A marble countertop makes a statement. This quarried stone, one of the more expensive materials you can use, sends a message of luxury and style. But once you’ve read through the pros and cons in Remodeling 101: Marble Countertops and settled on using marble for your kitchen or bath, you still have some decisions to make: What type to get? And which slab?

When you’re selecting, say, a solid-surface countertop (like Corian) or an engineered stone (such as Silestone or Caesarstone), you can look at a sample and know exactly what you’re going to get. With marble, however, every slab is different. Because it comes from nature, every piece of marble is one of a kind, with its own pattern and colors.

While it’s found in many parts of the world, the marble most readily available in the United States is quarried in the mountains above Carrara, a town in northern Tuscany. The three most common types of Italian marble are Carrara, Calacatta, and Statuary (also called Statuario). We asked expert Michael Bruno, a salesperson with the tile and stone company Ann Sacks, what he’s learned about these three types of marble over 19 years in the business—and the differences between them.

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Above: Statuary marble countertops in Francesca’s Brooklyn Heights kitchen demonstrate this stone’s bright white background and contrasting veining. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.

What’s the difference between Carrara, Calacatta, and Statuary marble?

Carrara Marble

The most common Italian marble is Carrara, named for the region it comes from. “Carrara has a gray field, or background,” says Bruno, “with a light gray veining.” This stone can also tend toward blue-gray, and the patterning is usually soft and feathery.

Calacatta Marble

Many homeowners feel that a whiter marble looks more luxurious. They might opt for Calacatta marble, which is also fairly available in the US. (Somewhat confusingly, it’s quarried in Carrara as well.) “Calacatta has a field that’s bright white, and a lot more variation in color than Carrara,” says Bruno. The veins are thick and dramatic, and can range in color from gold to brown to beige to dark gray.

Statuary Marble

And then there’s Statuary marble—whose name serves as a reminder that some of the world’s greatest statues are carved from marble (think Michelangelo’s David). It too comes from the Carrara region. “Statuary also has a bright white field, but not as much color variation as Calacatta,” says Bruno. “The veins are usually dark gray, so there’s a lot of contrast between light and dark in this stone.”

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Above: When designing her kitchen, LA-based designer and blogger Sarah Sherman Samuel of Smitten Studio expected to go for Carrara, but discovered “Carrara is generally more gray with smaller veins, and Calacatta is whiter with more dramatic veins. The slab I found was very white and the veins have the prettiest range of colors, including touches of gold and green.” Shown here is the finished product with Calacatta counters and backsplash. See more at SemiHandmade Kitchen with Ikea Cabinets.

What’s the price difference between these three marbles?

It’s a question of supply and demand. Of the three, and perhaps surprisingly, Carrara is the best-priced marble, since more is quarried and it’s seen as being less high-end. You might pay anywhere from $75 to $100 a square foot, uninstalled. Calacatta marble, since it’s rarer and more coveted, could cost as much as $250 a square foot, and Statuary marble generally goes for about the same amount. Note that prices vary depending on the supplier—an exclusive supplier may charge more (and have more distinctive marbles to offer) than a big-box retailer.

The price of a particular slab is also affected by its thickness. Generally, countertops are cut either one centimeter or two centimeters thick; one centimeter generally suits the purpose (and is far less heavy to install).

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Above: A Carrara marble counter—and integrated sink—in the JR Loft in Brussels by Nicolas Schuybroek. See more at Trend Alert: 14 Integrated Marble Kitchen Sinks.

Is one type of marble more high-maintenance, or low-maintenance, than the others?

“There’s really no difference between these stones in terms of porosity,” says Bruno. Marble is marble, and one type doesn’t vary much from another when it comes to staining. Nobody would call marble low-maintenance: Since it’s not very acid-resistant, the surface must be sealed—and regularly resealed—to prevent it from becoming stained or “etched” by substances such as red wine, lemon juice, and tomato sauce.

The other issue: Marble is nowhere as hard as granite. That means it can be chipped, say by a metal belt buckle or heavy skillet knocking into an edge.

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Above: Carrara marble in the kitchen of a London chef. For more, see In the Kitchen with Skye Gyngell, London’s Chef du Jour.

How do I choose which type of marble will work for me?

Since each piece is unique, you’ll probably want to look at the actual slabs before you decide. A trip to the showroom or a local marble yard will allow you to compare the colors and patterns in the pieces on display, and find one that fits your taste in terms of the aesthetics and your planned color scheme.

However, “it’s not that easy to shop around,” says Bruno, “because most places might have only three slabs to show you.” His company will send photographs of available marbles to show customers what’s available.

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Above: When architects Medium Plenty overhauled the kitchen in a small Oakland, CA, bungalow, they decided to use Calacatta marble, rather than the less-expensive Carrara, for the countertops. To compensate for the cost, they opted for a low-fi backsplash with tiles found at a seconds sale at Heath Ceramics. See The Architect Is In: Medium Plenty in San Francisco for more.

Which type of marble is best for the kitchen?

If you’re watching the bottom line, you might consider Carrara marble, especially for a kitchen countertop. There are clear advantages to choosing a darker-colored stone, or one that’s heavily veined with variegated colors that would make food stains, scorch marks, and discoloration less noticeable. “You’ll see the natural markings rather than what’s happened to the stone over the years,” says Bruno.

But if you don’t have budget constraints, and/or if you’re scrupulous about cleaning up as you cook, you might spring for a whiter marble such as Calacatta or Statuary.

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Above: Calacatta marble frames the sink and windows in interior designer Amy Sklar’s LA kitchen. See the rest at Kitchen of the Week: Practicality in White Marble.

What makes marble worth the money?

It’s an elegant, classic look that can work in a traditional space and also fit right in with a sleek contemporary look. “People like marble for its natural beauty, even though it can show wear and tear over the years,” says Bruno. “Every house in Europe has a stone countertop—it’s only in this country that people think everything has to look brand-new.” Many homeowners do appreciate the way a marble counter can develop a patina from use. If that’s something you can live with, then marble may well be the right choice for you.

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Above: Marble countertops—and backsplash—in Kitchen of the Week: A Culinary Space Inspired by a Painting.