Over: Instead of a neutral marble backsplash, New York design duo Le Whit chose a stunning Breccia Capraia slab with subtle wine-colored swirls inside this chic apartment.
Marble is synonymous with magnificent luxury. One can hardly visit a museum or palace without encountering dizzying amounts 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 that paved the way the road to the Château de Versailles. But more recently, designers and architects have embraced a dazzling array 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 in the last decade has made a certain kind of marble – Calacatta, to be precise, which is usually white and subtly the year with deep charcoal streaks – the stone of choice for backsplashes and infinity islands in luxury interiors. It is 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 changed in the last few years, and a hunger for color, uniqueness and pattern is taking shape in the form of vividly colorful and boldly striped baubles, not only in the kitchen, but in every corner of the home. Call it Calacatta Fatigue.
Yet homeowners and designers alike still yearn for marble, perhaps because it’s timeless – and a little mysterious. “Natural stone feels almost magical because it is hidden underground or in mountains and comes out of the ground with beautiful colors and striking veins,” 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 Milan lobbies that have been around 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, such as granite or soapstone? Marble is a metamorphic rock and is formed when existing rock (in this case limestone) is physically or chemically transformed by high heat without actually melting. When the rock recrystallizes, it is known as marble, and the process by which it was transformed sometimes leaves marks: the distinct wavy lines and streaks 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, managing director of the boutique Amsterdam-based stone supplier. SolidNature. “It’s geological pressure that creates marble.” It can be found anywhere on earth, but it is most commonly found in India, China, Turkey, Greece and Italy.
In an effort to be more environmentally conscious and expand his stone repertoire, New York-based architect Michael K. Chen has sought marble relatively close to home: North America. “There’s definitely a type of marble that’s very common within a Nancy Meyers, coastal granny aesthetic, but acres and acres of Calacatta are used in every high-end real estate development, and I find that unappealing,” says Chen. “When we are looking for stone and marble in particular, we tend to resort to the more interesting geological features. That aspect is really interesting because you see the interactions between pressure and temperature, and it can be really breathtaking.”
“Acres and acres of Calacatta are used in every real estate development and I find that unappealing.”
Lately, Chen has made ample use of blues and greens. “There is a project of ours that uses a beautiful blue and gold marble called Blue Jeans or Cassiopeia that has a denim and gold color and it’s extraordinarily beautiful,” he says. “We also work with a stone that isn’t technically a marble: Serpentine, a deep green with a little bit of blue that comes from Vermont.”
SolidNature’s Mayhari says that sometimes clients realize they’re thirsty for 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 are gone – there are so many different colors.” SolidNature is known for its vibrant colors and its stones have pretty wonderful names like Onyx Piranha Wild and The Flamingo Fog (one purple and one pink respectively). Mayhari also notes that blue and green—among Chen’s favorite shades—are very trendy right now. “The moment customers ask for samples today, I know two years from now there’s a trend.”
Architects Ellen van Loon and Giulio Margheri, both from OMA, collaborated with SolidNature on a furniture set that debuted at Milan Design Week this year. “For these pieces we chose Satin Green marble in combination with two types of onyx to emphasize the straight lines and sharp edges of the design,” says Van Loon. “The idiosyncrasies of the material were a guiding force for our design.” Hoping to use all the material they could, the OMA team also experimented with waste. “We were curious to see what can be done with leftovers like trash and dust that normally go to waste,” says Margheri.
“There is such an abundance of synthetic materials in furniture design today, and their lifespan is often so short-lived,” adds van Loon. “Natural stone survives any fashion trend; it is a durable material that ages beautifully and acquires a patina over time. It’s 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 while clients are making decisions about projects: “After COVID, there is a desire to be around nature instead of fitting nature into our designs – start with a natural element and design around it rather than pushing something to fit a color scheme or design,” he notes.
Designers and clients working “slab first” is a trend that Sharkey of BAS Stone has also noticed. Customers can tour the company’s 38,000-square-foot warehouse in New York’s Long Island City (they’re moving to an even larger space soon), where they organize their plates by color. “Many times when customers come in, they see materials they never knew existed, which opens their minds to different design options and possibilities, and they end up going with something completely different,” she says. “We’re seeing designers and homeowners getting much more adventurous with their stone choices and looking for truly unique and special stones.”
And if their customers are like kids in a candy store, Sharkey says the team at BAS is too. “[Our] The team goes to Italy and we get to see new things that are not yet on the market – lots of things that are newly minted,” she says. “There is always change in the earth.”
Considering a marble moment? Here’s what you need to know.
- First, consider your budget. Slabs of marble can run into six figures at the high end, while tiles are much cheaper, says Michael K. Chen. If you don’t need to match the grain from slab to slab, but rather aim to match the overall color of a set of tiles, your costs will come down a long way.
- Are you willing to upcycle? Using reclaimed marble—for example, architectural elements salvaged from a 19th-century house or even a shop tabletop—can save you money, and it’s also more environmentally friendly.
- Contrary to popular belief, marble is not that hard. Other commonly used stones such as granite and soapstone are slightly more impermeable. Marble will stain and it can chip, so if your household is hard on materials, this is an important consideration. That might mean choosing a darker color, learning to live with the occasional red wine stain, or choosing a different type of stone altogether.
- Are you willing to set your color cravings in stone? Choosing and installing a slab is a big commitment and not something you want to replace every few years. If you are charmed by an unusual or bold color, take samples and live with them for a while. If it’s meant to be, head towards the stone yard.