about those countertops

Soapstone.  Man do we love this soapstone.

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I’ve had questions about our countertops since we’ve finished the kitchen remodel (what is it? do you like it? etc) so I thought I’d write a post explaining our choice for soapstone.

First of all, yes we love it.  I think it is an excellent material for our family.  It may not be for everyone (I’ll explain why) but for us, it’s perfect.

Let me say a little about our soapstone specifically.  The stone in our kitchen is from the USA.  It’s from a quarry in Virginia very close to where I went to school, in fact.  This soapstone is Alberene Soapstone, and they are the only remaining producer of soapstone in America.  Most of the soapstone in this country is sourced from Brazil or China, but it was important to me that we support  this more “local” company.  So important, in fact, that I had to set up Alberene Soapstone with a more local distributor and fabricator, Smokey Mountain Tops, in order to get this stone installed in our kitchen.  Basically, I started a dialogue between a salesperson from Alberene and a project manager at Smokey Mountain Tops in Nashville and got them to agree to work together in order for me to buy this stone instead of soapstone from Brazil.  Alberene sent me a sample piece to make sure I knew what I was getting, and I was emailed photos of all the available slabs that would fit our dimensions.  Dr. Jay and I narrowed it down from there.  We would have been able to pick it out on-site if we had wanted to travel to Virginia, but we chose our slabs from photos and questions over email.  Then Alberene had our slabs shipped from Virginia to Tennessee to be fabricated into countertops.  Smokey Mountain Tops did an amazing job crafting our counters and I can’t say enough good things about their service and help along the way.  We had one small hiccup in the initial installation and it was fixed within two days.  Neither of these companies know I am writing about them (or that I have a blog) so don’t think I was given a discount or compensated for mentioning them.

As for soapstone as a product is concerned, I will say that there is a lot of misinformation out there.  As I began my search here for a source for soapstone, I was told by one local fabricator that soapstone “wasn’t for me” and that it’s a “showpiece” countertop, not one for every day use.  This was completely disheartening to me, and I came home telling Dr. Jay that maybe we should consider granite (which I have never wanted) because this man told me soapstone was for show kitchens and not real kitchens.  He reminded me how much research I had done and asked me to reconsider before I changed my mind. I’m so glad I did.  Folks, this might be rule number one for dealing with salespeople or contractors during a remodel.  If you’ve talked to someone for five minutes and they proceed to tell you what is or is not for you, start getting suspicious.  Maybe they are right, but probably not.

So I forged ahead in my pursuit of soapstone and became more convinced that it was the right material for us.  And I was finally able to find someone I could trust to work with.  This means a lot when you are forking over thousands of dollars on one item in your kitchen.

What do we love so much about soapstone?  We love the way it looks.  It’s a charcoal grey, but when it’s oiled, it becomes black with white and grey veining.  We chose a honed finish, so it’s not shiny and has a very real look to it.  We like that.

Soapstone is not porous, therefore it’s naturally anti-microbial.  It’s completely non-reactive, so it won’t stain and acidic food or cleaners won’t affect it at all.  Soapstone is what schools used to use for counters in chemistry labs (when plastic laminate didn’t exist) because of these characteristics.  It’s thermal qualities are incredible.  I can set a pot with boiling water on it with no fear of it cracking or leaving a mark.  Soapstone is pretty indestructible, and for a family with small kids that is important.  Ours is not a “show” kitchen by any means.  We make three meals a day here and really put it to the test.  It’s definitely a working kitchen.

Soapstone is natural though, so it is not bulletproof.  Here are its downfalls, if you will, that aren’t deal-breakers for us.  It can scratch pretty easily BUT these are only surface scratches which will disappear in a few days time with the natural oils from your hands or if you rub on some food-safe mineral oil.  I think this is why that one man was trying to dissuade me from it, but I don’t think he realized the “self-healing” properties of soapstone.  It is also very hard, but brittle.  There is already one corner that was filled in with epoxy because it chipped before it left the shop, and another corner was chipped while the electrician was here installing a light.  But this is a very minor flaw that I’ve since rubbed smooth and no one has ever noticed it.  Basically, I like that our countertops will take one some natural patina.  I take care not to drop anything heavy on it, and I’m okay with the daily scratches that come and go.

I recently oiled it with the food-safe mineral oil (which is recommended a few times a year) and it came out looking as good as the day it was installed.  I thought it might be an annoying process, but it was a relief to completely clear off the counters and have a chance to start over again.

So there you have it.  Soapstone.  I’m really happy with it.  Any other questions for me?

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