Adventures in Countertops
Do you all remember my friend Alaina and how we had so much fun demolishing her kitchen and how she and her husband Dirk started the agonizing task of putting it back together again? If not, click on those links to catch up. While remodeling our own kitchen, I remember one of the most difficult decisions to make was the countertop material. And once we decided on granite, it was even harder to choose a color.
Since it’s still fresh in her mind, I asked Alaina to write up her experience thus far in case any of you are wondering what the process is really like. I will periodically interject in this lovely green italic font, but here, in her words, is the harrowing countertop tale.
Note: The second half of this post highlights Alaina’s VERY helpful tips about granite shopping.
Last Saturday marked an exciting day for Dirk and I as we went out to Raleigh to investigate the warehouses and showrooms of granite importers and fabricators. We packed ourselves in the car along with our cabinet door sample and a few select floor tile samples and set out on our adventure.
Our first clue that this was not going to be a good day, unfortunately, was that the first place I had picked out to stop was by appointment only. We, of course, did not have an appointment. Thankfully, our next location was open to the public and was a warehouse full of granite. Although we had hoped to start out with a location that could explain the process to us, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to just see some pretty rocks. (This might be a good place to note that there is a difference between granite fabricators and granite distributors. Distributors stock and sell the large granite slabs, while fabricators do the actual work of measuring, cutting and installing your granite. That’s not to say that fabricators cannot be distributors and vice-versa, but this is typically how it works. See this post for more details about working with a fabricator.)
We walked in and were greeted (somewhat) by a young man behind a high granite-topped counter. (Good job noting it was a granite counter top, Alaina. You know, because it probably wouldn’t be a great sales tactic on their part to use some other type of material.) It wasn’t exactly the kind of welcome we were expecting, and after we filled out the info sheet, he sort-of-not-exactly directed us toward an inconspicuous door to the back of their showroom. I wondered for a brief second what price my kidneys would bring on the black market (Ha!), but thankfully a salesman appeared from around the corner and greeted us a little more officially. He then sort-of-not-exactly directed us through the door which revealed row upon row of granite slabs in various colors and “levels”. He instructed us to walk around and write down any samples we liked on our info-sheet. We asked him what the price ranges were, and he said it depended on the fabricator.
(Just FYI, I believe this to be FALSE! Granites have general grades – or levels – that Alaina mentioned earlier. A Level I granite will cost less than a Level II, and a Level II will cost less than a Level III. There are no hard-set rules for how distributors decide on granite levels, but generally speaking, the prices are related to the rarity and beauty of the stone. A very rare and exotic slab shipped from halfway around the world is likely to be much more expensive than a more common and localized slab. The important point here is that a Level III slab is not necessarily a better quality of stone than a Level I. What you’re paying for is the exclusivity of owning a more unique rock. I’m sorry for this interruption.)
We asked him if he recommended any fabricators in the area, and he said they work with all of them and their prices for fabrication vary.
Great! Thanks! That was SOO helpful.
We did walk around and I recorded a now-useless list of granite names. Useless because I did not take any pictures of them, nor did I write down any other information about them, and also useless because I don’t exactly plan on purchasing my granite from them if I can help it.
Call me a Millennial but a little customer service goes a long way!
To make a story short, the most helpful part of our day was actually from the girl at the countertop section at Lowes! (Are you joking?) No joke! She explained a lot about the granite they carry, generated a quote right then and there, and showed me some GREAT new laminates that actually look like stone! They even have HD etching in them that makes them sparkle just slightly in the light. This is a great ending (minus the flat tire we got in the parking lot) to a stressful and unhelpful day. (Those laminates and customer service at Lowe’s sound fantastic, but remember you may still be able to find better prices on granite by going directly to the distributor. Every experience is different, but you can tell that with Alaina, enthusiastic customer service might be worth a little higher price. Makes sense to me.)
So here’s what I learned about countertop shopping:
Step 1. Make a list of distributors and fabricators in your area. If they don’t have a website, call them to find out what they have and what they do. Make an appointment with both if you can. Plan to visit at least 2 distributors and at least 3 fabricators.
Step 2. Make a day of it and do it all at once! Get the day off from work because going on a Saturday is most likely madness.
Step 3. Bring your aerial drawings of your kitchen or bathroom so that your fabricators can have some specs to go from when providing your estimates for your favorite slabs. Also bring your cabinet color sample and any flooring samples as well so you can make sure that the colors in the slab you are looking at don’t clash with the biggest purchase for your kitchen.
Step 4. Head to the distributors first and make sure they give you a lay-of-the-land for their granite yards. There will be row upon row of granite and hopefully they have some sort of system to help you avoid falling in love with the $10,000 slab if your budget is $3,000. The distributor should have some sort of level system or categories for each of their granite slabs that indicate the exoticness (Is that a word?) of the stone, thus impacting its price.
Step 5. Walk around and generate a list of the ones you like. I also recommend taking pictures of each slab as you write them down with a short description. Even if you walk away with some small samples of the granite you may not remember the movement of color with such a small piece. (Great tip – DON’T BE AFRAID to ASK for samples! Most distributors have samples of their slabs on-hand. If they don’t, they will sometimes chisel off a small piece for you to take home.) Plus, if you take pictures, your best friend won’t harass you about your granite experience so much… (Smart ass. You like me harassing you.)
Step 6. Take that list and samples and head to your fabricators! Discuss your square footage, provide them with a copy of your cabinet layout. Point out anything not shown on your layout like a raised bar. Get quotes for your top choices of granite and compare.
Step 7. Pick your fabricator! I haven’t gotten there…yet. (And I will be there to harass you when you do.)
So there you have it! I realize this is a very long post with very little pictures (unusual for me), but I think these tips could be invaluable to anyone looking for granite. It can be an intimidating process, especially if you’re looking for a deal, and it’s important to go into negotiations knowing what you’re talking about. I’ll tell you a little more about negotiations later. I also promise that the number of pictures I’ll show you once Alaina’s kitchen is finished will MORE than make up for the lack of pictures you see here.