From Dean Dowd on September 29, 2010 in Kitchen Remodel
Rob Jones of BuildDirect, the online stone flooring and building materials vendor, talks about a surfacing choice that’s been popular for thousands of years: natural stone tile. Taking a selection of the most popular types of stone tile, what are the origins, characteristics and advantages of each? And how does this translate as a surface for your kitchen? Take a look.
You can see how natural stone surfaces in modern homes still look up-to-date in all kinds of 21st-century interior design. And yet they’ve been around for millennia, paving the way for the ancient Greeks, Byzantine Empire, Aztec civilizations and beyond. Natural stone is both traditional and stylishly modern at the same time. One area where natural stone tile has been most popular is the kitchen, where practical concerns like concentrated foot traffic, spills, and falling objects like cutlery are equally important as the question of appearance. So, how do the different types compare, and what can you expect from each? Here are 6 materials for you to consider when choosing natural stone tile for your kitchen.
Origin: Granite is the result of molten rock cooling in subterranean pockets, with sundry minerals like quartz trapped and suspended inside as it does so, which gives it incredible density and stability. It is one of the hardest materials on earth. Appearance: Depending on which materials have been suspended in it during formation, the color range of granite is wide indeed, from absolute black to golden yellow, with subtle blues, greens, and grays also being popular choices. What unifies the look of granite are the speckle patterns that make it so distinctive.
Where it’s been used: University Hall, Harvard, Cambridge Massachusetts, to name a few. Granite tile is used in hallways and foyers all over the world as flooring and also wall cladding.
Where to use it in your kitchen: Flooring, wall cladding, backsplashes, tile-based countertops, cutting boards, coasters.
Advantages: Supreme hardness, high-end and refined look.
Challenges: Be careful of slippery high-sheen surfaces when wet.
Origin: Slate is the result of coastal soil, clay and other minerals compressed and heated over millions of years. The final product is a rough-hewn, naturally slip-resistant natural stone. Appearance: Each slate tile is of varying thickness (although generally calibrated and squared to allow an easier installation). Slate is available in a number of finishes, from a flat finish to a high sheen for that classic ‘wet’ look. The broad color variation in slate is notable even from batch to batch, which gives you a wide range of layout choices when you order yours.
Where it’s been used: As a key building material in Europe, and as roofing for St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Slate tile is used extensively as an interior flooring surface, as well as outdoors in many temperate climates.
Where to use it in your kitchen: Flooring, wall cladding.
Advantages: Natural slip resistance, amazing color range even in the same batch.
Challenges: Heavy. Be careful when installing.
Origin: Marble is a part of a family of natural stone, created in underground streams that carry materials like calcite and dolomite. The flow of these subterranean water sources creates a build-up of of these materials, eventually solidifying and creating marble. Appearance: Marble is smooth, and has unique veining patterns due to the variety of the materials that were carried along by the rivers that formed it. As a result, marble is known to have an organic beauty that offers a number of patterns and color ranges.
Where it’s been used: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Statue of David , The Taj Mahal. Marble tile is commonly used in the foyers of high end hotels.
Where to use it in your kitchen: flooring, countertops, wall cladding, backsplashes
Advantages: a smooth, and refined effect with random veining patterns that make every installation unique.
Challenges: Be careful of spills, particularly of acidic liquids - fruit juice, red wine, etc. These must be seen to immediately, despite how well they’ve been sealed.
Origin: In the same family as marble, travertine is also formed by way of underground water systems. At a certain point in the process, the escaping gasses create tiny ‘pores’ in the rock which gives travertine its distinct porous character. Appearance: In its natural state, as mentioned, travertine is known for its porous surface. However, if you’re looking for a smooth stone surface, you can also buy ‘honed and filled’ travertine. For that extra worn-in appearance, ‘tumbled’ or ‘brushed’ travertine can give you the look of the ancient world, a time when travertine was a primary building material used in all kinds of applications. The color range tends to incorporate beige, grey, golden, and brown.
Where it’s been used: The Roman Colliseum, The Getty Center in Los Angeles. Travertine tile is used indoors and out, climate permitting.
Where to use it in your kitchen: flooring, countertops, cladding, coasters
Advantages: A peerless surface when you’re after a warm, Classical effect. Great for bathrooms, too.
Challenges: Much like marble, watch for spills. Clean them up right away to avoid staining.
Origin: Limestone is another member of the travertine and marble family, also derived from underground moisture sources that collect materials like calcite and aragonite, including traces of fossil materials, to form a smooth, and durable natural stone. Appearance: Limestone is very similar to marble, without the consistent vein patterning. It is also similar to travertine to the touch, although travertine in its natural state is more visibly porous than limestone. Limestone is more tonally varied than travertine with a wider range of colors available for you to consider.
Where it’s been used: the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Limestone tile used in a number of applications other than flooring, including exterior wall cladding.
Where to use it in your kitchen: flooring, wall cladding
Advantages: A similar effect to travertine, with an even wider color range from which to choose.
Challenges: See travertine.
Origin: Grains of sand fused together due to tremendous heat and pressure after being collected by subterranean rivers, or ancient oceans. It is a type of ‘sedementary’ rock. Appearance: An even surface, often with striated patterns (depending on cut) with wide color choices in an earthy range of browns, gold, beige, and burnt sienna. Sandstone in an unfinished state is slightly rough to the touch.
Where it’s been used: Sydney Town Hall, Sydney Australia. Much like the other types of stone listed here, sandstone tile has a number of common applications both indoors and out, latter applications depending on climate.
Where to use it in your kitchen: Floor tile, wall tile
Advantages: Very durable, hypoallergenic
Challenges: Watch for slips when the stone is wet
Now that you have some specifics on each choice, here are a few points on what to expect from natural stone in general. All of the above offer a range of color, rather than consistent monochromatic colors, with variations to be found dependent on your particular ‘batch’ of tiles. This is because your getting a natural product developed over millions of years, with a random number and amount of elements going into the mix to make each slab of stone unique. The tiles you’re buying are cut from these slabs. So, they’re going to be unique too in terms of color range.
But, apart from that, that’s the skinny on a selection of natural stone to consider for your kitchen. Also, it’s important to note that all natural stone needs to be sealed to prevent moisture absorption, cracking, and staining. When you’re talking to your vendor, be sure to find out how often re-sealing should be done on your choice of natural stone. Ask your vendor about daily maintenance as well and how that affects your warranty.
Whatever natural stone tile choice you go with, enjoy your new kitchen flooring!
Thanks, Rob. If you’re interested in learning more about natural stone, investigate this page that tells you how to order samples of natural stone tile for free.