I believe that tile and stone is sustainable and eco-friendly because it doesn’t have to be replaced during the lifetime of the house. Do it right and do it once.
How to do it Right:
Ask a Lot of Questions
In helping a homeowner to select the right stone or tile, my first questions are all about lifestyle. I ask:
- Do you have kids? If yes, how many children do you have and how old?
- Same questions about their pets.
- How long are you planning on living in your home before selling?
- Do you cook all the time or occasionally?
- What kind of feelings do you want to have when you walk into a room?
Secondly, I look at the architectural style of the home and the client. If the home is in search of style, we have an interesting challenge! Lastly, I help the homeowner to consider budgets. Information on what the existing floor is made of, whether the wood frame will need to be reinforced and what the height of existing, surrounding floor that will need to be matched for level will all have an impact on the budget.
I realize that this sounds like a lot to discover, but it all impacts recommendations, and ultimately the choices that are made in stone and tile purchases.
More Choices than Ever, and in More Places
In the last twenty years, natural stone has evolved from exclusive use in mansions, public buildings and office buildings to being available to everyone. Dozens of choices are easily available at Lowe’s and Home Depot. Here are some of my favorite picks.
Travertine is the most widely used stone and is imported from Turkey and Mexico. Travertine loves to absorb everything that was ever spilled on it. Because it is compressed river sediment, it is filled with tiny holes that water used to flow through. Those holes are filled at the factory and the surface is honed so it is smooth. But because those holes are still there, lurking beneath the surface, travertine is not the best choice for homes with lots of kids or pets. It’s not a great choice for kitchen floors, back splashes or entry floors, but it works well for bathrooms and matching slabs are available.
From cream to chocolate brown, red, pink and grey the colors, found in travertine are amazing. There are many different finishes available, so pay attention to your home’s architecture. A chipped edge works beautifully in a cottage or a Mediterranean design while a straight edge finish is more appropriate a for modern or ranch homes.
If you already have travertine on your floors, buy a steamer. After you vacuum to get the dirt out of the little holes (always do this first), the steamer will be the best way to clean your floors.
Marble can last forever it comes in every color of the rainbow. Just think of the churches in Europe; they are filled with marble that has been in place for hundreds of years. But as those churches demonstrate, marble wears and weathers over time. It’s tough to maintain a pristine, polished marble floor or counter top.
If you opt for marble, you should understand that it’s going to develop a patina as you use it. It will become a honed surface, and it will look weathered. Carrara and Calacatta marble are very popular counter tops right now, as are creamy beige tones. I love them, but I know that marble will stain. Vinegar, lemon juice, tomato juice and other acids can etch the stone as well. My best advice is to love the evolving patina — or if you want shiny and perfect, pick something else.
Because marble will stain, maintaining a good seal is important. You should avoid using orange or other citrus based cleaners, and soaps, as well as glass cleaners. Stick to Ivory soap or stone soaps.
Keep in mind that polished marble on floors can be slippery. It’s better to choose honed, acid washed or brushed finishes for flooring installations. If you happen to already have a slippery marble floor, you can have honing and acid washing done in place. If you want to change the finish of your existing floors to make them safer, you can call a stone professional to have this done.
Granite is by far the most popular countertop material right now. It comes from all over the world, and offers an amazing range of color and pattern. When remodeling or building a kitchen, I always recommend choosing your granite first and let the rest of the finishes and color choices flow from there.
But please know that some stones that are being called “granite” really are not. I always recommend that you get a sample piece and conduct a few science experiments. Dump some wine on it and find out if it will stain. Set a hot pan from right off the stove on it and test the results.
Don’t spend thousands of dollars unless you totally love your choice, because it will greet you every morning, and it will be one of the last things you see every night.
Make your choice from a full slab, and remember that your counters are only two feet wide. Also consider the options for finishing. If you don’t like shiny, any granite can be honed by your fabricator, just be sure to get a sample piece honed. I have walked on granite that has been used for outdoor steps — it’s like walking on ice in the rain! To make it surface less slippery outdoors, or to take the gloss off for a kitchen, granite can be sandblasted to create a handsome and practical finish.
Limestone is one of my favorite materials. Because it’s less porous than travertine, it isn’t full of tiny holes and doesn’t require fills. It’s more expensive than travertine, but it’s definitely worth the money.
Limestone comes in earth tones that range from beige and gold to grey, and even green, giving limestone a more subtle than some of the brightly colored marbles.
Limestone comes in several finishes. One handsome approach is to mix and match finishes in a bathroom or kitchen. You might have a brushed limestone on the floor, honed limestone on the walls and a polished limestone counter. These different textures add richness to the overall design. (Tip: If you use multiple textures, try to get them from a store that buys from the same quarry so the color is consistent.)
Mixing in a wall of glass mosaics to the shower will change the architectural slant to modern, while adding a chipped edge and pattern will create a look that goes well with Mediterranean styles.
Slate is used both indoor and out, and it offers amazing color choices. Slate works well if you have indoor rooms that open out onto the patio and want the areas to flow together. Multicolor slates are definitely a personal choice, so if you are selling you home in the near future, you might want to go with something else.
Remember that slate doesn’t like freezing snow so if your patio is white in the winter use something else. Indoors or outdoors you want to find a gauged slate, a little more expensive than natural but more consistent in height and easier and cheaper to lay so you’ll save the difference in installation costs. For matching counter top material I’d go with Brazilian slate which is best honed and comes in slabs. Colors are limited to grey, black, green and purple. There are also honed and brushed tiles to match. This is my favorite to use in Arts and Crafts homes for both tiles and counters.
Onyx is found in both Turkey and Mexico, and it can be used to make some beautiful design statements. Because Onyx is translucent, it can be back-lit, making it glow. Underlighting for a bar or under-lighting a countertop creates an amazing focal point. I have seen under-lit floating onyx sinks in powder rooms, kitchen islands that glow in the dark, and plant pedestals that light up outdoor patios.
Onyx is very soft and will scratch easily, so you should not install it in high traffic areas or where it’s apt to get scarred.
If you choose onyx for flooring, you should make sure that it has a tumbled finish or is installed as a mosaic so that it’s not too slippery. Onyx mosaic tiles mixed with glass or limestone make for an especially striking surface combination.
Parting Words of Advice
With all natural stone you want to clean it really well and re-seal about once a year, or call a professional to do it for you.
As a tile and stone designer and salesperson, I have worked on hundreds of floors, both bathrooms and kitchens. I’m always happy to share everything I’ve learned over the years.
My best advice is to have fun with stone and to make choices that will become classics. Use metal accents or glass and patterns that you can install in unique ways. Stone tiles can be cut into non-traditional shapes to create a custom look. Travertine planking is installed like hardwood floors; the standard Versailles pattern (shown above) is now available in an over-sized pattern for large rooms or patios. If you’d like to experiment with them, watch for my upcoming website; it will feature more than 200 layout design patterns that you can play with online. The new website will launch before the end of the year.
Thank you to Nicolette for allowing me to share my love of stone. I have told her that posts on ceramic and porcelain will follow soon.
On her blog, Wendy writes:
After designing hundreds of floors, backsplashes and bathrooms with clients, I left retail to write “Piece by Piece.”…I love sharing what I know with clients and miss sitting down with a pad and sketching out ideas. So please, pick my brain, share your thoughts and designs because this blog is for everyone who loves tile.
Wendy E. Clarke
Unique Design Resource:
- Wendy’s email: email@example.com
- Wendy’s blog,
Art, Fired Earth and Stone Tiles
- Stone finishes, Part I
- Stone finishes, Part II