Counter Culture: Quartz or Quartzite?
Today’s column comes from deep down a rabbit hole, which I fell into while researching what kind of counter material I would like if I ever remodel my kitchen, which is looking less likely given how hard this decision is.
If you’ve ever done this, you, too, have faced the galaxy of options: quartz, quartzite, granite, marble, soapstone, butcher block, concrete, ceramic tile, Corian, stainless steel. I’m surely missing some.
Fortunately, I got some professional help, which Lord knows I could use more of, to narrow my options. In an uncharacteristically practical move, I brought in a designer to help create a plan before I tore up my kitchen and relegated my husband and me to microwaving dinners in the bathroom and doing dishes with the hose.
Like any good plan, this one started with defining the problem: I’m want a change. My 20-year-old kitchen, while in good shape, has the same brownish-blackish granite I have had in every kitchen in every home I’ve owned dating back to the 1990s. That granite (Santa Cecelia) and others like it were the coveted choice back then. It’s been a good run, but I’m ready for a lighter look.
What I don’t want to do is replace or reface my medium-brown kitchen cabinets, which match the cabinetry throughout the home. Fortunately, the designer, Sally Ward, agreed. We will keep the cabinets and the overall layout of the kitchen, but replace the dark granite counters with something light, swap out the vintage hardware for something more contemporary, and replace some, but not all, of the appliances, which are on their last legs.
She assigned homework. She sent me some links to read about counter materials and gave me the names of stone suppliers to visit. “All our design decisions are going to hinge on what you pick for your counters,” Ward said. No pressure.
I quickly learn that the countertop world falls into two camps: natural stone and manufactured materials. In the natural stone world, you find quartzite, granite, marble and soapstone. In the engineered world are quartz, ceramic tile, concrete and solid-surface products like Corian.
Because most homeowners want light counters today, Ward said, “I am usually between two options: engineered quartz or quartzite. I rarely use granite anymore, and I avoid marble in a kitchen because it scratches, stains and can show water rings.”
Because I know I want stone or something that looks just like it, I rule out stainless, ceramic tile, wood and concrete, and narrow my search to quartz and quartzite. It takes a minute to get these straight. Quartz counters, which sound natural, are actually engineered out of quartz particles and resin. Quartzite, which sounds manufactured, is actually a natural stone.
I visit two stone warehouses, where I walk past hundreds of slabs the size of billboards. They’re displayed on their edges like dominos.
At the OHM International stone warehouse, I talk to general manager John Frew, who’s been in the stone business over 25 years. I must look wrung out because he offers me a slice of pizza and an ice water. Of the slabs he sells, Frew estimates half are quartz, 25% are granite because of its relatively lower prices, 15% are quartzite and 5% are marble.
His advice to customers: “Choose the material that’s practical for you, then pick your look.”
By the end of my excursion, I’m leaning toward quartzite because it has options with warm undertones that will work with my existing cabinets. My neighbor, however, recently remodeled her kitchen and chose quartz. Her kitchen is beautiful.
“I never thought I would buy quartz,” she told me, “but I couldn’t find a quartzite that was white enough.” Now she loves it.
For those venturing into this rabbit hole, here’s a quick primer of the top natural stone and engineered stone options:
· Quartz. The most popular choice for counters today, engineered quartz, which goes by brand names such as Ceasarstone, Pompeii, Silestone, and Cambria, is durable, easy to care for, looks like stone, and, since it’s fabricated, can come in just about any color. Ideal for high traffic kitchens, quartz resists chips, scratches and stains. “You can cook all you want, and it stays pristine,” my neighbor said. It’s not less expensive than natural stone and in fact can cost more. The downside is, because of its resin base, prolonged sun exposure can cause it to yellow (so not good for outdoor kitchens), and you can’t set a hot pan on it the way you can with granite or quartzite.
· Quartzite. This hard natural stone can provide the look of marble and the hardness of granite, making it a top choice for kitchens. It resists scratching, chipping and etching. Though it comes in many colors and patterns, the lighter versions often have grey, cream, gold, or taupe undertones. If you’re in the habit of putting a hot pot or serving dish on your counter (yes), this is a good choice. Like other natural stones, quartzite requires periodic sealing, an easy process homeowners can do themselves.
· Marble. Though classic and beautiful, marble is softer than granite, quartzite or quartz. Most experts steer clients away from marble in the kitchen because its unforgiving; it stains easily and etches if anything acidic, like lemon or tomato juice, gets on it.
· Granite. This natural stone is the kitchen workhorse. It’s as strong as quartzite, and still popular because it’s generally less expensive. It remains a good choice for outdoor kitchens.
· Soapstone. A softer stone, which comes in shades ranging from medium gray to black, soapstone makes a dramatic statement, but will show fingerprints, watermarks and grease, which make it less desirable for a kitchen, but could be a novel choice for a bar.
CAPTION: Faux find ─ When remodeling this kitchen, the owner chose engineered quartz, which comes in a wide assortment of colors and patterns, for her counters. “I never thought I would buy quartz,” she said, “but I couldn’t find a quartzite that was white enough.” Photo courtesy of Skolfield Homes.