Marble can be a very beautiful material but is expensive and has some shortcomings. Marble look porcelain can be one way to achieve a marble look without using marble.
Porcelain is a manufactured material that comes in tiles or large format slabs, which can look like marble. Porcelain is generally available at a lower cost than marble and is a nonabsorbent material that makes for a great marble alternative.
I am Jorge Fontan an architect in New York and owner of NYC based architecture firm Fontan Architecture. In our office we have completed multiple projects where we used marble look porcelain tiles. In this post I will give a general overview of marble look porcelain tiles while showing a few examples and pointing out some advantages and disadvantages.
We will specifically look at using marble look porcelain for kitchen countertops and bathroom walls and floors.
Marble Look Porcelain Bathroom Tiles
The most common place we are using porcelain is in the bathroom. Not all porcelain has to look like marble, but many people like the marble look porcelains.
The bathroom below is from an apartment renovation we designed where we used a marble look porcelain in one of the bathrooms. This bathroom has a mostly white marble look with black in the shower. There are lots of ways to elevate your design by mixing colors like we did here. Or you can keep it monolithic like you will see in another example further down.
In this apartment all the bathrooms are porcelain but with very different looks. If you want to see more about this project we have another post with a video walkthrough: Apartment Gut Renovation and Walkthrough.
Marble Look Porcelain Kitchen Countertops
Porcelain has become a new alternative to stone countertops. The porcelain slabs for a countertop will have to be a thicker material than typically used for bathroom tiles.
You can use porcelain for countertops. We typically install a 12mm or approximately half inch thick porcelain slab for kitchen countertops. The material cost on porcelain is lower than natural stone but the installation cost is often more expensive.
Porcelain Countertop Installation
Although the material cost on porcelain is less than marble, the installation cost can be more. Porcelain countertop material is about half an inch thick. A typical countertop is around one and a quarter to one and a half inches thick. When we use porcelain as a countertop, we will box out the corners as in the photo below to achieve the thicker edge. This makes the installation of the countertops a little more complicated than a stone or quartz countertop, adding to the overall cost.
Matte vs Glossy
Not all marble look porcelain looks good. Some are much better than others. In general, my opinion is that the glossy ones tend to look a little more realistic than the matte ones. Although there are still some glossy options that look cheap and fake.
Please be aware that marble is marble, and porcelain is not. You will not get the same richness of material from porcelain, but you want to get as close as possible. I strongly recommend going to showrooms or requesting samples be sent to you before you order your materials to ensure they have the look you are going for.
In general, porcelain is less expensive than marble, but by how much will vary based on multiple issues, such as manufacturer, the type of marble, and the size of the pieces.
The price of purchasing porcelain can be one third the price of marble assuming you are comparing equal sized pieces. Installing porcelain countertops can be more expensive than marble, but installing it on walls and floors is very similar in price.
In the bathroom below we used a statuary marble look porcelain. The supplier quoted us a price on porcelain at about one third the price of real statuary marble. We used it on the walls and floors with very small grout lines. It came out quite nice and the client was very happy with her new master bathroom.
Edge Strips and the Problem with Outside Corners
A miter is when you cut two pieces at a 45 degree angle to make a 90 degree corner. This is a very nice detail that is clean and almost seamless. It looks much better than doing a butt joint were you just butt one piece against the other.
In the case of porcelain, it can be tricky to miter cut some tiles. Contractors are often hesitant to do these types of cuts for several reasons. First, when you do a miter cut on porcelain the edges can chip due to the brittle nature of the material. Second, is that you can get a very sharp edge that can literally cut you if you touch it. On a natural stone you can sand down the corners, but porcelain has a pattern that is only on the surface, so this is not a real option.
To do an outside corner on a porcelain tile you will often have to install edge strips whenever it is impossible to perform a miter cut. These are metal strips that are embedded into the tile to create a clean edge.
The photo below shows a white edge strip used as an outside corner in a bathroom we designed. The edge strip is visible on the white side of the marble but not on the dark, making a clean transition. One thing to note about porcelain is that it is often easier to miter cut thicker slabs, such as a 12mm slab that you might use on a countertop. The only problem is these thicker slabs will be more expensive.
Printed Surface Repetition
Marble is a natural material and therefore has endless variations. Porcelain is made in a factory and will have a limit to the patterns. Some porcelain slabs will come in as little as 2 patterns, and some will have 6 or 8 options. You may see repetition in the patterns, but this will be figured out on a case by case basis.
Porcelain vs Marble
There is no comparison between marble and porcelain. Porcelain is an alternative material to marble, but it is not the same thing. Please know that you can really make a nice bathroom or kitchen with porcelain tiles made to look like marble, but it does not look exactly like marble.
There are many advantages in porcelain such as price, and its tendency not to discolor. So, the choice between marble and porcelain is a big one. Many of our clients do not care, but some do. This all comes down to personal taste.
Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on Marble Look Porcelain.
I hope this was helpful. If you would like to speak with an architect about a potential project, you can contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.
This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.