Alternatives to White Marble Countertops
White marble is classic and timeless. Elegant Greek columns and powerful Roman walls gleam white in the sun, and white and gray-veined statues stand guard in art museums. For millennia, we’ve loved the soft, white-gray stone. Marble is mined around the world and graces monuments like India’s glorious Taj Mahal and Turkey’s beloved basilica, the Hagia Sophia. Our love of marble hasn’t faded — from clocks to kitchen counters, white marble is the trend of the decade.
Marble is a metamorphic stone that forms from limestone. As limestone is softened from heat and pressure, it re-crystallizes into vast marble deposits. The swirling gray and colored veins result from impurities such as iron oxides, clay, silt or sand.
Each slab of marble is unique, giving a personalized touch to any space. For timeless appeal and premium texture, you can’t go wrong with a marble countertop. However, marble is not well-suited for every project. Keep reading to learn about marble’s quirks, and about beautiful marble alternatives that provide the look of marble without the maintenance.
Table of Contents
- The Popularity of White Marble
- Why You Might Not Want Marble Countertops
- Alternatives to Marble Countertops
- Other Solid Surface Options for Countertops
- When to Choose White Marble
- When Not to Choose White Marble
- The Best Craftsmanship in Pennsylvania
The Popularity of White Marble
Minimalist and elegant, the bright tones of marble complement nearly any interior design scheme. White marble gets its coloring from a lack of impurities — the grayer the marble, the more it is influenced by other minerals like iron and sand. Two of the most popular strains of white marble are mined in the warm Italian hills — Carrara and Calacatta.
Both types of marble are white with twilight-gray veins. You can only see their differences when you compare them side by side. Carrara tends to have soft, indistinct veins and a grayer background. In contrast, Calacatta marble has a bright white background color with bold and dramatic veins.
Widely available and affordable, Carrara marble is less expensive than Calacatta. Its affordability and availability have made it making it the most popular marble for interior design. Whether its Carrara, Calacatta or a different type altogether, white marble is especially striking as kitchen counters and splash guards, bathtub surrounds, accent flooring, vanity tops and fireplace surrounds.
White marble is one of the most stunning natural stones, tending to brighten and elevate a space. Its popularity has lasted since the earliest cultures, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon.
Why You Might Not Want Marble Countertops
Despite its beauty, white marble may not be the best choice for everyone. The stone has a reputation for being easily chipped, stained and etched — a marble counter requires regular upkeep and maintenance to stay in excellent condition. Before you decide on a marble countertop, consider these three questions:
1. How Much Do Marble Countertops Cost?
The cost of marble varies based on where it was mined and the number of impurities it contains. The average price range for marble is anywhere from $60 to $150 per square foot. On average, a square foot of marble costs around $80. In general, grayer marbles like Cararra will cost less than bright whites like Calacatta, which can run you $180 per square foot. While marble is not the most expensive stone, it is significantly more expensive than other leading materials like some granites and quartz.
An average marble countertop will run about $3,000. At the high end, a new counter could cost you almost $10,000. For homeowners on a smaller budget, you can find less expensive options than Italian marble — high-quality Makrana marble, mined in India, can sometimes be found for only $12 per square foot.
The color of the marble will also affect its price tag. As a general rule, the whiter the marble, the more it will cost you — marble with tints of pink, beige and gold will often cost less than striking white Calacatta. While calculating the price of new marble countertops, also consider the costs of labor and installation as well as tools and equipment.
2. How Durable Are Marble Countertops?
White marble is a strong material — the Greek Parthenon has stood for over 2,000 years. But its strength doesn’t automatically make it right for counters.
Marble is porous, which means it absorbs liquids. To withstand normal kitchen or bathroom wear and tear, marble needs to be sealed every 1 to 2 years. Marble is vulnerable to stains, so you will have to act quickly to prevent spills from leaving permanent marks. Stains seep deep into the rock and are difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.
Acidic substances such as lemon juice easily scar marble. This effect is called etching, and it removes the polish from the surface of the stone. While they may not be visible in bright light, etching scars pop in dim or slanted light. The effects of etching are more visible on polished marble finishes than honed marble.
Softer and more brittle than granite or engineered stones, marble chips and scratches easily. After sustained use, marble countertops often develop nicks and gouges.
3. Is It Hard To Care For Marble Countertops?
The critical component in caring for a marble countertop is sealing. Because marble is a porous stone, it has thousands of tiny, interconnected channels and gaps between its grains. These small spaces in the stone easily absorb liquid, which isn’t ideal for a countertop. A sealer is a liquid that is applied to the counter to block the pores of the stone, preventing other liquids from entering and staining the counters. While sealing won’t make your counter stain- or etch-proof, it will go a long way to prevent wear and lengthen the life of your stone.
Sealers come in two broad categories — water- and solvent-based. Both are effective, but water-based sealers are more friendly for indoor settings — their fumes are less harmful than solvent-based products. As always, using a penetrating sealer is highly recommended. These sealers are designed to be absorbed by the stone and seal from within, and they work with both polished and honed textures.
The trick with marble countertops is to regularly reseal them. Many experts recommend you reapply a sealant every 1 to 2 years — at the least, reseal every year. If you forget to reseal your countertop or don’t have the time, your marble will be at a greater risk for staining.
Because marble is a relatively soft stone, it is prone to chipping and cracking. Avoid rubbing against your counter with jewelry or other metal pieces of clothing — you could accidentally chip off a piece of the marble.
Besides frequent sealing and attention to chipping, marble is not hard to clean. With a bit of water and gentle soap, you can wipe away most dirt and spills. But nothing can postpone etching forever — marble will develop a patina as it ages, even if you religiously reseal it.
Alternatives to Marble Countertops
If white marble is a little beyond your budget or you can’t devote time to its upkeep, don’t worry — there are plenty of durable options that retain the look of marble without the high-maintenance.
Stones That Look Like Marble
Stone can be divided into two broad categories — natural and synthetic. Natural stones include granite, limestone and marble. Alternately, synthetic or engineered stone is man-made and formed by fusing various minerals and compounds. The most common engineered stone is quartz.
In this guide, we will talk about the most popular natural and engineered stone — granite and quartz. Both granite and quartz are favorite countertop stones, and both come in a range of affordable to high-end prices.
1. Granite That Looks Like Marble
Known as the earth’s oldest building material, granite is an igneous stone — it forms from the solidification of molten rock. This makes it hard, durable and highly heat-resistant.
Composed of feldspar, quartz and mica, granite occurs in thousands of color variations from dusky grays to coral pinks. Some strains of granite can resemble marble — while it might not reach the bright white of Calacatta marble, some granites closely resemble the grayer Carrara stone.
Granite is a perfect option for a homeowner who loves the look of marble but wants a more durable, etch-resistant surface.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Granite Countertops
Granite makes a sturdy, stylish countertop. Some of the stone’s benefits include:
- Durability: Granite is more heat-resistant than marble and much more scratch-resistant. Because it forms under intense pressure, granite is one of the toughest naturally occurring materials on earth.
- Eco-Friendliness: Because granite is a natural stone, it is less processed than quartz or other engineered stones. It requires less carbon emission in its processing, giving it an environmentally-friendly edge over synthetic alternatives.
- Wide Range of Use: More durable than marble, granite has a broader range of applications. These vary from countertops to floor and wall tiles, stairs, thresholds and desktops.
While granite countertops have many advantages, consider these potentially negative characteristics of the stone before you purchase.
- Porous: Although not as porous as marble, granite will need to be expertly sealed to prevent stains.
- Price: While not as expensive as high-end marbles, granites are not the most cost-effective countertop options. Depending on quality, the cost of granite can range from $60 to $175 per square foot.
Granite can provide the real-stone look and feel of marble countertops, making them an attractive alternative for homeowners who don’t want marble’s intensive care.
Types of Granite
Granite comes in a wide range of colors and patterns, and several types resemble white Carrara marble. Here are some of the most popular imitations:
- Bianco Romano: This icy stone features streaks of gray and beige. With a light color and detailed pattern, Bianco Romano granite is a striking addition to any bathroom or kitchen. This stone stains easily, so it requires a strong sealing agent.
- Glacier White: Cool, light-to-dark veining makes this creamy granite interesting and appealing. Slabs include flecks of subtle color such as beige, reds and pinks. Glacier White granite goes well with white or dark cabinets and can range from pale to dark gray.
- Beola Ghiandonata: Beola Ghiandonata granite is often more gray than white. But its striation mimics the linear pattern of marble, and it adds a dark, soft effect to a kitchen or bathroom.
- Colonial White: Quarried in India, Colonial White granite features a cotton-white background with deep gray specks and splashes. Some slabs will be more gray and beige-heavy than others.
- White Ice: This bright granite is mined in Brazil, and features blue-gray veining contrasted with a snowy background. In many slabs, sparkling quartz deposits catch the light, adding a dazzling effect to a counter.
While granite may not have the exact veining structure as marble, it’s possible to find close matches that will add sophistication and durability to any space.
2. Quartz That Looks Like Marble
Quartz is an engineered stone made from at least 90 percent of ground quartz combined with polyester resins. These added materials bind the minerals and give the stone color. Because quartz is synthetically engineered, it can come in virtually any color, from natural grays and beiges to bright reds and vibrant blues.
Low-maintenance, quartz is an ideal material for countertops. It requires little upkeep to stay in pristine condition, and holds up exceptionally well to age and wear. Retaining the appearance of natural stone, quartz is an attractive and sturdy alternative to marble countertops.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Quartz Countertops
Quartz has several attractive components besides a beautiful look:
- Non-Porous: Quartz is non-porous, which means it doesn’t need to be sealed. Its dense grain makes quartz antimicrobial — it won’t absorb or retain harmful germs and bacteria.
- Durability: Quartz doesn’t stain or scratch like marble, which makes it ideal for high-traffic areas such as kitchens. You don’t have to worry about chipping or scoring the surface, which is perfect for counters that get a lot of use.
- Wide Range of Use: Like granite, quartz can work well in a variety of settings beyond countertops. Consider adding quartz to workstations such as desks or vanities.
Quartz counters are lovely and lasting. But make sure you account for the stone’s less-attractive qualities before you invest in new counters.
- Price: Depending on the grade of the stone, quartz countertops can cost the same as natural stone, at about $60 to $100 per square foot. However, quartz quickly goes up in price — when you factor in the price of installation, a quartz counter can cost $100 to $200 per square foot.
- Not Eco-Friendly: Because quartz is an engineered stone, it requires high levels of processing. To cut back on environmental impact, consider purchasing quartz that is regionally manufactured to minimize the gas emission of transportation.
Incredibly durable and low-maintenance, quartz countertops can be well worth the initial investment.
Types of Quartz
Quartz countertops come in a range of colors and patterns that mimic white marble. Here are some of the most popular types:
- Calacatta Nuvo: With a white background and wide, gray veining, Calacatta Nuvo quartz is a popular choice for marble-esque counters. Produced by Caesarstone, this quartz is meant to mimic Calacatta marble but with more durability and a less-expensive price tag.
- Silestone Helix: This white quartz has soft, light gray vein patterns that fade into a soft white background. Subtle, Silestone Helix will complement any space without drawing too much attention.
- Misty Carrara: Another Caesarstone product, Misty Carrera is smoother and less dramatic than Calacatta Nuvo. Perfect for bright and open spaces, Misty Carrara adds a contemporary and clean look to bathroom or kitchen counters.
- Vena Statuario Bianco: This quartz features defined gray veining that gives it a natural appearance. The pattern varies between blocks, adding to its natural appearance.
- Sugarbrush: Produced by Allen + Roth, Sugarbrush quartz features cream and gray veining. Imitating warm marbles, this quartz will add an opulent touch to a countertop. Translucent and gray particulates glisten in the light, adding a subtle sparkle to this quartz.
Beautiful and non-soluble, quartz is a long-lasting addition to any space. With plenty of options resembling marble, quartz countertops provide the look of marble without the worry of frequent sealing or permanent etching.
Other Solid Surface Options for Countertops
If you’re looking for something other than natural or engineered stone, don’t worry — the market is full of non-stone materials for lovely countertops.
1. Solid Surface
Solid surfaces are composites made of synthetic materials such as mineral dust and resin. Combined to resemble natural stone, solid surfaces are non-porous and highly stain resistant. Because they are synthetic, solid surface materials can be made to fit any shape — they are the perfect option for people working with curved or unusual counter shapes.
2. Ceramic or Porcelain
Made from clay and minerals, porcelain counters come in a wide range of styles and colors, and many marble imitations are available. Ceramic surfaces are scratch, heat, stain and bacteria-resistant, so you can prepare food directly on the counter without worrying about damaging the surface. Porcelain is non-porous, so it doesn’t require a sealing agent. This low-maintenance alternative will last for decades.
For a sustainable marble alternative, consider IceStone. IceStone materials feature a white background dusted with flecks of recycled glass. Distinctly affordable, IceStone countertops cost between $5 and $20 per square foot. The glass catches the light, adding a bright, sparkling effect to your counter.
When to Choose White Marble
Once you’ve considered the alternatives, decide whether or not marble is the best material for your countertops. Here are a few instances when marble might work for your project.
- If You Have the Time and Resources: If marble fits your budget, it will create a stunning countertop. If you have the time to commit to regular sealing and immediate cleaning, your marble will last for years in beautiful condition.
- If It’s Not in a Heavily Used Area: Marble is easier to maintain in areas that aren’t heavily used. Bathroom marble generally lasts longer than kitchen marble — typically, bathroom counters experience less use of the acidic products that will quickly etch the stone.
- If You Don’t Care About Wear and Tear: Some people enjoy the “story” of worn, etched marble. If you are comfortable with a stone that will show some stains and etchings over the years, you’ll be less stressed by marble’s gradual corrosion.
When Not to Choose White Marble
For some projects, it might be best to consider an attractive marble alternative. Consider these factors as you make your decision.
- If You’re Trying to Keep Costs Down: Marble is undeniably beautiful. But it comes with a continuing investment, both of time and money. Depending on the grade of marble, it can cost more than many other alternatives. But the real cost of marble is the upkeep. If you can’t devote time to regularly seal and clean your counters, marble may not be the best option.
- If It Will Be Heavily Used: Marble placed in heavily used areas will inevitably face the wear and tear of daily life. If near an entry, your counter will have keys and objects tossed onto them regularly, and children or pets may cause scratches or spills. In this case, consider putting a marble counter in a more gently used location.
- If You Want Your Counters to Stay in Perfect Condition: If marks and stains will cause you stress, marble is probably not the best material for your counters. Consider a more durable option such as granite or quartz. Also consider the longevity of your counters — if you need your counters to last for decades in a pristine condition, marble may not be the best choice.
The Best Craftsmanship in Pennsylvania
Marble is a classic material for a reason. It is elegant and refined and adds bright sophistication to any decorating scheme. If you’re willing to devote time to regular maintenance, white marble is a lovely investment. However, if you want the look and effect of marble for less upkeep, try a high-quality marble alternative for your countertops.
At Lesher Natural Stone, Quartz, & Tile, we are committed to excellent service and premium-quality products. Visit our 5,000-square-foot showroom to see our extensive selection first-hand, and talk with experts about the best options for your space. Let us help you build your dream project — contact us today for a free estimate.