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Marble Countertops: Tell Before You Sell

Category: Stone Knowledge Updated: 2019/5/24 Views  Views: 889       Likes  Likes: 127

Many of today's stone fabricators are in the business because of granite kitchen countertops - so what happens when someone comes in and asks for marble?

Depending on the part of the country in which they're located and their clientele, more shops are finding clients who really want marble in their kitchens - for a variety of reasons.

And, these shops are cutting and installing them, after earnestly explaining the potential pitfalls marble offers to those who can't handle regular wear-and-tear. The stone may take a little more tender loving care in the shop, but the real key to success is making sure customers know what they're getting before closing the sale.

SETTING IT OFF

Marble in the kitchen is hardly enjoying a boom. Demand for marble kitchen countertops is spotty, at best, with interest low in the eastern portions of the country and somewhat stronger in places such as Texas and trend-setting California.

“It's like one percent of our countertop business, or maybe less,” says Josh Yoltay of Beltsville, Md.-based Artelye.

Rich Booms of Redford, Mich.-based Great Lakes Granite and Marble Co., agrees with the “less” figure. He says in recent years the company has average about 2,800 kitchens annually, “and I bet we don't do five a year in marble.”

On the other hand, Bob Stasswender of Austin, Texas-based Southwest Marble and Granite Co. estimated his shop averages one marble kitchen each week.

“We process between 20 and 25 slabs a week, of which three or so are marble,” he says. “Some of that is bathrooms and fireplace surrounds, but it still works out to about one kitchen a week.”

He adds that after looking at the numbers, he's a bit surprised by that level of volume. However, it's not a figure that surprises Latham Woodward of Oakland, Calif.-based Baker Marble and Granite Co. He says that company does 50-70 marble or limestone kitchens a year

“Our clients tend to be a little savvy,” he says. “They travel a lot. They've been to Europe and seen Carrara countertops in kitchens, or they've seen limestone kitchens in Israel. They don't accept the argument that you can't have these stones in your kitchen.”

While travel put marble in a new perspective for some people, for others it's more a matter of popular culture. Several, including Yoltay and Walter Siewior of Ridgefield Park, N.J.-based All Granite and Marble Corp., say some are being exposed to the idea of marble kitchen countertops by design magazines.

“They see it in magazines and that gets the interest going,” says Siewior. “They see it in a magazine and they think that's the standard.”

Adding to that is the popularity of cooking shows on cable television.

“Some of the cooking shows have really set off the designers around the country,” says Vito Cangelosi of Mission City, Texas-based Cangelosi. “A lot use white marble, either the carraras or the calacatas, and that's helped it catch on in the Houston area.”

Finally, as with any other product, it has to be promoted. Stasswender says he suspects shops that don't do much in the way of marble probably aren't as comfortable with it as they are with granite.

“I'm not saying we promote marble, but we cut our teeth in the marble business,” he says. “We just do more of it than the people who've gotten in the business just recently. We stock probably the largest marble inventory in the Austin area, and when people walk into our showroom, they see it.”

SIMPLE, EARTHY ELEGANCE

Regardless of why clients are smitten with marble kitchen countertops, their main goal is generally the same: they want the look that only marble can give. And, for the largest part, that means one of the white marbles.

“You just don't have a granite that looks like Carrara. there is no color in granite close to it,” says Artelye's Yoltay. “White Carrara is very popular, Emperador Light is very popular, and so is Crèma Marfil.”

While white is in big demand, there are also other marbles, from Rosso Verona to Serpentine, that also fill a role with people looking for earth tones and a warmer stone than granite.

Great Lakes' Booms says in the old days, when most granite produced was quite homogeneous in appearance, the veining in marble offered personality and texture. Today's popular granites are full of movement, but marble still provides a contrasting look for many people.

“Generally, the feldspar in granite isn't found in earth-tone colors,” he says. “Because of the way they're formed, marbles are likely to be light tan or beige or gold, and designers can complement their colors with other features, such as paint or wallpaper.”

Booms notes that anything approaching white in granite is likely to be salt-and-pepper, while Stasswender calls it spotty. Nor is the person looking for something in white likely to opt for a light-colored natural quartz product.

“It's not something that always appeals to people,” says Baker's Woodward. “The person who comes to me for CaesarStone? generally comes for CaesarStone initially. That's what they want.”

Stasswender says much the same is true at Southwest Marble.

“They're institutional-looking, and people don't want the homogeneous look of white natural quartz,” he says. “We do carry some white-based products such as Zodiaq? and CaesarStone, but when we use those, they're often for commercial operation. They don't have the richness or the elegance of marble.”

FLIPSIDE

With rich earth tones and a warm feel - at least compared to granite - there's a lot to love about marble countertops.

Except that's not the entire story. And, those who sell marble for kitchens say telling the rest of the story is often where the process hits the fan.

“We make sure that the owner of the home knows what they're in for when they elect to use marble in their kitchens,” says Cangelosi's Cangelosi. “Even though we use an impregnating sealer, we tell them they still have to be a little careful about leaving a bottle of olive oil sitting there all night, or leaving a wine glass sitting there.”

Stasswender says it's always been company policy to educate people about the stone they're buying, but the process gets stepped up a notch when the talk turns to marble for a kitchen.

“We feel them out first, to find out if they really want marble,” he says. “If it's because they like the way it looks, we tell them they've got to be aware that marble is a soft, calcium-based stone that's going to scratch if it's polished and it's going to etch with acids.

“Then, we go through the part about not leaving anything on it longer than overnight, and if you spill something, clean it up immediately,” Stasswender adds. “Then, they get a care and cleaning manual.”

It may sound strenuous, but it's really nothing out of the ordinary for people who sell marble kitchen countertops. Baker's Woodward says not only does his company, “run people through the wringer,” before agreeing to do marble countertops, but would-be buyers are encouraged to take samples home and give them a try in their own kitchens before signing contracts.

Both Artelye and All Granite and Marble Corp. also require clients to sign a waiver before the job moves ahead.

“It doesn't matter how clearly we explain it to them: if we install it and then they get a stain or a scratch, some of them get upset,” says Artelye's Yoltay. “The waiver is a red flag for them. And, while I'll make more money selling the marble, I want them and their friends to come back to me.”

“They have to sign a special waiver that releases us from any costs or damages arising from normal use,” says All Granite's Siewior. “It's usually just a matter of time before something happens with marble, and we want to make sure they know that.”

Not that every marble buyer is guaranteed a bad experience. Certainly, fabricators have other options besides steering would-be buyers away from marble. One is to sell the product honed rather than polished.

Woodward says Baker only sells marble and limestone kitchen countertops with a honed finish, and Stasswender says he strongly recommends it.

“We recommend it be honed because the scratches don't show as much unless you gouge it,” he says. “Sealer also works better on a honed material than it does on a highly polished one because the pores are still open.”

Luckily, he adds, many buyers of both marble and limestone aren't looking for the high-tech appearance polished stone offers. The honed finish gives it more of an old-fashioned look.

Stains-and-all is also a look that some people seek - or at least don't mind - with their marble.

“There are people who want it to look old,” says Cangelosi. “They like the patina. It's what happens in Europe, where they've been using marble in countertops for hundreds of years. They expect it to age and they don't have a problem with it.”

Woodward says he has Carrara marble in his own kitchen, and he loves it.

“The beauty of having a white marble kitchen is that it looks like an old deli top, and that's a very, very nice look,” he says. “I have to say mine is nicer than when I put it in.”

HANDLE WITH CARE

While buyers of marble countertops will have certain drawbacks to reckon with, fabricators and installers find the material presents its own issues as it goes from slab to kitchen..

Some of it may simply be that today most people have more experience working with granite, but the reality is that not all marbles are created equal. The Marble Institute of America breaks marbles into four categories, based on the amount of personal attention their fabrication requires.

“The classifications aren't meant to render judgment on the marble,” stresses Great Lakes' Booms. “An 'A' will require very little, if any, more attention than a good, hard granite will. At the other end of the spectrum, a 'D' material is typically a very dramatic material with lots of veining and occlusions and banding. Sometimes those materials have a tendency to show dry seams or they may crack, and you're going to be doing some gluing and sticking and refinishing of those materials.”

The good news is that among the “A” materials are popular whites such as the Carraras and the calacatas. Southwest Marble's Stasswender says he treats those just as he would granite. However, other marbles - he cites Crema Marfil and Rainforest Green, as examples - generate a production factor.

“We'll charge 25-percent- or 50-percent-more for the labor, only because we know it's going to separate and we'll have to glue it back together, rod it, and re-polish it or re-hone it,” he says.

All Granite's Siewior says for that shop, an important part of marble fabrication is making sure the pieces are reinforced.

“We reinforce all those exposed pieces that are likely to get abuse, such as the corners of an island,” he says. “We also use steel rods to make it stronger, especially when we mount double sinks with a ridge in between them. The same is true with longer backsplashes.”

Woodward says Baker Marble has had some success keeping its customers using Carrara, and the company also works with 3cm material when it's available.

Most agree that marble should fabricate more quickly than granite because it's a softer stone, but marbles don't necessarily work as well with today's equipment, either.

“For instance, some of the tooling bits for our CNC aren't fabricated for marble,” Stasswender adds. “For some of the edges our customers require, we do it the old-fashioned way with a router. The process is a lot longer.”

And, handling, both in and out of the shop requires some TLC, as well.

“Marble is less forgiving than granite,” says Artelye's Yoltay. “If two pieces hit, they'll chip right away. It's the same with some edges. Because it's not as strong and hard as granite, it might chip at the 90° point if you're doing a double ogee.”

For all its challenges, though, shops had better be prepared to do some marble for kitchens - or see that part of their business go elsewhere - because predictions are more clients will want it in the future.

“I definitely think it's going to be more-popular,” says Stasswender. “Look at all the kitchen and bath magazines. You're seeing more marble in them, so that's what your clients and their designers will come up with. We're going to see a tendency toward more and more marble.”

Cangelosi says it may not even be easy for some shops, but it can be done.

“I love marble in kitchens, but it took me a long time to say that because we've always been concerned about making sure there weren't problems with stone being used in the kitchen,” he says. “You have to explain marble to your clients, and then make sure they know how to properly maintain it once it's in.”

By K. Schipper

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