I’m currently working on a tub to shower conversion project where the clients chose to use truly classic honed and polished marble tile for their new shower walls. Waterproofing advice for using this kind of very porous natural stone for showers will be intel for a future post. Today’s progress though had me thinking about how to avoid a subtle screw-up that can ruin any randomly patterned wall tile installation. It is VERY important to carefully pattern match marble tile corner seams for a purposeful-looking finish.
Natural Marble Tile is Naturally Finicky
There are some definite downsides to using natural marble tile for a shower or a floor. As these linked articles detail, the soft and porous nature of marble tile makes it kinda fragile for heavy use. Natural stone marble tile is however undeniably beautiful. The swirling patterns of the mineral inclusions give this tile a warm living feel. These patterns also make a seamless looking wall installation difficult to achieve.
First, here’s a pic of today’s start on my current clients’ shower install:
Yesterday ended with good finicky technical work progress of getting past the perfectly plumb niche face part of Mount Back Wall. My tile install prep morning tea and biscuits planning time at the start of today’s tile climb offered a picture taking pause for some general marble tile wall installation advice.
Seriously, Mind the Seams!
In addition to the usual challenges of making especially tall shower wall tile plumb and level, it is really important to carefully pattern match the marble tile corner seams. Here is a rando interwebs pic example of a terrible marble wall tile installation:
The pic is from a reddit post illustrating a very poor layout pattern choice. This picture also shows another (and way more common) problem of natural stone pattern mismatching. Even if the layout pattern had been perfect, it still wouldn’t have looked right because the pieces of tile meeting in the corners are all mismatched shades of grey.
Natural marble that has pronounced veining or wide shade variations can be particularly difficult to pattern match in corner seams. It’s especially difficult if the tile you’re working with has BOTH. For example:
See how each of these tiles is completely distinct and also completely different from all the surrounding tiles? Randomizing natural marble wall tile takes a lot more work than just randomly grabbing tiles. You need to preplan an install pattern that will actually look random, since sometimes you’ll get a bunch of tails in a row if you depend on pure chance. And regardless of how the field tile ends up looking, YOU MUST INSTALL THE CORNER TILES CAREFULLY to prevent severe mismatches along the corner seams where veining and shade incongruities will be most noticeable.
The easiest way to do this is to simply make an install pattern where a nearly full tile width of material can cover each corner seam turn. Then, use single full tiles for the corner turns. Viola! Just keep track of which specific corner tile goes where and you’ll get easy pattern matching!
This is a specific example of why natural stone tile is more expensive to install than ceramic or porcelain or other engineered tile materials. In addition to often being more difficult to make flush and level with even grout lines, natural stone always requires extra planning and careful execution for a perfect finish.
For a full description of how this particular project turned out, stay tuned!