Sunday, February 14, 2010


I don't think there is any surface material more popular, more ubiquitous and more overused than granite. I would certainly not spec it, without first allowing my client to appreciate and ponder the alternatives. It's just everywhere! Everyone I know who has had a kitchen reno has granite. Most any upgraded, new construction home would most likely have granite. Every other contractor on the block offers a "$5,000 for all these!" kitchen showcase that features shiny, maple/oak cabinetry and you guessed it, granite countertops! Truth be told, I am kind of sick of granite.

I have nothing against granite. Granite is an excellent choice in terms of value, hardiness and looks. It will not disappoint in terms of getting a bang for your buck. Maybe that's why it's all over the place. Granite to me, is as ordinary as the ceramic tile (which I will one day replace with something that is not granite) that sits on my kitchen counter.

Until this weekend. On a trip to Joshua Tree National Park with my husband and kids, I, the granite snob, spent hours climbing, crawling under, squeezing through--huge piles and edifices of these igneous rocks. Such a spectacle! They were smooth, yet slightly scratchy to the touch.  Plainly brown and whitewashed in the noonday sun, they revealed the slightest color variations upon closer inspection. They were piled one on top of the other just so, like somebody meant for them to look that way. Rock piles that began underground eons ago as a result of volcanic activity, revealed to us today, so that art may imitate life. I came to look at the cacti and Joshua trees, but fell in love with the rocks. It was a (relatively) short, three-hour drive, but I sure have come a long way!

These rocks are proof that art indeed imitates life. So enthralled was I, that I spent the next hour looking even more closely at the granite surrounding me. Appearing in all manners of shapes and arrestingly arrayed in all sorts of positions, they reveal even more surprises in places one might not think to look. Underneath them when not touching  the ground or another rock, I found the most interesting growths of lichen. Lichens are equal parts fungus and algae--a very curious and unique combination of a parasitic specimen (the fungus), and a photosynthetic partner (the algae). One after another I peered under the rocks, and found these beautiful splashes of blue-green, rust and pink, dusting and adorning the granite. With every lichen-encrusted specimen, my newfound admiration for granite grew. I will never look at another granite countertop the same way again. There, in that valley surrounded by a mountain of countertop material, I was able to say what I thought I would never say: "Now this, I would not mind having in my kitchen!" To be able to chop onions on something that emerged out of the earth and upon which lichens grew, wow, that is something indeed.
See actual pictures below.

Yet therein lies the dilemma. As with any rock, it literally takes eons, for all that granite to make its debut from under the earth. That day I stood there, and I knew, even though granite is and will remain to be the most popular material of choice, due to its substance, elegance and lasting beauty, I would much rather leave the granite where they are. Granite, like any other natural stone, is not renewable.

That being said, I can now say that in terms of granite, I am more convinced of it--looks-wise. If I were to spec it out to my client right now, I would certainly take loads of pleasure in selecting the most unique and "lifelike" colors and patterns.

However, any good interior designer should be able to spec out a plethora of greener, and just as sturdy and beautiful alternatives to granite. Among these are recycled glass, tile and a wide range of composite materials that rival any natural stone in hardiness and selection range, and top them in eco-friendliness. Among my favorites are Richlite, and Icestone, and I will bet there are variations out there that will give the impression of lichen-encrusted granite. My next mission is to find that look, reincarnated in something a little less stone-age and a little more greener.

Stay posted!

Next: Green Countertops


To take a look at granite in a showroom:
Or a national park: