By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

STONE and stonelike effects are having their day in interior decoration and the design of furnishings for the home. Although granite is this year's newest star of the underground materials, it joins limestone, fossil stone, sandstone, slate, and all their look-alikes. The stately elegance of marble, both real and faux, remains a constant in decorating circles, as it has been for centuries.

Furniture manufacturers in both Europe and the United States are using stone and stone effects in numerous pieces of furniture, in combination with stainless steel, brass, glass, wood, and lacquer. Some see the trend as part of the new Southwestern look in decorating. Others view it as an element in the high modern style known for its lustrous, smooth, and sleek look. Emphasis on granite

It is granite, however, that has become one of the current high-fashion elements of both architects and interior designers, who cite its durable beauty and say that it is a stone that can present many faces, depending on its color and finish.

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``Granite is really coming into its own and is very applicable to this year's thinking in interior design,'' says Gail Adams of Phoenix, Ariz., past president of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).

``We are using it a lot in the American Southwest for countertops, floors, and as inserts in tabletops. To me, it is clean and crisp and has the definite character of strength.''

Last November, the Soci'et'e des Artistes D'ecorateurs in Paris staged a premiere exposition of modern European design at which the massive granite doors and a 4-ton granite kitchen island carved by Michael Prentice took first honors.

Mr. Prentice, an American sculptor now living in Paris, says that black granite is his trademark and that he is trying to reestablish the collaboration that once existed between architects and artists -- a collaboration, he says, that produced things of great and lasting beauty.

One of his recent commissions in this line included a pair of granite doors, as well as tables and an entrance-hall console, for the Paris headquarters of Cartier, the international jewelers. Classic material

``I think we are seeing a turning point in taste,'' Prentice says.

``People are looking more and more toward materials that last. They are genuinely interested in a classic, noble material like granite, worked with a certain majesty of scale.''

The rich crystalline structure of black granite, he explains, appears to have many hues and textures. When he lightly picks the surface, it looks light gray. As the blows of his hammer and chisel get heavier, the stone appears darker.

``When polished, this dense, elegant stone seems to be even more profoundly black,'' Prentice says. ``It is this paradox in hues that interests me and that makes people want to reach out and touch the surface.''

Prentice admits that the weight of the stone can be a problem; a hydraulic mechanism opens and closes his monolithic granite doors. He buys his granite from India, Uruguay, South Africa, and Sweden and works it in a ground-floor loft in Paris with an overhead crane, and in a larger studio in Brittany.

Granite is literally at home in any environment, according to New York designer and colorist Barbara Schirmeister.

``With its high sheen it can relate to steel and very high-tech settings and Memphis-type furnishings,'' she says. ``Or its texture can complement traditional interiors with a feeling of opulence and richness.''

San Francisco decorator Michael Taylor, a member of ASID, believes in living with nature's own materials. This includes granite, as well as wicker, chunks of minerals, driftwood from the beach, stumps of trees used as table bases, fabrics made of natural fibers, and rustic twig furniture.

Mr. Taylor's California contemporary look includes massively scaled granite coffee tables that combine chiseled, sandblasted, and polished effects. Fake finishes

In addition to the ``real thing,'' simulated granite finishes are on everything from furniture and textiles to clocks, neckties, and jewelry. Some are obvious tongue-in-cheek effects, meant to be witty and trendy. Some are meant to seriously conform to the demands of today's decorating styles.

A spray-on paint finish called Zolatone produces a flecked granite-like look. Real chunks of granite are used by some decorators as examples of nature's own sculpture. Lighter-weight fake rocks and boulders are for those who like the look but not the reality of stone.

Blackstone is the new black granite design that has just been introduced by Formica. ArmStar is producing a cast product called Armstone that is a blend of small chips of marble and adhesive polished to look like granite. It comes in 12-by-12-inch or 24-by-24-inch tiles and is considerably cheaper than the real thing.

Ceramic tiles, too, are being made to resemble granite. And everyday articles such as dinner plates, serving bowls, and garden urns have taken on stonelike appearances.

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