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10 Things Nobody Tells You About Marble Countertops

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10 Things Nobody Tells You About Marble Countertops

December 6, 2018

Marble is beloved as a timeless and classic material, adding a note of luxury to any room. But even on the Remodelista and Gardenista editorial teams, we’ve run into a few things we wish we had known before we shelled out for marble in our renovations: Julie inadvertently discovered what happens when lemon juice meets newly installed marble countertops, and Michelle excitedly installed a marble backsplash behind her stove only to discover that’s the worst place for a porous stone.

We’re here to tell you what few people tell you about marble (like the fact that a variation of it may be in your toothpaste). Here are 10 things to know about marble (plus one more: the reason we keep coming back to it, time and again).

1. It comes from the mountains.

 A vintage marble sink and counter in an Italian country house; photograph from La Dolce Vita: A Restored th-Century Convent Outside Milan.
Above: A vintage marble sink and counter in an Italian country house; photograph from La Dolce Vita: A Restored 17th-Century Convent Outside Milan.

Marble is a metamorphic stone found in the mountains of North America (places like Vermont and Colorado), South America, Asia, and, of course, Europe (most famously, Italy). Marble forms over millions of years when, under lots of heat and pressure, limestone changes physically and chemically into something harder and denser, in a process known as recrystallization. “The resulting rock has a crystalline nature, enabling it to take a polish,” Janet writes in Remodeling 101: Marble Countertops. Marble is found in the oldest layers of earth’s crust.

2. “Marble” means “shining stone.”

Polished Carrara and arabescatto marble in Plain English: Bespoke British Kitchen Design Comes to the US.
Above: Polished Carrara and arabescatto marble in Plain English: Bespoke British Kitchen Design Comes to the US.

Marble gets its name from the Green word “marmaros” (shining stone) and “marmalerein” (to shine).

3. No two slabs are exactly alike.

A selection of white marble slabs (clockwise from top left: Bianco Oro, Calacatta Vision, Imperial Danby, and Bianco Dolomiti) from Stone Source, as seen in Remodeling data-src=
Above: A selection of white marble slabs (clockwise from top left: Bianco Oro, Calacatta Vision, Imperial Danby, and Bianco Dolomiti) from Stone Source, as seen in Remodeling 101: Marble Countertops.

Like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two slabs of marble are alike: its veining, formed by mineral deposits, makes it unique, piece to piece.

4. The most used kind of marble? Carrara.

A Carrara marble counter in a Brussels loft by Nicolas Schuybroek is distinguishable by its soft, feathery veining. See more at Trend Alert:  Integrated Marble Kitchen Sinks.
Above: A Carrara marble counter in a Brussels loft by Nicolas Schuybroek is distinguishable by its soft, feathery veining. See more at Trend Alert: 14 Integrated Marble Kitchen Sinks.

If you’ve been admiring a photo of a marble countertop, there’s a good chance it might be Carrara. This is the most common type of Italian marble (named for the region it comes from), and “has a gray field, or background with a light gray veining” that’s usually soft and feathery, says expert Michael Bruno.

Other types from Italy include Calacatta and Statuario (you can read about the Italian marbles in Remodeling 101: The Difference Between Carrara, Calacatta, and Statuary Marble); types from around the world include the luxurious Calacatta Gold (with gold veining), Emperador and Crema Marfil (from Spain), Levadia Black (from Greece), Giallo Antico (from Tunisia), Connemara (from Ireland), Danby and Yule (from Vermont and Colorado, respectively).

5. Its been used for some of the most important art works in history.

A statue of Apollo is tucked into a niche at Apollo Bar & Kantine in Copenhagen. (For more statuary in interiors, see Trend Alert: 9 Favorite Classical Statues in Interiors.)
Above: A statue of Apollo is tucked into a niche at Apollo Bar & Kantine in Copenhagen. (For more statuary in interiors, see Trend Alert: 9 Favorite Classical Statues in Interiors.)

Michelangelo’s David? Marble. The Lincoln Memorial? Marble. The Elgin Marbles? Yes, marble. This material has been chosen for its purity and luxury as far back as ancient times. Artists and sculptors have long favored it, too, for the slight translucent quality of the surface, lending depth and realism to statues of human figures.

6. Impurities give marble its individuality.

Deep burgundy veining in A Dramatic Marble Powder Room by CCS Architecture, the winner for Best Professional Bath in our Considered Design Awards a few years back. Photograph by Eric Laignel.
Above: Deep burgundy veining in A Dramatic Marble Powder Room by CCS Architecture, the winner for Best Professional Bath in our Considered Design Awards a few years back. Photograph by Eric Laignel.

Marble is available in more than just shades of white and gray: slabs can be found in hues of white, black, gray, yellow, green, pink, and gold. Ironically, rich colors and veining are the result of impurities present during the recrystallization process, like sand, silt, and clay: imperfections that create the beautiful marbles we prize. Read more in Remodeling 101: Marble Countertops.

7. There might be marble in your toothpaste.

Botot Natural European Toothpaste ($.99 from Amazon) was developed in 55 for King Louis XV of France (and, they say, is the &#8
Above: Botot Natural European Toothpaste ($13.99 from Amazon) was developed in 1755 for King Louis XV of France (and, they say, is the “world’s first toothpaste”). Its main ingredient? A relative of marble.

Marble (as well as lime, chalk, and oyster shells) is a source of calcium carbonate, which has long been added, in powder form, to some paints and even toothpastes, in which it serves as a gentle abrasive. (You can read much more about the matter via Tom’s of Maine, which has been using calcium carbonate in their toothpastes since 1975.)

Calcium carbonate can also be used to make lime which, when turned into limewash paint or lime plaster, is another favorite remodeling finish of ours. (Interested? We have many posts on the subject, from Everything You Need to Know About Limewash Paint to DIY Limewashed Walls for Modern Times to 7 Ways to Use Lime Plaster.)

8. To clean marble, only use cleaners you’d use on your hands.

Photograph of the Marble & Metal Paper Towel Holder, available from Food5
Above: Photograph of the Marble & Metal Paper Towel Holder, available from Food52, as seen in 10 Easy Pieces: Countertop Paper Towel Holders.

Marble is not known for being low maintenance: it’s not heat resistant, it etches easily, and it can chip if you accidentally whack, say, a heavy stockpot against it. (See: Michelle’s cautionary tale against installing a marble backsplash.)

When cleaning it, purveyors Pietra Fina advise, “the old rule of thumb is never use anything you wouldn’t use on your hands.” If you have marble countertops in your kitchen, make sure you use cutting boards and lots of care when preparing acidic foods like tomatoes or lemons, as these can react with the marble and leave it “etched.” Or, select honed marble to help prevent etching and scarring (and give it a matte finish).

9. Etched marble? There’s a miracle product for that (from Amazon Prime).

 Tenax Marble Polishing Powder on Josh and Julie&#8
Above: Tenax Marble Polishing Powder on Josh and Julie’s countertop, before cleaning (note the etching at top left). Photograph by Josh Groves.

When Julie discovered a rough patch on her newly installed marble counters (presumably the result of spilled lemon juice), her husband Josh hurriedly ordered Tenax Marble Polishing Powder from Amazon and rubbed it into the surface. The marble is good as new, he tells us. You can also use sandpaper, gently, to smooth out stains and nicks. (For more care tips and tricks, see Remodeling 101: How to Care for Marble Countertops.)

10. A little goes a long way.

In this Artfully Appointed Parisian Flat, a slim slab of marble transforms a radiator into a sideboard, a good hack for small-space living (and one the Remodelista editors frequently adopt in our own homes). Photograph by Paul Raeside, courtesy of Behomm.
Above: In this Artfully Appointed Parisian Flat, a slim slab of marble transforms a radiator into a sideboard, a good hack for small-space living (and one the Remodelista editors frequently adopt in our own homes). Photograph by Paul Raeside, courtesy of Behomm.

Marble can be pricey, and there’s no need to outfit your kitchen with huge marble countertops or tile your whole floor in it to add a luxe effect. We’ve seen marble scraps put to stylish and savvy use as bookends, ad-hoc shelves, even fireplace surrounds. See more ideas in Luxe on a Dime: 14 High/Low Hacks for Using Marble Scraps.

And: The charm is in the patina.

When it came to caring for the (massive) marble slab quarried on Vancouver Island and installed in a midcentury Vancouver mountain house, the architects advised the homeowners: &#8
Above: When it came to caring for the (massive) marble slab quarried on Vancouver Island and installed in a midcentury Vancouver mountain house, the architects advised the homeowners: “Let it age.” See more of the project in Kitchen of the Week: A Monumental Marble Countertop. Photograph courtesy of Scott & Scott Architects.

Marble is prone to nicks and scratches, yes, but part of its charm is the patina it takes on over years of use—after all, the look of marble that we prize so much arises because of imperfections. “In Italy no one would look at a natural stone countertop and say, ‘Oh no, there’s a stain from a New Year’s Eve party 17 years ago!’” says expert Michael Bruno in Remodeling 101: How to Care for Marble Countertops.

Marble is also known to absorb oils from the skin, taking on colorations from the hands of those who gather and cook in your kitchen. Our advice for living with marble? Embrace stains, etching, and wear and tear, and think of them not as imperfections but as reminders of the life lived in your house.

Read more on everything there is to know about marble:

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