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Choosing The Granite Countertops

Part 9 Of Our Real Life Remodeling Journey

Publisher's Comments

The following story is part of a series of articles about my family's experience with our home's remodel. Links to the other stories are found at the bottom of the page.

Granite countertops weren't necessarily a shoe-in for us but they were at the top of the list. Choosing countertops usually involves a blend of inputs including the economics of the various choices, how they'll be used and personal preferences.

We're a "kitchen-active" family, a term I coined to describe the fact that we have three boys who aren't shy when it comes to using (or abusing) a countertop surface. We're also a family of cooks (or at least we try). In other words we're not the 'showpiece' countertop kind of people -- our countertops will get used.

Based on that premise we needed to choose something that was durable. That's when the preferences took over. My wife had always envisioned granite, while I was willing to try some other options like the recycled paper-based products (some look a lot like dark soapstone counters).

When Cindy saw real soapstone, she was swayed by their soft feel and good looks. However they would have cost a bit more than we were willing to spend so we gravitated back to the granite.

Although you can still spend a lot of money on some types of granite, with continued advancements in the technology used to extract and process the stone some colors have become very affordable. As it turns out, we ended up choosing granite countertops.

Samples Can Be Deceiving

Granites used for countertops are priced in tiers based on their availability and rarity. We (fortunately) liked some of the colors and patterns available in the introductory price category. We'd be given a sample of "Tan Brown" by our contractor and at first blush, thought it might be a possibility.

granite colorsThe Winner...(Tropic Brown)...

The next step was to view the actual slab at the fabricator's shop. That's when Tan Brown went out the window. There's really no comparison when you're looking at a 10-foot slab of granite compared to its 6"x6" sample cousin.

It's not like the slab contained some surprise wild streak of objectionable color that wasn't on the sample, which sometimes happens. Rather, it was simply the overall color pattern that glared back at us when we came face to face with the whole slab.

granite colors...And The Loser...(Tan Brown)

At the risk of upsetting any of you who have or like Tan Brown granite countertops, our only hangup was that the predominant feature within the stone was a salmon-colored mineral. It really dominated the entire slab and it just wasn't going to fit in with our décor. Fortunately we found another color called "Tropic Brown (also known as "Tropical Brown") in the same price range.

Choosing The Slabs

Our new color choice led us to the granite distributor (different from the fabricator) to choose the slabs of stone that would become our countertops. We walked through a cavernous warehouse amongst rows and rows of granite slabs propped up against A-frame stands. They had several slabs in the color we selected so it was a matter of just choosing the ones we liked best.

The color pattern of Tropic Brown is very uniform but despite this fact we looked at several slabs to be sure. Regardless of the uniformity there were still natural variations that led us to accept or reject a particular slab.

Sometimes a uniform color is more easily "spoiled" by small irregularities that normally bring character to granites with more random patterns. In the case of Tropic Brown there were several slabs that had a large black 'splotch' that seemed out of place with the rest of the mineral pattern. Since we had a large kitchen island to cover we chose the best looking slab for that purpose.

If you have any large sections of countertop it pays to choose the particular slab from which your actual countertop will be cut. That way you'll be sure there won't be any surprises once your granite countertops are installed.

Some Lessons Learned

Choosing our granite countertops was probably a one-time event for us because we don't plan on changing our countertops any time soon, if ever for that matter. If you're planning on granite for your kitchen the following points we picked up from our experience might help out.

  • Choose The Slabs That Will Go In Your Home
    Don't rely on small sample stones to make a countertop choice. They're useful for understanding the predominant color and/or pattern for a given price point but they don't tell the whole picture. If there's any way to choose from a selection of slabs, do so. That way you'll know exactly which stone is going into your home.
  • Don't Choose Stone Slabs In Bright Sunlight
    Some distributors have their slabs out in the open. We found it difficult to perceive the actual colors of the granite when the slab was in bright sunshine. We verified this by seeing the same type of stone indoors. Outside the colors can tend to get washed out. If at all possible, try to view the slab in indoor lighting which is how you'll see it in your home.
  • Put Blinders On If You're On A Budget
    There are affordable granite countertops out there but they may or may not be the kinds of colors or patterns you're looking for. It's easy to get lured into the higher-priced granites when you see what's available. It's sometimes difficult to resist the temptation to forego the budget and go for the wow! factor.
  • Size A Kitchen Island For A Single Slab
    If possible, size a kitchen island to accommodate the availability of slab sizes in the style of granite you want. Our island is 10 feet long and will just fit a 123 inch slab. Kitchen islands larger than available slab sizes will require several pieces and a seam between them. Seams on granite countertops can look anywhere from inconspicuous to very noticeable depending on the color and pattern of the granite.

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