will love and that will serve them well for many years.”

Please contact us with any questions or to arrange a complimentary design consultation.

Top photo: Our designer used stainless counters around the perimeter of the room. On the island is quartzite  in “White Rhino.” Dan Cutrona photo.