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You actually meant to say, “Why is my marble counter top so
Freakin’ Incredibly Expensive?!” Right?
If you’re a regular reader of Tales from the Trenches on Renovation Bootcamp, you’ll know that I was privileged to recently travel to Spain with a group of interior designers as guests of Cosentino, a multi-national surfacing company.
Wait…what the heck does “surfacing” mean, anyway?
Surfacing refers to any material used to cover surfaces like floors, walls (exterior and interior), and furniture surfaces like tables, and countertops. In Cosentino’s case, those surfaces are marble, SenSa® granite, Silestone® quartz, re-cycled, green product Eco®, Prexury® made of semi-precious stone and Dekton®, a completely unique material exclusive to and invented by Cosentino.
We had many adventures along the way, which you may have read in the last couple of weeks when I wrote about Spanish olive oil and the magic castle it is named for. You can see the olive oil post here and the castle post here.
To be perfectly honest, to call Cosentino a surfacing company, hardly even scratches the…er…surface. The scope of what Cosentino does within the surfacing industry is so huge, I was so amazed, excited and inspired by what I learned when I visited their showroom and factories, I wasn’t sure how to even begin to tell you about it! I can hardly wait to install every one of their products in my residential design projects!
But as with any good story, it’s usually best to begin at the beginning.
Cosentino was established in 1940 and remains a family-owned, private company and one of the largest, if not THE largest, marble producers and exporters in Spain, which is ranked as the 3rd largest marble exporting country in the world, following Italy and China. Cosentino FAR out produces quartz countertops of their top 3 competitors combined! Cosentino’s quarries supplied the marble for the restoration of the incredible Islamic fortress city of La Alhambra, in Granada Spain.
But as I mentioned above, Cosentino also makes Silestone®, Eco®, SenSa® Granite, Prexury®, and their newest baby, Dekton®. Their innovative products and production facilities would be too overwhelming to cover in just one post, so over the next few weeks, I’ll tell you about them all. But first things first.
Where and how it all started
Throughout history, limestone, marble and granite have been used to construct elaborate buildings, castles, palaces and monuments all over the world…
…places of worship…
….carve architectural details…
…and in our world, create terazzo tiles to cover floors and walls in train stations, airports…
…office towers, museums, restaurants and other buildings of note, right down to tiles and counter tops for our homes.
Natural stone can vary wildly in its colors and patterns…
…and its unpredictability is both part of the appeal to some and fear to others…
The veining and pattern of natural marble is a result of neighboring, natural minerals being fused together over thousands of years by the heat and pressure of the earth, resulting in a fossilized mash of mineral compounds in layers…
like a geological lasagna…
…so when sliced into slabs, shows all the ingredients that flow through them.
But do you know what it actually takes to get the marble from the earth into your kitchen? Having worked with natural stone in homes throughout my two decades as a designer, I thought I had a pretty good idea, but I was
gob-smacked quite surprised to see and learn the details of the process.
First you have to find it…
Marble (or any rock or mineral that is dug up from the earth through mining or quarry operations) obviously doesn’t have a neon sign pointing to its location.
So years, and many hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent in exploration, geological surveys, equipment, studies and sample extraction before a deposit may be found that will be worth spending more years and money literally digging into.
But even before starting to dig, land has to be purchased, permits, permissions and licenses granted, which in many cases takes many more years and cost with huge obstacles to overcome, particularly if a specific deposit is located in an unstable country, in a war zone or in a climate with extreme temperatures. Infrastructure, roads and tunnels have to be built to get to the site and transport the material out, then clearing of what could be hundreds of years worth of dirt, soil and vegetation before a deposit can even be reached. And when Cosentino was founded, Spain was in the middle of one of the most vicious civil wars in modern European history and under dictator rule. (As an aside, if you’re interested in Spain’s history, which I found riveting, I recommend the novel, The Return which is an easy, gripping read, and explains the civil war through the story of a flamenco dancer. You can find The Return below.)
These ain’t pebbles we’re talkin’ about!
Blocks of stone that are extracted can be as much as 40,000 lbs each and our Cosentino quarry tour guide explained that it takes 4 days to extract one block. Then comes the challenge of transporting the blocks for processing. Luckily, Cosentino processes their stone in the same country and “only” has to worry about getting 40,000 pound blocks onto trucks, not into containers or ships…not yet, anyway…
Once at the processing plant, if it’s being cut into slabs, it is loaded by a type of crane onto a gang-saw with diamond blades, which may cut up to 30 slabs at one time. This cutting will take an entire day.
From there, they’re taken to a polishing line, where they are laid horizontally on a conveyor belt and polished with many different grades of grit abrasives to achieve the desired finish. Many slabs will require epoxy and resin added during polishing to fill the naturally occurring fissures and pits. (Tile goes through the same process but then is further cut down to size after polishing.)
After polishing, the slabs have to be carefully crated for shipping to their distribution destination, which could be across the globe.
All the crates are custom built to ensure that the stone is held tightly to avoid breakage in transit, which involves cranes, cargo containers on ships, more cranes to off-load onto trains, then into trucks and into a warehouse, where it’s picked up by a fabricator to cut into a counter top.
When a designer like me sends a design to the fabricator, they come to the job site, do an electronic template….
…cut the slabs accordingly, and create the built-up edges in whatever profile the client has asked for.
At that point the slabs are loaded onto a truck with a frame to hold them tightly upright on their way to their final home. The installation is the last step in this process which usually takes the better part of a full day, or more if it’s a particularly big installation. At this point, each slab weighs about 400 lbs, so requires two or more men to carry and install.
HOLY COW! THEN HOW COME STONE COUNTER TOPS ACTUALLY DON’T COST MORE???
And THEN…. how come man-made quartz tops like Silestone®, don’t cost a lot less?
Silestone® is composed of 94% actual quartz stone. So the same kind of quarrying process applies to extract the raw material. The difference is that the quartz is then processed in fragments with pigments and resins to create slabs in the type of colors and patterns desired.
They have to be formulated so the automated process is absolutely consistent from slab to slab, with strict quality control before the final product is release from the manufacturing plant. Add to that the fact that Silestone® is the only quartz product on the market that has a bacteria static property incorporated into the formula that lasts the life of the countertop and is regulated by the EPA, FDA and EFSA (European Food Safety Authority). Processing and production are exacting and complex and the slabs which are a similar weight to natural stone, must be crated, shipped, fabricated and installed. And with more than 80 colors and patterns available, it’s not like dumping batter willy-nilly into a Bundt pan, baking it for an hour and… VOILA!
Silestone is also made into sinks, so you can have an integrated sink in your countertop…
…in a wide variety of colors…
There are also shower pans which, when paired with Silestone slabs on the shower stall walls, create a seamless look that’s hygienic and a no-brainer to clean. My mind is percolating with the design possibilities!
So next time you’re contemplating a stone or quartz product for your kitchen or bathroom and wonder just WHY it has to be so darned expensive anyway, I hope you’ll remember this article and realize you’re actually getting the deal of the century!
Next time: SenSa® granite — which as an unheard-of 15 year warranty, Prexury®: literally jewels for your kitchen counter tops, Eco® which is a LEED accredited product and Dekton®, a material which will surely change an entire global industry!
If you need a new kitchen or it just needs a facelift, check out my design services here.
And if you like this article and want to get my weekly blog posts in your inbox every week without having to dig through a quarry to get it, sign up here and as a thank you, you’ll get a kitchen renovation e-planner.