WASHINGTON — In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth, including a form of igneous rock called granite, a mass composed mostly of silica and aluminum that makes up a large part of the continental crust and comes in all the colors of the rainbow; it signifies majesty and serenity.
On the kajillionth day, or thereabouts, we mined that granite and made countertops.
We laid those countertops in kitchens across the land. Now that the entire United States has been good and covered, from slab to shining slab, we can take a step back and analyze the age of the granite countertop. Think about what it all means.
It means we wanted something easy to clean.
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What else does it mean?
Laminate was a countertop. Wood was a countertop. Granite is ... what? A pursuit. An ambition. A glossy, reflective surface that allows us to gaze at ourselves and know where we stand (we stand in front of the computer, watching videos on eHow.com about how to clean countertops).
Granite is ...
"What's interesting is how granite has quickly become the one and only material, across the country and across all price points," says Ron Cathell, a real estate agent in Northern Virginia. It used to be a high-end thing, back in the 1990s, when these countertops began to appear. It was aspirational.
"Then, 12 years ago, the first sort of moderately priced homes started using it. Now, every home has to have granite if you want to sell it. Not just sell it, but rent it. It's become such a thing. It's almost — " he searches for the right metaphor. "It's almost like trying to sell a house without a toilet."
As price has gone down, popularity has gone up; just look at the graph provided by StoneUpdate.com, a Web site dedicated to the natural stone industry. In 2000, 895,000 metric tons of granite slabs were imported to the United States. In 2011, that number was 1.43 million — and that's down from a high of 2.64 million a few years ago. The recession slowed granite sales — even cheap granite, which can be bought for as little as about $30 a square foot. Less cheap can go for $80, or however much you're willing to spend, really. The backsplash is the limit.
"Let's get deep; let's get psychological," says Anthony Carino, the co-host of Kitchen Cousins, a renovation show on HGTV. That's the network that taught the world about recessed lighting and radiant heating, that democratized the stainless steel appliance so it could be enjoyed by New Yorkers and North Dakotans alike.
"People wanting granite countertops is people wanting to sound like they know what they're talking about," Carino says. "It's like listening to two guys talk about hot-rod cars."
Let's get deeper. Let's get more psychological. Let's go to Counter Intelligence, a Maryland granite dealer whose 186 employees organize about 40 countertop installations a day.
Richard Trimber is the president and chief operating officer of Counter Intelligence.
"Our product is purely emotional," he says, in his office at his desk, which is made of granite. "Nobody needs a new countertop."
What the granite does, he says, is make a statement about who you are and where you are in life. It says: I will throw parties in my open-floor-plan great room, refilling the hummus for the kitchen island while chatting with my guests. I will buy the hummus from Trader Joe's.
Seize it. Seize the countertop.
Bring it home and install it. Styles might fade, but it would take eons and eons for the granite to crumble. Have something permanent. Something dependable. A big, weighty slab of the American dream.