The differences between marble and quartz, for instance, are varied and complex, with each material excelling in different applications and under different conditions. The choice between engineered or natural surfaces is more than an issue of performance; it’s still about the look.
Today we’ll take a look at quartz vs marble, offer some comparisons, plus give you some examples of how the two materials play best together.
Organic vs uniformQuartz is a good choice when designs call for consistency and uniformity like in kitchens with ultra modern lacquered cabinetry. The unbroken surface of say a high polished gray or white quartz has a sleek formal appearance. It’s also available in a wide variety of shades.
It’s also a good foil for an marble or granite island with an activated vein pattern. Or as a pairing for a unique handcrafted material like Vetrazzo’s crushed glass slabs. Here the uniformity of perimeter counters allows the bar top to stand out as a feature.
Vetrazzo recycled glass countertop in Martini Flint. Design by Stephanie Rothbauer.
In designs where you’re looking for an organic quality, the natural variations of veining in American marble like Pearl Grey work to support a natural feel. Like the figuring in a live edge wood slab, the vein pattern in a slab of US marble, for instance, is completely unique to that piece. If that’s your kitchen island, there will never be another one like it.
Some quartz manufacturers like Ceasarstone have developed countertops to mimic the veining (though not the depth) of natural marble. Whether they achieve the effect is up to the viewer. Obviously for us as quarrier of natural stone, we find the luxury of a material is it’s authentic, naturally occurring characteristics. Because marble is made of minerals it has an internal crystal structure that gives the surface depth and dimension - you can literally look into the stone and see its layers. (Given the choice between the stone and a picture of stone, I’d take the real thing.)
This especially appeals to clients who are art collectors or who want to curate a home with bespoke fixtures and furnishings. April Graves of Aria Stone Gallery in Texas told me that her clients are now designing entire living spaces around one showpiece slab of natural stone, and even hanging it as art. You could do the same with quartz, but the difference is like walking into a gallery to choose an artist’s unique piece or buying a screen print at TJ Maxx. With quartz surfaces they are printed each one exactly like the one before.
Texture of course is a consideration with spec’ing a countertop material. Both honed and polished finishes can be applied to marble and quartz (though the usually stain and scratch resistant quartz is prone to scratch with a honed finish). Where natural look and feel are a priority, marble tends to win out for it’s touchability - a honed marble countertop feels and looks like a wind worn rock.
Durability of marble countertops compared to quartz counterops
The durability of marble versus quartz is probably one of the most misunderstood subjects to those inside and outside the trade.Marble is luxurious, but requires maintenance. True. But does its need for maintenance mean it’s fragile or impractical? Actually, no.
Back to our illustration of the Sunday supper. That red wine and tomato sauce (and lemon juice too) can stain marble are known facts. However, there are some marbles that stand up better than others to acidic agents. For this post I’ll be referring specifically to US marble which has a higher resistance to stains than Italian or Indian marble.
Here’s why:Every material has its own absorption rate. It’s a good indicator of how quickly something will penetrate the surface. The lower the absorption rate, the more time to wipe up spills.
Granite for instance has a very low absorption rate, which makes a good choice for about any surface. Quartz also has a low absorption rate because it’s engineered surface is made with resin. Marble is known for staining because unsealed many varieties can absorb liquids more quickly. American marbles like Pearl Grey and White Cherokee are the exception though. Their crystalline make-up gives them an absorption rate of just .09, and that’s before a sealer. Quartz is a manufactured surface and therefore doesn’t need a sealer.
And quartz is durable. True. But does durable mean indestructible? Again, no.
There are two things that can damage quartz irreparably - direct sunlight and heat. Any exposure to direct sunlight and high UV rays will warp and discolor quartz, causing it to yellow. Similarly a very hot pot placed on its surface can scorch it.
There’s no cleaner for that.
Quartz is harder than marble, and that it’s surface is resistant to scratching is well known. Lesser known is its lack of dimensional strength which can place limitations on design. For instance, in quartz surfaces radius corners (anywhere there is a directional change in the stone, like sinks and inside corners) must be rounded to maintain their integrity. When they come together, if they are left square and straight, there are weak portions that can crack and break. If your design calls for a square sink it can void the warranty on the quartz. Marble can be left square and not have weak spots. Both marble and quartz can chip on the edges.
Ultra-thin slabs for wall and floor installs
Marble and quartz both can be produced in ultra-thin slabs for cabinet facing and modern look countertops, full slab showers and backsplashes. Currently Polycor is the only company producing ultra-thin natural stone slabs in 1 cm thickness that also have a reinforced back which gives them 10x flexural strength.
An ultra-thin marble desk in Pearl Grey.
Appropriately spec’ed, both US marble and engineered quartz can be beautiful, durable materials for kitchens and baths. Knowing their strengths and limitations can help you tailor your design to your client’s lifestyle without restricting your design based on myths of material choices.
Now instead of asking, “What are you cooking and how often do you clean?” you can ask, “What’s the look you want to achieve?”
For more details on all of Polycor's American marbles, download our spec sheet catalog.