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Marble:The Timeless Wonder

By Pennie L. Sabel

marble statue
The intricate marble carvings that adorn the Severan Basilica at Leptis Magna in Libya have stood the test of time since the basilica's completion in 216 AD.

It was the stone highly prized by the ancient Greeks when her sculptors created Aphrodite and Nike, and Phidias carved the frieze on the Parthenon in Athens. The Italian Renaissance artist and sculptor Michelangelo selected blocks from the mountains of Carrara to create his David in 1504 that now stands in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence and the Pieta in 1499 for St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican in Rome.

As a building material, it has been used for thousands of years to create magnificent edifices to instill in allies and enemies alike an awe-inspiring admiration for the greatness and strength of kings and potentates. The Parthenon took nine years to build and required 230,000 tons of marble to complete the temple, and the gigantic bronze Colossus of Rhodes once stood on a vast marble pedestal. The Greeks used marble in block form for their building projects, while the Romans, who invented and perfected the use of concrete, figured out how to cut the marble into slabs and thus reduced both weight and quantity as marble veneers were applied to their temples, theatres and triumphal arches. In the Severan Basilica at Leptis Magna in Libya, the intricate work of Roman stone carvers and sculptors can still be seen in the carvings in the apse of what was once one of the most magnificent structures in the Roman Empire.

(Article from Building Stone Magazine)

marble carving
In 1550, Michaelangelo carved one of his most beautiful Pieta's that now is in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence, Italy.

As a material, marble is metamorphosed limestone that consists primarily of calcite and is capable of taking a high polish. Pure calcite is white, but other minerals present add color in variegated veins and patterns. Hematite adds red, limonite creates yellow, serpentine adds green and diopside adds blue. Marble is a softer stone than many others, a main reason for its favored status throughout time as material for sculptures and decorative carvings and because its polish creates a sleek, smooth surface. Marble is found throughout the world, but it's most developed quarries are found in Greece, Turkey, Spain and Italy. More exotic marbles are found in Australia, Algeria and Namibia. In the United States, marble is quarried primarily in Vermont, Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia and Alabama.

Marble is used in both residential and commercial applications, with today's popular uses being flooring, vanity tops and fireplace surrounds as well as wall veneer. There is some demand for marble countertops, although because of its greater susceptibility to scratching, etching and staining, its use as a countertop material is somewhat limited.

But, says Mary Dillon of Cherryland Cut Stone and Marble in Traverse City, Michigan, several of her clients "wanted kitchens to mimic their relatives' 'old world' kitchens in Europe" and marble countertops were the material of choice. Some clients like the softer look of marble with its natural veining and a translucence that creates a whole different design than other stones.

The lobby of the Maryville Municipal Building in Knoxville, Tennessee features polished flooring in Light Rose, Dark Rose and Champlain Black.
The lobby of the Maryville Municipal Building in Knoxville, Tennessee features polished flooring in Light Rose, Dark Rose and Champlain Black.

The Tennessee marble flooring in the Maryville Municipal Building in Knoxville, Tennessee contrasts beautifully with the brick walls and accents.
The Tennessee marble flooring in the Maryville Municipal Building in Knoxville, Tennessee contrasts beautifully with the brick walls and accents.

In the San Francisco area, Alex Sajkovic of ANS Natural Stone (with another office in Chicopee, Massachusetts) sells marble mostly for master baths ? counters, floors and walls with the balance mostly for flooring in various residential and commercial applications. But the remodeling of the Dallas Galleria was a complex floor project of Egyptian marble and limestone tiles cut in 12" and 16" widths by four different lengths up to 32". The stone was Maya Gold, Bohemian Gold and Terra Gold, all quarried and fabricated by Marmonil in Nasr City (Cairo), Egypt. ASN's Rose Garcia personally managed the all-male tile fabrication line to assure the quality control of the 130,000 SF of tile required by the project.

In the kitchen, marble countertops are sophisticated and give it that old world look
In the kitchen, marble countertops are sophisticated and give it that old world look.

White marbles are the favored color palate in today's marketplace for both countertops and flooring. Jonathan Zanger, of Walker Zanger in Mount Vernon, New York, sees traditional white marbles like Italian Statuary, Calacattas and quality White Carrara Venatino enjoying great popularity. But, he says, "Crema Marfil and other creamy beiges remain some of the best selling stones." For Walker Zanger, the more exotic marbles like Damascus Red and Breche de Vendome are tremendously popular, but like any exotic item, they are hard to come by so the sales of these items are not great compared to more common stones.

Dillon concurs on the white color ranges, with her company selling White Carrara, Thassos and Statuary White along with the creamier Crema Marfil, French Vanilla, Breccia Oniciata, Botticino Fiorito and Bursa Beige. In her market ? a resort area with lots of trees, water, sand dunes and national forests ? people building retirement or second homes tend toward colors that connect to the area. Lighter colored marbles tend to offset other surrounding surfaces that have a lot of color.

Sajkovic has seen a resurgence in Calacatta polished slabs and tiles and honed and polished Carrara that, he thinks may be a backlash to French and other limestones that reigned in the 1990's. His company sells a lot of Paladio brush finish Botticino Semi-Classico, Giallo Reale and Rosso Asiago slabs for counters in kitchens and baths, furniture and fireplaces. He says they do well, too, with some vibrant colors such as yellow-gold, eggplant-aubergine, and rich green onyxes that he
The Egyptian tile flooring used in the Dallas Galleria forms a complex and stunning pattern.

Sajkovic has seen a resurgence in Calacatta polished slabs and tiles and honed and polished Carrara that, he thinks may be a backlash to French and other limestones that reigned in the 1990's. His company sells a lot of Paladio brush finish Botticino Semi-Classico, Giallo Reale and Rosso Asiago slabs for counters in kitchens and baths, furniture and fireplaces. He says they do well, too, with some vibrant colors such as yellow-gold, eggplant-aubergine, and rich green onyxes that he imports from Pakistan.

On the commercial side, Monica Gawet of Tennessee Marble Company in Friendsville, Tennessee also sees white marbles making a rebound although, she says that light earth tones remain popular. The stones supplied by her company are primarily for commercial work with much of it going into restoration projects in the Washington, D.C. area.

The Dallas Galleria was remodeled using marble and limestone floor tile quarried and fabricated in Egypt.
The Dallas Galleria was remodeled using marble and limestone floor tile quarried and fabricated in Egypt.

Tennessee Marble is supplying 5000 SF of cubic base, veneer and cap in Dark Rose for the National Air and Space Museum. The stone has a sandblast finish to match the existing veneer at the Smithsonian Institution. The company also supplied 25,000 SF of interior paving and 30,000 SF of tile in Tennessee Pink for the U.S. Capitol Visitor's Center. One of their notable projects this past year was the Maryville Municipal Building in Knoxville, Tennessee which used 5,000 SF of polished flooring and stair treads. Light Rose was used for the floor with the base and border in Dark Rose accented with Champlain Black.

Dillon and Zanger both see the demand for marble increasing. Zanger expects that demand to continue, barring some great change in the economy. Dillon says the increase is primarily because more people are seeing it in design magazines and in more homes. And the demand for stone in general will continue to grow as more designers, architects and builders gain education and experience specifying it. She doesn't feel that the demand for natural stone has reached its peak. "We see people of all income levels inquiring about stone, which is a promising sign. They see it on the Home and Garden Network, on television commercials, in magazines, and they want it in their homes. Whether it's a small desk, a bar or a full kitchen, stone is slowly makings its way into very modest homes," she said.

The marble countertop and backsplash design in this kitchen gives it a spare oriental air.
The marble countertop and backsplash design in this kitchen gives it a spare oriental air.

Gawet, on the other had, sees some softening in the commercial market, with continued heavy focus on the cost of materials. "There has been a slowdown in the level of mid-sized projects being bid during the last three months. In all projects we see, there have been longer delays from bid date to contract date over the past year than in any time in the past 10 years," she said.

In the residential market, Dillon sees marble becoming more common in bathrooms that are being used as multi-purpose spa areas with spa tubs, double showers and built in makeup areas and stereo systems. "Those who choose natural stone will use it because it's the only material that meets the sophistication of these rooms," she said. Another trend she sees is marble being used for built in baking areas in kitchens. "Cooking is a hobby and entertainment for people with time and money to spend. They have the latest kitchen gadgets and equipment and a marble prep area for candy, pastry and pasta preparation will be part of their kitchen," she explained.

Zanger sees marble being used in modern architecture where it may not have been the material of choice, or even the stone of choice, before. He also sees the appreciation of many materials that were never considered before ? the color palette of American architects and designers is widening.

Marble in the bath lends an elegant touch.
Marble in the bath lends an elegant touch.

Sajkovic is working with a new Spanish product ? marbles cut thin to about 5mm that are glued to a terracotta backing that lightens and strengthens the tiles. They can be thin set without removing the fiberglass netting glued on the back to get a good bond. He's also excited about Camel Stone's "Timeworn Series" of marbles that, he says, "are tumbled, then hand honed to an undulating surface that is reminiscent of nice old worn floors that you love to see and walk on."

The white marble sink in this bath gives the whole room a clean and airy feel.
Even though consumers often use the term "marble" in a generic sense to refer to other natural stones, it remains a beautiful and unique material that makes its own statement wherever it is used.

Gawet's view as a producer sees opportunities in the distribution of natural stone to areas of the country where the use of natural materials is not as high as in other areas of the country and where engineered stone is being used in exterior applications. In her opinion, "the key continues to be the relationship with the architectural community. They are the key to specification and continue to be hungry for information."

(article from Building Stone Magazine)