Ah, glorious marble. The soft, brilliant white stone of pretty much every home owner’s dreams. Easily the most popular countertop on Pinterest, but is all that glitters really gold- er, marble? Read on for the pros and cons of marble, plus six similar alternative surfaces that may surprise you.
Photo: the Kitchn
It’s not hard to see why marble is all the rage right now. Interior design trends have been pretty firmly entrenched in the light, bright, white school of thought, and the gleaming surface and subtle veining of marble fit right in. It’s striking without being too busy or too out-there, and likely to transition well over time as styles change.
It’s the look that everyone wants, but is real marble worth it? Marble has a bad reputation for being expensive, a reputation that is mostly earned. While grayer slabs, like Carrara, can arguably be affordable, purer, more pricey marbles will certainly put a sizable dent in your budget.
But it’s not all about the money, of course. If the only issue with marble was the cost, you wouldn’t have showrooms and contractors trying to convince you to go with something else (just the opposite, in fact). The real problem is that marble is high maintenance and delicate.
The downside of that luxe texture and soft luster is it can scratch and stain, and it will etch. Etching happens when the stone comes in contact with something acidic, like citrus fruits or vinegars, or even water. Etching is often described as a slight discoloration, but can also look more like a water spot, or like the sheen is different from the surrounding surface.
Experts recommend you polish and seal marble every 6-12 months, but even that can’t fully protect it. Eventually the etches and stains will all run together, resulting in that beautiful patina highly desired by some. If you do choose marble, go with a honed finish instead of polished. This will hide some of the etching better and lend well to the patina.
What most marble owners love about their counters is the truly personal touch they provide. Each spot and stain is a story of a well-used kitchen, a memory of a meal made and enjoyed together as a family. And as a natural stone, each slab has unique veining and coloring, meaning your marble is different from all others.
The general consensus is that marble is best for people that can go with the flow and embrace the imperfections, not someone who wants spotless, high-gloss countertops. I would also say that if you’re the type to be hard on your kitchen or “leave the mess until morning”, you may want to rethink marble as well. Perhaps one of the six alternatives below is right for you instead!
Photo: T&M Supply
Quartzite - Quartzite is another natural stone surface. While it won’t mimic marble exactly, it does have several similar styles. It’s also probably the only other natural stone that even comes close, so if you prefer to avoid the synthetics, this will be your best alternative. However, because quartzite occurs naturally, it has more limited color options, and unpredictable or irregular veining.
Much like marble, the more white the slab, the more expensive it will be. Therefore, a more pure quartzite probably won’t be cheaper than Carrara, or other lower-end marbles. However, it is about as durable as granite, meaning more heat and stain resistant, and will not etch with acid or water. Quartzite can still get scratches, so it’s recommended that you seal it yearly.
Photo: A Thoughtful Place
Not to be confused with quartzite, quartz is a man-made material, and therefore will have more uniform veining from slab to slab. It’s also considered a very good copycat of marble, so much so that you might even fool any friends with a less-trained eye into thinking it’s real.
Quartz is hard and non-porous, meaning it won’t crack, stain, scratch, or absorb bacteria, so feel free to prep your food right on the counter. It’s also heat resistant up to pretty high temperatures, but it’s still recommended you use a trivet for hot pots just in case.
It can sometimes fade or yellow over time, so it’s not a good surface for outdoor kitchens, and can even become a problem for indoor kitchens with a ton of direct sunlight. You’ll also want to get a great installer, as quartz will sometimes show seams, similar to granite.
Photo: Boxwood Avenue
Concrete countertops have been gaining popularity in their own right over the last few years, probably for their mix of a simplistic and industrial feel. However, you may not have seen much of white concrete yet.
While you’re not going to get the exact same look and feel as marble, concrete does offer the option to colorize or stain it, so you can create similar veining patterns to the real deal. Most importantly, concrete is a very budget-friendly option for white counters, especially if you’ve got the skills to DIY it.
One thing that does make concrete similar to marble however, is the fragility. Concrete will chip, scratch and crack, especially if poured in place. You’ll want to use several coats of a high-quality sealer and reseal your countertops every 1-3 years, but even so, the imperfections will show. A great choice if you desire a more rustic, natural feel. Probably not the best if you want a pristine, consistent look.
Photo: Finding Lovely
Probably not the first, second, or even third surface you would think of when you hear the word “countertop”, but ceramic and porcelain have been breaking onto the scene recently, due to vast improvements on the original product. I’m not talking those individual square ceramic tiles like your grandmother’s kitchen had. Those are not coming back, and hopefully never will.
Nope, ceramic and porcelain are now available in huge slabs, meaning even less seams than natural stones. Porcelain is really a type of ceramic, the main difference being that porcelain is more durable and less porous due to hotter firing temperatures. In fact, it’s even more durable than quartz or granite.
Both however are virtually impervious to scratches, stains, heat and bacteria, but can crack if you drop something heavy on them, so, don’t be throwing your appliances around. They also have an extreme resistance to moisture and sunlight, making either a great option for bathrooms and outdoor kitchens.
More benefits: ceramic and porcelain prices are pretty cheap comparably, and both are very low maintenance, requiring absolutely no sealing. Porcelain even comes in super thin slabs that can be installed over existing countertops, if you happen to be renting or want to save on the demolition cost.
Also, newer technologies and techniques have rendered more authentic marble patterns, so no more pixelated veining. As far as I can tell, ceramic and porcelain patterns are only printed on top however, instead of all the way through. This results in blank white edges, and a less-realistic look. To get around this you’ll want to opt for a mitered edge on your counters, which will make them look thicker anyway.
Photo: Precious Marble
Sintered stone is a similar product to porcelain, in the way that it’s made, and therefore also in durability. However, as a relatively new product, sintered stone was designed from the start to be used for surface application, so a few distinct differences come into play.
For one thing, sintered stone is thicker than porcelain, making it a more true replacement for quartz or marble. This also allows for through-body patterning, meaning the edges will match the pattern on top and create more genuine veining. In addition, sintered stone manufacturers focus heavily on texture, so you have a wide variety of realistic options, from sandstone to high gloss to concrete, you name it.
Apart from that, sintered stone has many of the same qualities as porcelain - low maintenance, waterproof, and everything resistant. It’s also a budget-friendly alternative to marble, although I’m not sure where the cost comparison lies with porcelain.
Photo: Holly Mathis Interiors
So maybe your heart is still set on marble, or maybe you’re starting to consider one of these other surfaces. Either way, now you know your options, and perhaps your dream kitchen will be easier to achieve than you thought!
Do you have marble or any of these alternatives in your home? We’d love to know your personal experience!