How to Shop for Stone Kitchen Countertops, According to a Pro Designer

Deciding on kitchen surfaces can be daunting. For New York–based designer Noa Santos, there’s no improving upon the natural beauty of stone. “It’s such a tactile experience,” says Santos, who leads the interior design firm Nainoa and whose international portfolio of kitchens puts slabs of all kinds (marble, travertine, quartzite) to exquisite use. 

With clients, he always dedicates a virtual session to discussing type, color, and veining, which ranges from subtle to super graphic. But no matter what, he advises, head to the stone yards yourself. “Oftentimes you’re surprised when you see stone in person,” says Santos, whose favorite sources include ABC Stone and New York Stone. “Every time I think I have a favorite I come back with a new obsession.” 

Are you seeking stone kitchen countertops—without breaking the bank? Read on for Santos’s primer on kitchen geology, plus his expert tips on selecting the right surface.

Granite: “The patterns are a bit busier than I usually like, but it’s such a durable surface I wouldn’t be surprised if we incorporate it into our designs more frequently.” 

Marble: Santos loves marble for its dynamic veining, which can vary from minimal, in the case of classic Carrara, to exuberant, as seen in so-called Opera slabs.  

Quartzite: “Aesthetically close to marble but durable like granite, it’s an ideal candidate in terms of function and form.”

Travertine: Distinguished by its pitted texture, this porous stone requires lots of love and care. For high-use counters, Santos fills any holes with translucent resin to cut down on maintenance.  

West 11th Kitchen designed by NainoaCourtesy of Nainoa

Make surfaces to measure

When mapping out stone surfaces, it’s important to understand the constraints. Slabs are typically sold no more than five feet wide by nine feet long in thicknesses of three quarter or one and one-quarter inches. But they can be installed side by side to create broad expanses, or mitered together—joined at an angle—to form chunky countertops or seemingly monolithic islands, like this marble showstopper in New York City. (The most expensive designs might sculpt a unique shape from a solid block.) But you don’t need a ton of stone to make an impact—“a little goes a long way,” Santos says. Stone is expensive, as Santos is quick to acknowledge, but a marble-clad hood or backsplash on a focal wall can set the mood without breaking the bank.

Balance different types of stone

“At least one surface in a kitchen should be indestructible,” explains Santos. So if your island is stain-sensitive natural stone, make sure other counters are something engineered and “super wearable” like Corian. There are man-made surfaces that mimic veining, allowing them to camouflage with marble, for instance. But if a kitchen’s natural stone has a lot of pattern and personality, don’t force some fake approximation. A complementary expanse in a neutral hue will offer the right accent. In this New York City kitchen, Santos combined an island of Rosa Levanto marble with a wall of Caesarstone counters.