Expert Advice: Choosing a Countertop Material

As in all design, you want your kitchen counters to be beautiful and functional.

Here, our vice president and director of interiors, Joanna Goodman, explores five hard-working and attractive materials she has incorporated into several elegant designs.

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1. Soapstone

Soapstone is a natural stone, like granite, that is quarried. It is ideal for kitchen countertops for a number of reasons. It is heat resistant; you can use Clorox and other cleaners on its surface; and even though it can scratch, you can treat it easily with mineral oil to restore it to its natural state.


2. Marble

Marble has become a popular choice in recent years and remains the top choice for many homeowners.  You can specify that the marble have a honed or polished finish, and seal it after installation to protect against stains. We typically prefer a honed finish in the kitchen because an acidic kitchen liquid like lemon juice or vinegar will etch a polished marble and leave a dull, whitish mark. If someone spills red wine on a honed marble countertop, rubbing half a lemon on the stain in a timely manner will remove it. As long as you choose carefully, know what to expect, and care for white marble countertops, they can be a beautiful, functional choice for your kitchen design that lasts a lifetime.

It is available in varying thickness:

5 cm thick marble slab

5 cm thick marble slab

3 cm thick Carrara marble

3 cm thick Carrara marble

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3. Quartzite

This is a white quartzite from Brazil that resembles the Italian Calacatta marbles in appearance, but is much harder and more durable. It can be used for kitchen countertops without having the scratching and etching issues experienced with marble. 

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4. Onyx

If you are looking for a unique and rare option, onyx could be an option for you. It is available in a variety of colors and the “veining” adds contrasting colors to make these slabs look like a piece of art. For even more appeal, try backlit onyx, which has a wonderful glow that can create a wow factor.


5. Fantasy Brown

Fantasy Brown is what we like to call a “combo stone." It is a combination of a wide variety of different mineral compositions that blur the lines of marble, granite and even quartzite. This particular stone is defined by the movement and waves of the earthy pastels swirling together, evoking images of a beach landscape. 

Using different types of materials in the same kitchen is acceptable. Below are two different kitchens. In the first, we used Olive Green Limestone around the perimeter and Bianco Rhino Marble on the island. In the second, we featured Calcutta Gold Marble on the sixteen foot long island and used soapstone around the perimeter. 

Qualified designers will help you navigate selections that are both functional and aesthetically appropriate for your lifestyle.

Architects are Sketchy

Here's a fun little collection of our sketches. The promise each sketch holds is easily felt and believed in, yet somehow difficult to put into words — this is why we draw our ideas instead of writing them.



"You can use an eraser on the drafting table, or a sledge hammer on the construction site."
— Frank Lloyd Wright 

Here are some sketches brought to life:

BEST OF CAI: Room for Your Thoughts

They are the places where our days begin and end, not to mention the almost incalculable time in between.

Well, truthfully, a quick Google search told us that in a woman's lifetime, she'll spend the equivalent of one year, seven months, and 15 days in the bathroom, just a month longer than her male counterpart. That's quite a chunk of time in such a small domestic space. It's not a room that draws people in to gather and connect, rather it's often the place that offers a moment alone with our thoughts, or some brief and necessary peace and quiet. 

So we’ve decided to pay attention to them; to make them beautiful, to acknowledge their importance and potential. Some boast smooth marble, some are sparkling white, some are warm and woody. They all surpass the needs they meet and offer beauty too.

Here are some of our favorites:

MATERIALS PALETTE: Covering as Expression

Remember that Reno in Mountain Brook that’s in progress? Here’s a sneak peek at the wallcoverings we’re using on the interior. Each one is beautiful by itself, but when we see them like this, in palette form, their sum seems to communicate the personality of this beautiful young family in a way only an interior designer could. Joanna Goodman works her magic again:

IN THE WORKS: Apropos Home in Homewood

Homewood, Ala. – 

A renovation with some really fun details is underway in Homewood, a suburb of Birmingham that has remained pedestrianly-driven in its design. Sidewalks and quaintly accessible downtown areas boasting locally-owned boutiques and restaurants contribute to the popularity of this little city. 

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We are updating both the exterior and the interior with a long and exciting list of architectural goodies: hardwood floors, new hardware in the kitchen and bathrooms, windows, steel entry doors, paint, and an outdoor fireplace and kitchen. Check out some Before and During photos here, and stay tuned for the Afters, because project designer Ria Neill be wrapping up this project before you know it.

The Way Good Architecture Feels

In so many of the places you normally find yourself, it feels as if you’ve put on a cheap suit with your pants twisted one way and your jacket the other, and you are trying to walk a straight line. But when things are right, and you are in an architecture that is strong and receiving of you, you are home safe and free…. Good architecture requires whole vision, expert timing, and sensitive placement.
— Bobby McAlpine of McAlpine House

Sometimes the desire to design in contrast rather than in context can be hindering. If we design in contrast, in an effort to stand out and create something notable, we run the risk of its uniqueness contributing only chaos instead of insight or reflection of the current society or the personalities of the occupants. 

Properly addressed contextual considerations like time, space, and people will reduce chaos if not eliminate it. The heavy-hitter for our firm in this line-up is people. We ask ourselves questions like, “What are the occupants’ traditions? What are their perceptions? What are their needs?” These are not questions we ask and answer once, of course. We are continually asking them, answering them, and then asking again. 

Architecturally interesting and compelling window treatment we are saving in our renovation of this mid-century office space.

Architecturally interesting and compelling window treatment we are saving in our renovation of this mid-century office space.

Residentially speaking, this contextual element is obviously necessary. However, is it less-necessary in commercial architecture? We don’t think so. We are currently constructing a new office space for CAI in Birmingham, and as with every project, we want to know what the occupants will need. What will make their professional lives better, more efficient, more beautiful, more inspiring?

Contextual design that fits well and feels right is a non-negotiable for CAI.

Want to see more of our commercial projects? 


IN THE WORKS: Bespoke Estate

Mountain Brook, Ala. –

This custom home is currently under construction, and we are having a ball designing its four floors and six fireplaces, among other remarkable details like bookmatched marble slabs, custom kitchen and pantry cabinets from Italy, decorative ceilings, wood paneling, and venetian plaster.


We want to achieve the look of an old, stately home with contrasting modern touches: custom steel doors and windows set beside a slate roof, natural stone and stone pavers, and brick.

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One of our favorite architectural elements? A bridge that runs over the pool, connecting the poolhouse to the main house.