The Pros and Cons of Marble Kitchen Worktops

carrara marble for country house

 

In recent years, marble has become a popular kitchen work surface, but its efficacy continues to cause debate and confusion.

A recent blog post about our general views on which kitchen worktop stones perform best touched on the pros and cons of each material, but we feel that special attention should now be given to marble due it its increasing popularity but remaining mystique.

 

What is Marble?

Without going too far down the geology path, it  is essentially a crystaline form of limestone. The whiter it is, the purer the limestone from which it was formed. It’s whiteness, combined with its relative softness, makes it the perfect material to carve with. It’s worth noting that not all marbles are white.

In our experience designing bespoke kitchens, clients choose marble for three key positive reasons; great cooking performance, great looks and great feel. Despite the positives, it’s not all plain sailing, and like every kitchen worktop material, there are pros and cons to using it.

 

marble sink
A solid marble sink designed by Artichoke in a country house project in Gloucestershire.
Pros

Price
Marble is widely accessible and comes at many different price points to suit most budgets. Marble and stone price is sensitive to global markets and can fluctuate heavily depending on demand. Statuary marble, Thassos and Calacatta Oro are particularly beautiful examples that are currently highly prized and thus command high prices.  Carrara marble is much more common and commands lower prices.  Pizza Express use Carrara marble for their tables which as you can imagine undergo significant strain and wear.

Performance
Because it is formed from limestone, itself a porous rock, marble too is porous; more so in fact than granite.  This porosity makes it a poor conductor of heat, giving it one of its major and unique strengths; its ability to keep cool.  This makes marble superb for working pastry, and for Artichoke clients who commission us to make kitchens that perform as well as they look, marble is a serious consideration.  Typically, a marble work surface will be 4 degrees cooler than the ambient temperature of the room.

Looks
Marble is generally considered the most beautiful of the accessible stones used for kitchen work-surfaces.  There is an elegance and understated beauty in marble that the brashness of granite cannot compete with.  It can be striking without appearing vulgar, which as anyone interested in fashion will know, is a trick that’s hard to pull off.  Over time, it will also create its own unique patina which many (including us) see as a pro.

Feel
Due to it’s poor heat conduction, marble is cool to the touch.  There will be a subconscious reaction to this in the main, but it is an important attribute, particularly during Summer months. It also has a softness to the touch which is hard to explain.

 

kitchen island worktop
Antiqued Carrara marble was used as the main work surface for this kitchen project in Italy
Cons

Price
Some of the most striking marbles can also be extremely expensive. Thassos, which comes from the island of Thassos in Greece, is pure brilliant white with no blemishes and with a stunning translucency that makes it look like cast sugar. Calacatta Oro is another highly prized example with a milky white background and gold veining.

Staining
Open pores in marble make it prone to staining.  There is no product available that will stop this, but there are products such as Lithofin, that will render the surface oil and water resistant while slowing down the rate at which liquids like red wine can seep into the surfaces. Acidic liquids will attack the surface of marble and they must be wiped off the surface immediately.

The images below show what can happen to Calacatta Oro if red wine and chilli sauce are left on untreated marble for 15 minutes.

 

red wine stain on calacatta oro
Red wine stain on Calacatta Oro

 

Chilli sauce stain on Calacatta Oro
Chilli sauce stain on Calacatta Oro

It is worth noting that marble is also known for working out some stains, which pass through the pores in capillary action.

Scratching
Marble is softer than granite and it will scratch and wear.  This is also part of its charm.  The surface will wear particularly in areas that are stood at for longer, such as at the sink.  The edge may become duller and you may find that belt buckles or jean rivets will rub against the surface causing further scratches.

If you want your kitchen stone to look pin new in 5 years, maybe you should consider an alternative.  Many clients are willing to oversee this fault because of it’s beauty.

 

Bookmatched mable
A book matched statuary marble island in an Artichoke kitchen in Somerset.

 

Protecting Marble

All marble kitchens surfaces which Artichoke install are pre-sealed when fitted, usually with Lithofin. There is no product, to our knowledge, that seals marble completely and as discussed earlier, spillages should be wiped up immediately.

Cleaning Marble

Cleaning for most marble surfaces is best done using warm soapy water and a soft cloth. A particularly grimy surface may need no more than rigorous cleaning to remove residue. Avoid using abrasive sponges. In order to bring the polish back to its original quality, washing should be followed by buffing dry in order to avoid water marks. Cleaning kits for marble are ordinarily not necessary for granite surfaces but are available if required for marble, slate or limestone. Lithofin also provide products which help clean and polish marble and they can be purchased from https://www.extensive.co.uk/. If you choose to clean your marble surface with products like Fairy Liquid, try and choose one that is alkaline as possible. Lemon scented detergent soaps tend to be more acidic and are likely to attack the surface or marble. Ecover offer some good alkaline detergents.

 

If you have concerns and would like to discuss your stone choice with us, contact newprojects@artichoke.co.uk or call Andrew or Ben on +44 (0)1934 745270.

 

 

 

The Verona Stone Fair for Kitchen Worktops

At Artichoke, our time is totally devoted to designing breathtaking, carefully considered and elegant bespoke kitchens and interiors for discerning clients, including kitchen worktops.

Many of our commissions involve stone, and anyone serious about ensuring their clients are offered the best and most beautiful and exciting stones will visit the Verona Stone Fair, or to give it its official and less romantic title, Marmomacc – The International Trade Fair for Stone, Design and Technologies.  We attended the Fair again in September with Gary Walters, friend and Managing Director of Stone Age.

Stone forms such a crucial element of many our commissions, so keeping a firm grip on what’s available and what can be done with it is a vital part of our design process.  Unlike the branded high street offering, we are simply not comfortable directing clients towards a controlled selection of uninspiring and pre-selected stones and granites.  It’s such a waste; a kitchen worktop can make a kitchen.

The Verona Fair offers an incredible palate of stunning marbles, basalts, granites, slates, travertine, sandstone or limestones from around the World.

 

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The range of unprocessed stones available to look at Marmomacc is amazing. Artichoke has already introduced some of the stones we discovered into bespoke kitchen projects.

Discovered at the show, one of our favourite stones, a sandstone called Santa Fiore, comes from Italy and is the primary stone used for many of the ecclesiastical buildings in Florence.  It’s also used as paving slabs in the city, and unlike many sandstones is incredibly hard, making it perfect for a unique kitchen worksurface.  Being a sandstone it has wonderful dark veining, indicating an ash layer from volcanic activity many thousands of years ago.  We have used this in several bespoke kitchens with great success

 

Santa Fiore; more often found in pavements in Florence.

Another recent favourite, discovered by us at Verona at our visit in 2010 is a limestone called Belgian Blue.  Belgian Blue is a particularly hard limestone with an almost slate like quality.  Continuing the pavement theme, it is used as paving slabs in parts of Belgium and Holland.  We used Belgian Blue in the bespoke kitchen in a project in Dartmoor, in the house lived in and built by the builders that built Sir Edwin Lutyen’s Castle Drogo.

 

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Nero Marquina is a striking jet black marble broken with lightning like streaks of white calcite. It looks amazing in large slabs and we would certainly advise choosing a slab from the yard or quarry which we often arrange for clients.

 

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Another striking marble which caught our eye at the show was Crema Valencia, which is found around the town of Barcheta in South East Spain.  It is a medium to hard stone with fine grain and abundant darker reddish vein.

 

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Another favourite was Statuary Venato which is in many ways a carbon copy of the Nero Marquina and it would take a bold scheme to use both in the same room.

 

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Clients often ask us about the practicalities of using marble in bespoke kitchens.  It can stain and scratch more easily than granites but in my view, some marbles are so striking it’s worth it.  It also doesn’t conduct heat which makes it cooler to the touch and better for rolling out pastries.

One of the great joys of visiting Marmomacc, apart from seeing all of these wonderful stones in one place, is the technology and seeing what can now be done with stone and marble with that new technology.   Zaha Hadid Architects were at Marmomacc, and here, one of their team discuss how they use stone and how they deploy the new technologies to shape it.

 

 

And here are some of the incredible technologies used to shape the wonderful stones on display:

 

 

Our visit to The Verona Stone Fair was a huge success and we will be back!

At Artichoke we pride ourselves on creating elegant, bespoke kitchen worktops and more for our clients. Visit our Portfolio page to view some of the featured examples of our craftsmanship carried out for clients over the years.

What Stone and Marble for Luxury Bespoke Kitchens?

During the design process of any bespoke kitchen, discussions will inevitably reach the marble or granite worktops question.  Choosing the right stone for kitchen worktops is not straight forward. Each have their pros and cons, and there is no right or wrong answer.

Hopefully this blog post will act as a useful guide for each material, but feel free to contact us if you’d like to discuss your options.

 

 

Marble

In our view, marble is the most beautiful kitchen worktop material. Generally the patterns, hues and colours available in marbles are softer and more elegant than granite, so we prefer them aesthetically and we feel its beauty outweighs its flaws.

Marble types vary in density, porosity and mineral content, and they will all stain if acids (such as red wine and lemon juice) are left on them for hours unchecked. However, if your marble surface is sealed and the offending material is removed quickly, you should be fine.  Marble is also softer than granites so it will etch and antique with wear.  It is similar to timber in this respect and it will create its own beautiful patina over time.  We see this wear as an attractive quality.  We discuss Marble in greater depth here.

 

close up of drawers
Combining timber with Carrara marble often works well
Granite

Granite worktops are the most robust of all natural kitchen worksurface stones. It is dense, scratch resistant and does not stain. It is an excellent material for use in a busy kitchen.

With reasonable care, granite worktops will stay looking new for many years. In our experience, because granites are the post popular kitchen stone worksurface, they also tend to be more susceptible to trend, meaning that they can also quickly go out of trend. Certainly a few years ago, polished black granite was a popular choice. Now it tends to be less so, and whenever we install it now we tend to hone it to remove the polished surface, or flame it, a process which textures and antiques the surface.

Because of the way granite if formed geologically (it is volcanic as opposed to marble which is formed from sea bed activity), its patterns are, in our view, less exciting. They are typically more aggressive, bolder, harsher and less refined, and we tend to opt for using them in a scullery or pantry environment where the worksurfaces are likely to get more wear and looks are less important.

 

Flamed Granite 1
A flamed surface will give worktop surfaces a texture which softens or antiques the stone, making it more interesting. It also diffuses reflections from light sources within the room.
Wood

Wooden kitchen work surfaces wear quickly in comparison to stone.  It is less suitable for use as a kitchen work-surface, particularly around wet areas, but it can look spectacular in a period country house environment.  Our blog on kitchens in period country houses has some great images of period kitchens with wooden worktops.

Oak is the most commonly used solid timber kitchen worksurface in Britain.  It is warm to the touch and looks great, but it needs to be heavily protected with modern lacquers before it is fitted. Over time (in under ten years), these lacquers will wear, particularly in heavy use areas around the sink.  Once the lacquer is worn and water can access the oak, it will start to go black (particularly around the sink taps), and ultimately may the surface may need to be replaced.

If you are going to use oak, we would suggest not using it near sinks or wet areas. The island in the bespoke Edwardian cook’s kitchen we designed for a client uses both Italian black basalt and oak, with the basalt being used for the wet areas and the oak for the preparation areas.  This is a good compromise.

 

Basalt

Basalt is a good alternative to Granite worktops (they are both silicates).  It is hard, wears well and looks great, but mainly comes in dark colours (greys, blacks and blues) owing to the iron and magnesium that contaminates it during its formation.

 

Italian basalt
Artichoke used Italian basalt for this kitchen near Haslemere in Surrey.

Artichoke are fans of basalt, which is warm to the touch and softer to the feel than granite.  Some people think it looks a little like concrete.

 

Slate

Slate is formed from heavily compressed clay at low heat and is very finely grained. Most slate (Welsh slate in particular) is not suitable for kitchen work surfaces. It stains easily with acid (wine, lemon juice etc) and it can chip.

Artichoke does occasionally use slate from Cumbrian quarries for bespoke kitchens. These Cumbrian slates are extremely hard, extremely beautiful and do perform like granite (although can scratch a little easier).  They have beautiful graining and are soft to the touch.  A disadvantage is that most slates do not come in slabs longer than 1,800mm long, which is around 1,000mm shorter than the lengths available in granite.

Artichoke typically use slates in pantries.

 

(Top Left) Bursting Stone, (Top Right) Bayclift Lord, Bottom Left (Kirkstone Silver Green), (Bottom Right) Kirkstone Brathay Blue
Corian

Corian is an entirely man-made material formed primarily from an acrylic polymer.  It is non-porous, stain resistant, heat resistant and repairable.  It can be jointed seamlessly and is also flexible when heated, which allows it to be moulded into limitless forms.

It burns at 212 Fahrenheit / 100 centigrade, so it will not take very hot pans like granite will, but it can be seamlessly repaired should burn damage occur.

It also comes in a wide variety of colours, and because it can be bonded seamlessly to other Corian products, a worktop can mould seamlessly into a sink without any visible join, making it excellent for hygenic use.  Artichoke often designs Corian into pantry environments.

Being man-made, there are no natural fissures or graining, making it a great choice for contemporary kitchens in particular.

In this Artichoke project, the work-surface and the backsplash were seamlessly jointed and curved at the join, meaning there are no angled corners for dirt to collect. The sinks are also seamlessly jointed to the work surfaces.

 

Bespoke_contemporary_kitchen_nottinghill_3
The Corian work-surface in this kitchen runs seamlessly into the backs plash with no visible joins.

250315 - Utility Sink

For this scullery in a circular house, Artichoke used Corian for the walls aswell as the sink.  To see more details of this project, visit this page.

 

Quartz

Quartz worksurfaces such as Okite are made from three ingredients; quartz, polyester resin and colouring.  Around 90% of the material is made from quartz, and it is highly resistant to staining, heat and scratches, five times stronger than granite and non-porous.

It can also be “grained” and made to look like marbles and natural stone.  This process is well refined now and manufacturers have it down to a fine art.  It is a realistic alternative to marble but the graining can be a little formulaic.

 

Concrete

Concrete is a great kitchen worksurface, particularly if you are after a modernist / industrial look.  Contrete typically comes with a smooth surface or with an aggregate surface and it can be pigmented to colour it.   Depending on the shape and size of the piece, it can be cast on site or bought in pre-cast.

Concrete is porous and it will mark.  If you place a coffee mug onto the surface, it will mark.  The same applies to oil and other liquids such as wine, and if you are fastidious about perfect unblemished surfaces, then this is not the surface for you.  If you are prepared to relax and let daily life create it’s own patina however, it will look amazing in five years.

 

Stone Sealants

A recent online discussion with Russel Taylor Architects reminded me that I had missed out an important element; caring for stone.  Their comments, which I quote here word for word, are worth reading.  “To be on the safe side, our suggestion would be to use a stone sealant. Some of the stone sealants now available on the market are very good and absolutely invisible: they are not shiny and don’t change the colour or texture of the stone in any way, but make it completely resilient to water and oil penetration. We have used successfully on stone work tops VULCASEAL V201 and Lithofin STAINSTOP, Lithofin MN Stain-Stop ECO, Lithofin Nano-TOP.

Always, always, A-L-W-A-Y-S produce a sample of whatever treatment you decide to use and let it dry properly before applying it to the whole surface.”

Thank you Russel Taylor Architects!

And in addition to that, Artichoke often provides sealed stone samples to clients to then pour wine on, leave lemon juice on and generally treat badly; this is a good way to gain confidence in what you are are buying.

 

 

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