Choosing the right stone for your interiors project

Do you know your Marble from your Granite? Your Limestone from Travertine? Do you know what maintenance is needed? These top tips that are key to choosing the right stone and making the right decision before you hand over your credit card.

Designed by Joseph Dirand, Calacatta Paonazzo marble, Choosing the right stone
Designed by Joseph Dirand using Calacatta Paonazzo marble for Kitchen company Obumex. Photo credit: Adrien Dirand

What you need to know before choosing natural stone for your home.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have noticed by now that marble and natural stone have made a comeback in the world of interiors. Natural materials and hard textures are not a new thing, in fact, the Greeks and Romans used them extensively. Yet they seem to cause a level of anxiety when they are being considered in the home – unless we’re talking kitchen work surfaces that is. I don’t know if it’s the choice available or maybe that it seems a bit tricky and technical? Plus surely it’s an expensive option? Introducing them into your home through stone floors and splashbacks is a similar process to worktops and can be straightforward, yet people wobble and regularly choose an “easier” material. Unless they have an interior designer, architect or other professional advice. In fact, interior designers like Joseph Dirand, Pieter Jan and Arjaan De Feyter all utilise these elegant luxury materials, especially marble. There are marble baths, marble countertops, marble floors, marble sculptures, marble tables, marble tiles, you name it. Something I have noticed particularly in the last 12 months, is the rise in natural hard materials incorporated into furniture, at practically every tradeshow. Even Karl Lagerfeld, the creative director at Chanel unveiled a range of Marble furniture at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Paris before Christmas. Surely this must mean there is a demand for it?

Choosing the right stone, Tom Dixon, natural stone table
The Coal Office designed by the Tom Dixon Design Research Studio with natural stone table tops.
Choosing the right stone, Aesop, Travertine floor
Aesop in Piazza San Lorenzo in Rome by studio Luca Guadagnino featuring Travertine floor and pink and green Marble.

Choosing the right stone for your home does require a little bit of research and I know it’s not everyone’s favourite idea of passing time. We all just want to pin pretty images on Pinterest or scroll through some inspiration on Instagram, right? But with a  little legwork, you’d be surprised what you can unearth and be inspired by. Stone is highly durable and comes in a vast array of finishes, so it should, in fact, be the perfect choice for introducing some character in anyone’s home. It can be a rustic choice, or the height of luxury, minimal or maximalist, in fact, it’s almost guaranteed to bring a touch of drama no matter what your decorating taste is.  It’s a timeless material and therefore will never go out of fashion, making it a worthwhile investment. Choosing the right stone is a bit of a minefield granted, as it’s not just the cost of the material and the cost of the installation to take into account, but also the maintenance. Certainly the designers I mentioned above love marble but it takes quite a lot of work to live with it. I’ve pulled together a little summary below with some inspiration that might help with the pros and cons of using natural stone in your home.

Choosing the right stone, pale marble bathroom, Pieter Jan designed
Penthouse M in Brussels by Pieter Jan. Photo credit: Tim Van de Velde
Choosing the right stone, grey and white marble pattern, Jean Louis Deniot designed
Jean Louis Deniot designed this grey and white marble floor for an entrance hall.

Granite

Everyone knows granite’s key quality is being exceptionally hard. But did you know that this igneous rock is hard because it was formed from the crystallisation of magma below the Earth’s surface?  It’s incredibly durable making it both heat and scratch resistant. But I wouldn’t advise putting hot saucepans straight onto the work surface, as I have known instances of cracks being created. Trivots and pan stands are needed on most kitchen surfaces, to be honest. Granite is a naturally cool stone, making it great for those who are keen bakers or pasta makers. Which makes it ideal for the kitchen, in fact, it’s my go-to kitchen surface for dark hues – I have it in my own kitchen (and also in my guest bathroom).  Many people don’t realise that while it is water resistant, granite is still a porous material and needs sealing, it also needs on-going maintenance using a neutral non-acidic cleaner, basically something that’s Ph-neutral. You can buy these easily on Amazon here. I also find that the polish finish I have, while beautiful, drives me potty if it’s streaky, so I always keep a microfiber cloth close by and always dry it after cleaning.

Choosing the right stone, Flack Studio, verde marble, rosso marble
Gabriel Cafe in Melbourne by Flack Studio

Marble

The most asked for natural stone is marble. Marble’s beauty and elegance have long been associated with high-end luxury particularly with the ubiquitous Carrara and Calacatta, the predominately white marbles. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll have seen in my stories and on the grid my recent showcase of white and pale marble bathrooms. I think they are beautiful but if I’m really honest I’m over the book match finish that seems to be prevalent in high-end schemes. I’m much more interested in the marbles with dramatic veining or that are highly saturated, which is common in metamorphic rock. You may remember how at EuroCucina I saw a lot of black/dark marble like Emperador and Nero Portoro with its lively gold veining. Other marbles high on my radar are the green Verde Guatemala and Verde Alpi, and the very Italian Rosso Levanto – it’s often found on traditional Italian fireplaces and balustrades. I realise green and red marble isn’t for everyone, but choosing the right stone is possible from the wealth of marbles out there. Do bear in mind though, that it can be a bit tricky to use  – it will scratch and can stain, and will need a bit more care than some of the other stones. Prolonged exposure to acids, from lemons for example, will remove the polish and/or sealant making it dull and more vulnerable to staining.

Choosing the right stone, Poliform, Kitchen design, dark brown marble
Poliform at Eurocucina. Photo Credit: Mary Middleton
Choosing the right stone, Rossana, Kitchen design, dark brown marble
Kitchen by Rosanna at Eurocucina.
Choosing the right stone, Design by Arjaan De Feyter, Verde Marble
Design by Arjaan De Feyter for law firm Deknudt Nelis Advocaten. Photo Credit Piet-Albert Goethals
Choosing the right stone, Design by Arjaan De Feyter, Verde Marble
Using slabs of dark green marble with prominent white veins. Design by Arjaan De Feyter. Photo Credit Piet-Albert Goethals
Choosing the right stone, Caffe Fernanda in Milan, Rosso Lepanto Marble
Caffe Fernanda in Milan with Rosso Lepanto door frames and marble floors. Photo credit: Michele Nastasi
Choosing the right stone, Hotel Cafe Royal London, Carrara Marble
Hotel Cafe Royal London Carrara Marble Bathroom.

Limestone

When I think of Limestone I automatically think of flooring – and it is a great choice for flooring because it has texture and is naturally non-slip. It’s also used extensively as a building material to clad the exterior of buildings. I think most people assume this is rustic cream stone but it actually comes in plenty of hues – I have a slightly pink one in my garden and Salvatori have a fantastic chocolate-hued one (below). Here in the UK, you might be familiar with Bath Stone, or maybe Portland Stone, both of which are limestone. Elsewhere Travertine is a more familiar term which is also a sedimentary rock like Limestone, but it’s slightly different in appearance. It isn’t generally as uniform as Limestone, having a tendency to have “stripes’ and also has a more “open” or pitted appearance. Whichever one you are looking at it’s worth noting that because it’s porous it will need sealing before use to ensure resistance to water and stains. You’ll also need to reseal it regularly and that’s the part that often gets overlooked. How regularly you might be thinking? Well, that all depends on where you are using it. Is it in a place where you are likely to stain it for example. Sometimes though using a stone like this is all about creating a patina, you actually want to see the slow creep of time having an impact, I especially love this on the steps you see in old stately homes. While it’s a more wallet-friendly stone the maintenance is quite high as it has a tendency to stain in it’s lighter hues.

Choosing the right stone, Limestone by Salvatori, Pietra d'Avola
Pietra d’Avola Limestone by Salvatori in a Chevron texture design by Piero Lissoni
Choosing the right stone, Arjaan De Feyter designed, Kitchen, Travertine Grigio
Arjaan De Feyter designed Kitchen using Travertine grigio slabs
Choosing the right stone, Limestone by Salvatori, Crema d'Oricia
Crema d’Orcia by Salvatori is a creamy coloured limestone. You will often see small holes, the occasional shell-shaped fossil and tiny lines of pink quartz. Also shown is the Alfeo basin.
Choosing the right stone, Arjaan De Feyter designed, Kitchen, Rosso Travertine
The jaw-dropping Pool house designed by Arjaan De Feyter designed using Rosso Travertine. Photo Credit Piet-Albert Goethals
Choosing the right stone,  Andres-Jaque design, Restuarant, Novelda marble
Romola Restaurant in Madrid by Andres-Jaque featuring Novelda marble
Choosing the right stone,  Valerio Olgiati design, Celine retail store, Brazilian Pinta Verde marble
Celine retail store in Miami designed by Valerio Olgiati clad in Brazilian Pinta Verde marble. Photo credit: Mikael Olsson
Choosing the right stone, Cafeteria in Tel Aviv, designer Meir Guri
Cafeteria in Tel Aviv by Israeli designer Meir Guri. Photo credit: Yaniv Edry
Choosing the right stone, Dries Otten design, kitchen, pink marble
Dries Otten interior architect and furniture designer used pink Marble in this kitchen he designed. Photo credit: Jef Jacobs

There is still much to share on Onyx (I have a big soft spot for Onice Smeraldo), Agates, Sandstone, Soapstone and the like. Maybe I’ll create another roundup to show you those. But for now, you should at least know your Marble from your Granite and what maintenance is needed. However, I still have a few tips for you to consider before you place that order.

  1. Research is your friend. Do plenty of it, talk to suppliers, manufacturers, talk to people who’ve used the surface you are considering and definitely consider investing in professional help. Stone varies enormously in terms of quality, so see plenty of example from multiple sources. Choosing the right stone isn’t just about aesthetics, although that’s probably why you are considering it. Also research fabricators, these are the people who will template and install your very expensive surface. You want to see lots of examples of their work and take references.
  2. Compare and contrast. Don’t assume that just because the supplier tells you something, that it’s gospel. If they say something is stain resistant compare that information with other manufacturers. Also, particular stone types will be available from a variety of sources although the quality will vary. The seams of these natural deposits are all over the world, so if you’re after green Marble take a look at the geographical differences. Get physical samples and see the difference side by side. Do be aware though that the further away it is that shipping may well be expensive and lengthy.
  3. Be realistic. Really think carefully about how and where your natural stone will be used. Will it be in a high traffic area? Will you and your family be careful? Will it come into contact with things that could stain? For some natural stones, even shampoo can be a problem. How would you feel if it did stain? Do you want it to develop a patina, and to age with wear?
  4. See it in the flesh. Whenever possible when I’ve specified natural stone I’ve been to the stone yard and even once to a quarry to see the stone. Quality, colour and texture can vary greatly and if you’re after a certain colour or uniformity it might not be possible with all slabs. This is part of choosing the right stone that I greatly enjoy and I know others find a chore, I mean who doesn’t want to go to Italy occasionally?
  5. Consider reclaimed stone. This might not have crossed your mind but it’s worth having a look at reclaimed natural stone, particularly if you’re after something with a patina or a more rustic finish. Quarrying stone requires a lot of energy and transport can be expensive and environmentally detrimental. One whole side of my kitchen has Granite that was previously used in a showroom. I was able to buy it at a greatly reduced price, and I just had to get a fabricator to modify it for my needs such as adding draining grooves and a hole for my under-mounted sink.
  6. Look at the alternatives as a comparison. Maybe having a composite is exactly what your lifestyle and budget needs.

Choosing the right stone isn’t something that can be done in one afternoon but hopefully, you are a little more enlightened on the pros and cons and also inspired by the great examples. If you’d like to see more of my before you start a home rennovation project advice take a look here.

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5 Comments

  1. Donna Ford
    January 9, 2019 / 9:49 am

    Such a great post Mary for understanding stone and such mouth watering images! We ended up going for the composite Minerva which is cold like stone but non porous and you can sand and bugs out scratches. I ADORE it! It has natural veining too and a lot cheaper than stone. However in a dream world, I’d love marble and those gorgeous patterns. I love the idea of having a lump of earth in my kitchen!

  2. January 10, 2019 / 12:06 pm

    Thank you for sharing such an informative post Mary. I have always loved the natural simplicity of limestone over the more ostentatious marbles. However, I didn’t realise that limestone can come in colours other than cream. The chevron Pietra d’Avola Limestone by Salvatori is so beautiful !

  3. January 12, 2019 / 8:48 am

    Such a wonderfully informative post Mary! It’s definitely one to bookmark and refer to in the future. The images are inspirational, as always, making it easy to understand why people fall in love with natural stone in their homes.

  4. January 12, 2019 / 3:09 pm

    Oh what a post this was, so much to think about. But I have to say I was somewhat distracted by all the fabulous photos.
    I love that Mandarin Stone has actually launched a few lines of colourful marble. Carrara and Calacatta are done to death so why not see more green and rose marble too?

  5. January 12, 2019 / 7:15 pm

    Such an informative post Mary! I’m loving some of the examples, especially that bold Novelda marble. This will come in helpful when picking worktops for a kitchen project. I went to Italy a good few years ago to visit Stone International factory and it was fascinating to see how their tables were made and all the different stones finishes.

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