Marble is having more than a moment in the spotlight in Australia’s design industry as consumers continue to opt for earthy materials.
The material has been traditionally associated with expensive and opulent spaces, but today marble is used in everything from five-star hotel bathrooms to a simple coffee table top.
Christine Ghrayche, director and designer at CBG Interior Design has definitely observed a rise in Australia’s marble market. She credits the array of design and renovation shows such as The Block with its increased prevalence.
“I also believe it is being driven by the desire of both designers and consumers to work with natural and raw materials,” she said.
Design company Floors of Stone in the UK noticed the trend in 2014 and has seen it continue this year.
“Gone are the days when you would only see glossy, polished marble tiles in hotel foyers or lavish mansions, marble now comes in an array of finishes, at affordable prices, so everyone can bring a touch of luxury to their home,” said Sophie Mitchell, assistant manager at Floors of Stone.
It’s so popular in fact that there is an array of faux versions or marble-inspired design saturating the market. However they don’t really hold the credentials that make marble so marvellous.
Marble use dates back thousands of years, and it can be seen in such stunning buildings as the Parthenon, the Taj Mahal or the Palace of Versailles.
Its unique aesthetic, from its veiny surface to its ability to draw light, makes it very appealing. While primarily featured as a white stone, it can be combined with many modern materials according to Ghrayche.
“Marble is one of those materials that has the ability to convey minimalistic elegance, while at the same time being flexible enough to work with a wide range of other materials, such as wood and metal,” she said.
It is also commonly mixed with aggregate.
Mitchell describes it as “all-out, unadulterated glamour.”
“When trying to create a sense of light and space in a room, a polished marble is the only way to go. A glint of the morning sun, the reflection of a claw-foot bath, there’s no denying that a polished stone brings a feeling of opulence to a space,” she said.
“You also get a beauty from the natural veins, colours and details in a marble tile that you are never going to achieve with a man-made tile.”
Ghrayche said marble can add elegance to an entire room without overwhelming the space.
“Marble is an investment, and in the case of marble being used in a permanent fashion such as a bathroom it will add a certain level of class and value than an alternative cannot match," she said.
Ghrayche also believes marble application is dependent on the space and its use.
“Marble on a kitchen counter-top is not recommended due to how porous it is, so I tend to recommend a marble look granite," she said. "However, it is being used in a bathroom, on a feature wall, or in furniture, then yes, it is worth it.”
Marble is not recommended for high traffic areas as it is not resistant to acid and abrasion. The US General Services Administration documents it well:
“The limited porosity of marble, especially polished marble, makes it less vulnerable to the leaching effects of water. Calcium carbonate, however, of which marble is composed, is highly susceptible to attack by acidic agents. Marble is readily dissolved by acids, even very dilute acids, however the actual results of acidic exposure will vary with the nature of the acid.”
Mitchell has seen a growing demand for marble becoming a part of a busy family home.
Floors of Stone offers a Botticino Tumbled Marble which is popular with the residential sector.
“Its worn, tumbled edges and delicate ivory and soft grey tones bring a gentle, rustic quality to a room. These versatile tiles can be used with white, cream and grey coloured furniture and walls to create a light tranquil setting, but sit equally well as a neutral backdrop to a bolder colour palette," Mitchell said.
Marble can be sourced from many locales, with quarries found all over the world from Italy to India to Turkey.
Floors of Stone sources the majority of its marble tiles from Turkey, but is looking to expand its range to include marble from Italy and the Middle East.
A 2014 presentation on Marble Mining by Mujib Uddin Siddiqui Assistant Mineral Economist (Int.) demonstrated that today’s marble mines are semi-mechanised and some are fully mechanised.
The preferred mining method is ‘bench-quarrying' and mining machines like line drillers, chain saws, belt saws, diamond wire saw cutters, derrick cranes, loaders and tippers are used.
According to BUILD, an independent Australian online authority on building and renovation, marble is considered a high-end material.
“Chinese or Indian marble will set you back approximately AU$70 per square metre, while the top of the line Italian marble can cost up to AU$200 per square metre,” the firm's website states.
With marble décor taking off, LuMu Interiors in Sydney has Marble Mortars from Turkey beginning at AU$165 per piece.
While wood is typically the natural material that earn the most marks for sustainability, marble has some impressive credentials of its own. As with most natural stones, durability and longevity are marble’s strongest points.
“If looked after and installed correctly, it can last a lifetime, meaning a floor does not have to be replaced every few years, therefore not impacting on the Earth’s resources (and ultimately saving money)," Mitchell said. "It is widely regarded as an eco-friendly sustainable material."
Marble can also be recycled and quarries are working to make their processes environmentally friendly. At present, vast amounts of water are used when quarrying, cutting and polishing the stone.
“Most quarries now recycle the water used in the quarrying process so there is almost no waste,” Mitchell noted. “As marble is not man-made, there are also no chemicals involved in the process of producing tiles. It is taken from the ground in more or less its finished form, so it doesn’t need any further processes, which often will produce a lot of CO2."
So despite its still-high cost, marble is now more accessible and popular than ever. The market has never looked so ripe for marble enthusiasts.