Not Lit vs Backlit Agate Countertop

Tips from the Architect: Manufacturing and Backlighting Stone Countertops

There is a multitude of stone and lighting effects that can be used for countertops and architectural elements in the home. The most common stones used for counter tops and architectural elements are granite, marble, quartz, and onyx. The character of stone varies based on the composition of minerals and how exterior forces have acted upon the stone as it has formed. Water and geological movements comprise the most common forces which effect the formation of stone over immense periods of time.

Onyx & Agate

“Onyx is a banded variety of the oxide mineral chalcedony. Agate and onyx are both varieties of layered chalcedony that differ only in the form of the bands: agate has curved bands and onyx has parallel bands” ( These bands give the stone its one-of-a-kind natural beauty, however they can be inconsistent from slab to slab even when cut from the same block.

“Agate, from the Greek ‘achates’, is the old name of a Sicilian river, rich in precious stones of variegated colors. With veiled, translucent streaks it recalls the cerulean tones of the sea…It embellishes decorative items and brightens up surroundings…It is also believed to increase positivity and encourage meditation. The most select quality agates come from Brazil, China, India, Europe and Madagascar” (

Creating Countertops

Typically countertops and slabs are monolithic, taken straight from the quarry with little control over the veining or banding composition. In recent years however, technology has allowed for more creatively designed slabs composed of smaller, more precious stones. Smaller agate geodes can be sliced into thin pieces which are then binned based on color and quality. Once they have been polished, individual slices are selected by the artist who decides how best to arrange the individual slices into the larger composition. The slices are then set within a bed and covered with a clear epoxy resin which cures to form a monolithic slab encasing the individual pieces. Sometimes the spaces between the slices are filled with smaller broken pieces or ground crystalline powder of a complementary color. This process allows the overall composition and character of the slab to be somewhat controlled and not strictly dependent on the mineral composition of just one block of stone.

Backlit Agate Bartop
Backlit Agate Bartop

Backlighting Your Countertop

When making the investment in a rare and beautiful stone with rich character, it is important to consider techniques of enhancing its effect on the spaces, such as backlighting. When designing a system with which to backlight stone, even distribution of light is critical to display and enhance the character of the stone. There are several lighting details which will provide this desired distribution, depending on the application. It is highly recommended to work with a lighting designer to understand the best option for your application. There are some disastrous examples which can be found online where uneven distribution is clearly visible behind the slab. It is not recommended to use strip lighting directly below the slab, as this will likely produce very visibly uneven distribution.

The most common option involves creating a box behind the slab, painting it white, and using LED strip-lighting at the edges to wash the white surface which will reflect up through the slab. This will technique will however not provide lighting at a downturned edge, and the slab will likely require some form of frame. If a “waterfall” edge or thicker edge to be backlit as well, a different technique will need to be used. In these instances, it may require building a transparent acrylic box and using planar LED panels. This method essentially allows a cube to be lit on all sides. There are a variety of LED matrix, and Edgelit panels currently on the market which can create a uniformly distributed plane of light.

In the end, these stone architectural elements can drastically enhance the spaces they occupy, and there are a multitude of stone characters which can be enhanced through backlighting to create a stunningly beautiful feature that adds value and richness to your home or office.

Not Lit vs Backlit Agate Countertop
Comparison – Unlit vs Backlit Agate Countertop (Photo by Catalano Architects)


“How to Make a Concrete Table & How to embed sliced agate, fossils, and coins in concrete” by Pete Sveen



  1. “Wild Agate Dark.” Antonio Luigi & C.S.p.a., 2016. Web. 6 July 2016.
  2. “Onyx.” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 30 May 2016. Web. 6 July 2016.

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