August 12, 2016

Interview with Sawhill: Natural Stone Countertops

Sawhill Custom Kitchen and Design

Today we begin an occasional series featuring interviews with our talented Sawhill staff about remodel and design topics they are passionate about.  The interviews offer a unique opportunity to get to know our team and gain insight into their expertise on home design topics.

We kick off the series with Sawhill certified kitchen and bath designer and experienced project manager, Edwin Figueroa.  We recently sat down with Edwin to have a conversation about the many beautiful natural stone countertop options available to homeowners, a category which includes granite but also many other options.

Interviewer: Edwin, let’s begin by having you tell us a little about your experience both as a designer and at Sawhill specifically.

Edwin:  I joined the Sawhill team 2 years ago and am originally from California.  I bring 22 years of experience in kitchen and bathroom design/build.  What I enjoy most about Sawhill is the environment.  The atmosphere is friendly and conducive to creativity and collaboration.  Because Sawhill isn’t about creating cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all environments, we are encouraged to explore with new materials and products which is something I enjoy.

Interviewer:  What is your design style?

 Edwin:  While I am a modernist at heart, I enjoy engaging my creative side to explore styles that fit my client’s lifestyle and aesthetic.  Two favorite parts of my job are seeing projects come to fruition and the reaction of my clients when they see something they love.  Design has impact and evokes reactions out of people which is why I love what I do.   

Interviewer:  What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

Edwin:  I love to mountain bike, travel and eat!  Cooking is also a passion of mine.  I like to explore different cuisines when eating out and then duplicate the flavors at home.  You’ll often find me cooking lunch at the Sawhill showroom.

Interviewer:    Let’s dive into our design topic for today, natural stone countertops.  Natural stone is a beautiful choice for countertops.  While granite is a popular choice, there are many other natural stones countertops available to homeowners and each bring their own aesthetics to a kitchen.  Let’s start by explaining the different natural stone options homeowners have for countertops.

Edwin:  When dealing with countertops, I like to begin conversations with my clients by explaining the differences between and qualities of the three main categories of natural stone, sedimentary rocks (limestone, travertine, sandstone), metamorphic rocks (marbles) and igneous rocks (granite, quartzite), as they pertain to countertops


Sedimentary rocks such as limestone, travertine and sandstone are formed by accumulation of silt and pressure.  People tend to shy away from using sedimentary rocks for countertops because they are the most brittle and porous of the three rock types.  However, some sedimentary stone slabs are reinforced with resins and fiberglass as the bonding agent for countertops purposes and taking care of the material appropriately will keep it in good shape.  Sandstone and limestone slabs are usually smaller due to risk of breakage during transportation so homeowners are more likely to have seams with these options.  These stones are very even in color, offering variation of color within, but with no veining and come in beige, rich red or cool grey tones.  With proper care, sedimentary rocks are a great countertop option for people who want a stone countertop with an even tone.

Marble, soapstone and quartzite fall under the metamorphic rock category.  Metamorphic rock typically is denser than sedimentary and therefore is more durable and comes is larger slabs.  Soapstone is non-porous and extremely dense, meaning it is unlikely to stain or react to acids.  Metamorphic rocks in general have low-abrasion resistance, meaning they are more easily scratched.  However, in the case of soapstone, all it takes is some mineral oil, wax, or fine-grit paper to smooth out or hide the scratch.  Soapstone comes in variations of greens and greys with some white running through it.  Marble delivers a more even look with veining versus the crystalized formations of granite.  Metamorphic rock countertops are a wonderful and often stunning option for people looking for a particular aesthetic.

Igneous rocks, our final category, include granite which is a popular countertop choice.  Igneous rocks are

formed from volcanic eruptions and contain some of the most durable mineral on earth, no doubt part of their popularity. 

With all natural stones it’s important to note that there are finish options, such as honed, polished, antiqued, and brushed, that will impact their appearance, the wear of the stone and the maintenance or care required.  We always have a discussion with our clients about their lifestyle, how they intend to use their kitchen, and the qualities of each stone to determine the best natural stone choice.

Interviewer:  Just like any metal that comes in contact with the environment will patina, softer stones will have the same reaction to their environment and the people that utilize it.  What does this mean in terms of countertops?

Edwin:  Patina is a fancy word for something that has stained or been environmentally affected.  Natural stone will wear differently depending on the stone type and finish and homeowners should make sure that they are educated by their kitchen designer on how the stone will age and how to properly care for their countertop.   We always consult directly with our stone supplier to help our clients determine the best maintenance plan. 

Interviewer:   So what care is required of natural stone?

Edwin:  As I mentioned earlier, the type of stone and finish of your countertop will determine the care required.  For example, a polished granite or quartzite countertop will require less maintenance (and be less likely to scratch or etch) than a honed marble countertop. 

For most stone countertops, with the exception of soapstone which I will cover in a bit, a water-based sealant should be applied as part of the regular maintenance of the stone.  Frequency of application depends on the type and finish of the stone and how frequently you use the kitchen. However, good indicators that resealing is needed are when water no longer beads on the surface or when water darkens the stone beneath.  It’s also important to know that high traffic areas such as around the sink and prep areas may require more frequent resealing.  Also, a water-based sealant should be used rather than a silicone based sealant in a kitchen.  Silicone will be more efficient but turns the countertop into a toxic surface meaning no food can come in contact.

Acids are the primary concern for natural stone countertops which can etch, or dull, the stone.  Etching will be more noticeable on polished, rather than honed, finishes.  Avoid exposing stone countertops to acidic cleaning products and use a cutting board when preparing acidic foods such as tomatoes or citrus.  If you do have a spill, immediately clean the surface with soap and water along with specialty stone cleaner and re-seal it. However, all is not lost if etching occurs.  As the countertop is used and patinas over time, the etching will become less apparent and, in a way, add to the beauty and age of the stone.

Soapstone, as I mention earlier, requires a different treatment.  Food grade mineral oil should be used to treat soapstone and prevent darkening in the area that are used most.  A good rule of thumb to follow for oiling soapstone is (after installation): every day for a week, once a week for a month, once a month for a year, and then as needed for maintenance. 

Finally, regardless of the countertop material, trivets and cutting boards should always be used.  Cutting boards prevent scratches, stains and etching.  Trivets prevent thermal shock which will cause any stone material to break or crack including granite or even Corian. Thermal shock happens when a material in a state colder than room temperature has a rapid change in temperature.    Natural stone temperature is always 20 degrees cooler than your house.  So when you take something out of the oven and place it directly on your countertop you run the risk breaking or cracking your countertop.

Interviewer: So, do you have a favorite natural stone to work with?

Edwin: For me, it is the composition of a room that determines the type of material used.  My advice for homeowners is to explore your options and not rule natural stone options because you are afraid of them or you don’t know how to care for them.  Just know that like anything in your home, they all require some care.

Sawhill Cus­tom Kitchens & Design is the premier provider of kitchen and bath design and custom cabinet building services for clients in the Twin Cities, Upper Midwest and beyond.  We deliver exceptional spaces by taking a holistic approach to meeting your needs and exceeding your expectations. With skill and experience, your Sawhill team of designers, space planners, custom cabinet building experts and project managers will invest in your design plan from concept to final installation.

The result will be a gorgeous working interior you’ll love, without the headaches you won’t.  Give us a call at 612.338.3991 or stop by our showroom at International Market Square in Minneapolis.  We’d love to hear about your home ideas and dreams.

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August 12, 2016