A Beginner’s Guide to Stone Selection


Natural stone is a versatile material that can be used in many places throughout the home. Commonly used for kitchen countertops, stone is also a great choice for fireplaces, bathroom vanities, cladding, flooring, outdoor kitchens, and fire pits. Choosing the stone best suited to your project means you will enjoy your stone for many years. Spending some time considering your stone choice will allow you to select the stone that works best. Below we consider some factors to take into account, plus some common applications for the most popular stone choices.

Choosing natural stone instead of a manmade product means that your design will be truly unique, because each slab of natural stone is different. When choosing your stone, be sure to visit stone yards to look at the actual slabs you’re going to use, rather than selecting from a sample. This allows you to see the color, veining, and movement that appears throughout the slab. Natural stone presents a huge range of color choices, so taking samples of other parts of your project, such as paint samples, cabinet doors, backsplash tiles, or faucets, can help narrow down the selection.

It’s important to think about the space where the stone will be used. If it’s for a high-traffic area, such as a busy family kitchen, you may want to select a harder stone that is more resistant to abrasions. Softer stones require more frequent cleaning and care to prevent etching and scratching. For this reason, softer stones are often more suited to areas where the stone is not exposed to as much use, such as wall cladding, backsplashes and bathroom vanity tops. The amount of time you want to spend cleaning and caring for your stone should be considered as part of the selection process.

Commonly Used Stone Types:

Granite is an extremely hard, durable stone that is available in almost any color imaginable. Consistently popular as a low maintenance, high performance kitchen countertop material, it requires little aftercare if it is cleaned after use. Cleaning is simple with mild dish soap and water. In many cases, granite should be sealed using a quality sealer. Once properly sealed, granite will be even more resistant to everyday dirt and spills. Due to its durable nature, granite is suitable for many other applications, such as flooring, shower walls, fire pits, wall cladding, bathroom vanities, desks and tables.

Marble is an elegant, classic choice popular throughout the ages. While white marble is the most popular color choice, many other color options do exist. Marble is softer than granite, so it will stain, etch and scratch more easily. Commonly used for bathroom vanities, backsplashes, fireplaces and bar-top designs, it can also be used for kitchen countertops, but users need to be aware it will develop a patina (a slight change in color or texture as it’s exposed to various elements) over time as it wears with use. For this reason, it is not usually recommended for high-traffic kitchens.

Quartzite is most often found in white and grey color varieties, and can look similar in appearance to marble, but is harder than marble, making it an attractive alternative for kitchen countertops. Other popular applications include walls, flooring, and stair steps. Quartzite usually needs to be sealed when it’s installed, to help it resist stains. It should be cleaned regularly with a damp cloth and mild soap and any spills should be wiped up immediately.

Soapstone is a durable stone that is softer than granite and primarily composed of talc. Most commonly found in light grey hues, it can also have tones of blue or green. It is heat resistant, which makes it ideal for fireplaces. Soapstone lining in a fireplace can quickly absorb heat and remain warm for some time after the fire is out. It can also be used for kitchen countertops. Scratches can be easily repaired with ordinary sandpaper and mineral oil. Due to its non-porous nature and resistance to extreme temperatures, soapstone is a popular choice for outdoor kitchens.

Alberene soapstone. Photo courtesy European Stone Concepts.

Onyx is easily identified due to its striking appearance, with alternating bands of color. It is most commonly used as a statement piece, and is often backlit, such as on bar-tops or a statement wall. It can also be used as a backsplash for kitchens and bathrooms, but is not usually recommended for countertops or high traffic areas due to its delicate nature. Onyx is a fragile stone that needs to be cared for to prevent scratching and etching. If it is used for countertops, it needs to be sealed properly and then cleaned with special stone cleaner at frequent intervals to help prevent scratching and staining.

Green onyx from Pacific Shore Stones. Photo courtesy of Ellen Cornell, Cornell & Company.

Using natural stone for a project presents an exciting array of choices. Ultimately, the choice of stone is down to personal preference, but the factors discussed above should be taken into consideration to help with the decision making process. Talking to an experienced stone professional about your vision and specific needs for your project is also recommended.