Natural Stone Boosts the Luxe Factor in the Bath

Whether granite slabs or a full-on marble bathroom, natural stone offers durability, resistance to bacteria, and the flexibility to match every style

natural stoneLaura and Peter’s bathroom features floor-to-ceiling marble, including radiant heat flooring

When it comes to the bathroom, nothing says luxury like real stone. Covering a wide price range, it makes it an easy go-to when designing the bath space. Greater accessibility to quarries, wider distribution, and competition from dealers have all made this possible. An impervious (or nearly) surface also makes it suitable for almost every surface from walls, floors, countertops, and tub surrounds. Not all natural stone is alike, however. Some are more durable than others but with thoughtful attention to use and placement, you can enjoy this classic material in the bath.

Choosing real stone

“Typically, the most common reason to choose one stone over another is to achieve a specific aesthetic,” says Sweeten contractor Phil. “There are just some specific nuances that people look for that can only be found in a specific stone.”

The most popular choice for stone in the bath is marble, thanks to its timeless appearance. Before you make your decision, consider other natural elements each with their own distinctive qualities. Granite, travertine, and slate are all hard stones that hold up well to water in the bath, and each offers a particular look. Shop around as every slab is unique.

Think about where you would like to see it used. Will it be used to cover vertical and horizontal surfaces, or as an accent? If you’re working with a strict budget, you can enjoy a small application of stone, as a border around porcelain tile or behind the sink, or as a slab for the countertop.

A classic and versatile option, marble works in both traditional and contemporary settings. Distinguished by rich veins, it comes in many shades of white, as well as subtle grays, pale gold, and black.

*Among the most popular are the white marbles: Calacatta and Carrara. The veins on Calacatta tend to be bolder than those on Carrara. Calacatta Gold, as its name indicates, includes gold-colored flecks.

*Crema Marfil offers a creamier tone, almost like ivory.

*Bardiglio is a deep gray stone with a blend of paler gray and black veins.

*Nero Marquino is a black marble with white veins.

All of these marbles take a polished or matte finish. On a floor, use a matte surface or a mosaic. The smaller pieces, with lots of grout lines, help prevent slipping.

Marble is one of the more porous materials. If you use it in the bath, be prepared to seal it. Ask the fabricator to recommend a sealant product. “Homeowners can seal stone themselves, and there are many easy-to-use solutions on the market,” says Phil. Seal the stone first when it’s installed, and twice a year or so. “The frequency can vary due to use and location,” he says. If you use it in the bath, be prepared to seal it several times a year, and you may have to tackle mildew if you place it in your shower pan, where water is likely to hit it daily.

For many years, granite was a favorite countertop for kitchens. It’s harder than most stones and nonporous so it can take moisture in the bath. The pattern tends to be more granular than marble making it easier to coordinate with other designs. It comes in many more colors—whites, grays, and browns, as well as blues, greens, and reds. Install it as a slab as a countertop, or if you want to go all the way, apply slabs to the walls and tiles on the floor.

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Like marble, travertine conjures luxury. Think ancient monuments and historic buildings (Sacré Coeur in Paris). The surface pattern combines subtle veins and fine granular patterns for a rustic look. Honed or tumbled finishes soften the effect. Colors range from cream or ivory to earthier golds and browns.

A fine-grained stone, slate comes in variations of blues, greens, browns, and grays for an elegant yet rustic look. When finished, it’s not as smooth as marble or granite. This makes it more naturally slip-resistant but still needs to be sealed.

Check for variations

Stone is mined from a quarry, not manufactured, so each piece is unique. Color can vary by a lot, so if purchasing stone tile, ask to see the identification on all the boxes and be sure they go together. Buy an extra box in the case of repairs so the replacement tiles match.

Choose the finish

Marble and granite can take many different finishes—polished, honed, tumbled. There are a couple of new finish treatments called “leather” and “flamed” that polish the surface to a matte effect while playing up some of the grain.

Caring for your floors

Every natural stone requires sealing before it is installed and then periodically afterward. Frequency depends on the stone type and the amount of traffic received. If your bath sees activity every day, particularly from shoes, put down an area rug to catch grit and scuffs. Make sure the rug is rubber-backed so it doesn’t slip.

Consider the pros and cons

If you want natural, unique surfaces in the bath, stone makes a great choice.

• It resists water, bacteria, odor, and fire. Wet areas, like the shower, will require a waterproof membrane underneath. Factor in regular maintenance, such as sealing.

• As hard as stone is, it’s also at risk from scratching, so lift furniture instead of sliding it, and sweep regularly to remove grit.  

• Cracking can occur without proper installation, so make sure your contractor prepares an even subfloor.

Replacing a damaged area can be difficult and costly. This is particularly true if the area is large. Play it safe with tiles or mosaic on the floor, where damage, if any, is more likely to occur from a dropped item. The smaller-sized tile and mosaics make it easier to replace a piece or two.

• Naturally cool, the material is a bonus in summer, but not so nice in winter on bare feet. Since natural stone transmits heat well, installing radiant heating before the tile is set may be a nice perk.

Faux stone and alternatives

With the recent refinements in high-definition printing, the look of stone is convincingly reproduced in porcelain tile. Porcelain is fired with a glaze making it impervious to water and less likely to scratch. This means it doesn’t have to be sealed regularly. At 3/8-inch thick, it’s also thinner and lighter than stone. The lighter weight makes it cheaper to ship, bringing down the cost.

Check out quartz, like Dekton and Caesarstone. This man-made material incorporates finely ground stone in a high-pressure manufacturing process to produce a surfacing material that is as hard as the real thing and claims to be impervious to stains from liquids like wine and cooking oils. This super-hard quality requires less maintenance than real stone and contributes to the recent growth in popularity of quartz. Because it is a man-made material, you have more control over the appearance. Manufacturers offer faux stone looks as well as the whitest whites, blackest blacks, and colors, too.

Stone in the bath is an investment of time and money. Your payback is a unique yet timeless look that, with a little attention to regular maintenance, will afford you with a room that you can enjoy for your lifetime.

The natural beauty of stone makes it a great choice in the bath. When you’re ready to start planning your bathroom remodel, check out our guide Budget Basics: Bath Renovation Costs.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.

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