November 4, 2019

How to go about selecting natural stone slabs for your new kitchen

Expert Advice
Natural marble stone slabs in a warehouse
Visiting the stone yard can be the most exciting part of the kitchen building process. The search for a natural stone slab is akin to hunting for just the right painting that expresses your personality and taste. However, when you’re dealing with an expensive item that can have such a visual and functional impact within your kitchen, it’s important to be educated about it and to have a strategy for selecting.

What are natural stone slabs?

Natural stone deposits are formed in the Earth over millions of years from a variety of minerals through natural processes (volcanism, sediment deposits etc). At certain locations around the globe, these deposits are considered rich and accessible and this is where the stone is quarried out of the Earth. The stone is cut out of the earth in large blocks and then further cut into slabs about 2 to 3cm thick. Natural stone slabs are used extensively within the home for kitchen benchtops, splashbacks, and bathrooms.

A great short video by Italian artist and filmmaker Yuri Ancarani capturing the otherworldly landscape of Carrara’s marble quarries in the Apuan Alps, Northwest Italy.

What are the different types of natural stone?

The most popular types of natural stone quarried include Granite, Marble, Limestone, Travertine, Slate, Quartzite, Onyx, Soapstone and others. Within these main types are many different varieties that are named based on their appearance, where they originate from or are simply made up names for commercial reasons. There is no naming convention and often similar looking stones can have different names depending on where they are being sold. The physical properties also vary greatly: –
  • Hardness and porosity (how easily the stone absorbs liquid)
  • Scratch and stain resistance
  • Colour, texture, patterning and veining
  • Slab thickness and slab size
  • Surface finish
This variance makes each stone slab unique, particularly in a market dominated by homogeneous man-made stones.
Dolamite granite slabs are used throughout this apartment kitchen

Dolamite (Super White) natural stone slabs were used for the Kirribilli Kitchen Project >

Who supplies natural stone slabs?

Natural stone slab warehouses: This is where the majority of people find their stone. They act as middle men who source blocks of stone slabs from quarries within Australia and internationally. Most of what is sold in Australia is imported from countries like Spain, Italy, Brazil, China, India and Canada.
Stone masons: Some stone masons carry their own stock (usually limited to the popular types of stones). They are the people that work with the stone slabs turning them into benchtops, splashbacks and whatever else you may need. Sourcing natural stone from the stone mason can sometimes be more expensive but the benefit is the workability and suitability of the stone is assured.

Is the stone benchtop considered within the scope of the kitchen build?

Depends on the kitchen company and it is a question you should be asking your kitchen company at the start. Full service, end-to-end kitchen companies include these items in the scope of works as the designing, specifying and coordinating of these elements is complicated and time consuming. The benefits to the customer with this approach is a guided process, with any unforeseen issues being handled by the kitchen company. There are kitchen companies that permit you to find your own stone slabs and mason to cut and install. Going direct to the stone mason/warehouse may make the overall project cheaper but typically the researching, coordination and risk is then the customer’s responsibility. Having unrelated trades who are not coordinated by or contracted to the one entity opens a project up for costly errors and mishaps.
Mitred benchtop profile

Beautiful Carrara marble was used for the Killara Kitchen Project >

How to choose the type of stone that is suitable for me

Selecting a stone is not straight-forward. Trends, appearance and prestige can play a large part in the appeal of a stone type for people, only for them to learn that it may not be suitable in some way.
As mentioned above, the physical characteristics of stones vary widely and play an important part in stone suitability. We believe the best approach to help in your selection is to narrow down your stone options by looking at how you intend to interact with the stone surfaces.
Key factors outside of your budget that can narrow down your stone selection: –
  • The types of cooking to be done in the kitchen;
  • How prone users are to dropping things or knocking the stone;
  • How attentive to spills users are;
  • How fastidious with the cleaning users are;
Listing all the types of natural stones against these factors is simply impossible. However, as a basic guide, porous stones like marble are the hardest to maintain. While most granites and quartzites are much harder and stain-resistant (when sealed) and thus are better candidates for kitchen surfaces.
A conscientious kitchen designer (or stone supplier or stone mason) should be asking you these questions and recommending suitable stone types to you even if you’ve got your heart set on a stone already. Obviously, you can choose to disregard their recommendations but doing so is at your own risk. Once you’ve narrowed down your stone options, it’s time to see full size slabs.
Natural Stone Samples

Most stone masons and stone warehouses can provide natural stone samples upon request.

Picking the stone slabs in person

Once the design of your kitchen has been finalised, your kitchen designer or stone mason will be able to tell you how many slabs you will need, the size of the slabs required, the type of slab (book-matched, polished etc). A lot of people begin their search online as many stone warehouses will photograph their stock and publish it online. This is a good starting point as you can see what is available and where. It is our recommendation that slabs should only be purchased after inspecting them in person at the warehouse, making sure to check for rust marks, pitting, cracks and uniformity of the surface finish (your kitchen designer may even be able to attend with you). For the best chance of visual consistency, pick your stone slabs from the same block. Some stone masons will suggest an extra 10% in material in case of unforeseen defects in the stone found during cutting and for late design changes.

What happens to your stone slabs once you’ve selected them?

Typically, a deposit is paid to the warehouse/stone mason either by you or by your kitchen company (depending on who is responsible for the stone kitchen benchtop). The slabs are marked as reserved, and are usually held by the warehouse until the stone mason collects them for fabrication, at which point the balance is payable. Some stone suppliers and stone masons may charge a stocking fee, particularly for orders placed long in advance of installation.
The final steps in the overall process of getting your benchtops and splashbacks is the fabrication and installation phases, rounding out the entire process. I’d like to add that those people who select natural stone for both the benchtops and splashbacks get the added bonus of having their kitchen completed earlier than others who selected a different material for their splashback. This is because the stone-mason can install the natural stone benchtop and splashback on the same day, while other splashback materials like tiling and glass require different tradesmen and can take up to a few days to complete.
A Palm Beach Kitchen on the shore of Pittwater

Calacatta marble was used for the island in this Palm Beach Kitchen Project >

Getting started on your own kitchen project

Without a doubt the best results are achieved by people who appoint an experienced kitchen designer who enjoys the unique challenges of designing with natural stone and provides their time to guide you through the process. The Dan Kitchens Design Studio  has a long track record of designing and specifying natural stone, having helped many hundreds of customers over a 30+ year history. Dan Kitchens provides benchtops with complete kitchens or custom joinery projects – they are not sold separately.