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Patti Cowger, Demystifying Design: Granite doesn’t float my boat
Demystifying Design

Patti Cowger, Demystifying Design: Granite doesn’t float my boat

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Dear Readers, this column is just for you. Once a month I’ll answer one of your design questions. Just send me an email with your question and I’ll reply right here. Today’s question:

A short time ago, you wrote a column saying that you didn’t like granite and didn’t understand why quartzite and soapstone weren’t more popular. Can you explain what you mean?

In a nutshell, many granites are dark and busy. The darkness isn’t problematic on its own, but combined with busyness, a space can look heavy. Design-wise, one either builds on these characteristics resulting in a dark and busy room or one counter-balances them by going light and plain which can end up looking stark and jolting.

I may have an aversion to most granites for an additional reason. When I began to design kitchens decades ago, many builders used the same few granites over and over. These slabs were plentiful and budget-friendly. They were, if you don’t mind me saying, “ugly” and even homeowners agreed.

As I recall, they were Ubatuba Green, Dakota Mahogany, Juparana Verde, and Namibian Gold. They looked similar. Dark green, medium brown, and rust with tight, uniform black flecks. The pattern looked artificial and you may have previously read that I don’t personally like these colors. Can’t help it. 

I did mention in my column that there are a few granites that I do like. Unfortunately, they are not plentiful and, therefore, are more pricey. They are all in the blue and (not dark) green shades with more open backgrounds.

I did not mention, however, that there is a scenario where I would choose granite over any other material every single time. That scenario is in selecting a black countertop.

“Absolute Black” or “Galaxy Black” are virtually solid black granites with the latter containing a bit more sparkles. I prefer the former. The solid pattern takes away the problematic busyness and the color black is a dramatic neutral. Such a countertop allows for a wide range of color schemes and design styles.

There are also solid black quartz options from which to choose all going by different names including Absolute and Galaxy. The advantage of choosing granite in this case is that it is less expensive, has the hand of real stone, and can be repaired in the event that it gets stained, etched or chipped. Quartz is difficult and sometimes impossible to repair.

My column also mentioned my preference for quartzite and soapstone to granite. I just think they’re prettier. Quartzite is 100% natural, metamorphic rock and not to be confused with quartz which is about 90% quartz particles and 10% resin and pigment. Quartzite has many light-colored options with white and light gray open backgrounds. While there are some granites with these same backgrounds, quartzite has a softer and more luxurious appearance and is actually harder than granite.

Soapstone is a type of metamorphic rock largely composed of talc. It’s dark, softer than granite, and also more expensive than mid-range granite. Although it’s less porous than granite, it’s less scratch and heat-resistant.

So why would I prefer it to granite? It’s still an extremely durable and easily-maintained material – used in commercial kitchens and is favored by Martha Stewart, in fact.

Soapstone is typically charcoal gray and can have green or blue undertones. It’s a perfect alternative to black granite when black is too strong a color for a room. Wiping soapstone with mineral oil can deepen the color if desired. It is largely solid in pattern but can have soft, variegated white or light gray veining. Given its talc content, surfaces feel like luscious soap.

If you’re shopping for countertops, you might consider these two options. Like granite and other natural materials, it’s best to visit a stone yard to see each unique slab in person.

Patti L Cowger is an award-winning Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. Demystifying Design appears every other Saturday. For more information, visit or email

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