Billions of years ago, miles beneath the planet's surface, a molten sea of quartz, feldspar, muscovite and biotite molecules coalesced and hardened to become the dense igneous material for your kitchen counters. Once you've picked your favorite shade of granite, you can be slicing tomatoes on a polished remnant of a vast mineral primordial sea. But first, you have to select the color.

A Rainbow of Granites

Contrary to the evidence in most shelter magazines, all granite isn't black, or a shade too dark to tell the difference. The stone ranges from snow whites speckled with flecks and veins of metallic hues, to yellows, beiges, golds, pinks, reds, purples, grays, blues, browns, greens and blacks. No shade is entirely solid; all have bits of embedded color that provide the key to successful matchups with the rest of your kitchen colors. Some exuberant granites are so boldly marked that they are impossible to ignore -- best used sparingly in small quantities, or in a kitchen so vast they don't overpower the walls, cabinets, appliances and floor. Others are so rare that your budget is no match for their price. Certain blues fall into this category. You can get carried away and make an expensive mistake, so follow a few design precepts and do your homework before hitting the stone quarry.

Cool Color, Not Chaos

  • Kitchen cabinets are the single most important color to coordinate with the granite countertops. Choose a granite with flecks of color that "match" the cabinet finish. Or, contrast black granite counters with white cabinets for a clean modern appearance.
  • Light granite opens up a small kitchen, and a small kitchen looks coherent when the countertops and island top are the same granite.
  • It's tricky to mix granite countertops with a coordinating or contrasting granite backsplash -- much more elegant to use all the same stone.
  • Granite that completely mirrors the cabinet color can appear like a giant blob of undifferentiated brown or gray or another shade. If you do match colors, choose a granite configured with prominent contrasting veining to keep things lively and define the different functions.
  • Grays, blues and greens are amazing with cherry-wood cabinets.
  • Lighter granites are often softer and more porous than darker granites, but they hide dust and dirt better.

Sleuthing Among the Stones

Prepare, photograph, and pursue perfection. A trip to the quarry or a visit to the stonemason can be as much fun as picking out a new pair of shoes -- if you're ready for it.

Step 1 Snap away with your smartphone.

Take pictures of every view of your kitchen, with close-ups of cabinet finish, decorative tile, floor color and other permanent features.

Step 2 Deconstruct your cabinets.

Take a cabinet door or matching drawer with you to really see how the flecks in a slab of stone pick up cabinet color. Bring samples of anything you can temporarily pry loose -- leftover wood flooring samples or extra tile, wall paint swatches -- materials that will remain part of the decor.

Step 3 Peruse photographs of available granite in your price range.

Ask your contractor or stone supplier for pictures of granites that work with your budget. Isolate a few compatible colors before viewing the real stone in person. That way, you spare yourself the heartache of falling in love with a Bahia blue that is not destined for your kitchen.

Step 4 Take time to test everything.

Hold your samples next to stone you like and hunt for the color flecks that will tie the room together. Put the paint swatch, floor or tile sample and cabinet piece against the stone and stand back. Use the photos on your phone to help envision each slab of stone as a counter in your space.

Step 5 Grab a sample.

Or two or three -- take sample chunks of your favorite granites home to place on the old cabinets, against the walls and cabinets. Look at the granite samples in every light. Wall paint is easy to change so that shouldn't be the deal-breaker for a granite that works with everything else in the kitchen.