Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Granite Question

Linda asked about granite countertops (specifically, my aversion to them!) and I was going to email her, but thought maybe it would be worth thinking about here, because it's actually something I thought a lot about while I was deep-cleaning the kitchen.

There was definitely the assumption that during any kitchen remodel, the only counter material choice would be granite slab. I even went to look at a few. And right in the middle of the showroom, they had a HUGE photo of a mountain that had been blown apart in order to make a granite quarry. This picture is not the one I saw, but it is a granite quarry.

Call me a hippie, but I just couldn't do it. How could this granite resource ever be renewed or replaced? This is part of the earth's crust, formed over how many lifetimes ~ I can't even imagine ~ and I just couldn't participate. They also need to be sealed every year (I've heard twice a year, actually) and that involves chemicals. Although, I have to imagine there are less toxic alternatives, but I didn't look too far into it because it was already becoming less and less appealing.

So I started looking into alternatives for solid state counters (that's all one piece, no grouting) and that led me to look at concrete. Could be cool, but also requires an on-going sealing commitment. And this is where I noticed the capper. It turns out, none of the solid state materials suited my aesthetic.

They looked sleek and cold and modern, for the most part, and none of those adjectives even remotely describes me. I don't think we saved anything in materials 1x12 inch border piece of our tile ran about $22 a linear foot (!) and the square tiles and bullnose pieces are Italian tiles from a specialty shop. The mosaics that make up the backsplash were obscenely expensive too. So, in the end, did we save money by not getting granite?

Well, yeah, actually. Although I seem to remember that the materials were comparably priced, the installation was a steal; my daddy installed the tile for free, but we were looking at paying for granite installation, which nearly doubled the cost.

This part is hard to explain, because in making the decision for myself, I had to make some judgments... and yet I see granite countertops every day, and I can't say I judge anybody else for having them. First of all, it turns out that I really like the way some of them look! I think most of the granite I've seen is beautiful unto itself, with the colors and the veining patterns. But what surprised me, was it doesn't all look cold and sterile. Part of it depends on the kitchen it's in, and some colors speak to me more than others, but it's nice to see some I actually would have in my house.

Second of all, everybody has a different threshhold for chemicals and environmental impact issues. Mine tend toward reactionary, to be honest, and although I've never spent 10 seconds worrying about dirt, germs, or grime anywhere in my house or on my kids, I do try to minimize chemicals. I am phasing out cleaners and now use white vinegar and baking soda for just about all cleaning. I even make my own laundy detergent (mostly because I'd like to do some grey water reclamation) and it's just a matter of time before I start to make my own soap, too.

Then, there's the other side of the coin. I had to use a toothbrush to clean the grout in my counters! I know a lot of people who would do just about anything to avoid that particular chore! I also used a toothbrush to clean the quarter round wood moulding that lines the bottom of the cabinets, separting the kick plates from the flooring. ( the interest of full disclosure? First time I've done either in the past four years. Just reminding you that I have a high tolerance for grime/low standard for clean!)

And this is where it kind of brings me full circle. While I was cleaning my kitchen so thoroughly, I was thinking a lot about the idea of 'stewardship'. I was thinking about the logistics of how I use my kitchen, but I was also reflecting that taking care of our house at that micro level ~ the toothbrush level, if you will ~ is really about stewardship. It's about my responsibility to keep what we have the best I can, so we don't have to use valuable resources (natural or financial) to replace any of it.

And it's also the idea that this house was here before I was born. And it will no doubt be here long after I'm gone. In reality, it occurred to me, I'm taking care of this house for somebody else. It's mine now, but someday it will belong to somebody else. Can you imagine if your house turned out to be somebody's dream home? Can you imagine somebody finding their heart's content right where you were baking bread or scrubbing the grout? My dream house? It's a craftsman on a couple of acres. But thinking about myself as the temporary caretaker of this house, it made me realize that in its own way, this already is my dream home. Isn't it dreamy to be with the people you love, in a safe, cozy, beautiful-to-you house that you've made into a home?

Just about the time I thought I might have bitten off more than I can chew (any decent project has such a moment...sometimes several of them!) I had the thought that maybe, someday, this house will belong to my own children. Not in an inheritance kind of way, but in a heart kind of way. What if, given the choice, this is the house where they choose to make a home for their future families? And it's had me thinking ever I doing everything I can to make this a place full of memories so dear that it might inspire a lifetime?

See how I am? Can I overthink a remodel, or what?


  1. Wow. Deep and so relevant thoughts, Mia. I think that's a great way to look at things. Makes me want to be a homeowner myself. Not that I ever have time to even BEGIN to clean with a toothbrush. Maybe someday...

  2. I had thought of tile but I've tile on the floor and it's bad enough to clean. Maybe tempered glass is a though?!! Thanks for the insight.

  3. Mia, I totally understand "stewardship". Kelly and I (and the city counsel) saved our 70 yr. old house from becoming law offices. We plan on taking care of this house for the next family. We're keeping a journal of all the things we do to the house so the next owners will have a written history. Moose

  4. Mia, you are so thoughtful. We have granite, but it's what they put it, I never even considered another option. Now I feel guilty. When I look for houses in CA, are concrete counter tops bad? It is 4am here and I'm not good typing so early. How are you Mia? I'm delusional with the flu and fever. Will you teach me the way of being earthy like you? I'll buy you wine . . .

  5. Granite has developed from a largely structural material to a stone that has numerous applications, this could be used in your kitchens as Kitchen Worktops to make the interiors more beautiful.

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