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Marble Countertops: 6 Tips for Choosing a Marble Slab

Considering marble countertops? Discover everything you need to know about the popular surface before you start picking out slabs

Source: Architectural Digest

When it comes to selecting kitchen countertops, marble remains the top choice for many homeowners. It’s no surprise that marble countertops and backsplashes are so popular: the material has been attracting fans for millennia!

“Marble is a natural material with great variety, depending on which species you select and how it’s cut,” says Russell Groves, the principal architect behind Groves & Co. “It creates a really lovely natural pattern, which you don’t get with a lot of artificial materials.”

Among marble options, white marble takes the cake. "You won’t find anything as white in nature as white marble" adds Evan Nussbaum, a vice president at Stone Source in New York. “You just don’t get that color and kind of figuring in any other type of natural stone."

But marble is not a perfect product. While marbles are dense and relatively nonporous, which makes them durable and stain-resistant, they also have weaknesses. A nonfoliated metamorphic rock, marble is generally composed of calcium carbonate or magnesium carbonate, which react to acids if not sealed properly.

But as long as you choose carefully, know what to expect, and care for white marble countertops, they can be a beautiful, functional choice for your kitchen design that lasts a lifetime.

Ahead, I've rounded up expert tips on how to choose the perfect slab of marble, so if you're on the market for marble countertops, keep reading!

1. If you're concerned about stains, stick with white marble.

Although many people automatically think of creamy, white stone when they think of marble, “there are hundreds of varieties, including types that are taupe, gray, green, gold, red, and black. For marble kitchen countertops, however, we generally recommend sticking with gray-ish/white marble. Because acid etching leaves a whitish mark, it is much more noticeable on colored marble than on white marble.

While classic Italian white marbles like Calacatta and Statuario are generally excellent quality and a great kitchen idea, there are better quality marbles are available closer to home, or even quartzites or dolomites with marble looks.

San Pellegrino dolomite slab

2. Consider how the different marble slabs will come together.

Every stone slab is slightly different, so it’s ideal to select the exact pieces of stone that will be used for your countertops. There’s an art to marble: selecting the slabs and understanding where the veining is going to be located on the countertop. You want to artfully place the markings so that it’s almost like a painting.

At the same time, it’s important to consider how different pieces come together. The longer the piece you can get without any seams, the better. If you do have seams, it’s always nice to book-match the marble, so adjacent pieces have a mirrored appearance.

3. Take veining patterns into account.

Every quarry is different, but it’s possible to cut certain types of marble blocks two different ways to achieve unique veining patterns. Cross cut results in stone slabs with “an open flowered pattern,” which looks fairly random and is ideal for book-matching. Vein cut slices the block the other way to achieve a linear, striped appearance.

Designers have used both cuts to create some fantastic looks. They may use vein cut on the wall and cross cut on the floor.

4. You can transform the look of marble with different finishes.

The whole stone industry has been going through a massive wave of technology, and it’s transforming the product, noting that there are now more ways than ever to finish stone, including different brushing and polishing techniques. An orange-peel-like texture is possible, which is called a leather, brushed, or river-wash finish.

But the most popular choices remain polished, which looks glossy, or honed, which appears matte. For homeowners concerned about acid etching, it is recommended a honed finish. On a polished finish, etching is going to turn it dull and be more visible. With honed, you’re dulling an already dull finish, so it disguises it.

5. Know the difference between cracks and fissures in your marble.

Cracks are a sign that the marble has been dropped or improperly handled. Fissures, though, are entirely different. A fissure differs from a crack in that it’s a naturally occurring feature in the stone and does not change the plane of the marble surface. You should be able to slide your nail across a fissure without it catching. Depending on the look you are trying to achieve, fissures may be acceptable, say, if you're looking for stone that will give you a more rustic look. Fissures don’t change the integrity of the stone; they are part of the stone’s character.

6. Maintain your marble countertops by getting a sealed finish.

Finishing marble countertops with a penetrating sealer is essential for long-term performance. Acids will still etch the surface, but if the countertop has a honed finish, an etched mark can usually be removed by scrubbing with a Comet paste using a Scotch-Brite pad, for example.

If it’s a polished surface, it will require different abrasives and technical skill to clean the marble, which might best be left to a professional. If the marble does get a stain, it can often be removed with an alkaline poultice that gradually pulls the offending material out of the stone as it dries. But any of these interventions will also strip the sealer, he notes, so it needs to be reapplied after the repair.

The good thing about natural stone is that you can always sand it down or polish it again.

With engineered materials, once you damage it, there is nothing you can do.

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