Though stone has been used as a building material for centuries, its popularity has never been greater—and for good reason. When it comes to modern design for the kitchen or bath, stone tile—with its beauty and durability—is the perfect choice.
Which type of natural stone tile you choose, though, will be based on the assets and challenges presented by each type. Here's a guide to the most used materials in the natural stone tile family:
Marble could well be called the stone of kings, having been used in palaces, grand spaces and sculpture since man first discovered it centuries ago. With distinctive veins of colors (replicating the pattern of the water that flowed over the calcite and dolomite in underground streams that eventually formed the marble) this smooth and elegant stone can bring an elegant and upscale ambiance to your space. With colors ranging from dark green and amethyst to blue black, rust red and warm golds—truly the entire color spectrum-- marble can be used on countertops, floors, back splashes, mantlepieces, and even as wall cladding. When used in the kitchen, you must commit to keeping the stone sealed as it is vulnerable to staining after spills—particularly acid-based liquids like red wine or some juices.
Travertine shares some of the birthing process of marble—it, too, is born in underground streams, but instead of the veining patterns, little pores are made in the stone from gas escaping under water. (Sometimes these pores get filled for a smoother look or tumbled or brushed to make the stone look weather-worn and older.) Travertine has a rich color scheme ranging from creamy ivory through all the shades of brown—from cocoa to nutmeg--and creates a warm look, wherever it is used. Depending on the climate, the stone can be used indoors and out (thus all those temples of Ancient Greece and Rome) and works wonderfully as flooring, sink surrounds, molding, wall cladding and tub surrounds. Like marble, sealing is required to avoid damage from acidic stains.
Slate was created when clay, soil and all the minerals contained therein got compressed (and heated and cooled) for eons. There is nothing prissy about this rough beauty, which may be polished to a high sheen for the “wet” look or left in its natural flat state, where it can enhance a rustic or casual ambience. Color can vary from blue black to light gray (and may even vary box to box) and its color variation is part of its appeal. Another is its natural slip resistance, making it a great flooring material, particularly in the kitchen and bath, though it may also be used on walls or as a sink or tub surround.
Granite is formed when molten rock in pockets underground and its wide color spectrum depends on what minerals were trapped within it during this cooling process. These minerals also account for the fact that granite is one of the hardest materials known to man. Colors range from darkest black to speckled white (high quartz contained in the stone create the distinctive speckle patterns) and many colors in between, making granite a good choice for floors, wall cladding, countertops and vanities and even back splashes. Its incredible hardness makes it a durable choice (that is why is it used in high traffic commercial building like offices and bank lobbies) but it is also hard to cut exactly. Make certain your contractor chooses an experienced granite firm for your installation.
Limestone may contain actual fossils as it also comes to life in underground water sources, but the stone itself ends up smooth, not porous like its cousin Travertine. With no regular veining, limestone offers a wide range of colors, from dark green to warm brown and is so durable, the pyramids were built out of the stone. Limestone is a good choice, therefore, for flooring and may be used on walls as well. Limestone also needs sealing and, with diligence, will resist stains.
Sandstone, likes its name suggests, is formed when grains of sand got compressed under heat and tremendous pressure, forming a naturally decorative stone. With a color spectrum in the “earthy” range (golds, browns, rusts and beiges), sandstone often has a striated pattern and can be finished to look natural for a warm casual look or “wet” for shinier or a higher-tech vibe. Used on floor and walls, sandstone has the advantage of being hypoallergenic and is very durable, but must be sealed well. This stone is particularly susceptible to spills.
Soapstone, obtained through quarrying, is made up of magnesite, talc, chlorite and dolomite and got its name because of its smooth surface, which feels like rubbing a bar of dry soap. A very durable stone, soapstone is usually used for flooring and available in shades from its natural white to dark gray. One of soapstone's best features is that is does not absorb water, nor get too slippery and even stays warmer to the feet in cool weather, making it an ideal floor surface. Alkalis and acids don't affect soapstone, meaning it requires minimum maintenance.
Quartz, a common mineral (silicon dioxide) is one of the hardest substances on earth (on the MOH scale, a diamond ranks 10. Quartz ranks 7) and it is this quality that makes it a good selection for countertops, flooring, showers and on vertical surfaces. Though hard, quartz not impervious to damage—it can be chipped (but is scratch-resistant.) Available in a range of earth tones, from buff ivory to darkest black (and a full range of colors is available in composite quartz-resin tiles) quart also has the benefit of being bacteria-resistant, making it a good choice for both kitchen and bath.
Onyx, though not the most practical of building materials, makes up for it by its exotic beauty, created by nature. With a smooth, somewhat porous surface, onyx comes in shades from dark red to glowing gold that are usually honed or polished, creating a high shine. Back lighting can highlight onyx’s natural translucency for an even more dramatic effect. Onyx is susceptible to scratching, etching and staining and liquid particularly can soak through even a properly sealed surface, making it a less-than-ideal choice for full floors. But it does make for beautiful mosaic inlays and back splashes, providing dramatic accents to any space.
For recommendation on the perfect stone tile to choose for your project, consult with award-winning kitchen and bath designer, Jason Landau at Amazing Spaces, LLC. Jason brings two decades worth of experience in space planning, kitchen and bath design and working with the world's finest cabinetry firms to your project. Call him today at 914-239-3725 or visit www.amazingspacesllc.com.