My wife and I love to look at homes for sale. If we see an open house sign on the weekend, we’re there, major lookie-loo’s ready to check out the goods.

And you know what? Chances are, if the kitchen’s been remodeled, we’ll look at each other and say “Granite countertops, check.”

Those granite countertops have become the kitchen cliché of the century. These days it’s rare to see a remodel without them.

And why not? Granite countertops work. They’re smooth, hearty and durable; easy to clean and tough to beat. Expensive, yes, but as a natural material that comes straight out of a rock quarry somewhere, granite looks good with many different styles of kitchen.

Well, sorta. The seamless expanse of granite that covers the countertop acreage in modern kitchens always looks, well, kinda modern. Granite doesn’t really fit that well in homes from other eras, IMHO.

We went into an open house in a beautiful Craftsman home in the Bay Area not too long ago, and yikes! Granite countertops as far as the eye could see. It made the kitchen look like a transplant from a new tract home, and along with the mass-produced modern cabinets the remodeler tastelessly used, ruined the whole vintage vibe of the entire house. Ouch—talk about a remodeling faux pas.

So if you have a Victorian or a Craftsman or a Queen Anne, please, lay off the granite. Use tile or hardwood or steel or quartz (sparkly!) or even concrete countertops that can be made to fit the vintage of the home you’re remodeling. There are even some synthetic materials that look good these days.

Also, and I don’t mean to be a fear-monger here, but some granite countertops may give off trace amounts of the cancer-causing gas radon. What?! Well, granite comes from Mother Earth, which often holds radium and other naturally-occurring radioactive materials right in the same rock where they mine the granite. Some kitchens have been shown to have radon levels of 100 picocuries per liter of air, twenty-five times the EPA limit of four picocuries. This doesn’t happen with every granite countertop—in fact, the EPA says not much real evidence exists yet—but if you’re thinking of buying a granitized house? I’d suggest buying a $25 radon test kit at the local home improvement big-box, just to be safe.

Which reminds me: radon-related lung cancer kills 20,000 people a year. Ever meet someone who’s never smoked, but still got lung cancer? Radon could be the most likely culprit. Homes with basements, or with below-ground-level living spaces should always be tested, since radon, by definition, exists underground. The EPA, by the way, recommends testing every home for radon. It’s a good idea to test the yard, too. Before you move in.

Disclaimer: there is a fair amount of controversy over this issue, and the Marble Institute of America (, the trade association for the natural stone industry, lists a host of scientific studies that debunk the radon-granite connection. So be forewarned, and before you make a decision to go with granite, think about the other options, too.