First it was granite. All granite, all the time—people had to have their granite. But as the kitchen/bath upgrade revolution has aged, other materials have gained a foothold.
So it is with soapstone, now the third most popular natural stone countertop material behind granite and marble, according to the International Surface Fabricators Association.
“At one time, we put soapstone only in older homes,” said Dave Trimbur, owner of countertop fabrication outfit Virginia Soapstone. “That’s not necessarily true anymore. I think it is more widespread now.”
The Schuyler-based Alberene Soapstone Company has made a hefty bet there is something to the trend. The company relaunched the only U.S.-based soapstone mining operation three years ago and began marketing the material in earnest. According to a company representative, soapstone appeals to the modern consumer because of its natural appearance and reduced carbon footprint, in addition to its density and heat and bacteria resistance.
“You can’t hurt it. Nothing penetrates it,” Trimbur said. “You can put a boiling pot of water on it, and you cannot burn the stone. Yet it has a soft texture, a natural look.”
With the proper care—rubbing with mineral oil or beeswax—soapstone can look like new for decades, according to Trimbur. Other stone counters require chemical sealants and occasional buffing to keep their sheen. Plus, soapstone doesn’t show seams as badly as other stones, due to its uniform color.
The material does have some drawbacks, Trimbur admits. Its consistent color, a slate gray with some green or blue tinges and lighter veins running through it, limits the diversity of cabinets it can complement. And the softer makeup of the stone makes it more susceptible to scratching and dinging.
“Still, I would say the advantages to the disadvantages are 10 to one,” Trimbur said.