Above: In lieu of a neutral marble backsplash, New York design duo Le Whit selected a jaw-dropping Breccia Capraia slab with subtle wine-colored swirls inside this chic apartment.
Marble is synonymous with grand, storied luxury. One can scarcely tour a museum or a palace without encountering staggering quantities of the stuff: Think of the gleaming ivory and white stone that built the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, or the intricately patterned black and white tiles of the Marble Courtyard paving the way to the Château de Versailles. But recently, designers and architects have been embracing a dazzling range of colorful marbles in their creations—each slab as unique as the geological phenomenon that created it.
It’s about time. The vogue for minimalist, modern kitchens this past decade made a certain kind of marble—Calacatta, to be exact, which is usually white and subtly veined with deep charcoal striations—the stone of choice for backsplashes and infinity islands in luxury interiors. It’s usually paired with white cabinets, hidden appliances, and lots of natural light; it’s the interior design equivalent of an all-white sculpture gallery. But something has shifted in the last few years, and a hunger for color, idiosyncrasy, and pattern is taking shape in the form of vividly colorful and boldly striated marbles, not only in the kitchen but in all corners of the home. Call it Calacatta Fatigue.
Even so, homeowners and designers alike still crave marble, perhaps because it’s timeless—and slightly mysterious. “Natural stone feels almost magical because it is hidden underground or in mountains and comes out of the earth with beautiful colors and striking veining,” says Katiebelle Sharkey of BAS Stone NYC, a female-led stone yard for in-the-know designers. “Stone remains beautiful even as it ages. Reclaimed marble fireplaces, or Art Deco inlaid floors in lobbies in Milan that have existed for decades, are still stunning.”
Consider us stunned—but what, exactly, is marble? And how does it differ from other stones commonly used in interior design, like granite or soapstone? Marble is a metamorphic rock, and it’s formed when existing rock (in this case, limestone) is physically or chemically transformed by high heat without actually melting. When the rock recrystallizes, it’s known as marble, and the process by which it was transformed sometimes leaves marks: the telltale wavy lines and striations that give marble its characteristic patterns.
Finding marble is somewhat akin to treasure hunting, but there are surface clues. “Basically any country that has mountains is a good place to look,” says David Mayhari, the CEO of the boutique Amsterdam-based stone supplier SolidNature. “It’s geological pressure that creates marble.” It can be found anywhere on earth, but it’s most commonly found in India, China, Turkey, Greece, and Italy.
In an effort to be more environmentally conscious and to expand his stone repertoire, New York–based architect Michael K. Chen has been seeking marble relatively close to home: North America. “There is definitely a type of marble that’s very common within a Nancy Meyers, coastal grandma aesthetic, but acres and acres of Calacatta are used in every high-end real estate development, and I find it unappealing,” Chen says. “When we’re looking for stone and marble in particular, we tend to gravitate toward the more interesting geological properties. That aspect is really interesting because you see the interactions of pressure and temperature, and it can be really breathtaking.”
“Acres and acres of Calacatta are used in every real estate development, and I find it unappealing.”
Lately Chen has made copious use of blues and greens. “There’s a project of ours that uses a gorgeous blue and gold marble that’s called Blue Jeans or Cassiopeia that has a denim and gold color, and it’s extraordinarily beautiful,” he says. “We’re also working with a stone that technically isn’t a marble: serpentine, a deep green with a tiny bit of blue that comes from Vermont.”
Mayhari, of SolidNature, says sometimes clients realize they crave color when they’re already well into a design project: “A lot of people come in with plans to look at Calacatta or Arabescato [another classic pale marble], then they look at something else and they’re gone—there are so many different colors.” SolidNature is known for its vibrant colors, and its stones have rather wonderful names like Onyx Piranha Wild and Flamingo Nebula (a purple and a pink, respectively). Mayhari also notes that blue and green—among Chen’s favorite shades—are very much on trend right now. “The moment clients ask for samples today, I know two years from now there’s a trend.”
Architects Ellen van Loon and Giulio Margheri, both partners at OMA, collaborated with SolidNature on a furniture set that debuted at Milan Design Week this year. “For these pieces we chose Satin Verde marble in combination with two types of onyx to highlight the straight lines and sharp edges of the design,” van Loon says. “The idiosyncrasies of the material were a guiding force for our design.” Hoping to use all of the material they could, the OMA team also experimented with castoffs. “We were curious to see what can be done with leftovers like off-cuts and dust, which usually go to waste,” Margheri says.
“There is such an abundance of synthetic materials in furniture design nowadays, and their lifetime is often so short-lived,” van Loon adds. “Natural stone survives any fashion trend; it is an enduring material that ages beautifully and acquires patina through time. It is much easier to feel connected to materials that foster this kind of organic relationship with the user.”
A dialogue with nature is something else Mayhari has noticed as clients make decisions on projects: “After COVID, there is a desire to be around nature rather than fitting nature into our designs—starting with a natural element and designing around it instead of pushing something to fit a color scheme or design,” he observes.
Designers and clients working “slab first” is a trend that Sharkey, of BAS Stone, has noticed too. Clients can visit the firm’s 38,000-square-foot warehouse in New York’s Long Island City (they’re moving to an even bigger space soon), where they organize their slabs by color. “A lot of times when clients come in they are seeing materials they never knew existed, which opens up their mind to different design options and opportunities and they end up going with something completely different,” she says. “We are seeing designers and homeowners become much more adventurous with their stone choices and looking for really unique and special stones.”
And if their clients are like kids in a candy store, Sharkey says the team at BAS is, too. “[Our] team goes to Italy and we get to see new things that aren’t yet on the market—lots of stuff that’s being newly quarried,” she says. “There’s always change in the earth.”
Contemplating a Marble Moment? Here’s What to Know.
- First, consider your budget. Slabs of marble can run into six figures at the high end, while tile is much less expensive, says Michael K. Chen. If you don’t need to match veining from slab to slab but rather aim to match the overall color of a set of tiles, your costs go way down.
- Are you willing to upcycle? Using reclaimed marble—for instance, architectural elements salvaged from a 19th-century house or even a store countertop—can save you money, and it’s more environmentally friendly, too.
- Contrary to popular perception, marble is not all that tough. Other commonly used stones like granite and soapstone are a bit more impervious. Marble will stain and it can chip, so if your household is hard on materials, this is an important consideration. It could mean choosing a darker color, learning to live with the occasional red wine stain, or selecting a different type of stone altogether.
- Are you willing to set your color craving in stone? Choosing and installing a slab is a big commitment and not something you’ll want to swap out every few years. If you’re charmed by an unusual or bold color, take samples and live with them for a little while. If it’s meant to be, then head for the stone yard.
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