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Marble is back ... in almost every room.

Marble is back . . . in almost every room

A classic building material conjuring images of ancient Athens and Rome, marble is enjoying a modern renaissance. As more homeowners are discovering, its richness, durability, and range of color can enhance almost any room.

The examples here--in kitchens, living rooms, bathrooms, even outdoors--demonstrate just how versatile it is. But cost and maintenance must be taken into account. Our report can help you decide if marble is the right material for you.

The stone that sparkles

The word marble comes from the Greek marmaros, meaning sparkling stone. Marble is metamorphic rock, formed chiefly from limestone or dolomite. The presence of numerous minerals and fossils accounts for the distinctive veins and dazzling colors of many marbles (see the large photograph on page 105).

Italy alone boasts at least 38 major quarrying centers. Other countries that export marble include Belgium, France, Norway, Brazil, Mexico, and Taiwan. In the United States, Georgia, Vermont, Tennessee, Idaho, and New Mexico are among the states with active quarries. (Quarries in California and Colorado aren't active.)

Certain types are famous: Italy's white, sculpture-quality Carrara, the rose-colored stone of Norway, the black marble of Belgium, and the white Colorado marble used in the Lincoln Memorial.

And serious candy makers know marble's ability to absorb heat rapidly, allowing the quick cooling and easy working of chocolate, fondants, and taffy.

Shopping for marble

A visit to a marble yard can be like entering Ali Baba's cave: a treasury of stone in lustrous colors surrounds you. Standing beside 6- by 10-foot, 900-pound slabs of polished, 400-million-year-old stone helps you appreciate why marble has captured the imaginations of artisans and builders throughout history.

To find a dealer, look in the yellow pages under Marble--Natural. (You may also see Marble--Cultured. So-called cultured marble is a synthetic product made of polyester resin and dolomite dust.)

You should see the stone first, because different companies use different names for essentially the same stone. Even if the marble comes from the same quarry, color and markings vary.

Take project dimensions along so you and your dealer can accurately estimate how much you'll need.

Some building supply stores and tile shops carry marble tiles. Sometimes you can find recycled marble at salvage yards (a marble yard can repolish and recut older, worn pieces to look like new).

If you're looking for a small piece, say for a tabletop, try to find an odd-lot fragment that comes close in size and shape to your needs, then design around it. Generally, you can buy a less-expensive piece and save costly extra cuts. Don't overlook "vanity cutouts'--oval, round, and sometimes polygonal pieces left over after holes for sinks have been cut in counter slabs. We show an octagonal one on page 105.

Tiles, slabs, and reinforced sheets

Although blocks are sold for sculptural and architectural use, your basic choices in finished materials are tiles and slabs or panels.

Tiles, typically 1/2 inch thick, come in three basic sizes: 6 inches square, 6 by 12 inches, and 12 inches square. You'll find slabs in a large variety of sizes, but the full slab is usually about 6 by 10 feet and 3/4 inch thick. You can figure that such a slab will weigh at least 15 pounds per square foot, tiles about 5 pounds per square foot.

Recent breakthroughs have made it possible to produce lighter-weight sheets. For these, marble is sliced 1/4 inch thick and reinforced with a backing of epoxy and fiberglass, then cut into three sizes: 1 by 2 feet, 2 by 2 feet, and 2 by 4 feet. Several companies now market this product; cost for travertine, for example, can run around $23.50 per square foot for a 2 by 4-foot sheet.

Finishes and edges

There are two basic types of finishes: polished and honed. Polished marble has a glassy, reflective surface and shows off the stone's color and veining. It's traditionally used for tiles and furniture.

Professional polishing is done with a special powder and a high-speed electric polisher. (You can do touch-up work yourself: wet the surface with water, sprinkle on polishing powder available from a marble dealer, then buff the powder onto the marble with a cloth or a buffing pad on a low-speed power drill. Do not use sandpaper.)

Honed marble has been partially sanded, producing a rougher surface with relatively little light reflection. It's usually used for floors or other areas where a polished surface might be too slippery, particularly when wet. If you'll be walking on marble in a bathroom or by a pool, buy the honed surface and exercise caution.

The surface of some types, such as travertine, contains small holes. These are often filled by the dealer using Portland cement colored to match the rest of the slab, or clear epoxy.

There are three basic types of edges. Simplest and least expensive is an arris edge, which means that the sharp top corners resulting from the cuts have been sanded down. The bull-nose edge is half-rounded. The ogee edge has a slightly more complex S-curve profile.

Prices: shop around and compare

Marble isn't inexpensive, but if well cared for, it will last for civilizations. Prices vary considerably, so shop around.

We found slab prices ranging from $10 to $23 per square foot for travertine, from $22 to $38 for dark green (verde antique). We found tile prices ranging from $6 to $8.50 per 12-inch-square tile of travertine, from $15 to $19 per 12-inch tile of dark green marble.

In addition to the basic charge (usually per square foot), you will be charged for each foot of cut required and for the type of edge specified. The cost of cutting (from about $5 to about $15 a foot) can easily surpass the price of the marble itself. Installation costs can be the biggest bill of all.

Should you install it yourself?

Though very hard, marble is relatively brittle and must be properly supported. Slabs and panels require muscle and special handling during installation; usually the job is best left to a professional.

Installing marble tiles is similar to working with ceramic tiles. However, the subsurface should be as rigid as possible to reduce the risk of cracking from vibration or flexing. If you don't need a polished edge, you can cut tiles to fit with a carbide-tip masonry saw blade.

A synthetic adhesive is best for applying marble. Oil-based adhesives are not recommended because they tend to "bleed' through.

Photo: Selecting a slab at a marble yard, she looks for color and grain. Slabs are 3/4 inch thick, can measure up to 6 by 10 feet

Photo: Carrara tile gives this tub enclosure and bathroom a cool, classic look. Architect: Daniel Solomon, San Francisco

Photo: Deep green serpentine hearth and surround set off this centrally positioned fireplace. Architect: Terrence Schilling, Oakland

Photo: Owner-installed Colombian gray tiles dress up small kitchen remodel. Design: Shirley Peletz

Photo: Marble countertop is ideal candy-making station on kitchen island by Tucson designer Bill Gansline

Photo: Installer first lays out 6-inch-square tiles to check for consistency, breakage. Below, he presses them into mastic base for hearth

Photo: Twelve choices show only some of marble's vast variation in color. Names given are commonest ones; you may find similar colors from other countries and with different names. A. Brown San Remo, Italy. B. Red Incarnate, Italy. C. Kristal Dark, Greece. D. Perlato, Italy. E. Verde Alpe or Verde Antique, France, Italy, U.S.A. F. Chassagne Violine, France. G. Pink and Green Campan, France. H. Rose Aurora, Portugal. I. Red Verona, Italy. J. Travertine, France, Italy, Mexico, U.S.A. K. Gray Ste. Anne, France. L. Breiche Nouvelle, Italy, France

Photo: By the acre or by the foot. Pool terrace uses beige travertine; honed surface makes it less slippery when wet. Architect: Hugh Newell Jacobsen. Tabletops are scraps of green, travertine, and Spanish red marble. Cost for all three, with refinishing, was $130. Bases are terra cotta drain tiles, concrete block, flue tile
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Date:Oct 1, 1984
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