Many Dallas homeowners are partial to the pristinely elegant appearance that natural marble affords, with its classic beauty and a timeless feel that elevates just about any interior. However, due to the periodic re-sealing it requires, some prefer not to use it in areas that receive significant wear and may decide to look for materials with a similar look, instead. A quick Google search is all it takes to learn that various types of stone out there come pretty close – one of the most common being faux marble. It’s important to be aware that this option in particular can present numerous disadvantages that manufacturers often try to gloss over, all of which should be considered carefully before making your choice.
What is Faux Marble?
We encourage our customers to order natural marble for their countertops, which is a metamorphic rock that formed millions of years ago and is comprised mostly of calcite, faux marble is a man-made material. Also known as cultured marble, it was initially developed in the late 1960’s through a combination of marble dust and liquid polymer resin. Poured into a large stand mixer, the concoction was stirred until smooth enough for color to be added, with which a veined effect was created by not mixing the dye in entirely. Everything was then poured into a mold and left to harden before a final coat of clear gel could be applied.
Since its debut, faux marble manufacturing methods haven’t changed much, aside from the introduction of a matte gel coat in addition to your standard, glossy one. Actually, the only positive attribute that it offers which natural marble cannot is a non-porous surface thanks to its gel coating – but this isn’t infallible either and can be worn down, chipped and stained with use over time. Also, the stone dust that manufacturers use isn’t always purely marble, but sometimes a mixture of various combinations, including onyx, granite, and limestone. Quartz is rarely thrown into the mix, which is one reason why faux marble is consistently less resistant to stress and heat than other engineered stone.
It’s crucial to highlight the differences between engineered marble and the faux variety, because while both can be considered “fake”, they contrast in quite a few notable ways. Engineered marble is a type of quartz that mimics its natural counterpart’s appearance with a mixture of crushed rock, dyes, and resins – but it’s the ratio of the mixture that distinguishes engineered from faux. Whereas quartz uses a large proportion of recycled natural stone that is crushed, heated, and bonded with a comparatively minute amount of polymer, faux marble uses a very large amount of the resin (which is essentially plastic) in relation to its percentage of actual stone. In fact, some kinds forgo stone entirely in favor of dyes.
What are Faux Marble’s Major Disadvantages?
A Dated Look: Due to the significant amount of synthetic polymer that it’s comprised of, faux marble’s “plastic” appearance really can’t be avoided no matter what kind you get. Most people, especially those familiar with interior design, can’t walk into a faux marble-covered bathroom without having an involuntary flashback to the nineties – and that’s probably being generous.
Often considered tacky, it simply lacks the texture and depth of natural and engineered marble. Luckily, sealed, natural marble is perfect for the bathroom anyway, and the Carrara variety is actually less expensive than faux marble, especially if it’s being quarried somewhere nearby.
Maintenance Concerns: Manufacturers often boast of the fact that faux marble doesn’t need to be sealed, but this hardly makes it indestructible. In fact, natural marble is harder than faux, with better durability and, if sealed, more resistance to heat, staining and chipping. Faux marble can become stained by hardwater, toothpaste, cosmetics, and other debris, and such imperfections are extremely time-consuming and difficult to remove. Eventually, the polishing compounds required to get rid of them can turn into quite the costly investment, as well. Using anything abrasive or placing something with sharp edges on faux marble must also be avoided, as it can scratch rather easily.
Difficult to Repair: If a chip or scratch goes all the way through the faux marble’s gel coat, it’s going to be pretty much impossible to repair. Although natural stone can look as good as new once you fill in a crack and follow up with some surface polishing, faux marble isn’t quite so easy, and it can be especially prone to cracking around the drain – something called “thermal shock”. Any repairs made at home are more than likely to appear obvious and mismatched. In most cases, chips, deep scratches, cracks, and stubborn stains will require that the entire slab of material be professionally refinished, which isn’t cheap, or replaced altogether.
Potential Health Risks: While natural marble contains little to no silica, the crystalline mineral makes up at least 90% of faux marble, and this can pose serious health concerns to those who regularly work with the material by cutting or grinding it down. Long-term and/or very frequent exposure to silica particles can result in a condition called Silicosis, which is incurable, becomes increasingly more disabling over time, and can even be fatal in some cases. The dust becomes trapped in lung tissue, which leads to inflammation, scarring, and a reduction of the lungs’ oxygen capacity. In addition, inhaled silica can put those affected at increased risk for lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease.
Finally, if you really want the marble look and field but can’t find a good deal, consider some of these stones as kitchen marble alternatives, instead of settling for faux marble.
What The Experts Say
Michelle Lynne, president of ML Interiors group: “We do not recommend faux marble for any of our projects. While it may be an tempting low investment solution, the quality is determined by the application and the longevity is minimal.”
Julian House, founder of DPC: “Nothing beats the translucent beauty of natural marble in terms of veining, color and how it feels to the touch. Marble always feels cooler than the surrounding surfaces. People will naturally reach out and touch marble to confirm. Don’t forget the patina or (satiny finish) that occurs from repeated use that adds to the beauty of real marble. Faux finish may be great for photos but it pales in comparison to the beauty and durability of real marble.”
Charmaine Wynter, luxury interior designer: “Each marble slab provides an elegance and beauty unique unto itself, as real marble will become more distinct through aging and usage. This unique aspect of genuine marble is what gives it the bespoke highly individualized identity so sought after. Genuine marble has a patina that cannot be rivaled; it can only be likened to masterworks of art.”
Lori Withey, principle at Bellisa Design and IDS VP keeps it to the point: “Nothing compares to the innate beauty and luxurious feel of authentic marble. People will always say they can’t tell the difference, but they can”.
Kim Bailey, president and principle designer at Kim Bailey Interiors writes: “Because faux marble is a man-made product, the techniques used by the manufacturers have just not mastered the overall look that is provided by natural stone. When we are using natural stone many times we use “sister slabs” from the same lot from the quarry to match the veining for larger applications. The vein matching and book matching is not very well achieved when using faux marble.”
Ruthie Staalsen, internationally published designer & owner of Ruthie Staalsen Interiors in the Dallas Fort Worth area tells us: “There is nothing like the real deal when it comes to marble countertops. You can’t make a natural element look or feel real. Marble is cold to the touch and no faux marble can resemble the true gorgeousness the earth creates.”
Traci Connell, owner of award winning interior design firm Traci Connell Interiors, loves working with marble: “Especially in the kitchen and bathroom, many customers want the look and feel of real stone. Often it stems from extensive travels within Europe and having fallen in love with marble which has been used there for centuries. These are clients that “live hard” in their homes and don’t mind the imperfections created by etching or staining… it just reflects real life. Others are empty nesters and feel that they can now have the time to maintain luxury materials without worry about kids or mess makers.”