When it comes to natural stone countertops, there are more options out there than just marble and granite. If you love the dark beauty of granite and the light veining of marble, consider soapstone instead. It's durable, relatively low-maintenance, and has a lovely, old-world feel. Here's everything you need to know.
Cost: In a perfect world, cost wouldn't be a significant factor in countertop decisions. But this is the real world, and it must be considered. Soapstone is similar in price to a high-end granite, and less than marble. You can expect to pay between $75 and $150 per square foot, installed.
Maintenance: Soapstone doesn't stain, although it will naturally darken with use. Since soapstone is inert and non-porous, it doesn't need to be sealed, although it's sometimes treated with mineral oil to achieve a dark, even appearance.
Daily Care: Unlike marble, soapstone is impervious to acids like lemon juice and red wine (a quality which makes it a popular choice for laboratory bench tops). It's also heat resistant: you can place pots directly onto the countertop. And it can be cleaned with just soap and water.
Durability: Soapstone's downside is its softness, which makes it susceptible to scratches and nicks, although these can be buffed out with sandpaper. This post from Houzz details one woman's experience with scratches on soapstone, and has lots of photos of the kind of wear you can expect.
Color: Soapstone comes in a range of gray, green-ish to black tones, some with more or less veining. Periodically oiling the countertop will make for a darker, smoother look.
Where to buy: The traditional way to buy stone is to visit a local stoneyard, pick out the slabs you want, and have a fabricator install them in your home. (Soapstone is becoming a more common choice for kitchens, but you may still have to call around to multiple stoneyards.) If there are no local sources, both Vermont Soapstone and M. Teixeira will crate and ship the stone to you, although this of course means that you won't be able to see the stone in person before buying.
Installation: If you're a novice having a stone fabricator install the stone in your home is your best choice, but since soapstone is softer than marble or granite, it's also a fairly good candidate for DIYing — at least accord to This Old House, which created this guide to installing soapstone countertops.
Note that soapstone is quarried in smaller slabs than granite or marble, so if your countertop is longer than seven feet, you will see some kind of seam (although the seams can be fairly unobtrusive).
Do you have soapstone countertops? Do you love them? Hate them? Let us know in the comments!