One of the more important choices you need to make when designing a kitchen is the fabrication of the countertop. Natural stone and man-made products flood the market, but a showcase kitchen is the ideal venue for a dramatic display of granite, which adds color, depth and value. While granite is the material of choice in high-end homes, there are downsides to its use too. Knowing your kitchen habits and understanding the pros and cons of granite leads to a smart decision regarding countertops.
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Composed over a span of millions of years and mined from the earth, each slab of granite brings with it a unique history -- and sometimes even fossils. Its beauty is that no two slabs are alike, unlike solid surface materials and engineered stone, which are offered as "what you see is what you get." Originating in mines scattered around the world, granite’s colors and veining range from the purity of white with light gray veins to the depth of darkness in absolute black granite. When shopping for granite, look at the actual pieces in a slab yard, not a small sampling of a specific color or pattern.
In addition to the hundreds of colors of granite available, you can also choose among different surface treatments. The most popular finish is shiny and reflective, which adds luster to the kitchen. A honed granite is produced when the finishing is incomplete, leaving a matte, dull surface that's nonreflective. Honing also limits the depth of color and stains more easily. A honed surface is ideal in a country kitchen or one designed to look more natural.
Granite is a hard material, but it’s also porous and can absorb stains and acids if it’s not properly sealed. Maintaining granite takes more attention to detail than a solid surface or quartz countertop. Liquids must be wiped up immediately to prevent pooling stains; cooking with acidic ingredients can lead to acid etching on the surface of the granite. A yearly application of a sealant is recommended.
Unlike a solid surface countertop that can scorch, granite’s surface is hard and heat-resistant. A hot baking dish or saucepan directly off the stove can be placed on the granite without damaging its surface. While a trivet is always a good idea, the uniqueness of granite allows a more relaxed cooking atmosphere. But be careful where you place hot pots or dishes -- granite chips, and repairing the damage can be costly.
Granite cannot be molded. Seams are necessary when installing a surface that has corners and edges. It’s also a very heavy material, and the base cabinetry must be grounded and strong. Installing a porcelain under-mount sink is difficult, because it needs under-support. A molded surface, such as man-made countertops, can be installed without seams and can support an under-mount sink.