I've always loved white marble countertops and I last wrote about them five years ago (43 comments BTW). They are bright, elegant, add character and are wonderful to cook on, particularly if you're baking. They can also be one of the cheapest stone solutions if you choose Carrara marble, making them a great choice if you're on an IKEA kitchen installation budget. However, many people are afraid of them due to the perception that they are high maintenance. This reputation is only partially deserved, and I want to share with you all the knowledge we've gathered over the years, so that you will feel much more confident of going this direction if it appeals to you.
Marble quarry in the Apuan Alps, over the town of Carrara (Tuscany, Italy). Photo by Michele Buzzi, Studio Cicero, Milano, 2006
What Is Marble?
It's good to know what marble is in order to understand how it behaves. It's a metamorphic stone, which is formed when sediment crystallizes under great heat or pressure to form hard rock. Marble is not the hardest of the these stones, however, making it porous and therefore susceptible to staining. Granite is also metamorphic and much harder (no staining), while soapstone is less hard (more staining). Marble is also formed out of calcium carbonate, giving it a chemical structure that reacts easily with acids and leads to etching on the surface.
Due to all this, marble requires some maintenance to keep it pristine, though many prefer the gradually aged surface with etches and stains that blend into the grey veins over time. Think of marble as the jeans of countertops — they will work better and better while wearing and aging gracefully, giving them a unique and organic character.
"This countertop is absolutely covered with etches," says Faith Durand. "Can you see it? Nope." Her honed countertops are over a year old in this picture and only sealed once.
What Types of Finishes Does Marble Come In?
There are two main types of finish you can get, but I would recommend a "honed" finish as it is the easiest wearing. Before I knew the difference I had a polished finish installed in my kitchen, and it's great, but it definitely feels messy more easily and makes me want to clean it more often. The shiny finish is the more uptight of the two.
Honed Finish - Created by sanding the surface so that it has a soft, matte finish, honed marble won't show scratches as much, shows the stone off as a little less bright and is more susceptible to staining as the pores are open. Sealing is therefore the solution.
Polished Finish - Polished to a shiny exterior, this finish won't stain as easily but it can scratch and etch. Polished surfaces are shiny and bright, but they will be worn down in time. If you prefer the worn look, go right for honed and skip the polished.
Can I Clean Marble Easily?
Yes you can! Whether you are simply cleaning down the whole countertop or working out a stain, marble cleaning is easy. Warm water and dish soap sprayed onto the counter works perfectly and, for stains, mixing baking soda and water into a paste and leaving overnight lifts stains out. I've had my marble countertops for about two years and I'm not a neatnik, AND I cook every day; they have no stains and a little etching that can only be seen in certain lights. Faith, the Executive Editor of our home cooking site, The Kitchn, has written extensively about living with her countertops and has loved her choice.
Does Marble Need To Be Sealed?
Yes. Because unpolished or honed marble has open pores, it is important to seal it if you want to limit stains over time. This can be done professionally at the beginning and then as a DIY in an ongoing fashion. While many people have commented that they have never felt the need to do this, it's not hard. Over at the Petch house they have done a bunch of demos and there's a also a simple step by step at WikiHow on how to apply Penetrating Sealant.
Why Is Marble Affordable?
To be clear, not all marble is affordable, but Carrara marble, despite coming from Italy is one of the cheapest stones due to its greyer coloring (luxury marbles, like Calacatta, are brighter white with darker veins) and its porous nature. Some people don't like the grey cast, and because it does require maintenance, it is never specified for rental homes, making it a slow seller and therefore lower in price. Americans generally don't like maintenance.
"There's something incredibly appealing in the way the veining in this marble and the striations in this plywood speak to each other. It's like they're twins, separated at birth."
→ Via: Emmas Designblogg.
From Kelly Geisen's remarkable apartment in New York City: "The counter tops here are all Calcutta Gold Marble. Continuing up backsplash gives a continuous clean look, more uniform and open – excess marble from the kitchen was used on all the window sills which makes them easier to clean."
→ Via: Apartment Therapy's Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces (Hardcover)
"The open island and exposed ceiling beams give this wood and marble kitchen a slightly more rustic feel."
→ Via: Rejuvenation.
From Old Martha: "In Martha Stewart Living a few months ago, they highlighted stone surfaces and there was a beautiful picture of MSLO's chief creative officer, Gael Towey's kitchen (above). She had carrara marble throughout her kitchen and you would bet she planned for it to look good for a long time. General care called for selecting a polished surface and - wipe up spills immediately (especially alcohol and citrus juices) - don't place hot, wet or abrasive objects on the surface - employ the use of trivets and mats"
"There's that detail we've seen before, with a marble countertop returning to the floor (in this case at the end of an island). It's a sleek look that nicely balances out the rustic wood cabinetry."
→ Via: Robson Rak Architects.
"The kitchen features Seattle-based Henrybuilt cabinetry, a Moroccan tile backsplash, a Shaws Original handmade fireclay sink and a Calcutta marble countertop."
→ Via: A Kitchen Remodel Leads to the Whole House
This is from the ultra cool Krex family home in New York City designed by Bangia Agostinho: "The counters and backsplash are all Calcutta Gold 1 ¼” (backsplash cut down to ¾”) – self picked in upstate at New England Stone."
11 of 20 Gorgeous Marble Kitchens
→ Via: Nancy Mitchell
A marble countertop and backsplash with a single shelf, from Harriet Anstruther.
A marble backsplash paired with a stainless steel countertop — all the luxurious beauty of marble, with a lot less maintenance. To see more photos of this kitchen, click here.
An elegant kitchen by Raya Todorova.
The interaction between different materials — marble, subway tile, beadboard — takes this all-white kitchen to the next level. From Homelife.
Marble paired with subway tile and black fixtures in a Melbourne home designed by Hecker Guthrie (via Apartment 34).
A marble backsplash and counter in a kitchen from Smitten Studio.
The marble treatment here — the shelf, the exposed edge, the way the marble wraps the edge of the cabinets — is really nice. Spotted on Cote Maison.
From Cover via Plateful of Love.
Marble is a perfect choice for this minimal kitchen, spotted on Desire to Inspire. The way the marble countertop wraps the end of the island is a nice touch.
A lovely marble countertop in the kitchen of Valerie Aflalo. The shelf behind the sink is a nice detail.
(Image credits: Hus & Hem; Michele Buzzi, Studio Cicero, Milano, 2006; Faith Durand; Regina Yunghans; Maxwell Ryan; Emmas Designblogg; Jim Franco; Rejuvenation; Robson Rak Architects; DWELL Leslie Williamson; Harriet Anstruther; Karlavagen 76; Raya Todorova; Homelife; Hecker Guthrie; Smitten Studio; Cote Maison; Cover; Desire to Inspire; Valerie Aflalo)