09 February 2008

How do I love marble? Let me count the ways...

So I was reading my beloved St. Petersburg Times this morning and came across this little gem in their Homes section.
What was he thinking? Lindsay Bierman, executive editor of Cottage Living magazine, installed marble countertops in his kitchen. Now he's shocked to discover that "everything seems to leave a mark. Even a glass of water." No kidding, Lindsay. That's why most designers strongly discourage using marble as a counter surface. Wine, tomato sauce, grape juice and acids will leave long-lasting souvenirs. "Once I got over that, I began to love the patina," he says. Uh-huh. Live and learn.
Judy Stark, the homes and garden editor of the Times didn't speak with this designer, obviously, when she was taking her no-doubt scientific poll to arrive at her conclusion. Most designers indeed.

I can't think of a more beautiful counter surface for a kitchen. Marble, that wonderful metamorphic rock, has been a popular building material for millenia and for some very good reasons. That it's absolutely beautiful is one of them. Marble is a classic, it doesn't go out of style. Marble has a warmth that utterly lacking from granite. Granite may have depth but it's cold. Marble practically asks to be touched. Granite shouts from across the room and marble sits there and whispers sweet nothings. I defy anyone to walk past a honed marble surface and not run his hands over it. Honed marble in particular has a velvety feel that is downright sensuous.

For all of the wonderful things that marble is, there is one thing that it is not and cannot ever be. It can't behave like a piece of plastic. Marble can never be pristine in a room where people live. Marble is a stain magnet. A marble counter will tell the world that you bake pies every Thanksgiving and that you love to use basalmic vinegar when you cook. It will broadcast that your kids do their homework on your counters. It will point out whether you are a red wine or a white wine drinker. It will age and discolor and sit there as a quiet recorder of your family's comings and goings. It will remain strong and resilient and all of those stains and scars and marks and scratches will blend together into a patina that will make it even more appealing as the years go by.

In a world where everything has to be new and sanitized and shrink wrapped and fake, a marble counter is a bracing slap of reality. Life is a mess and sometimes it's OK to embrace the effects of age. It's OK to have crow's feet and laugh lines. Gray hair isn't the end of the world. A well-lived life leaves its effects on your face, on your psyche and if you're lucky enough to have marble in your home, on your counters.

In the kitchen I'm showing here, I specified honed Calacatta marble for the counters. Calacatta is an Italian stone and a honed finish on stone means that there is a matte finish on it instead of a shiny one. Honing makes marble even more stain prone.

Calacatta is a white stone with black, gray and brown veins in it. It is as beautiful going up the wall, as it does here on the backsplash behind this range, as it is horizontally on the counter. Calacatta is more mottled than it's less complicated and more common cousin, Carrera.

The honed finish makes it absorb light rather than reflecting it back onto the room as it does in the more typical polished finish. In using a honed finish on this counter, it reminds me of fondant frosting on a cake. It has a slight glint to it when you get up close the way a good cake does.

This counter was fabricated and expertly installed by Custom Marble Works in Tampa (813-620-0475). If you look at the detail photo of that window sill, that's what I mean by expert installation. I can't think of another fabricator who would take the time and care to wrap that window sill the way it's been done here. A stone counter job is only as good as the installation so beware low prices and low bidders. This attention to detail isn't cheap but it is a value beyond price.

This final shot shows the true color range on this stone and it also shows how the under cabinet lighting 18" above this surface reflects. If that were a polished surface, the glare from the lights above the counter would have obscured this detail.

So in closing, any stone counter is a great thing to have in your home. And this designer's studied opinion is that if you can handle its quirks, marble is an excellent material.


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