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Have you installed granite in your kitchen or bathroom… and then wondered why it doesn’t look like you thought it would? Here’s why choosing granite is so hard.

Why Choosing Granite is so Hard

I came across this comment on my blog the other day, I had forgotten about it. This reader expressed what so many of my clients have told me over the years but she was just super entertaining in her distress. . .

How did I end up with this crazy granite choice that is glaring at me from the counter?! I’m crying at this expensive new member of the family. Ugh!! My vision was clean and simple: Cream shaker cabs, white/light grey granite and a very light grey ceramic subway tile backsplash. Well I got it all EXCEPT the crazy granite!

Looking at the upright slab at the yard, it read white and soft cream with splashes of of grey. So soothing. Now that it’s lying on its ugly back, it looks like a big spotted lizard. Why did I not see these huge splotches? What was I thinking? I’m already thinking of big solid placemats on the peninsula to cover up some of the garishness. I feel childish but also guilty that I spent so much on this remodel and not absolutely lovin it. I desperately needed you at the slab yard that day.

Well, Since I need to live with this reptile, my question is should I stick with the light grey backsplash or step it down even more with cream to tame the beast down?

This common occurrence is the reason why I prefer quartz to granite.

The problem with shopping for granite is that it’s displayed sideways and upright in the yard. Unless the granite is very common and overall the same instead of veiny and wildly patterned, you will never really know what it looks like until it’s actually installed in your kitchen.

Granite Slab Yard


So don’t even THINK about leaving the yard without a sample of the granite you’re buying. If you can’t get a sample, don’t buy the granite. Period.

Compare your granite sample to EVERYTHING else

Having a sample will not give you a visual of how it will look installed but you’ll at least have the correct colour sample when choosing backsplash and floor tile to coordinate.

granite sample

When I helped my sister Lea chose finishes for her new townhouse, every time she considered changing something my first question was, “Well, make sure you drop by the flooring store and pick up a sample of your hardwood, otherwise you won’t know which stain colour to choose for your cabinets.”

And before you ask, yes I pitched hard for white cabinets but her husband wore her down ; ) ; )

“You want me to meet you at the tile store to choose the floor tile for the bathroom? Bring the quartz sample.”

Since she has never been in a position to choose everything new, it’s a new concept for her to be requesting samples of the products and finishes she’s buying.  And many of my clients are in the same situation.

Every colour choice you make for your new build or renovation, builds on the next colour choice. You cannot make them independently of each other. And, most colour choices limit the rest so you have to be very careful.

By the way, the same phenomenon happens with area rugs that are hanging up in the carpet store. Until you get that puppy on the floor, where it will actually be placed–not on the wall–it will many times look much lighter hanging there in the store.

blue area rug

Area Rug

Everything you buy for your home should ALWAYS be placed EXACTLY where it will be installed. So that means your backsplash tile should be propped up vertically next to your countertop sample which is horizontal, the wall tile in your bathroom should be placed vertically against the wall on top of your floor tile which should be on the floor.

How to test your samples

If you lay them all down together flat on the countertop or floor like they’re going on a concept board, you can’t accurately see the undertones of everything and if they are really going to work well together.

Once you choose granite, you’ve maximized your pattern quota

Small samples are VERY deceiving. Which is why, once you choose a hard surface with a PATTERN, your pattern quota is done, everything else must be a solid colour.

granite countertop with subway tile


In fact, by the time I’ve told my clients exactly where to place their hard finishes, they mostly don’t need my advice anymore on whether they all go together. They can easily see it for themselves.


So look, if you already have granite that you don’t like in your kitchen, you can learn to live with it. Instead of thinking about it as being busy, consider that it’s art instead.

Or, you can check out this post on how to make your 90s granite disappear.

Dark Moody Granite Kitchen

No sense crying over what’s already done. But believe me, I’ll cry with you if you need me to!

xo Maria

If you need to create a plan for your renovation or new build, this training will save you from many mistakes you haven’t even thought to ask about. I can also help you Create a Classic and Timeless Kitchen with one of my eDesign consultations. 

Related posts:

Is Quartz Sexier than Granite?

The Most Timeless Granite

When can you Combine Patterned Stone or Tile?

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in the door, become a client. On-line or In-person.

Download my eBook, How to Choose Paint Colours – It’s All in the Undertones to get my complete step-by-step system on how to get colour to do what you want and to make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

If you would like to learn how to choose colour with confidence, become a True Colour Expert. 

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  • Janelle says:

    People may look at my kitchen and think boring – white cabinets, white subway tile and black granite – but I thank God that I found your blog before I chose my granite. Having said this, I truly sympathize with the writer as I too have made hard-to-correct mistakes and given the expense the only other option is to find a way to live with it and even possibly enjoy it.

  • Livia says:

    Thank you for this blog Maria. My “grief” ended just now. I will consider my granite just that: Expensive Art! 🙂

  • Victoria says:

    Love your parting words Maria. “Expensive art!
    I have so many clients that are just now deciding to commit to granite and there is just no swaying their decision. And everyone wants “movement”, which as you say will boss around their other choices. Que sera sera!

  • InfoDiva says:

    Janielle, my new kitchen is the same as yours–white cabs, white subways, absolute black honed granite. And my kitchen before that was the same, too, also thanks to Maria.

    A friend saw the new place and sniffed, “same kitchen again?” and I just laughed. It works….and will continue to work with me, not against me, for a long, long time.

    I think Maria could single-handedly cause a downturn in kitchen renovations–get it right the first time, and live with it until it wears out. What a concept!

  • Eva says:

    When we were shopping for marble we saw a piece of granite that looked like a map. We love maps this was colorful and gorgeous. I know if we got it everytime someone walked in our kitchen they would see the the granite – it would be the artwork that was the conversation point. We went with a plain marble with warm tones but with the canvas and peppermill cabinets it looks great and I felt the white marble with grey undertones would be too cold in my room. My grandmother and mother had marble countertops and I wanted them as well. The marble in the kitchen above is gorgeous, love it, Own it. I don’t regret my choice but if I had been braver I would have had an amazing map of blues, reds and greens on my countertop. We still talk about it sometimes.

  • Beth says:

    For “art” granite, some granite fabricators will let you or a client choose what part of a slab goes where. Armed with your plan, they can mark how to lay it out.

  • franki says:

    Well…Maria…I’m going out on a limb here responding again… 🙂 Years ago you wrote about “Rushmore” quartz…I looked it up…years now I have LOVED my quartz (Rushmore) and honestly, when “everyone” asks..I say it’s a”Maria Killam.” franki

  • Lindsey says:

    This is so funny!! Perfect timing. I went to 6 granite stores yesterday. UGH! Thank Goodness I didn’t fall in love with any. I wonder whyyyyy?!?!?! Too busy!
    I have cherry/brownish cabinets so when you talk about white or black countertops I don’t know if they would relate because you say brown goes with cream and white goes with black. I also don’t know if white would be to contemporary. I have no clue what color Quartz to choose. First world problems!! But hey its important!! 😉

  • Robin says:

    This is such good advice! If you can’t change it, think of it as art. I had the same experience with granite. I am so glad we sold that house and I get to start over with what I have learned. Ironically, the granite mistake was driven by my color consultant! (grrr) I wanted quartz in something that read white, and she insisted that granite was the way to go. I went with her advice and the granite was too busy after it was installed and I ugly-cried over it. Her paint color advice was extremely successful, though, so, Oh Well. As I wrap up decorating decisions with our new condo, I am happy that I was more aggressive this time. When the first interior decorator advised paint colors without comparing a few in my space, I knew that advice was too risky to follow. I am no expert, but I don’t want to live with clashing undertones. And thankfully, the colors in my home are coming together beautifully now. Yes, I had consultation with Maria and I am so glad I did. Now my walls are a soft gray with green undertones, not the blue undertones suggested by the interior decorator. It is warm and cosy, not cold.

    • Robin says:

      By the way, when I went with a different color than the Interior Decorator suggested, it seemed to upset the relationship and she seems to consider her work with me to be finished. That hurt me a little bit, but c’est la vie. I was prepared to write more checks to her but I guess she will find other clients to write those checks. Maybe it is for the best.

  • Joanne says:

    Granite is timeless. There are great differences between one slab and another, even under the same name. We travelled and visited 6/7 places before we saw the “perfect” slab. Our designer also went the extra step of overseeing the layout. We love our granite countertops. Shop carefully because you’ll be looking at it for a long time.

  • Kari says:

    Of course, granite is art! When my granite was installed, I spent hours looking at the depth and variations and feeling the smoothness, envisioning the time I would spend rolling out dough on its cool surface. I still love the granite, but all my other finishes are plain and pattern-free.

    Nothing bothers me more in kitchen renovations than when the artfulness of the granite is diminished by adding busy, tiled backsplashes.

    • KJ says:

      I agree! We have gorgeous, “high-end” granite in our kitchen; it was installed by the prior owner. I *love* it and enjoy looking at it *every* day. What I don’t like is the travertine backsplash they also chose; blech. Once I get that switched, the granite can be the star it should be (or, as Maria mentioned, the expensive art).

    • Judy says:

      So true!

  • Betty says:

    I LOVE my granite and have always called it, “God’s Artwork” because it IS! It makes me think of a river bottom and there is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t appreciate the beauty of my counters.

  • sandyc says:

    Even a sample of the granite can be terribly misleading. When my late husband and I checked out some places, we found a beautiful 12″x12″ sample in one store that was quite lovely – a soft creamy white with very scattered thin veins of red and turquoise which I thought would look lovely with the “barn red” wall in the Arizona room and would still work with the whitewashed cabinets in the kitchen – biggest challenge was the 4’x8′ island between both rooms. Wisely, the salesman suggested we go to the granite yard and take a look at the slab and we did. Walked into the room and saw a man standing beside a granite slab (standing as Maria described) with a smile on his face. The look on our faces surely must have read “OMG!”. Not sure how long I searched that slab but I never did find any section that replicated the sample we saw in the store. We thanked the man profusely and, trembling at the thought of that monster on our island, took our leave and, admitting that we didn’t like granite anyway, went out and got HD Wilsonart laminate that looked great, coordinated beautifully with our rooms and cost a teeny fraction of what anything else would cost, knowing that the next owners would tear everything out. They did immediately, and unfortunately their whole kitchen remodel, and especially their granite choice, would win awards in every “worst of” category.

  • Marla says:

    Just installed Caesarstone Nougat counters (in place of granite picked out by builder) with white subway tile backsplash. Cabinets will be white. In love with the whole look. How could I not? I copied Maria’s whole kitchen (to the extent that I could). Husband kicked and whined the whole way. Over the weekend, he stopped at a granite cleaner display and lovingly and wistfully caressed the bottle of granite cleaner (oh yes he did!). But thankfully, after the backsplash was finished, he now admits that maybe that counter looks pretty good and maybe he finally gets it. Whew!!!!! Thanks, Maria. Your vision, descriptions, and explanations are spot on.

  • Gur says:

    It seems like the example you show above has a granite with a lot of motion combined with a stone with some color variation (and pattern induced by shape). Is this an example of how it might work together? I’m curious about examples where it might work.

  • I was stunned that the house next door, which is MUCH smaller than mine, and less architecturally attractive, had a bidding war and sold way over the asking price, primarily because they had updated with granite countertops! Our houses went on the market the same day, and their’s sold in two days, while it took three weeks to sell mine with a laminate countertop. I couldn’t believe that my extra square footage, gorgeous millwork, sunny spaces, landscaping, and huge walkout finished basement wasn’t as attractive as granite! I don’t get it.

  • Kathy says:

    I guess I’m a control freak, but I want to know exactly what it’s going to look like once it’s in place, so something “predictable” like quartz, corian or even laminate for me. Too much variation in granite, even from slab to slab from the same “rock.” Agonized over a granite choice for a house were only remodeling to sell, not even for ourselves. Thankfully the designer we hired eventually picked it, and once installed, what I thought was mostly black, had an awful lot of brown going on too….but luckily the designer had taken Maria’s class, so we had white subway tile and white painted cabinets to calm it all…

  • BillP says:

    My neighbor in Florida just put in natural quartz countertops. It isn’t Caesarstone or Silestone, but natural quartz. It is every bit as busy as granite. It cost them a fortune and it sort of looks like marble, but without the warmth. I am assuming that Maria’s recommendations are for the composite quartz surfaces, which are fresh and clean looking, and by far my first choice too.

  • BillP says:

    Maria, can you address the different options for edges? A double ogee or bullnose can also date a countertop- an eased edge seems cleaner and more modern to me, interested in your thoughts, please.

  • Mary says:

    This granite is beautiful! Do not lose heart. I love it! In my new house I have white cabinets, expresso island with Sienna Beige granite that’s like a piece of art. I spent weeks looking for the perfect piece with movement. Even put it on my backsplash with the movement running like the sands of the beach. I love beauty not boring! Certain granites bring a wow factor.

  • Amy says:

    LOVE the lizard photo analogy! Wow…that is perfect. Great post.

  • Great post Maria. I have never been a fan of granite, but all I can do is educate clients and then it’s up to them whether they still have their heart set on it. It’s funny because you taught me years ago to always look at items in the context that they will be used in the home -and I do this all the time now with clients – but I never thought about how you can’t do it with the large granite slabs that stand tall – maybe because I have never specked granite! But all the same, a good reminder.

  • Linda says:

    I so agree and feel that granite is SO overrated. It can be beautiful in the right space but is very personable as art is. So, I am with Maria, look at is as art. I do like the solid granites, such as Absolute Black and when honed or leathered can be beautiful with white cabinets and white backsplash. So back to overrated, I also think stainless steel appliances fall in to this category. Buying a new stove and going with white. Sad though that all on display is only stainless so not quiet sure what it will look like. Maria, I like that you went with white appliances but your hood is stainless. Works well and is very purposeful. Need a post on appliance selection or have you already done that? Linda

  • Jill says:

    I use to speck granite in Kitchens because that is what people want. I never really like it but did not know why. One day with some granite samples in hand the kitchen fitter said to me, ‘do you like granite’ it away’s looks like vomit to me. I looked at the samples and thought ‘you are so right’

  • I was just at a yard yesterday with a client looking for a simple white quartz, and was telling her the same thing- so many of the granite patterns look interesting and nice when you see the slabs hanging, but look entirely different and way too busy when they’re installed in your kitchen! (We saw some too that were awful colors and we were wondering why anyone would ever select them!) I see so many houses for sale that have busy or wrong granite, or patterned granite with a patterned backsplash. Thanks for this post!

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