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On the Surface: Choosing and Caring for Natural Stone Finishes

by | Oct 27, 2021 |

Kat Coleman, owner and principal of Long Beach, California-based Topkat Design Group, had a client who loved Carrara marble and wanted her entire bathroom to feature natural stone: main bathroom floor, shower floors, and walls with a decorative feature wall behind a claw-foot tub. “We are talking Ritz-Carlton style,” Coleman says.

Carrara marble. Photo courtesy of Kat Coleman, Topkat Design Group.

Coleman’s client was concerned the natural stone would be too high maintenance and possibly cost prohibitive. To try to meet her client’s aesthetic, Coleman searched for alternatives, but they were unsatisfied since those options just didn’t look or feel like the real thing.

The reality is genuine natural stone, like Carrara marble, cannot be mimicked. Coleman knew it was her job to educate her client and remind her that marble has been used for centuries. Many commercial settings use marble throughout high-traffic areas and hotel bathrooms successfully, and the sealers on the market have improved substantially over the last decade. She convinced her client that Carrara marble was the best choice for her bathroom.

“This was close to 10 years ago and her bathroom still looks like new,” Coleman adds.


Sealers and Grout for Natural Stone

Whether going for a polished, honed, or leathered finish, choosing the proper sealer and maintaining the sealing process is probably the most important thing clients need to consider when using natural stone in their spaces, according to Coleman.

“Some softer stones such as marble are more prone to possibly show wear over time, although I have a few past clients who have all-Carrara marble bathrooms that still look pristine after many years,” she says.

One trend she’s noticing is that clients seem to want as thin a grout line as possible. Selecting a stone with a straight edge versus a slight bevel is best to achieve this. She reminds clients that stone is a natural material so there needs be some tolerance. What some clients may view as imperfections in natural stone, Coleman calls “character.” “Nature is perfectly imperfect,” she reminds clients.


Fresh and New Natural Stone Finish Trends

Coleman finds that most clients still think a polished finish is their only option. It’s often their designers, who are well-versed in what’s happening in their industry and what’s available, who turn them on to other options or educate them on what they may actually be looking at when they present inspirational images.

Premium Absolute Black granite with natural finish. Photo courtesy of Kat Coleman, Topkat Design Group.

She admits polished countertops are the norm in the United States, but matte-type surfaces seem to be having a moment in the natural stone space right now. “I have the occasional client mention a desire for a honed (or leathered/suede) countertop but usually it’s me, as the designer, making the recommendation in the design,” she says.

Manufacturers are constantly creating new options in finishes, which is exciting for Coleman and her clients. She’s recently learned of a brushed countertop surface finish. “This surface has a matte look with a brushed texture,” she explains. While she’s not yet had the chance to install this finish in one of her projects, she admits she’s intrigued and looking forward to doing more research to learn the pros and cons of using it in one of her designs.

A finish she does love to use for kitchen countertops is honed. Honed is the original matte-type surface. In bathrooms, she enjoys mixing honed and polished stone. For example, she’s combined honed floors and niches in a shower with polished stone walls.

Leathered finish on stone has been around for some time and Coleman says it has a sexy but classic look and feel that men seem to like.


Updating Natural Stone Countertops

For those who want to refresh or update spaces like a kitchen and keep their existing cabinetry, one option is having them restored to a different finish. “A perfect example would be if you had the popular polished black granite countertops that were all the rage around the early 2000s,” says Coleman. “You can have a fabricator put a honed finish on these, replace the backsplash, and you would have a completely different and more current look!”


Choosing Natural Stone for Its Beauty, Strength, and Longevity

There are many reasons why clients choose natural stone for their projects and there is something to be said about the beauty of the real material versus something that looks like stone. Coleman knew her client from 10 years ago wanted marble and while she could have settled for a non-marble look-alike, the reality is she wouldn’t have been happy. Instead, advising her client on how to care for her marble means her client was able to include the stone she wanted in her bathroom and is still happy a decade later. Nothing beats the real thing.

Polished White Macaubus quartzite. Photo courtesy of Kat Coleman, Topkat Design Group.

While marble remains a favorite among her clients, Coleman has been installing more quartzite lately. She appreciates that quartzite is harder than granite and can sometimes even be non-porous, although she highly recommends testing the porosity level if that feature is important to a client. White quartzites have the look of marble with the durability of granite, she says, which makes them attractive to clients.