Stone age: Homeowners experiment with natural slate, marble, travertine

VICTORIA - Once a luxury product in home design, natural stone like marble has become common in many kitchens and bathrooms.

Marble has been used for many years in kitchens and bathrooms for countertops, backsplashes and shower and bathtub surrounds, but Kyla Bidgood says many homeowners are finding new ways to introduce marble, slate and other natural stone into their homes.

"I just purchased a lamp for a client and it is a small almost cube-shaped box made of marble with an Edison bulb in it," says the Victoria-based interior designer. "It is just a great way to add natural stone to a living room space without doing a full covering."

The expense of using a full slab of stone like marble has often deterred homeowners from including it in their decor, but Bidgood says there are cost-effective options to make it accessible for a variety of designs.

Creating the look of ledge stone and brick in a new home is time consuming and hard on a budget, but Bidgood says homeowners can create the impact of those materials by using a product that can be installed like tile.

"The veneer is not the full depth of a ledge stone or brick; it's only a couple inches deep," she says. "But when it is installed you wouldn't know the difference. You wouldn't know it's not actually ledge stone, and it is stone, just not the whole piece."

When a homeowner chooses to use marble as a wallcovering they have to purchase a whole slab and then have it professionally cut to fit the space. To install traditional marble on curved or even small awkward spaces is often challenging, but Bidgood says there is a solution that is similar to wallpaper.

"It is essentially stone, but it is applied like wallpaper," she says. "You aren't dealing with the whole slab so it's much more cost effective and much lighter weight. The great thing with that is you can apply it to curved surfaces like columns or other architectural details. It is easy to cut and you could put it on a ceiling if you wanted to."

Jason Kasper, principal at Winnipeg's Ideate Design Consulting, says one of the hottest natural stones on the market is travertine.

The form of limestone deposited by mineral springs can be used in a variety of applications, from kitchen counters to shower surrounds, as long as it's properly installed and sealed. The naturally formed voids in the stone must be filled, Kasper says.

He notes that many clients will approach him with a product in mind for a space, but he cautions they need to think of how it will be used.

"The biggest advice we give to clients is not to limit themselves to the products they use, but to be knowledgeable and know how to treat those products," he says.

"You wouldn't put cake frosting in a shower stall, and the same applies for many products. Some are more robust than others."