Choosing a natural stone surface - interior design

Selecting the ideal natural stone can make all the difference for your enjoyment of that area.

I absolutely love all of the unique looks and textures of the natural stone surfaces available for use in today’s interior design projects! With so many options available, there are an infinite number of looks and applications that can be created. Whether using it for floors, countertops, or walls, natural stone communicates quality, durability and longevity. The spectrum of varieties is great and spans from a tumbled, honed travertine that yields a warm, rustic feel all the way to a high polished marble or onyx that exudes elegance.

Because of so many choices at hand, clients often wonder just how to narrow down the options and choose what’s best for their project. Below are five stones that are frequently used, along with some respective pros and cons. Hopefully, this pulls some ambiguity out of the consideration process when it comes to choosing the best match for your design, lifestyle and expression of your personal style.

Granite

Granite bathroom counter - Dallas interior design

A granite bathroom counter

Granite is a durable stone that comes in a wide array of hues and patterns. The most abundant stones are going to have a fairly consistent small-scale pattern, while unique, harder-to-find varieties can have random veining and inclusions and often incorporate some really exotic coloration. As you might expect, the more rare types also come with a higher price tag.

As durable as this stone is, it’s still a porous material and isn’t 100% foolproof. It’s always recommended to seal granite from potential staining, which is a very simple process and the protection typically lasts between 6-12 months. Granite’s strength has contributed to a common myth that it’s “heat-proof”. However, beware! Putting items from a hot stove or oven directly on a granite countertop can actually create heat fissures in the stone, which leads to cracking.

Marble

Marble bathroom counter - Dallas

A marble bathroom counter

With all its whirling patterns and shade variations, marble brings luxury and class to an interior space like no other stone can. Depending on the aesthetic intent, marble surfaces can be chosen in different surface finishes. They can be glossy and high polished for a formal look, honed for a more casual matte finish or even have a “leather like” surface finish to convey a more organic feel.

One thing to keep in mind with marble is it tends to require intentional maintenance. It’s more delicate than granite and also quite porous, which means it needs regular sealing. Even with a regular seal, spills, particularly colored liquids, need to be wiped up within hours to prevent staining. To protect your investment on the most precious marbles, I recommend hiring a professional aftermarket service to apply a special permanent seal.

Travertine

Travertine bathroom tile - Dallas interior designer

Travertine bathroom tile

Travertine is a member of the marble family. As delicate as it is beautiful, this stone comes in an assortment of stunning earth tones, such as tan, beige, gold, brown, red and ivory. We see them vein-cut to reveal a linear pattern or crosscut to reveal a more watery, flowing pattern. Typically, travertine is a bit less expensive than marble.

Much like marble, travertine has some interesting surfaces. There’s polished, which is smooth and shiny, conveying a formal look, but can also be slippery, which sometimes makes it less appealing for flooring in wet areas. Honed travertine is also smooth but has a matte finish that makes it less slippery and a great choice for flooring in wet areas. Brushed travertine, also good for floors, has a matte finish but is slightly textured. Tumbled travertine has slightly more texture than brushed travertine, reflects little light and conveys a more rustic look due to it’s irregular edges.

Like marble, travertine requires regular care and maintenance (sealing, wiping up spills quickly) to ensure it stays looking its best.

Limestone

Limestone kitchen wall - Dallas interior designer

Limestone in a kitchen

Limestone comes in several colors and adds both style and uniqueness to any space. Its pattern and texture derives from shells and fossils compacted together over thousands of years. Like marble and travertine, limestone can be vein or cross-cut depending on whether you want a linear or flowing pattern.

Soft limestone works especially well in bathrooms, feature walls and around fireplaces while harder varieties of this stone can work as kitchen countertops. Note that limestone can be sensitive to acids. Spilled lemonade, for example, could etch the surface of a limestone countertop if it isn’t properly sealed. Again, this can be a higher maintenance surface, depending on the application.

Soapstone

Soapstone gets its name from the soft, soapy feel of its surface. While not as hard as granite or marble, it’s a dream to work with because of how easily it can be cut, shaped, and installed. It’s one of the best materials you can buy for countertops because it’s so dense, it won’t stain. Soapstone is chemically inert so acidic liquids or cleaners don’t harm it. Its density and ability to conduct heat make it impossible for you to ever scorch it.

Of all the stones I mention here, soapstone is one that never needs to be sealed or protected and, over time, stays looking great. Spills may appear to darken the stone, but they can be removed easily by drying it with a towel, lightly rubbing the spot with a scouring pad, then wipe with a damp rag. Repeat if necessary. Virtually anything spilled on soapstone can be removed. If you want to make the counter surface darker, rub in mineral oil which speeds the natural aging process of the stone. After a few coats, it will settle at its final color.

Choosing a Stone

While the five natural stones mentioned above can be used to beautifully enhance any room in your home, carefully consider your willingness and ability to maintain it. Additionally, ensure that you’re well educated on the stone you select to understand if it has a high level of variation within the batch or if it’s going to be fairly consistent. This can aesthetically make or break your desired result. Lastly, consult a professional to ensure the way you’ll be utilizing the product is appropriate and sustainable.

Stone surfaces offer a distinctive natural design element in any decor. With so many options available, natural stone is a design choice that’s sure to create a timeless, tasteful environment while bringing an unmatched beauty into your room.

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