Marble is enjoying a moment in the high-fashion spotlight. Super‑prime property developers are incorporating rare, richly veined marbles not only into bathrooms but also kitchens, hallways and living spaces of their most exclusive homes, while designers across the globe are busy reinventing marble furniture for a modern audience.
“If you aren’t using marble, you’re missing a trick,’ says Joe Burns, co-founder of architectural interior design and development company Oliver Burns. “At our latest development, Walpole Mayfair, we’ve specified Botticino Classico marble throughout the communal areas.”
UK-based De Ferranti, which specialises in stone‑working techniques, is currently reporting high demand for its decorative services. “Slab work has become so popular that clients are now looking for something more personal,” says company chairman and “surfaceologist” Alvaro de Ferranti. “By using techniques such as trompe l’oeil, inlay and sgraffito [in which layers of coloured plaster or ceramic are applied to the surface of the marble, which is then scratched to create an outline drawing or texture], we add the elements that make the stone unique.” One of its most recent projects was an impressive 50sq m trompe l’oeil hallway designed by British interior designer Charlotte Crosland, in which seven colourways of stone and marble were combined to form an optical illusion of depth and three dimensionality.
De Ferranti believes in keeping traditional marble‑working techniques alive, and much of the company’s work is still done by hand. The ornate inlay is all made by Indian craftsmen just as it was centuries ago (a fact that explains the £660 per metre price tag and 12 weeks’ lead time), but elsewhere designers are exploiting modern technology with exciting results.
Recent developments in glues, seals and resins have enabled high-end British property developer Finchatton to make striking Nero Marquina marble architraves in the concierge and lobby area of its soon‑to-be-launched London development The Lansbury. “We send the pattern out to the marble cutter who delivers long strips of marble that are shaped around the door,” explains the company’s co-founder Alex Michelin. “It looks very cool.”
High-tech innovations such as laser and high-pressure water cutting also mean that marble can now be cut more precisely and more thinly than ever before, resulting in an explosion of back-lit and under-lit marble wall units and basins. “Translucent varieties such as onyx are ideal for lighting,” says Michelin. “At our Manresa Road development, we have bottom-lit a white onyx basin with cold-cathode lighting to create a stunning feature in the guest cloakroom.”
The same techniques also mean that marble can now be cut into curves and circles more easily – something many contemporary furniture designers have seized upon. Israeli artist and designer Ron Gilad has pushed marble to extraordinary technical lengths. His new Soft Marble collection, in collaboration with innovative Italian stone specialists Salvatori, includes the sensuously curled and ultra‑thin‑marble Girella bench (€24,000). “These pieces are the most challenging we have ever produced,” says the company’s art director, Gabriele Salvatori. The initial cutting was done with a drill fitted with five axes of plastic wire dotted with diamond dust – but all the detailed work had to be done by hand. “Two people spent a week shaving and honing the inside of the bench with grinding paper,” explains Salvatori.
The trendsetting spring design fairs such as Milan’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile and London’s Clerkenwell Design Week were full of pleasingly rounded marble pieces too, including Molteni & C’s soon‑to-be-launched Panna Cotta table (price on application) also by Ron Gilad – so named because when you push it, it wobbles like the Italian pudding – and the statement-making CT09 Enoki side table by progressive German furniture brand e15 (from £695), which consists of a circular top in white, brown or black marble and either a harmonising or contrastingly coloured cylindrical steel base.
Indeed, juxtaposing marble with other materials has become the contemporary designer’s modus operandi for giving the stone fresh appeal. Molteni & C and e15 went for metal (iron and powder-coated steel respectively), while in Spain Jaime Hayon’s Bala Lo side tables for Sé (£3,156) saw Carrara marble set against ceramic finished with either paint or metal. “The timeless marble with all its natural strength and character, and the refined ceramic, finished with paint or metal, merge two very different elements and textures to create an elegant yet simple piece that holds real value,” says Sé’s founder Pavlo Schtakleff. Britain’s Bethan Gray, a long‑standing exponent of natural materials, placed a white marble top onto four walnut legs for her Carve Table (from £1,245, from the G&T by Bethan Gray Collection), while French designer Pierre Favresse, artistic director of Habitat, wittily reversed the pairing with his Magnum Table for new French brand La Chance (€6,300). “Marble has that heavy, almost massive look, and I wanted the table legs to represent stability,” Favresse explains.
According to Alex Michelin, costs of £60,000-£70,000 for a marble bathroom are not uncommon, while some of the rarest onyx can fetch more than £10,000 per metre. (Purists would of course assert that onyx is not in fact a marble, but it is generally accepted as one by the design world.) However, while it is currently in vogue, marble never really goes out of style, so a book‑matched feature wall, a statement-making architrave or a marble floor with bespoke inlay should be regarded as an investment as well as a beautiful and on-trend architectural statement.
“Marble is one of the most luxurious materials available,” says Joe Burns. “It is a natural product and no two stones are ever the same, so it’s exclusive in its own right. When you get to the very top level of property design, the use of marble is imperative.” Alvaro de Ferranti agrees. “Nothing is quite as impressive or speaks of sophistication and luxury as eloquently as marble,” he says. “It imbues interior decor with a wonderful elegance.”