Marble…The New Granite?

Kitchen in which we recently installed a marble countertop.

Marble has been used throughout the millennia for building and artistic expression.  In fact, sculptures made of stone even predate cave paintings.  Marble has been a choice material for sculpture because of its beauty, balance of hardness and softness, and translucency similar to human skin.

Marble is formed when limestone comes under the stress of heat and pressure, causing the crystals to metamorphose into and entirely new material, marble.  In its purest form, marble is white.  The variations found in marble are actually “impurities” of clay, silt, sand, and iron oxides.

While marble is an undeniably beautiful natural stone, it is not the first thought that comes to most people’s minds when considering kitchen countertop options.  Some of the very properties that made marble ideal for sculpture make it less than ideal as a countertop material. As a matter of fact, as a custom home builder, we don’t typically recommend it for kitchens.  However, if cared for properly, marble can be a lovely addition to any kitchen.

One of the biggest benefits of marble is that it is considerably less expensive than granite.  It’s also more unique than granite, as granite has become so popular as to have almost rendered it commonplace.  Like granite, the price will depend on the quality of marble you choose and how large a slab you require.

If you decide you like the look of marble and the price is right for you, keep in mind that it will require more maintenance than other countertops.  (A good custom home builder or remodeler will make you aware of these things before finalizing your decision to install marble!)  The very first thing you’ll need to do is to seal it.  Marble is more porous than granite, which means liquids can get into the pores and stain the countertop.  Sealing will fill those pores temporarily, making the countertop more stain-resistant.  Pay close attention to the sealant instructions and repeat the procedure as often as necessary, usually every 1-3 years.

Even with sealant, you still need to treat marble with care on a day-to-day basis.  It can scratch and etch more easily than other countertops, so any spills, particularly those containing acid (wine, lemon juice, vinegar) need to be cleaned up quickly, or you’ll lose the shine that marble is so highly prized for.  Oils can also be problematic if allowed to sit very long, as they’ll eventually soak into the stone and leave a grease spot.

You’ll also want to be careful about sliding objects across the countertop to avoid scratches.  Invest in a handful of trays, trivets, and coasters, put felt on the bottom so they don’t scratch, and use those to hold pots and pans, serving dishes and dinnerware.

Cleaning a marble countertop is not difficult, but like acidic foods, harsh cleaners can be damaging.  A quick clean with water and a pH-neutral soap is usually all it takes to get the countertop clean.    For stains, a mixture of a small amount of peroxide and ammonia can be spread on the spot and left for a few hours.  However, ammonia can be damaging, so it must be used with caution.  Oil spots can be removed by covering the spot with cornstarch for up to a day, then brushing the soiled cornstarch away.

Even with meticulous care by the homeowner, occasionally things happen that are not caught right away (think: Kool-Aid spilled by a clumsy toddler).  The nice thing about natural stone is that even if it looks permanently stained, you can have the countertop professionally sanded and buffed and it will be good as new.  The hassle of doing this is enough to encourage regular maintenance, but at least you can rest knowing you have that option.

There are benefits and downsides to having marble in your kitchen.  It’s probably not the best choice for everyone (households with small children, or avid cooks who are not avid cleaners).  But, for those whose kitchens don’t get a lot of use, or those who don’t mind putting in a little extra effort to keep it nice, marble can be the centerpiece of a beautiful kitchen.  As you can see, marble is not equivalent to granite in many ways, but it is an affordable way to get the look of natural stone into your home if you’re willing to do the work necessary to keep it looking beautiful.

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