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Granite Stars in Today's Kitchens

It's hard not to like granite. It's tough, it's beautiful and it's in kitchens everywhere.

While it's not written in stone, the popularity of granite surfaces in the home is soaring. You don't have to watch too many home-improvement shows on television or look at very many design and decorating books to know that granite is hot, if not hip.

Everything old is new again, and you can't get much older than granite, says James E. Casaccia Sr., president of Casaccia Marble and Granite in Fresno, Calif. "Granite is ancient," he says. "It's indestructible. It's beautiful." He has it in his house. On floors and countertops.

James has been in the stone business since 1947. His father, the late Edward Casaccia, started the business, which specialized in headstones, in 1937.

Countertops and other products such as signs, decorative benches, tables, sculptures, mailboxes, bird baths, bowls and vases were added over the years. "And for the first time, our residential granite use has passed our headstone business," James says from behind his granite desk and computer table.

Business is booming. James Jr., who runs the residential side of the business, says he is not surprised at granite's popularity. "Once you live with the surface and see how it looks and how easy it is to care for, you understand its draw," he says, noting that he recently installed granite countertops in his own kitchen.

The island's granite is Sri Lankan "Gris Carmel" (photo: John Walker).

Larry Smith of Nelson Dye, remodeling specialists, says that yes, granite has grown in popularity, but it always has been used in homes.

"Heck, the cavemen probably had it on their countertops," he says with a laugh. "Granite used to be seen more as a high-end product for the wealthy. Today, we see granite used by more everyday people, people who live in tract homes as well as custom-built. It's gorgeous. Mother Nature knew what she was doing."

Trish Wilson agrees. When she and her husband, Bob, were selecting materials for the kitchen remodel of their 28-year-old tract home, they visited new tract-home models. "We found granite in some of them," she says. "We were trying to decide between Corian and granite. We wanted a solid surface. We chose the granite."

And, she says, they are not sorry. The granite countertops have been in for nine months. "We love them. Sometimes, we just stand back and look at them. Different colors shine depending on the light in the room. Best of all, when they are dirty, all I do is wipe them off. No scrubbing. No grout to clean. I have a wax the installer gave me. He said I could apply that once a year."

Information from the Building Stone Institute, a trade group that promotes building with stone, states that if you look closely at a piece of granite, you can see all of its crystals, depth and variation in color. If you view the same piece from a distance, you will see a homogeneous surface and a solid, even color.

Countertops in monochromatic shades of black, white and gray fit the latest high-tech and high-function kitchens, while warm earth tones are at home in traditional and country kitchens. Some of the granite colors exhibit "movement," or a patternlike wave of color.

Jim Casaccia hand-carved this panel of French limestone.

Larry says a granite countertop with a lot of movement can well be the focal point, the showstopper, of a kitchen. "A countertop can be sedate if a pattern is more uniform. I think the Type A personality will pick the screamers."

The Building Stone Institute says granite is a worry-free surface that requires few special precautions. Most granite is impervious to scratches, staining and heat blistering or cracking. Hot pots and pans won't damage it. Warm water and a soft cloth can be used to clean up spills, and a semiannual application of a nonyellowing paste wax will preserve the original brightness and luster.

"Granite, while maybe not as classic as marble, is more durable," says the senior Casaccia. He says polish seals granite about 99 percent. "We also apply a chemical sealer to make sure all the pores are closed," he says. There are various finishes, including highly polished; honed, which is smooth but not highly polished; and flamed, which is a dull finish most widely used outdoors.

He buys slabs of granite, which generally are 4 by 8 feet, polished on one side and 2 inches thick, from South Dakota, China, India, Sri Lanka, Canada, Norway and Brazil. He also buys from a local dealer.

This "Gris Carmel" granite shows a vein of quartz, among other colors.

The senior Casaccia's father learned the stone-cutting business while employed at Raymond Granite in the '20s. Then the Depression hit, reducing the number of building jobs, and he was laid off.

"So he took a $500 bonus he got from being in the military in World War I and opened up the monument business," he says. After James Casaccia returned from duty in World War II, he helped his father expand. Today, thanks to the popularity of granite, the business still is growing.

Like any product, granite prices vary somewhat from business to business. At Casaccia's, granite countertops average $80 a square foot installed.

Kathy Barberich writes for The Fresno Bee.

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