about those countertops

Soapstone.  Man do we love this soapstone.


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?


Pope-Leighey House adventure

This morning Dr. Jay and I packed up the toddler and traveled a few miles south to a little architectural gem that’s been on our list to visit for a while, the Pope-Leighey House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  I realized once we were there that it was my first time in a FLW house- a big deal for me.


The house was originally built in 1940, commissioned by Loren Pope and his family.  It was first located in Falls Church, and the family lived there for about five years until they needed a larger home for their expanding brood (the house is only about 1200 square feet).  Mrs. Marjorie Leighey was the second owner and lived in the home until 1964 when it was condemned to be torn down by the oncoming expansion of Route 66.  Mrs. Leighey struck a deal with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the house was moved (sort of) to its current location in south Alexandria, the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation.  She was permitted to continue occupying the house and did so until her death in the early 1980s.  In 1996 the house was again moved, but just 60 feet from its previous spot so as to more accurately portray what the original site orientation would have been.

woodlawnplantation Woodlawn Plantation home

Our tour was given by C.J. Lamora, a local designer and devotee of Frank Lloyd Wright.  He stressed that the house is a prime example of FLW’s Usonian house ideal, the concept being that the house is modest in size so as to be affordable for American families, efficient in design and well-sited for the surrounding environment.  FLW relied on three major materials: brick, cypress wood and concrete.



He also used these geometric cut-out shapes as a motif throughout the house at the clerestory level, a theme fairly common in the Usonian houses.

We weren’t permitted to take photos inside (major bummer) but I’ll share some photos I took of the exterior and talk more about the interior with some images I’ve gathered from the world wide web.



You can see the deep overhangs, typical of a FLW design.  I was once told that these serve to limit the amount glare from the sun in that particular site line, so that you would have a more even view of the horizon.







Spring was out in bloom today.


I loved the use of built-in planters around the house.



As our tour guide mentioned, you can see the strong use of horizontals throughout the house.  This is part of Wright’s ideals of connection to the land.  There is a 6’8” datum line for most of the ceilings (doors reach this datum line as well) that serves to reinforce a human scale and make the spaces seem more intimate.  In this house, it is broken only in the living room, where the space expands and light from the south facing wall fills the room.

Photo of the living room found online:




Original drawing of the plan:


Here’s a link to more interior photos, which seem to be protected so that I can’t reproduce them here.

While flipping through one of my books on Frank Lloyd Wright, I found that there was an article written by Mr. Pope (a journalist in Washington D.C.)  in House Beautiful in which he praised Wright’s efficient design for the home.  Because this article was so well-written and widely read across the country, it served to catapult Wright’s popularity and gain him clients at the end of the WWII and into the 1950s. 

We enjoyed the short tour and ability to walk around the beautiful landscape in spring.  I definitely recommend a trip to the Pope-Leighey house if you are in the area and appreciate historic architecture or just want to be inspired by Wright’s work, as I was today.

Easter and “nesting”

Dude, is it spring yet?  I guess I still have a couple more weeks, but I am getting the itch for constant warmth and sunshine.  And it’s been such a mild winter I don’t know what I am complaining about, I think I’ve just been teased one too many times into thinking that winter is over.

In the meantime, I’ve been gearing up for Easter in some weird nesting bug that’s taken hold of me due to pregnancy.  I don’t think I’ve announced it on the blog, but we anxiously await number two (Little Sister as we’ve been referring to her) in June.  AND we have just decided to move south in the summer.  A mere six weeks after Little Sister arrives.  What, me worry?

We’re excited about both of these changes, don’t get me wrong.  But anxiety?  Well, yes, it’s beginning to set in.  As my need to nest and prepare for a new baby grows, so does the uncertainty of where we will end up in August.  How does one search for a nice home to rent when you can’t actually visit the city until the last minute?  This used to be quite the task when it was just Dr. Jay and I (and Rudy!) and we were looking for a place to rent when we moved from Texas to Georgia.  Now throw not one but two small children into the mix and see if you don’t start to feel a little anxious.

I’m eager to start decorating a room for this next baby.  I’ve started a board on Pinterest, I’ve ordered a new chair, a new crib (which is being stored at our dear friend’s house as we certainly have no space to hold it!), and picked out a color scheme.  I’m driving Dr. Jay crazy with a bag of little girl clothing I’m hoarding.

And in the mean time, I’m stocking up on Easter treats for Mark’s Easter basket (the first one he can truly appreciate), and looking forward to spring which will surely bring answers to all my “What lies ahead?” questions.  And of course having a few Easter treats of my own.


Can you resist these?  I certainly cannot.

Big day out

Mark and I had some fun on Sunday afternoon at DC’s Big Flea, a flea market I’ve heard about (and wanted to attend) since we moved here.  Sunday seemed like the perfect opportunity since Dr. Jay was out of town and a flea market isn’t exactly his cup of tea, especially when the weather is nice.  Mark gave me an hour and a half to look around before he started breaking down and wanting out of the stroller.  I thought I was prepared with raisins and goldfish, but we also needed a stop at the concession stand for a cookie so I could get in those last few aisles.  Here’s some of what I saw that made me smile:


Wouldn’t those look great hanging in a kitchen?  They remind me of camping.


Vintage kids toys are always a hit with me.


This guy was just funny.  I mean, have you ever seen a gnome playing hockey?  And his name is Gil, inexplicably.


One day I’ll own one of those trees.



This sports memorabilia booth was great.  I thought these two Tigers pennants had great graphics.  Initially, I liked the second one better, but in the first one, the tiger is crushing the stadium.  Doesn’t get any sweeter than that. 


Wouldn’t a set of these be cute in a little girl’s room?


This photo turned out blurry, but I fell in love with this antique pine plank table.  It was gorgeous, though $1600 is well beyond my price range.


I thought these oyster dishes were pretty interesting since I had never seen anything like them.  I’m not really into oysters, but a certain friend of mine named Ross could probably put one of these to use.


This coat rack is so sweet, and probably pretty easy to DIY.  But what a nice green, right?


Mark loved this bike.  It’s a kid’s size bike, though he’s still a few years away from this kind of riding.

And finally, the only purchase we came home with:


I’m not sure how old it is (I forgot to ask) but it’s perfect for Mark’s room and I’m a sucker for UVA gear.  It was $36- think I paid too much?


Driving home, I thought of a few tips that may help you if you go to a flea market like DC’s Big Flea.

– Admission was $8, but was good for both Saturday and Sunday.  Ideally, one would be able to go on Saturday and check it all out, and then go back on Sunday when the prices are cut and the sellers are more willing to deal.

– Bring cash.  I goofed on this and had less than $20 with me.  If I had had thirty dollars in cash, I’m sure I could have talked the seller of the pennant down.  But no one is willing to bargain for a credit card transaction.  Lesson learned.

– Have a plan.  In general, I was looking for three things- a rug for our living room, a small table for right by our front door, and a bean bag chair for Mark.  These are random items for a flea market, but I had no idea what to expect from this market (as evidenced by the photos above), and having a plan kept me focused while looking at the various booths.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t stop at the booth for vintage snakeskin purses, but I was able to walk away knowing it wasn’t part of the plan for the day.  Of course, I wasn’t able to pass up the UVA  pennant, but again, I love decorating Mark’s room so it was a nice surprise find.

– Kids are distracting.  I noticed very few other kids at the flea market and now I know why.

I had a wonderful time at DC’s Big Flea and would happily go back.  Though I didn’t score any major deals, I had fun looking at the variety of collections, especially the dog prints, vintage clothes and accessories, and furniture.