Good morning! I hope y'all have had a great week! We have had fun watching our son giggle for the first time and look forward to having out-of-town guests coming to visit in a few days! I am officially back from maternity leave (will write post on that soon) and will send our baby off to part-time day care in several days. Moms out there, I'll be needing some encouragement on that day! Send me your words of wisdom.
I've been pondering some of the questions I get asked most often as a designer. Given the fact that I'm asked about which materials to use for kitchen and bathroom vanity counters at least once per project, I feel like it's time to describe the options in further detail.
It's true that counters are a big investment and can seem like a big risk, especially when you consider these surfaces as work spaces. They need to last and endure all of life's adventures (i.e. a toddler spilling fruit punch and leaving it to soak into the counter). My goal is to help show you some options that hopefully help your decision-making process more peaceful. **Disclaimer: always ask your fabricator if how to care for your slabs. I cannot claim to know everything about every slab out there. Consider this a 30,000 foot summary and brief description of each instead of exact words to live by.**
Here's a compiled list of some common stone types. I didn't describe some of the more rare surface stones available (onyx, serpentine, reclaimed materials, etc.) but will absolutely provide information on those if you need it - just reach out!
QUARTZ. We've seen quartz become very popular in remodels and the new homes that are being built. It's easy to see why when considering the wide array of options available now! I'm typically a fan of natural stone more than engineered stone, but I've been pleasantly surprised by the options I've seen lately.
Quartz Pros: Resistant to staining, wide range of colors and finishes, it's non-porous (bacteria will not sink into the material itself), and it is a very hard surface (aka it's hard to chip or crack). I love how durable they are and how you can achieve so many interior design styles through just one type of material.
Quartz Cons: Make sure to see a sample or a slab of what you're choosing. Sometimes the ones that claim to look "just like marble" don't look just like marble. Some companies will say that every single slab is printed the same, but to be safe, make sure all of your slabs are from the same batch/lot. Some brands are pricey.
SOAPSTONE. I think I'll always be drawn to it even as styles change. It's a natural beauty with subtle veining and depth in color. Truly timeless!
Soapstone Pros: I'm trying not to be biased, but it's hard because I love this material! You can place hot pots & pans on top because it's heat resistant. It won't absorb acids like wine and lemon juice, and you don't have to use a special cleaner for day-to-day clean up. I personally appreciate the way it patinas over time, too!
Cons: If you want it to stay dark, you'll need to use mineral oil every now and then. It's a softer material, so chipping and etching can occur if you're not careful. Always use a cutting board! This natural stone is a beautiful piece of art, and sometimes the price reflects that. When you're at the slab yard, ask the fabricator to wipe water on the stone. This will help you see the undertones of the stone & will let you see what the slab would look like if you oiled it. They sometimes have green undertones, which is beautiful, but make sure it works with your other design selections.
QUARTZITE. Nope, it's not the same as quartz. Quartz is an engineered stone whereas quartzite is a natural stone. It often has veining/movement like marble and is absolutely gorgeous.
Quartzite Pros: Ain't nothing like the real thing, right? This stone is a natural stone and each slab is unique in and of itself! If you're investing in new counters, I believe they should mean something to you. You use them every day and they're one of the first things people notice when entering a kitchen or bathroom. It's considered to be more durable than marble (because it's a harder material) and relatively low maintenance.
Quartzite Cons: It needs to be sealed once a year. I'd suggest using a trivet for hot pots and a cutting board when chopping your veggies. While it's still considered more durable than marble, it's still a natural stone that needs special TLC. If you spill anything, wipe it up as soon as possible. Here's a helpful guide (reference the marble/granite section and apply the same techniques). Most of them aren't as bright as marble. If you want the bright, carrarra marble looking surface, the only quartzite that I've seen close to it is Super White.
MARBLE & BUTCHER BLOCK. There's a chance you just read "marble and wood combo" and thought I lost my mind. Bare with me. I realize that this is leaning a little bit away from one material in particular, but it's worth mentioning! Not only is this really beautiful, it also gives you a different surfaces for different tasks.
Marble Pros: Beautiful, Light & Bright, Timeless. I melt every time I see marble. Maybe that love will fade, but I doubt it. I particularly love it in a bathroom. It's the best stone choice if you want to get the brightness AND the natural texture. In my opinion, many people are more afraid of marble than they really need to be (unless you have little kids or consider yourself very messy). You should definitely still consider using it if you ensure that it is sealed and if you take care of it correctly (promptly wipe spills, use the right cleaners, etc.)
Marble Cons: Staining, etching, and discoloration over time. Refer to the cleaning guideline in the quartzite description, though. Avoid leaving anything acidic on it. It's also pricey (depending on the type you choose). Definitely use coasters for drinks, trivets for hot pans, and so on.
Butcher Block Pros: It's a great work station for chopping and prep! There are lots of colors/stains available, it's very affordable, and is also long-lasting if you take care of it.
Butcher Block Cons: Water and wood are not friends. It's really important to clean these surfaces daily so that bacteria does not absorb into the material. You also need to make sure that the surface stays as dry as possible to prevent warping, expansion, and so on. The other con is that you need to seal it with mineral oil monthly. You'll definitely want to test samples of wood types/stain colors because the wrong wood grain with the wrong stain can make it look very cheap. Try a species similar to white oak or walnut instead of anything orange-y.
CONCRETE. This has been around for awhile but definitely grew to become a crowd favorite when Chip & Jo used it in several of their remodels. I love it because it's extremely versatile. From a southern farmhouse to a contemporary California bungalow, concrete has popped up around the country in many different contexts.
Concrete Pros: Unlimited customization, provides a natural look, durable, and long-lasting if taken care of properly. You can finish it out to be rugged and rustic or smooth and contemporary. Before installing, look at the many options available to make sure the installer is able to achieve the level of sheen you love the most. P.S. I love the way it patinas over time!
Concrete Cons: You may look at it and think, "That can't cost too much! They use it for roadways." But it does. You'll also need someone who really knows what they're doing (or at least someone who considers themselves to be Type-A) to install it correctly. While it is considered durable, I've also noticed that it can stain and etch like other materials. You'll need to read up on specific care/maintenance suggestions depending on the finish you choose (polished, sealed, etc.).
FINAL NOTES: I didn't list Terrazzo, Pearl/Oyster Vetrostone, or Porcelain yet. That's because I am still learning about them and want to learn as much as I can before I share with you. Also, did you notice? I left granite off the list! That's because I wanted to shed light on some of the other amazing options out there. Thank you so much for tuning in and following along! Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments. Remember, counters are highly used and often a centerpiece of a space. Make them reflect your style and treat them like a piece of art. Happy designing, friends!