Lightweight Granite: Easy on the Back and the Wallet

Granite countertopIf there is one design element that has consistently been on top of every home buyer's and renter's wish list, it's granite.

Never mind that little scare about radiation emanating from granite counter tops (The Marble Institute of America [MIA] says the radon emitted from the most popular granite counter tops is lower than what you'd get from the sun.) And maybe you can overlook that schlepping the stuff from South American mines digs a bigger geographical footprint than King Kong.

But does the extreme weightiness of granite make you rethink the purchase of granite in all of its forms?

In 2008, demand for granite in American homes had increased ten-fold, the MIA reported. Granite counters, tables, benches, and commodes may be proliferating in homes, but what are poor renters to do? Schlep 1,500 pounds up and down stairs and into and out of moving vans?

The nomadic set may now be able to have their granite fix and move it, too. A Canadian stone fabricator has come up with a modular, open-source design, self-assembly furniture system that looks like solid stone at one-fourth the weight. The technique laminates a 4 millimeter granite or marble sheet over a lightweight core to create a solid-stone look that is really a veneer. Stonelite by Artisan Stone Furnishings weighs in at a feather-weight 6.5 pounds per square foot, making it easier and cheaper to move, pack, ship and store. The real stuff, solid granite or marble, can weigh up to 25 pounds per square foot, and even a one-half inch thick glass table top is 12 pounds per square foot.

The idea of selling affordable, light-weight granite furniture came to Artisan president Mike Nickel through sheer economics. Given America's love affair with natural stone, Nickels saw a niche in the marketplace for stone furniture that wouldn't break backs or bank accounts. Far fewer homeowners have been able to buy granite slabs since the economic downturn.

"The technology to do this has been around since the 70's," says Nickel. "These are tables that will last forever, are completely portable and can be assembled by anyone in three minutes."

But it's important to note that there are options out there for those not so set on being granite purists. There are other lightweight materials that give you the look and feel of granite. For instance, Corian, a synthetic blend of natural minerals and acrylic, weighs in at only 4.4 lbs per square foot for their half-inch material. Polished concrete surfaces, which offer options for different decorative looks, weigh approximately 18.75lbs per square foot.

Stonelite pricing starts at under $300 for occasional/end tables, $599 for dining tables and $429 for pedestal tables. Current models require a glass top, but in a few months Stonelite will introduce stone veneer table tops and connecting elements to encourage consumers to build their own units. Prices may not be as rock-bottom as IKEA, but not a bad price for substantial furniture you can easily carry to the tenth floor. Your neighbors will think you're Hercules.
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