Remodel a Bathroom with Marble Mosaic and Limestone Tile

A marble mosaic and stately limestone transform this bath from staid to sumptuous.


Enter the bathroom of this suburban Minneapolis home and you'll find stone ranging in size from 5/8-in. flecks to 500-lb. slabs. It's installed on the ceiling, walls and floors; used as baseboard molding, shower seat and backsplash; laid in herringbone, mosaic and diagonal patterns; tumbled, polished and honed. It's a testament to the versatility, workability and beauty of stone as a building product.

But simply including tons of stone does not an elegant bathroom make: The stone, indeed the entire project, must be thoughtfully designed and installed.

Three Unique Areas—One Unifying Material

Bathrooms can be broken down into “work zones,” similar to the way kitchens often are. And while each space can be self-contained and have unique elements, all must mesh visually and functionally in order for the room to look and work right.

In this bathroom, stone works as the underlying theme to unify three unique spaces. The shower area features a mosaic marble mural surrounded by honed marble tile for the walls, ceiling, floor and seat. The whirlpool bath area, tucked into a bay window, uses a slab of honed limestone for the deck as well as the backsplash along the walls. The vanity countertops are likewise crafted from limestone, with a slab of polished granite nested between the two to serve as the makeup tabletop.

The 16 x 16-in. honed marble floor tile, band of baseboard tile and crown molding help tie all the spaces—including the partitioned-off commode area—into a single elegant space. All the stone, with the exception of the granite slab, is either tumbled or honed for a simple yet rich look.

Problem Solver: High Tile Meets Short Carpet

Tile needs to be installed over a solid base, and that base can range in thickness from 1/4-in. backer board to the 1-in.-thick “mud pack” used in this project. Add 1/2-in.-thick tile to that and you have a bathroom floor that stands toe-stubbing height above the abutting carpet. In many cases a beveled threshold can ease the transition, but to make up the 1-1/2-in. height difference in this project, the tile installer laid a 3-in.-wide strip of tile at a slight incline.

Tile to carpet transition
Gentle Cleaning for Stone

Porous stone, such as limestone, slate and marble, can be irreversibly harmed by even ordinary cleaning products. Acidic cleaners can etch and dull natural stone surfaces and damage the grout as well. Most installers and manufacturers suggest sealing the tiles, then using only warm water or products formulated specifically for stone.

Choose the right tile underlayment

Tile is remarkably durable. It's what's beneath it and the way the tile is installed that make the real difference. Three different types of tile bases or underlayments were used in this bathroom. Here's what was used where and why:

DensShield—a relatively new material that looks like, cuts like and installs like drywall—was used for the upper shower walls and shower ceiling. The waterproof core resists water and swelling.

Cement board was used for the shower seat and lower 2 ft. of the shower enclosure. The tile contractor preferred using cement board—a tried-and-true standby—to using one of the newer products in areas subject to intense moisture or standing water.

Dry-Tamped Base, a stiff, sand/mortar mix packed over metal lath, was used on all floors and the shower curb. A tamped base was also used to pitch the shower floor toward the drain from all directions.

Elegant Solutions

Easy-access cabinet With four children, the homeowners found their private master bathroom often being invaded by kids coming in to grab shampoo and other supplies. The solution? They put an access door in the side of the cabinet right by the door, so the kids can grab what they need without traipsing through the main bathroom.

A perfect makeup area (with perfect storage) When the homeowner revealed she had to sit on the vanity in the existing bathroom to get close enough to the mirror to apply makeup, the design team decided to bring the mirror to the homeowner. In the new bathroom, the large mirror, set only 10 in. back from the front of the built-in makeup table, provides the needed proximity. A candlestick lamp on each side provide the side lighting, and the mirror—while having a built-in look—cleverly disguises a close-at-hand storage space behind its swinging door.

Open storage nooks incorporated into the “dead space” behind the storage cabinet are accessible from the vanity areas on each side.

Easy-access cabinet
A perfect makeup area

Avoid common remodeling problems

Working with contractors

Many construction-related problems stem from misunderstandings between all of the parties involved—homeowners, designers, general contractors, building officials and subcontractors. To streamline the decision-making process and clear up any questions of accountability, designer Pat Undlin also served as construction coordinator. It involved more visits to the job site, but the project turned out exactly as planned.

Minimize the mess

Before demolition began, the general contractor installed temporary plastic floor runners between the upstairs bathroom and the front door, and protected the wood stair spindles and newel posts with heavy cardboard. This prep work can save thousands of dollars in repair and cleanup costs at the end of the project.

When tile colors don't match

The tiles used for the main wall, the mural and the frame surrounding it came from different quarries. This, coupled with the fact that stone is a natural product with less-than-predictable coloration, resulted in tile hues that didn't quite match. To solve the problem, the border tiles were treated with a color-enhancing sealer to even out the color and push it closer to that of the mosaic tiles.

An old world look with new materials

Interior designers Maureen Haggerty, Pat Undlin and Heather Zappo of Pappas Inc. collaborated with the homeowners to create a room with an underlying “Old World” feel. This was partially accomplished in the selection of lighting and plumbing fixtures. The fabrics, paints and accessories used in the space helped reinforce the theme. Elements that might have fought with the feel were kept simple; sinks are undermounted, the oval tub is white and elegantly simple, and recessed lights are unobtrusive and disappear into the ceiling.

“We avoided saturating the space with Old World elements,” says Pat. “Our goal was to respond to the homeowners' request for adequate lighting and practical storage to support how they live—within the context of a modern bathroom with classic overtones.”

The cabinets are made of alder, a wood that accepts paint, stain and clear finishes smoothly and evenly. The vanity cabinets were given an aged look through a lengthy process that involved distressing the wood with ice picks and chains, hand sanding, sealing the wood followed by more hand sanding, applying coats of paint and glaze, then wiping and rubbing them off to highlight the distressed areas and recesses, all topped off with several coats of clear lacquer. The vertical storage cabinet was finished with multiple coats of a pigmented catalyzed lacquer.

All colors and materials—right down to the fabric on the dressing table chair—were selected before the project began. “When we design a project we believe everything in it should look intentional,” muses Pat. “If you have a detailed plan and execute it exactly, you'll get precisely the aesthetic and function you want.”

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