Adding a granite counter top to your kitchen will be a decision you won't likely regret. Not only are they beautiful, they are the workhorse of counter tops and add style and personality to any decor. With a wide variety of counter top materials to choose from, the decision can be difficult. However, if you are looking for a low maintenance and relatively affordable option, granite may be your answer.
Granite is a mined stone from several countries around the world including: China, India, Italy, Brazil and Vermont in the USA. It is a super hard igneous or metamorphic stone composed of a combination of feldspar, quartz, mica and hornblende. It was formed in the Earth's core millions of years ago from magma that has cooled. The myriad of colors and patterns come from the mineral content of the area and, thus, no two slabs are ever the same.
Most of the stones have a base hue of white, pink/beige, or gray, but as you can see in the sample above, the overall color and patterns vary greatly depending on what part of the Earth they derived from. Many have a uniform speckled appearance, while others have a more unpredictable wavy-type pattern called "movement." When choosing your granite counter top, be sure to take into consideration your cabinet layout, as slabs come in standard sizes and it is common for countertops to require seams. You want to be sure the pattern you choose will "match" at the seams fairly well to avoid a piecemeal look once installed due to obvious seam lines. As a general rule, the more seams your layout will require, the harder it will be to easily match a stone containing lots of movement, as the pattern is quite random. Common slab sizes are as follows:
105" x 55 " up to 130" x 80"
114" x 66" (9' 6" x 5' 6") is the most common
2cm = 3/4 inch
3 cm = 1 1/4 inch
I personally don't recommend 2 cm slabs in kitchens. Kitchens take a lot of abuse and I prefer the added strength of a 3 cm slab. A 2 cm slab requires a plywood underlayment or backing to provide this extra strength, which may be fine in other applications, such as bathrooms, laundry rooms or an office. They also require a laminate, or trim piece, to cover the edges and hide the plywood. A 3 cm granite counter top will cost more, but in the case of kitchens, it's well worth it. Also, it gives you more options for your edge profile, which can play an important design role in many kitchen design concepts. A laminated edge limits your edge profile options.
Polished: The most popular of the finishes. This is achieved by using industrial sanding and polishing equipment and it produces a high gloss, mirror-like finish. It is the best for repelling stains, but also shows the most fingerprints and any scratching that may occur. Keep in mind that due to it's glossy finish, it will reflect light. If you have lots of metal or other shiny finishes, you may want to consider one of the less-polished finishes.
Honed: This is becoming a very popular choice for kitchens today. It is fabricated essentially the same way a polished granite is, but it stops short of the high-gloss stage, producing a satiny smooth, non-reflective matte finish. After the honing process, the color will be lighter than it's polished version, but after sealing the stone will become a bit darker. It would be important to see a sample of your granite counter top choice in the honed form before making a final decision. This would be a great texture choice for a kitchen with other reflective finishes, such as appliances, light fixtures and maybe even glossy cabinets.
Rough: This term encompasses many different finish treatments and it's important to see samples from your fabricator to know that you are both speaking the same language. These treatments begin with a honed slab where different methods are applied to create a specific surface texture. A brushed finish is achieved by using a diamond brush on the surface. A flamed finished is smooth, but rough, achieved by literally using a very hot flame to heat the surface where the crystals to burst, creating the bumpy surface. Leathered is another textured surface similar to flamed, but with a more linear (as opposed to bumpy) texture, creating a very, well, leathery look.
All of the rough finishes offer a unique design element to your granite counter top and are great at hiding fingerprints, crumbs and scratches. Keep in mind that the more aggressively textured finishes are often used in outdoor applications where keeping a glossy finish looking clean is next to impossible. Any texture used indoors may be more difficult to keep clean taking into consideration the ridges and bumps that can be hiding places for spills and crumbs.
Pro & Cons
Granite Counter Top Care
Cleaning granite countertops is really as simple as keeping them clean as you work in your kitchen. With proper sealant and consistent care, they really don't need much special attention.
Sealing granite countertops is as easy as wiping them clean and will prevent staining down the road. Though not all granite counter tops require sealing, it doesn't hurt to give them a once over annually. To see if it's time to re-seal, simply drip water drops onto them in several areas. If any of them absorb into the counter, it's time to re-seal all of the surfaces.
Material: Price varies greatly depending on origin (how rare is it?), thickness and variety of stone.
$45-$400 per square foot. This is just for the material and doesn't include edging details, templating, installation and sealing. Be sure to get your final cost based on all of these details.
Installation: Price varies by region/city. It is fairly labor-intensive, thus fairly expensive.