By Steven V. Philips –

As a fetching tyke, I was scrubbed to a ruddy glow in Grandma Philips’s 1910 farmhouse slate sink and dried on the slate counter. Right. This explains a lot. Anyway, slate is trendy again today especially in kitchens that have a cottage or farmhouse theme going on.

My childhood home had linoleum counter tops and they were quite state-of-the-art in the 1930s. A lousy state. Then post WWII, high-pressure laminates (Formica was first thought of by a dentist), started showing up. Durable, good-looking, so modern. Also post-war came Monel nickel tops (shined like stainless steel) for those who had the bucks. Monel is actually still used in the fabrication of rockets. High-pressure laminates then improved with color all the way through, and in 1967, along came solid surface Corian from DuPont. Real progress and these solid surface materials keep looking and performing better all the time. A good investment for a moderate budget.

But, I historically digress. Before all of this man-made product, there were natural stone surfaces. These natural rocks were used at fine venues such as the Coliseum, Pompeii villas and in lovely atriums and fountains about town such as the Forum. Et tu, Brutus?

Marble has always had prestige. Michelangelo knew. Once, while stuck in my pyramid pose, my Egyptian yoga instructor informed me that his ancestors used marble in pyramids. Later marble was taken up with great affection by the Greeks and then the Romans and on to India. In the 1700s the English marble quarries started Michael Clive’s family to their immense wealth. Rule Britannia.

Marble aficionados describe their favorite as tough, versatile, tasteful or possibly “in your face neighbors, we have marble.” Ok, you newly chic, understand that marble isn’t carefree. Marble is absorbent. Repeat, absorbent and acids such citrus, vinegar, or sarcasm will permanently etch it. And not in a good way. Windex-like spray cleaners are a big no-no too.

To keep marble nice you have to polish it. Experts warn that some (most) oils and liquids leave temporary, or worse, permanent dark spots on marble. Watch where you put that bottle of red wine. Marble can scratch. Use trivets under warm pots. Clean with clear water. Possibly instead of choosing polished marble, you could go with tumbled or honed-finish marble that is more easily maintained and more rustic looking. You can clean with SOS pads, bleach or abrasives. Both finishes should be sealed. Do I sound like a lawyer?

Marble is wonderful for a pastry board. Most professional bakers have a marble counter top just for rolling dough. It stays cooler than the surrounding surfaces.  But you can’t escape maintenance. Somewhere I read, “follow a daily and periodic cleaning routine.” O great, just like being in the Roman Navy. So beware. Marble loves galley slaves.

OK, how about glamorous granite surfaces? Granite seems to be the number one choice of folks who watch HGTV or talk to Realtors on a regular basis. Granite is formed by volcanic activity, (this differs from an argument with your mother-in-law). Granite’s got quartz, mica, feldspar and sugarplums trapped within and that’s the big appeal. Each piece is custom. Two thousand zillion (at least) colorations and variations, no two alike. Very exciting at first look. It is rock hard and, they say, it won’t stain or scratch. Resistant to water and heat. Can be polished or textured or have a matte finish. Easy to clean. Sounds dreamy?

Oops, here come the nay-sayers who warn that some granite should be sealed. Great. Which ones? For example, a wonderful black granite from Samagania is bulletproof but a similar black from Lower Slobvoia is like a chamois. And the curse of Hoo-ha will fall on you if you don’t seal OR maybe if you do seal. Those rings from a glass of juice? Holy Escher, they will etch, not stain your granite. And that means Sage and his resurfacing team will come to see you. In a Mercedes.

Furthermore, granite probably has been over-exposed and over-sold. It’s not a terrific counter surface for a modern home. Quartz is better. And, really, how many of you live in actual Tuscan villas where granite would be appropriate? On the other hand, motels tend to use cheap cuts of granite and give it a bad name while adding a little extra to your bill for “luxury.”

My advice, do your homework. If you decide to go for marble or granite, buy your natural stone from a dealer who is reputable, not working out of last week’s car store that next week will be the Halloween costume emporium. Varying stories abound about sealing vs. not sealing so you need an expert. Not a guy named Vinnie, even if he sells Italian granite.

If you’re still awake, a warning. Next month I will drone on further about the several other counter top materials available to lower your net worth. You have been warned.

6 thoughts on “Counterpoint”

  1. So true about buying from someone with a good reputation. I had one of those granite buying experiences. Found saw marks on the granite after installation. Small job so the incentive for follow up to make it right was NOT there. I do love the granite in both kitchen and bathrooms. I seal the kitchen once a year. Keeping it clean seems to be the ticket for keeping it looking natural. No stains and plenty of red wine has been wiped up many an evening.

  2. Another great article! We just bought a new house and our kitchen countertop will need to be re-done relatively soon, so this article and next will be very helpful!

  3. So what’s your choice? And have you usedmost of the different
    countertops? I only ask because if you’ve been around since
    the thirties, you’ve probably tested most of them.
    Great article. Looking forward to next one.

  4. My partner in crime ie. Haus Frau, reads all of Mr Philips articles and considers him the utmost authority on everything !!! My opinions are becoming mostly irrelevant and carry about weight as the pollsters that keep calling here while I,m trying to eat a relaxing dinner.My bag of scheckles has gotten so low I can hardly keep them rattling when I walk, and now Mr Philips want me to buy stone counter tops!!!! OYYYY, when will it end ????Keep the great articles coming. Squeeze him for all his knowledge and make him share it with us. Thanks

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