Ever wonder why you don’t see more black marble counters? A reader who is thinking of using black marble in her kitchen remodel challenged us to find some good examples. We turned to members of the Remodelista Architect/Designer Directory for help and to get the material's track record.
The short report: Marble is softer and more porous than other stones often used as counters, which makes it more prone to spots, scratches, chips. To some these battle scars are not a problem; for others they're a constant headache and worry. “There is not much that is practical about black marble,” says San Francisco contractor Jeff King. “It’s soft, expensive and difficult to work with.”
Read on to learn more about black marble plus two alternative black stone counter materials for the kitchen.
Above: Black marble counters paired with dark cabinetry in a lavish bachelor pad by Glenn Lamont of Melbourne-based design and manufacturing practice LifeSpaceJourney. See A Walk on the Wild Side, Small Space Edition for more. Photograph by Armelle Habib via LifeSpaceJourney.
A kitchen that doesn't get a lot of use seems the perfect setting for the material. Latham Woodward of Baker Marble in Oakland, CA, has installed black marble, but always requires his customers to sign a full liability waiver. “Black marble tends to be poor quality and is incredibly soft,” he says. “When acids and alkalis etch the surface of marble, it turns white, which is fine for white marble. For black marble, however, the white damage looks awful.”
Above: A slab of black marble with white etching marks. "There is a protective coating you can put on black marble, but it's expensive, totally artificial, and high maintenance," Woodward says. Image via Marble Restoration Service.
Ready to move on? We thought so. Here are two other good stone options for black countertops:
A favorite material used in kitchens since the 19th century, soapstone, a dark gray stone with white veining, is durable, easy to maintain, and develops what's considered a desirable patina that darkens over time. Our friends at MADE LLC, a New York-based design-build practice, often choose soapstone for countertops. " We like to use materials that develop character as they're lived with, becoming increasingly beautiful as they wear in over the years," says founding partner Ben Bischoff. "Soapstone is one we come back to again and again. It's beautiful at the start and becomes even more so as it breaks in with your work patterns."
Above: To darken soapstone, MADE LLC specifies: "You can speed up the natural darkening process by flooding the material's surface with mineral oil, allowing it to soak in, and then wiping it off. We repeat this process a few times before the client moves in and then provide a bottle of mineral oil that they can re-coat as necessary until the surface is completely saturated." Photograph via MADE LLC.
Above: A caveat is that soapstone is soft and shows scratches, but surface abrasions are easily removed with a small amount of mineral oil. Deeper scratches can be sanded down with fine sandpaper before using the oil. Image via M. Teixeira Soapstone.
Granite is probably the most durable stone for countertops and floors and has for that reason been overused by developers. Laura Clayton Baker from Los Angeles design firm The Uplifters avoids the familiar "salt and pepper" granite and specifies Absolute Black granite as her black surface of choice. "Marble tends to show rings easily, especially when it's polished," Clayton Baker says. "I have used Absolute Black granite (honed) in my own kitchen and it doesn't show rings from lemon juice, wine, or olive oil, all the typical countertop hazards."
Above: A sample of Absolute Black granite (Left) illustrates the consistency of the overall color in contrast to American Black Granite (Right) with its white flecks. Images via Kitchen Design Ideas.
Above: In her Spring Street Cottage in St. Helena, house remodeler Carolyn Leonhardt also uses Absolute Black granite as a contrast to her white cabinetry. She, too, opted for a honed surface because it has a warmer, more natural look than polished. Photograph by Douglas Sterling.
Had any experiences using dark stone countertops? Share your finds in the comments section below. And let us know: what are the remodeling challenges you'd like us to explore next?
More countertop favorites? See 10 Easy Pieces: Remodelista Kitchen Countertop Picks.