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Ambling through a corridor at the Met, you're probably looking up and all around. But underfoot, in slab tiles as large as card tables, there's another kind of art history at play: Basaltina. The volcanic rock, a kind of Basalt, is quarried from what's now a private stock in central Italy—known there as "Pietra Aniciana," it was popular during the Roman Empire for building roads and monuments (look only as far as St. Peter's Square for proof). It's grey-black and fine-grained, with subtle patterning and a smooth matte finish.
Its looks alone, minimal and yet warm, are hard to beat and an obvious choice for flooring (if it's good enough for Roman roads...), but an increasingly popular application of Basaltina is for kitchen countertops.
While durable (the materials it's composed of are similar to those in granite), Basaltina is still considered porous: Small, naturally-occurring holes sometimes appear in its surface because of how rapidly lava cools. It's soft to the touch, and warmer than a cold stone like marble.
As a countertop material, then, Basaltina needs to be sealed (sometimes extensively) to make it resistant to staining—and any oily spills should be wiped up as quickly as you can. Just as marble would, a Basaltina surface will eventually show off some signs of use—but if you're opting for a natural material with a rich look to it, like this, that's part of the fun of living with it.
Designer and blogger Athena Calderone, of EyeSwoon, first discovered Basaltina on a trip to Italy and applied it all over her Long Island home. She cooks avidly, and isn't bothered a bit by its softness: "I was immediately smitten buy the natural variation and minimal fleck found in the honed material, which also happen to be very forgiving in the kitchen should stains make way onto the surface!"
As far as its appearance goes, Basaltina is a little lighter in color than soapstone but with a dash more complexity in the patterning. It ranges in hue from grey to black, so you'll want to use a similarly dark grout around it to avoid a framing effect.
Just as with any natural stone or rock, each slab will differ—so consider the direction of any grains and patterning before having it cut to fit and again before installation. You can opt for cut tiles in a variety of sizes, or larger slabs for a whole surface.
Beyond the kitchen, Basaltina is excellent for bathroom counters and shower floors, or even wall tiles. It even absorbs sound (a benefit of its softness!), which could be why museums like the Met spring for it in awe-inspiring gallery floors.
So versatile is the material, Athena's worked it out as a verb: "I basaltina throughout the home," she explains.
What kitchen materials are you seeing a trend towards? Let us know in the comments!