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Saturday, November 7, 2015

My Honed Marble Bath - Two Years Later


When the design for our bathroom renovation was just a gleam in my iPad but I was starting to narrow it down to marble for the tub surround, I was definitely concerned with how marble would wear in a bathroom. I did some research, and articles like this one from Houzz, "Why Marble Might Be Wrong for Your Bathroom," certainly gave me pause.

"Marble is easily etched by acidic materials, such as lemon and certain cleaning products... Because marble contains minerals, there's always the risk that its iron content will turn to rust in a bathroom." 

At the time I recall wishing someone would (please) post photos of their marble a few years down the road so that we could see how it was wearing.

Well, it's been almost two years for our marble, so I thought that I'd be that person to post some real-life photos, in case there are others like me out there considering honed marble for their bathroom and wanting to understand exactly what they're getting themselves into.

Statuary marble is deep veined, gray on a very white background

I was going for a timeless feel for our mid-century home. I just love the original subway tile and basketweave floors in the bathrooms in our historic neighborhood. I knew that I wanted a deep soaking tub, but I didn't want a clawfoot. I'd had clawfoot tubs in various rentals in NYC, and they're a nuisance to clean around when they're tucked into a corner, as ours would be. 


The tub that was in place when we bought this home was clearly not original to the house — I would date it to a 1970s era rehab — done on the cheap. It was very very shallow, and had a wrong-way apron orientation, with the backrest under the faucet. (Someone had used a left apron tub for a right apron corner. Why? We'll never know.) It was not salvageable for my needs. 

After looking at many gorgeous salvaged bathtubs that needed a lot of work and almost invariably were missing parts, gorgeous new bathtubs that were astronomically out of my budget (yes, I'm looking at you, luxurious "Empire" tub from Waterworks), and today's sharp-edged rectangles and egg-shaped tubs that just look too new, I settled on an undermounted Kohler Tea for Two. It's 18" deep, so it truly is a soaking tub. I also like that it's cast iron, which is beautiful as well as durable. 

(If you're considering the Tea for Two, you may want to read about my delivery experience as a cautionary tale!)

Then came the question of what to surround the tub with. We could have continued the white beveled field tile on the deck and aprons, like my inspiration bathroom by Mark Reilly:


But I wanted something a bit more glamorous for this tub, which would be the focal point of the room. I considered using a white stone, such as quartz. Then I fell in love with statuary marble for its dramatic deep vein of gray against a polar white background.

I read up on staining and the difference between honed and polished. In short: Polished has to be sealed every year and the seal will yellow over time. Honed is prone to etching from acids. The etching is faint, but once it appears there's nothing you can do to remove it.

In the end, I decided to go with honed because I just don't like the glossy look of polished marble. I made up my mind that I could accept whatever etching should happen.

I didn't have to purchase an entire slab. I found a fabricator who had a more than large enough remnant for my needs. And they agreed to cut the remainder into pieces that became windowsill...


shower niche...


shower saddle...


and doorway saddle.


So I have several examples to show you of areas of honed marble that have seen the least to the most wear and tear.

Our windowsill and saddles have held up the best. Not surprising, as they see the least action in the way of shampoos, soaps, lotions, and cleaning fluids.

Some areas of the tub deck that only see water — like the side near the faucet — are also in pristine condition. Water itself doesn't seem to do a great deal of damage to the marble. There's not a spec of rust. But New York City doesn't have hard water, so that's a consideration.

The marble tub deck near the faucet is still in great shape
The areas that have seen the most chemicals and oils are the tub deck and the shower niche. The shower niche holds our shampoo bottles and soaps, so I did expect some damage there. It's one reason that I went with light gray grout for the dark gray subway tile instead of white grout. And, in fact, we do get some shampoo and conditioner build up in the corners. Here's a close up — see the orangey stain in the left corner and in the back of the recess?


But dab of cleaner rubbed in with a toothbrush erases it completely. And so far that type of cleaning hasn't left damage.


The place that does show etching is the tub deck. But not from the things you would think would cause it, such as soaps, body gels, and bath salts. Nope. The most significant cause of etching on the tub comes from us setting down the metal cans of Scrubbing Bubbles — the cleanser recommended by Kohler to clean the porcelain-over-cast-iron tub. 

We're talking a metal can sitting on the marble for like 10 minutes max while we're cleaning. Not like, we spray and walk away and come back a few hours later. 


You can't see the etching from casually looking. You have to get up close and tilt your head against the light. I've tried to capture several close-ups here at just such an angle to the light that you can clearly see the etching. 


See the water marks, like small freckles? If you run your finger over them they are lightly abraded. That's where the foam cleaner dripped.

Etched rings caused by metal cans of cleaner resting for a few minutes, max
And that's the extent of wear to our honed marble after two years. If you tend to get OCD about marks, you may want to go with polished rather than honed. Or consider a completely different surface, such as quartz.

As Beth over at Local Milk says in her interview at Remodelista: "With marble, you have to know what you're in for. It's not for Type A's. You have to decide that you want the story of your cooking [I read: Life] etched in your counter." 

Have you ever visited a museum or old courthouse building and admired the marble stairs? Those buildings are often 100 or more years old and have seen millions of footsteps, water damage, cleaning damage, weather damage and spills. 

That marble has seen LIFE. It's not perfect, but it is beautiful. 

You can find the original bathroom reveal here. Or read more about how I came up with my final bathroom design here.