When we renovated our kitchen a little over a year ago, we chose to put in honed marble countertops. One the one hand, I just couldn't imagine anything else in the kitchen. On the other hand, we were nervous; was it the right decision? Would they be a practical choice for a high-traffic kitchen? What about staining and etching?
Read on to find out what I think about my marble countertops, a year after moving in.
The Short Answer
The short answer? I love the countertops. After a year and a half of living with marble, I find it elegant, cool, and bright. It's lovely to work on, and easy to clean.
We got Carrara marble, which is the least expensive and often the most heavily gray-veined marble. The slab we found has plenty of veining, but the white between the veins is bright white — not gray — and it just glows in the kitchen. I love white countertops and how they reflect and amplify the light.
The marble was also one of the less expensive choices in stone countertops, and certainly more economical than the quartz I was considering as a second option. Any time you invest in solid countertops it is indeed an investment. But Carrara is still one of the cheaper stones; at a little less than $60/square foot (including honing, installation, and backsplash) it was on par with the cheapest granites in our area.
However. There is a big but in my glowing love for our marble. The first few months were scary. While I loved the look of the marble, the first few etches and scratches were traumatic. Here's how it went for me.
Marble up close and personal.
The First Week
When we moved in, the countertops had not yet been sealed. We were racing to move in and get the kitchen set up before family came to visit for Thanksgiving, so I was putting away spices and other staples, and the installer had not yet come back to seal the marble. I spilled some cinnamon or cumin on the countertop, and it left a faint brownish stain that wouldn't come off.
The next day we put a sheet pan down on the counter and left a large rust spot underneath. I scrubbed and scrubbed it but it still stained.
These are the only significant stains we have, and they were all from before we sealed the countertops, but I was terrified of putting anything on the countertops for a little while after that.
After the countertops were sealed there have been almost zero problems with staining. I am careful about wiping up certain things like turmeric or other spices, but I don't worry about splashes of red wine or coffee. They wipe right up, even if they've dried or sat there for a while.
Our one major stain is right in front of that bowl of lemons. See it? It's pretty tough to see.
The First Month
We gradually got over our fear of staining the countertops, but there were still etches to contend with. I used a huge cutting board whenever I cut any lemons or limes, and carefully wiped up splashes of juice. I remember one of the big etches I first got, after some juice spilled on the countertop. I felt sick; you could see the dull shape of a puddle on the countertop.
But I stepped to the side, and it disappeared into the flow of the marble; it was only visible in certain lights.
For the first few months I was careful about wiping up spills, but I still felt anxious every time the counters got marred or etched. I felt like they were fragile and easily hurt; I wondered if we had made the wrong decision. I didn't like feeling like I had to tiptoe around my kitchen.
But I couldn't imagine any other work surface, and I loved how it felt under my hands. It keeps the kitchen cool, and working dough or pastry on it is simply lovely.
I also discovered how to lift up small beginnings of stains with a poultice made of baking soda and water, mixed into a paste and left on the countertop overnight. I also discovered that some of the staining that had happened before the countertops were sealed had faded significantly; the marble seemed to absorb and diminish them over time.
This countertop is absolutely covered with etches. Can you see it? Nope.
The First Year
As the months passed, I relaxed more and more about the marble. In the first few months I became more tolerant of the etches, but I could still name them. "That's where Chris made us cocktails. That's where I left the lemon juicer sitting on the countertop. That was the tomato sauce." And then, suddenly, I didn't care at all. There are so many etches and splotches on the countertop, but they have faded into each other, and become part of the stone. You can only see them at certain angles and in certain lights, and I feel somewhat fond of the wear and tear we've put into the stone.
I do still use big cutting boards for lemons and limes, but I am more relaxed about it. I just juiced two dozen lemons in a row while preparing for a wedding I catered, and I didn't bat an eye when the juicer splattered all over the counter. I just wiped it up and moved on.
Would I Do It Again?
Would I get marble again? Absolutely. It was the right choice for this kitchen, and I love the brightness and soft, organic feel of the stone.
I do, however, know that I personally would never get polished (as opposed to honed) marble. Etches show much more sharply on polished stone. In fact, I would love to have mine honed to an even more matte finish. A Vermont stone company recommends doing a mild version of this yourself with Comet and a kitchen scrubby every so often, blending the etches into freshly scrubbed stone.
I also think that marble is best for two types of people: The first is someone who barely cooks or who is extremely Type A about cleaning their kitchen. You can keep marble nearly pristine if you work really hard at it.
That is obviously not me. I am the second type: a relaxed, messy cook who wanted the look of natural stone but is chill enough (in the end) to live with the etches and marks and let it flow into a wabi-sabi approach to the kitchen. If you walk into my kitchen in the middle of a big cooking project you'll see dirty pots all over the countertop, cutting boards slathered with tomato juice, and a pile of fruit sitting in the corner. It's all good. I try to avoid any really egregious damage; I'm not going to cut a lemon straight on the countertop, but I've seriously relaxed and don't feel a bit anxious about it anymore.
I do, though, want to show you my etching up close and personal. Stay tuned for that later this week — if you're thinking about getting marble I think it's helpful to know exactly what you're getting into.
(Image credits: Faith Durand)