Marble’s use in architecture, art and design can be traced back many thousands of years to early Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures. Athens’ Parthenon, Rome’s Pantheon, Agra's Taj Mahal, London’s Marble Arch and Michelangelo’s masterpiece ''David'' are just some of the historic instances where marble has been used. The word ‘marble’ is derived from the Greek ‘marmaros’ and is interpreted as ''a snow white and spotless stone'' (source), despite the fact that marble has many colour variants. Types of marble are equally variable, from Tuscany’s pure white/grey Carrara marble to limestone, green marble and cultured marble (a composite of marble dust and cement).
The mining, processing and use of natural stone, particularly marble, is a mammoth modern day industrial enterprise. The demand for marble and its different forms is exemplified by the number of dedicated trade shows worldwide: EXPOSTONE Moscow, the UK Natural Stone Show, Carrara Marmotec, Qatar Stone Tech, Xiamen Stone Fair, Brazil Vitória Stone Fair and India Stona are just a number of examples.
Invoking notions of high-end living and affluence, marble speaks to refined taste and discernment. Yet it would appear that in recent times marble has worked diligently to alter its affiliation with ideas of ostentation and excess, instead gaining favour with a cohort of contemporary designers and design-conscious consumers. As a material, marble is tactile and strong, imbued with both emotion and cultural relevance. It has a valuable and versatile quality, finding application in luxury interiors and modern settings, in combination with natural materials such as copper, leather and wood, and in faux decoration and ornamentation.
In 2014, there was a continuation of the trend for marble’s use in design, with numerous designers and studios applying this natural material, and variations thereof, to their work. The trend was conspicuous at many design trade shows, including the Stockholm Furniture Fair, Milan design week and London Design Festival. New and advanced technologies have augmented the number of ways in which designers can create and apply shapes using marble, thereby increasing productivity of and accessibility to marble-based products (albeit, some might argue, at the expense of traditional forms of craftsmanship).
In previous years, we have seen many examples of marble’s versatility in furnishings, lighting, storage, accessories, tableware, interiors and fashion. British designer Lee Broom used solid Carrara marble in his contemporary ‘On the Rock’ glassware and Nouveau Rebel lighting collections. Robot City, an Italian factory whose mission is to tell stories through marble, creates elaborate objects using skilled handcraft methods combined with advanced digital technology: its all-marble version of designer Alessandro Mendini’s 1978 Proust chair, priced at €60,000, is a work of art. Faux applications of marble can also be found in wallpaper, bedding, stationery and clothing lines. Marble is the perfect complement to other natural materials such as wood, leather and steel. The marble trestle table ‘In Vain‘ by designer Ben Stormsincorporates leather and steel and also doubles as a standing mirror. ‘All of a Piece’ designed by Dana Cannam in collaboration with Earnest Studio, is a series of modular tabletop pieces that combine marble, granite and wood.
With the (slow) shift in consumer attitudes towards the merits of buying design that is long-lasting, environmentally friendly and sustainable, it is hoped that marble will be one trend that escapes the ravages of our throwaway society.