From Roman times to modern day, marble is the go-to stone to create a sense of timeless luxury

Fireplace with marble chimney
Tess Kelly

Marble, the durable, everlasting classic that never goes out of style and imbues a home with timeless luxury. Here’s a brief history of the material, plus expert tips on how to choose and care for it.

When did the mania for marble begin? It all started with the Romans. ‘They were responsible for the material’s luxury status – they mined it wherever they went,’ says Jason Cherrington, managing director of stone specialist Lapicida. ‘Today, where there’s a marble industry, there was usually a Roman settlement.’ But these days, it’s not just for flooring and bathrooms, with hi-tech CNC cutting, marble is now being used to make furniture and accessories. Also, consider marble wall panelling: you can create striking patterns using the veins in the stone.

How to pick your marble Mix and match different colours of stone and various polishes. Each slice is different and the veins in it can change the overall effect, so it’s important to choose the exact piece you like from a dealer – Paris-based interior designer Laura Gonzalez has a bohemian-chic style that mixes antiques with lush greenery and luxe materials including marble, she says, ‘The company I use is Carrara Marble. Choose a specific slab and the dealer will do the measuring and drawings, cut the marble to size and install it. Each type of marble has different qualities – for example, it’s a bad idea to use black Nero Marquina marble in a shower because white limescale looks obvious against the dark stone’.

his and hers wall-mounted marble basin
Slabs of richly veined marble create a splashback that marries with this ‘his and hers’ wall-mounted basin in the same material.
Sisters Agency

How practical is it? Marble surfaces stain less easily than they used to. ‘Advances in sealant technology mean that some manufacturers offer ten-year guarantees against stains,’ continues Lapicida’s Jason Cherrington. Many suppliers recommend resealing your surfaces up to four times a year. Underfloor heating will stop a marble floor from feeling cold to walk on.

How do you care for it? ‘Steer clear of products that contain harsh chemicals,’ says Alma Small, founder of Mandarin Stone. ‘Instead, use a mild diluted detergent on a cloth, or stick to the product recommended by the installer.’ Acidic substances such as lemon juice and balsamic vinegar can be troublesome. ‘If you spill something that contains acid, be sure to clear it up quickly.’

Marble kitchen counter and island
Glamorous Statuary marble worktops and a glossy Bardiglio ‘mini mosaic’ tiled splashback bring chic and sheen to this ‘Mulberry Street’ kitchen by Smallbone. For more details see ELLE Decoration Kitchens Volume 2.

Shop-bought or couture? You can go to the quarry and ‘pick your own’, but it isn’t always the best way. ‘Until you cut into a block of marble, you don’t know what’s inside,’ continues Small. She recommends visiting your supplier to see the stock before you buy, and having tiles or worktops cut from the same block to ensure consistency of colour and pattern.

If marble breaks or gets stained, can it be fixed? The only way to remove deep-set stains is to have the marble professionally re-ground and polished, but one of the advantages of the material is that this kind of work can be done in situ. With large cracks, the only solution is to replace the marble, but if you have a variety with deep veining, the damage may not even be noticeable.

Carrara marble bathroom
Carrara marble bathroom by Laura Gonzalez
Laura Gonzalez

The trick to try at home On a recent project in an apartment in Paris, interior designer Laura Gonzalez used black Nero Marquina marble to create a trim for a doorway, as an elegant transition from one room to another. She explains, ‘It required a minimal amount of marble, meaning a slightly lower cost, and created a really striking effect. However, installing a marble architrave is complicated, specialist work that requires a technical plan (drawn up by an architect or structural engineer) to ensure safety – the stone is incredibly heavy! Plus, the marble needs to be cut to an accurate angle of 45 degrees for a seamless finish.’

Is there such a thing as a marble trend? White marble is the classic choice, but there’s a trend for brown, amber, grey and black finishes. Consider ‘Emperador’, a speckled brown stone, and ‘Nero Marquina’, a black variety veined with white. Or our current favourite, the russety red Rosso Lepanto marble (see below).

Coloured marble top with brass basket
As seen at Italian furniture store Rimadesio, the coloured marble to watch. Rosso Lepanto marble.
Rosso Lepanto

What about installation? It’s a specialist job. Buy your stone from a company that will supply and fit it or provide a list of recommended firms, and if you decide to find your own fitter, ask for references.

Price point? Marble can range from £100 to £3,000 per square metre for more specialist varieties. If you make stone companies aware of your budget, they will be able to point you in the right direction.

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