At Robin Heard Design, we like to say we create our clients’ interiors “from the inside out.” That has multiple meanings to us, but the overarching idea is that we’re committed to creating spaces that reflect who our clients are deep inside. Believe it or not, that principal even applies to choosing natural stone for your home. But choosing natural stone for any application - counters, accent walls, showers, floors, etc. - can be tricky
Shopping for natural stone
When shopping for natural stone, there are as many different options as there are slabs and tiles. You can get overwhelmed quickly if you walk into a stone yard or tile store with nothing particular in mind.
Whether you’re choosing your counters, your backsplash, your shower, your fireplace surround, or your floors, this is a big investment. You need to make sure you’re not only picking something you love the look of, but something that’s going to support the look and feel you’re going for in your space and that you’ll love living with long-term.
Of course, I’ve had a lot of practice at this, so I know almost intuitively whether a particular stone is right or not.
But if you’re shopping without the benefit of an experienced interior designer, here are some key questions you can ask yourself to help point you in the right direction.
What type of stone is best for your space?
The short answer is it depends. There are many options and each has characteristics you might want to consider (we’ll talk about these in a bit) before setting your heart on a particular variety. As a quick rundown of some common options, granite has been a top choice for homeowners for over two decades. Quartzite is very popular - even more so than granite right now - and we’re big fans, especially in honed and satin finishes. Of course, marble is a classic choice for all kinds of applications, though many people don’t enjoy the way it wears. Other options include soapstone, slate, and limestone.
Although we’re focusing here on natural stone, I do want to point out that at times we use natural stone in certain areas of a project and porcelain or another faux tile/slab product in other areas when they’re a better fit in terms of cost and/or maintenance or if the client simply prefers it. There are quite a few excellent stone look-alike products on the market now (one that’s caught our attention of late is Dekton from Cosentino - this isn’t a paid post; it’s just a product we really like). Of course, faux stone products have their own issues and limitations (and some carry a higher price tag than certain natural stones) but the tech is getting better and better.
Unless it’s always been your dream to have marble counters in your kitchen, for example, or a limestone fireplace surround, I’d say remain open to any stone type that best suits your home and your project.
Do you want it to be statement-making or low-key and grounding?
Think about where this stone is going. Is it for a feature wall, a fireplace, a backsplash, a counter, or a floor? If it’s going to be in a highly visible spot or if it covers a large area, think about whether you want it to act as a quiet anchor, making the space feel balanced and synergistic or if you want it to stand out and set the space’s mood.
Do you want a dynamic pattern or a quiet pattern?
The larger question here is, “How do you want to feel in your space?” because your goal is really to bring together a combination of finishes that creates a particular feeling in the space. When choosing your stone, if a quiet, low-key element is what you need, look for slab or tile with a pattern that isn’t busy. Psychology shows we associate horizontal lines with the support of the earth and with lying down to rest, so if you want something particularly soothing to help quiet the mind when you’re in that space, keep an eye out for that.
On the other hand, diagonal lines, crisscrossed patterns, and heavy patterns are more dynamic. These imply action and movement to our eyes, waking up our senses and infusing a space with active energy. That said, these patterns can be visually dominant. If you want the focus to be on something else in the space, or even on the activities you do in that space, you may want to avoid stones with busy patterns.
Even so, you can balance out the effect of a stone’s pattern by combining it with busier or quieter elements throughout the room, creating equilibrium between calming and energizing vibes.
Do you want a polished or honed finish?
This comes down largely to personal preference. Keep in mind that polished stone - like glass and shiny metals - can read as more contemporary, depending on the space and the other elements in it. I personally think this is especially true when a polished stone is used in a vertical application such as a feature wall or a fireplace surround.
Honed and satin finishes are particularly popular at the moment. They’re softer to the touch than polished finishes. They can give a classic, timeless look to a space and draw attention to the stone’s pattern more profoundly since it isn’t giving off any reflections to compete with for your eye’s focus.
Believe it or not, giving a heavily or boldly patterned stone a honed finish can tone down the busy-ness, making it seem visually softer and quieter. Conversely, a stone with a quiet pattern becomes more dynamic without being overwhelming when you add the reflective quality of a polished finish.
What are the colors in your space?
At least some of the color in the stone you select needs to relate back to the color of something else in the space to look like it belongs. By zeroing in on the color of certain elements in the room, you can create a strong sense of balance.
I always look for some sort of wood tone that’s in the space. If a stone has even just a suggestion of that wood tone in it, it's a guaranteed balance.
A stone can be gorgeous, but if the cabinets are oak, maple, hickory and the stone doesn't have any of that hint of a honey or warm tan in it, it may not be complimentary. If you can find a stone that ties in with both the floor and the cabinets, you’ve got a definite winner. If your cabinets are painted and the floor is wood, make sure you have the color of the cabinet paint in the stone, as well - even just a little bit throughout or a hint of it here and there will create the balance you’re going for.
Is it structurally sound?
This is something you may not even know about, but the structural integrity of the stone you choose is crucial. All natural stone has some fissures and spots. While these usually don’t mean the stone is going to fall apart during fabrication or at some point in the future, some stone slabs have cracks that may cause a problem.
It’s really important to work with a fabricator who is discerning and will help you determine if the structural integrity of a slab you’re considering is sound. Our fabricator, Surface Art Countertops is wonderful. They’re our go-to for all solid surface fabrication and we love them! Whenever needed, they meet us at the stone yard to determine whether what I pick is workable or not. Having that peace of mind is invaluable when you’re making such a significant investment.
Do you like a patina or do you prefer something more pristine?
Just about any natural stone is going to require some maintenance, but there’s a big difference between having to seal your kitchen countertops once a year and not being able to put a cup of coffee down without the risk of leaving an indelible ring.
We find that some of our clients love natural stone and want it to patina and etch as they feel it adds to the stone’s beauty. When you think about it, marble has been used on entire buildings for centuries and we think they’re still gorgeous. Plus, I doubt the Greeks or the Romans ever asked to have their stone steps replaced because someone spilled wine on them during the festival! Regardless, many of our clients want their stone to remain pristine and I get that.
If you know marks, etching, and changes in color are going to drive you up the wall and yet you don’t want to have to babysit your stone, you might want to think about choosing something that’s more durable and lower maintenance. That said, there's a new protective sealant for stone out on the market that we’re pretty enthusiastic about. It’s MORE Anti-Etch (again, this is not a paid post - just something we love). It uses nano-technology to provide a protective finish. We referred a client to this product through Fox Marble in Richmond, CA and they were very pleased with both the crew and the end results.
And finally, do you love it?
For us, the number one rule in choosing natural stone or anything else for your home is that you have to love it. Unless you’re using it in a tiny area, you’re probably making a significant investment in your stone, especially when you factor in fabrication and installation.
It’s an important decision that will have a major impact on your home’s look and feel. And since it’s something you probably won’t want to replace for years, you need to love living with it for the long run.
Give yourself time. Be patient and choose carefully. Select something you’re confident will support the space and how you want to feel in it (even if you have to look at hundreds of slabs to find it as I did for the fireplace in our Yellow Ferry project!).