Home & Design August 04, 2008
Counter Culture

The warmth of limestone, the unyielding strength of granite, the timeless beauty of marble, the brilliant flash of glass tiles—choosing the right surface material can transform your room.

The staggering array of choices—from color and pattern, with veining and swirling, to slab or tile, polished or honed—can be overwhelming and each stone or surface has it own unique characteristics and properties. We searched high and low, consulting industry experts, to gather a sampling of stone and other natural or fabricated materials to help you make decisions on creating the most fabulous countertop, flooring or wall surfaces imaginable for your space.

Concrete

Concrete offers endless opportunities. Concrete applications can mimic the appearance of natural stone, with flecks, coatings, texture and patterning, or stand alone as a viable and unique surface of its own. Available in almost any color or texture that a client can dream up, concrete is durable and adaptable—offering color or texture choices not available with other countertop materials. Regular use imparts a warm patina to the surface over time. If left in its natural unsealed state, concrete is porous and will stain, so countertops need to be sealed. Concrete can withstand heat and cutting, but these actions can damage the sealer (important to keep the concrete from staining) and are not recommended. Concrete can be poured into slab pieces (more prone to cracks and fissures) or any variation of sections or tiles, or molded into sinks or other decorative elements.

Best Use:
• Kitchen Counters
• Vanity Tops
• Bar Tops
• Showers & Tubs
• Floors

Colors:
• Endless Color Options
• Custom Colors & Finishes


Granite

Granite is an incredibly durable and strong stone. It is not susceptible to burns or stains, you can cut on it, and it is virtually impossible to scratch. Granite is also a sanitary countertop material (it does not harbor bacteria) and is easy to clean—all of which make it an excellent choice for kitchen countertops. Granite is available in hundreds of color choices, with many different patterns and variations—veins, specks and swirls—and is usually polished to a high gloss. A number of custom finishes are now available (satin matte, honed, diamond 8 or thermal). Available in slab or tiles.

Best Use:
• Kitchen Counters
• Vanity Tops
• Bar Tops
• Table Tops
• Showers
• Tub Surrounds
• Table Tops

Colors:
• Ivory, Cream & Honey
• Gold, Brown & Rust
• Reds
• Green & Jade
• Gray & Jet Black

 

 

Limestone

An elegant and refined stone with a silky, smooth texture, limestone generally has less patterning than most of the other stones. Limestone, which is layered and formed from the skeletons and shells of sea creatures that lived millions of year ago, is porous and highly reactive to acidic substances (wine, citrus, vinegar). It also varies greatly in hardness, density and porosity from stone to stone. If used on a countertop, it should be sealed to help minimize stains and marks. It is a gorgeous and subtle stone that will develop a rich patina over time, lending an aura of old world charm to its surface. The subtle color palette and patterning make it an excellent choice where a softer, more natural stone effect is desired. Available in slab or tiles.

Best Use:
• Vanity Tops (low traffic)
• Bar Tops
• Table Tops
• Fireplace Surrounds

Colors:
• Ivory, Cream & Biege
• Light Blues & Smoky Grays
• Rich Browns & Soft Peach
• Deep Red & Jet Black

Marble

Marble is formed from limestone that has been transformed from intense heat and pressure in the earth’s crust (in fact, limestone and travertine are often referred to as marble due to the similarities). Marble has been used for centuries and is an elegant and beautiful stone with dramatic veining (often in multiple colors). Compared to granite, it is a more porous and softer stone that can show stains and has a tendency to absorb water or liquids. For this reason a polished finish is recommended for countertops to help protect the stone. Because it is more porous than granite (but less so than travertine or onyx), careful consideration should be given for countertop applications in areas where it will be subjected to frequent use and abuse (kitchens). In addition to polished and honed finishes, marble is available in tumbled and antiqued finishes (for a more weathered or aged look). Available in slab or tiles.

Best Use:
• Select Countertop Use
• Showers
• Tub Surrounds
• Table Tops

Colors:
• White, Cream & Neutrals
• Earth Tones (beige and brown)
• Peach & Honey
• Deep Green & Jade
• Gray & Jet Black

 

 

Metals

Unique and eye-catching, metal countertops include everything from copper, pewter and nickel, to stainless steel and laminates with stamps or embossed designs. Stamps and embossing make the design variations endless. Generally speaking (aside from stainless steel), they are not as durable or lasting as many natural stone options and they tend to require more specific care and cleaning. Available in tiles and sheets or laminates, with polished or matte finishes achievable in many variations.

Best Use:
• Vanity Tops
• Bar Tops
• End Tables
• Walls

Colors:

• Bright or Aged Copper
• Stainless Steel
• Bronze
• Laminates


Onyx

Onyx is a form of marble that is millions of years old and it can be expensive. Onyx marble is created when water dissolves limestone and quartz crystals together into translucent layers of stone. Because of these properties, it appears to almost transmit light through its surface. It is a stunning and exotic stone, busy with veins, movement and color. It is also a porous stone, prone to etching and staining, and it needs specific care and attention—it needs to be sealed regularly and should not be used in applications where it will receive a lot of use or abuse. Once a stain is absorbed into onyx, it is nearly impossible to remove. Available in slab or tiles.

Best Use:
• Bar Tops
• Table Tops
• Small Island
• Fireplace Surround

Colors:
• Rich Yellow & Gold
• Jungle Greens
• Pastels in Ivory, Honey & Mint
• Soft Browns

 

 

Porcelain-Glass Tiles

Ever more popular, glass tiles are now available in a wide variety of colors, patterns and shapes—everything from marbled patterns to clear tiles in every possible color or shape. They can now be applied with nearly zero grout line applications, adding to their flare and beauty (and usability). Porcelain tiles have been around for centuries and offer an endless array of color and design choices. The beauty and craftsmanship of hand-glazed porcelain tiles adds a timeless look to any application. Glass tiles are stunning on countertops for a more modern application. Also great on walls, vanity tops and tub surrounds, but not recommended for floors. Expect to pay more for installations, as glass tiles are often difficult to work with and require more time.

Best Use:

• Kitchen Counters
• Vanity Tops
• Bar Tops
• Showers & Tubs
• Flooring (porcelain tiles only, glass not recommended)

Colors:

• Endless Color Options
• Custom Colors & Finishes


Slate

Slate is a beautiful, earthy stone that is reasonably priced, sturdy and durable. Formed from clay on ancient sea beds, slate is strong but also can be flaky. Many slates contain beautiful examples of fossils, either in the form of lovely fern-like plant material or swirling strands of tiny sea creatures. There is also a lot of variety in slate in terms of color, so if you have your mind set on certain tones in a multi-color variety, be sure to order extra so that you can hand-select the tiles you want to highlight. It is a siliceous stone that, like granite, is highly resistant to heat, as well as the acids found in lemons, alcohol and cleaning products—this means it won’t etch or stain the surface. A solid slate slab is a good countertop choice and tiles are great for a backsplash (but not recommended for countertops because they can be rough in texture and fragile on the edges). Once only readily available in tiles, slate is now widely available in slab as well. Usually honed for a matte finish, slate can also be sandblasted for a rough, textured finish, or ordered with a cleft finish that leaves the surface of the stone rough and uneven. It is too soft to be polished to a high gloss finish like granite.

Best Use:
• Backsplash
• Table Tops
• Showers
• Tub Surrounds
• Flooring & Walls
• Counters (slab options)

Colors:
• Blues & Greens
• Gold, Brown & Rust
• Reds, Pink & Salmon
• Copper Colors
• Gray & Black
• Multi-color Options

 

 

Travertine

Travertine is another form of limestone that is usually less expensive than the other limestone marbles. It often forms near mineral rich springs where bubbles rise through the layers, thus creating a pitted surface on the stone. Because of this, travertine has many natural holes and fissures that may either be filled with an epoxy-like substance or left open for an “antique” finish that creates a beautiful, warm and aged look. Remember that an antique finish is likely to stain and attract dirt much easier than a filled travertine. It is usually a more porous stone than marble and is also heavily veined and banded—if using tiles in large applications (shower or tub surrounds), it is best to lay it out ahead of time to get a feel for the movement and pattern with the veining. It can be used for countertops, but is not recommended in areas of heavy use because it scratches, stains and absorbs liquids easier than other stones. Honed or tumbled finishes are most popular as it is not capable of the polished, high gloss finish of granite or marble. Available in slab or tiles.

Best Use:
• Walls & Backsplashes
• Table Tops
• Tub Surrounds
• Flooring

Colors:
• Light Beige (Durango)
• Dark Beige (Noce)
• Gold, Peach or Red
• Silvery Green Available (but rare)

 

This article appears in the Fall 2006 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.