Dear Readers,

This column is just for you. Every other week, I’ll answer one of your interior design questions. Just send me an email with your question and I’ll reply right here. This week’s question:

You’ve written about quartz countertops in the past but I’m wondering what you think about slate in the kitchen.

If you mean a slate slab, it’s a wonderful choice and costs less than quartz, soapstone, granite, and marble. In some cases, it can also cost less than limestone and travertine. Slate tiles have the same properties as slabs but they require grout which is something most people want to avoid. Tile also requires edge trims like “V-caps” which add more grout. So, if you’re referring to a slab, there are a lot of good reasons to choose it.

Slate is a metamorphic rock and is highly scratch-, stain-, fade-, heat-, and bacteria-resistant. (Scratches can easily be rubbed out). Unlike granite and other natural stone, good-quality slate is also acid-resistant. To add more positive notes, it’s also low-maintenance and can be cleaned with whatever kitchen cleanser you have on hand.

Slate is quarried in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. Some of the best quality slate comes from Vermont, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. It comes in various shades of green, red, black, purple, gold, and brown. The color is determined by its mineral composition. Hematite produces a reddish slate, chlorite makes it green, sericite makes it bluish-gray, carbon makes it appear almost black and pyrite makes it yellowish-brown. People who have well water might give slate a thought. The minerals in the water will not harm or disfigure it. My guess is that it has something to do with slate’s own minerals.

While some slate contains a blend of colors, others have a more solid pattern. My personal favorite is Vermont green. It’s virtually a solid pattern in a deep gray-black color with a green undertone. When honed to a smooth, matte finish, it looks like soapstone (another great choice but a significantly higher price tag).

Slate slabs can be fabricated to produce different textures and finishes. Cleft slate is rough and hardly treated. It’s great for a rustic look but there’s a tendency for dirt and food to get caught in the clefts. Bits of slate may also flake off over time. Honed slate is uniformly flat and smooth. This finish can scratch (slightly) and requires some upkeep and maintenance – but not any more than other natural stone. Cascade is a finish in between cleft and honed. It’s not quite as perfectly smooth as honed but doesn’t have the cleft’s ridges.

Slate is a hard, durable and eco-friendly choice. On the down side, its edges can be sharp and are best rounded during fabrication. The color selection is mostly dark except for the few gold-rust options which are still relatively dark. (If you’re hoping for a lighter choice, take a look at quartzite – different than quartz.)

Slate can suit a variety of design styles. Many may instantly think of a rustic home but it can work well in a modern home if the right color and finish selections are made. The honed, Vermont green I mentioned before can fit perfectly in a traditional or contemporary kitchen. The important thing is to keep the cabinets, floor, backsplash, appliances, and accessories in the same style.

I like the idea that you are entertaining a slate countertop. It will make your kitchen more distinctive than many – and will be more budget-friendly to boot.

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Patti L. Cowger is an award-winning Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at plcinteriors.com call (707) 322-6522; or email plcinteriors@sbcglobal.net.