Stone has become the go-to choice for homeowners looking to upgrade a kitchen or bathroom. It is now more readily available than ever before and in more variations and applications. The addition of any stone can add richness to a home’s décor, but leading designers are on the lookout for something special—exotic varieties that make a real statement. “High-end stone adds depth and originality to a room,” said Lori Miller of Huntington Station-based Lori Girl Creations. “It has the added sparkle and glamour of a piece of jewelry.”
When selecting finishings, function should come first. “I’m always straight with customers, telling them what they need to know to make the best decisions rather than saying what they may prefer to hear,” said Lou Sala, owner of Ital Marble and Granite Design Center in Copiague. Sala knows marble is in high demand, but advises against using it on kitchen countertops. It’s softer than granite and easier to damage, especially with common cooking acids like vinegar or orange juice. “If a customer insists on having marble, I make sure that he or she understands all the potential issues that may arise,” he said.
Given the many considerations to choosing the right stone—and the price and complex installation involved—it’s a good idea to consult an expert. But a loose understanding of the different species also helps guide decisions beyond the seductive beauty of colors and patterns to make the right choice for the use.
Granite has become de rigueur in kitchen countertops and islands, it’s almost as commonplace as Formica once was. No one can deny its reputation as an easy-care, stain-resistant surface, but there’s a tendency for homeowners to go for neutral colors and run-of-the mill fleck patterns. However, there are varieties on the market that make granite something special. Blue Bahia in a stunning cobalt hue is unexpected and glamorous. On the hot side of the spectrum, Rouge Dragon has a deep, red brick tone with bold black veining.
For high drama, slabs of amethyst and labradorite, though costly, are extremely functional for kitchen or bathroom countertops. Semi-precious stones such as these are luminous, have great depth of color and heavy patterning. Onyx, jasper and tiger’s eye, which aren’t as hard, are best used as accents backlit to highlight their beauty. Keith Baltimore, of Port Washington’s Baltimore Design Group said, “Selecting fine stone is like buying a diamond. Look for color, clarity and porosity.”
Slate, soapstone and limestone, although not as colorful, are becoming more popular for countertops. Slate has a rougher surface, works well in the bathroom and has always been popular for flooring. Miller finds many of her clients lean towards monochromatic color schemes and has recently used slate in several bath projects. Soapstone and limestone are excellent kitchen choices, especially for bakers. Marble is a classic for making pastry, like piecrust or puff pastry, because it stays cool. However, it is porous, showing stains and watermarks and it easily absorbs oil. A hard limestone or soapstone also stays cool, yet cleans up easily; oil and butter stains can be removed simply with soap and water.
Still, marble is a classic beauty. Builders and artisans have used it for centuries in slabs, tiles and mosaics, but that doesn’t mean it’s old-fashioned or staid. “We have whole sinks and tubs carved and polished from a block of marble,” said Pablo Comuzzi, owner of Siena Marble & Tile in Huntington Station. “It’s quite unbelievable when you understand the process involved, removing this block from a stone quarry and hand-cutting and polishing it into a masterpiece.” Marble comes in many varieties, but the most often requested is Calacatta marble. Basic white Carrara is also a staple. But good quality is becoming difficult to find and prices are rapidly increasing.
Another option to overcoming marble’s frailty is treating the surface—when it’s honed and sealed, it’s less prone to absorbing stain-causing agents. Using marble as an accent is also a safe way to capture an elegant look. Sala noted a trend in kitchens is solid tone countertops around the perimeter and decorative granite or marble for the island where less work is done. In this case, the richness of an island countertop in Calacatta Gold might be worth the time and effort needed to maintain it.
Current trends include using lesser-known materials and unexpected applications. “The market has changed so much that the kitchen and bathroom are becoming the main design areas of a home,” Comuzzi said. “People are putting a lot of emphasis on these rooms.” Comuzzi has also seen an increase in requests for stone with a “leather” finish and also for quartzite because of its durability.
Miller just completed a project using mosaic fieldstone on the walls of a powder room. Although it’s more commonly used for fireplaces, in this intimate application it gave the space a warm and elegant feel. In fact, fieldstone is growing in popularity in rooms that are both casual and formal for that very reason.
No matter the application, the look of a big, thick slab of stone never fails to impress. Given the price of high-quality pieces, whether granite, marble or semi-precious slabs, it’s always best to seek the advice of an expert. A stitch in time can save nine-by-nine, given the permanence and cost. “It lasts a lifetime,” said Comuzzi. “It’s the ultimate investment in your home.”