I’ve loved marble – white marble to be precise – since I was a child and surrounded by it. I remember how cool it was to the touch on hot Calcutta days and how pretty I thought the swirly marks were; like snowflakes, no two pieces exactly alike.
I’d like to say that sound reasoning and financial acumen was behind our purchase of our badly-in-need-of-renovating brownstone; but that would be a fib. The house had me at hello with its details – not least among them four white marble fireplaces (a fifth is grey) and one white marble ‘coffin turn’ ledge.
For quite a while though, I was stymied at every turn in satisfying my burning desire for white marble countertops and island in our kitchen-to-be. Our architect, our contractor, our fabricator (mason), every design colleague who’d used it on a project, each friend who’d installed it in their own kitchens, even the guy from whom we were looking to buy a slab (and in whose interest it certainly was that we do so – marble is expensive) – they were all insistent and united in their advice: if you cook, if you intend to use your kitchen, do not install white marble.
Here’s why: marble is a (relatively) soft stone and porous (unlike granite). It etches and stains easily. Chips and scratches too.
I was at a loss. Which is unusual because I’m stubborn and loyal (to people of course, but in this case ideas) and though different situations elicit either visceral or analytical responses, I’m usually extremely decisive. (Annoyingly so to those closest to me: see stubborn). But here was a situation where the visceral (I love) and analytical (is it smart? practical?) were at odds and it drove me nuts.
I researched endlessly – both in online forums such as apartment therapy, gardenweb and the granite gurus and by visiting the homes of friends who had installed white marble in their own kitchens. The latter showed me the water rings and etch marks, red wine stains and oil splatters that drove them mad, caused marital discord and made them regret their choices.
We teetered on the brink of installing soapstone, the better to hide the marks I knew would be inevitable and to preserve peace in our home. I did not want to be chasing others around with a sponge or stressing over coasters each time we had a party.
And then we went on a trip that included stays in a couple of Raffles’ Hotels in Cambodia – each more beautiful in their-once-were-grand-now-are-lovely-ness and slightly-worn-around-the-edges-faded-glory-ness.
And there was white marble everywhere. It was dinged, scratched, ringmarked and all the more glorious for it.
I realised (actually remembered) that I love imperfection and patina and echoes of history. It is precisely those characteristics that has shaped my love of living finishes such as unlacquered brass (that only get better with age) and vintage and antique furniture and rugs – pieces that had lives before they made their way into our home.
We never looked back and our kitchen was eventually clad in honed Calacatta Gold marble.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t wince the first time a klutzy brother-in-law spilled coffee all over a counter a few days after it was installed; but by the time I threw my sister’s wedding shower a few months later and the ladies were getting sloppy with the cocktails & bubbly, I honestly thought to myself that the etches that would surely be left (and were) would be a sweet memory of such a happy occasion.
And when my it-runs-in-the-family-butterfingers cousin made the first red wine stain another couple of months later, I was almost ready to take her up on her offer to scratch “Kismet was here” next to it for posterity. Almost.