Surface Stone

By Candice Graham

Chances are, if you wander through the rooms of your home, you’ll find several types of stone surfaces – on walls, floors, countertops, and showers. Whether you choose to go with natural or manufactured stone, factors such as color, durability, and style will drastically transform the look and functionality of a room, and the type you choose can even affect your resale value. With so many options on the marketplace today, use this guide to help you narrow down your choices and find the perfectly suited stone for every space.


Natural Stone


With an aesthetic similar to marble, limestone has become an increasingly popular surface option. Found in a variety of white or sandy colors, limestone is uniquely formed over time from shells, fossils and sand. Limestone isn’t quite as durable as other stones, and can be scratched or discolored.

+ Pros: looks similar to marble   –Cons: not extremely durable


Requiring less maintenance than other types, slate is durable, non-porous, and versatile. The non-porous surface makes slate easy to clean and resistant to bacteria and stains. Durability makes slate resistant to chips and scratches, and it stands up to heat, too.

+ Pros: durable, non-porous   –Cons: corners can be sharp and brittle

“Slate tile is perfect for a mud room or entryway floor, because of its varying colors and durability.”- Kristin Randle, Manager/Interior Designer, Mission Stone & Tile


This strong stone can withstand daily wear and tear from a kitchen. It has a range of rich, warm hues but as with all natural materials, colors are a bit more limited when compared to manufactured options. Travertine is durable, but is subject to staining and etching if left unsealed.

+ Pros: durable, range of colors   –Cons: can stain and etch

 “The easy to etch or stain stones are the marbles, limestones and travertines. We suggest pre-etching or honing the entire countertop with a mild acid solution which results in a softer, pleasing finish. Sealing does not ever prevent etching. Etching is a non-issue with quartz, granite, soapstone, and slate. Although maintaining the high polish on granites and quartzites, especially the darker ones, can be tedious, there are great sealers that are guaranteed to prevent staining for 15 years, thus making staining problems obsolete.” – Blackwell Smith, President, Stone Source


With a more approachable feel than granite or marble, soapstone is becoming more popular in American households. Soapstone has a natural softness and its grey hue usually evolves into a darker grey with time. It does need regular polishing and maintenance and can crack or nick, but scratches can be easily sanded or oiled away.

+ Pros: natural softness

–Cons: can darken when oiled

“All the natural stones and quartz materials are appropriate in any application based on the taste of the homeowner and their tolerance for mild wear in the softer stones such as soapstone, marble, limestone, and travertine.” – Blackwell Smith, President, Stone Source


Beautiful and rare, onyx is a stone that requires a little extra care in order to maintain its magnificence. Onyx is fragile, but typically includes a fiberglass backing to strengthen the slab. Pots, pans, and knives can scratch the surface and it can be etched and dulled by acidic liquids. If onyx is your choice, be sure to seal it and frequently clean it with a stone cleaner. Onyx comes in a wide variety of colors and veining, making it more a work of art than a truly functional surface stone.

+ Pros: rare, wide variety of colors

–Cons: fragile, can be etched and dulled

Terra Cotta

As one of the oldest materials around, terra cotta, typically used in the form of tile, provides a rustic, warm, and weathered look. If you choose a high quality terra cotta, it can last forever, and it can be further enhanced by the type of sealant you use. For kitchen use, sealant is especially important, as the porous surface can harbor dirt and grime.

+ Pros: durable, rustic

–Cons: must be resealed regularly


Resin and quartz chips tinted with color make this engineered stone surface highly customizable and durable. Since it is custom made, quartz is available in a wide range of colors, graining, and patterns. It can even be stronger than quartzite, and is able to withstand high temperatures.

+ Pros: durable, customizable 

–Cons: seams can be noticeable

Manufactured Stone



Typically used in the form of tiles, porcelain is a ceramic material made by heating clay. A pro of porcelain tiles is replacement – if one gets damaged, individual tiles can be easily swapped for new ones. Just make sure to use the correct setting material, as porcelain requires a different type than ceramic.

+ Pros: easy to replace and maintain

–Cons: requires a special setting material

“If you want the elegant look of natural stone – yet you don’t want the maintenance of it – there are some beautiful options for you in porcelain tiles.” – Kristin Randle, Manager/Interior Designer, Mission Stone & Tile


The modern and sleek look of concrete surfaces make them a great option for urban, industrial living. Since concrete is manmade, it can be cast in any shape, tinted to any color, and mixed with a variety of inlays. It stands up well to heavy use, but must be sealed regularly to resist stains and water. The quality of the product often depends on the craftsman who makes it.

+ Pros: modern, customizable

–Cons: must be resealed regularly

“The quality of concrete is very dependent on the person who makes it and the maintenance of concrete is heavily dependent on the sealer that is used. The sealant affects the concrete’s ability to resist stains, abrasion, etc. However, if maintained properly, the life of concrete will last for many years.” – Nathan Smith, Craftsman, Set in Stone