Stone Counters are Where It's At

Who says your kitchen needs to be indoors?  Photo: Media Director, Landscape Design Advisor/Flickr.comStone counters have never really gone out of style. They have a certain class, look, and grace that's hard to hate, and high-end homes have often boasted marble and other stone on their kitchen counters. But stone is getting hot again, so it's worth taking a closer look at the return of this building trend, especially if you're thinking about making some changes to your kitchen.

Why is stone such a big deal, anyway? It tends to be more expensive than many other choices, and some types require special maintenance, so it's got to have some serious advantages to make up for these shortfalls, right?

Yes, it definitely does.

Let's start with the fact that stone is generally heat-resistant, which means no more worrying about where you set pots and pans. The whole counter can easily be a work surface, giving you more flexibility and the ability to focus on what matters most: preparing great food. If you go with marble specifically, you get another advantage: marble is great for working pastry. It keeps its cool, reducing the risk of melting your shortening and causing problems with the dough, and makes rolling out pie crusts and working on other pastry projects a dream.

Granite, limestone, and slate are available in addition to marble, in an assortment of colors and finishes to allow you to coordinate them perfectly with your remodeling project. Some of these natural stone options do tend to show scratches, and they can stain, which means you need to think carefully when it comes to selecting colors and finishes. In addition, some can be susceptible to damage from acids (and salt). It's a good idea to plan on having a butcher block counter section or good cutting boards to use to protect your counter while you're actively working.

Stone can look rough and rustic, sleek and modern, and everything in between. It's a highly flexible and gorgeous building material with a lot of durability, and you can use it in all kinds of ways. Maybe you want a wild tesselated counter, or a more staid stone tile design -- both are possible with the work of a skilled tiler who's experienced when it comes to handling stone. Once the counter is in place, it can also be sealed to protect the stone itself along with the grout.

Your kitchen will look up-to-date with stone counters, and if you choose carefully, it will age gracefully and continue to look stylish even after the stone fad fades. Think ahead: avoid flashy stone, and consider saving money by not going with the trendiest options you see on the show room floor. Less fashionable cuts and types of stone may be more affordable, just as beautiful and durable, and gorgeous for years to come, so your kitchen won't look dated when your friends with glack granite are cursing their taste from three years ago.

You can expect to pay $60 to $130 per square foot for basic stone counters in 2013, with prices fluctuating depending on the complexity of the installation and the stone you choose. To take advantage of this industry trend, make sure to meet with a contractor to discuss what's going in around the community, and stress the fact that you don't want counters that will look good for a season or a year, but a kitchen that will continue feeling modern and trendy for years to come.

Make sure you consider regional factors, too. A Phoenix contractor might have great recommendations to go with your adobe home decorated in desert tones of cream, orange, and red, but that same counter might look out of place in somewhere like Cleveland or Seattle.

If you aren't willing to take the plunge and go for stone, there are some engineered stone products on the market, as well as finishes like iCoat, which is designed to look, feel, and perform like stone. Be aware that these products aren't necessarily less expensive, but they do tend to get around some of the shortfalls of stone; engineered stone, for example, is far more acid-resistant than the real deal.

Katie Marks writes for

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