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travertine: always a classic. always trending.

photo: patrick schneider


We’re often thought of for our zellige, our terracotta, our cement. But our stone is also a popular offering–and trending, it seems. 

clé founder Deborah Osburn is–she quite readily confesses–a little obsessed with stone. For her, every stone is precious: each stone has taken millions of years to make. It is–literally–timeless. And it’s intimately connected to natural history: pick up a piece and you’ll likely see small fossils, color and pattern formed by the minerals that make up our planet, and the tectonic forces that shape our world. 

We offer several stones: clé Slate, clé Carrara, Forage Terrazzo, and Strata Linea –a stunning medley of stone tiles left over from building sites, created in collaboration with Jordanian architect Rula Yaghmour. 

Most recently, Deborah did an interview for Martha Stewart magazine on the subject of another favorite stone: travertine, which we’ll begin to carry late this year.

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While the article provided highlights from the interview, we wanted to share the full set of insights and observations with you. 

travertine quarry - image courtesy of architettura di pietra


Martha Stewart Magazine (MS): What is travertine exactly, and what makes it unique?

OsburnPicture hot springs from millions of years ago. These springs precipitated calcium carbonate build-up mixed with other minerals which layered upon itself over millions of years producing a stone of this layered effect that has become known as travertine.

Popular in Italy, the term travertine comes from travertino, which was made famous by Italy’s travertine quarries that have existed since the Roman era. Bernini produced the colonnade at St. Peter’s square from the nearby Roman travertine quarries.

MS: What are the benefits of travertine / travertine finishes?

Osburn: As a natural stone, travertine has all the benefits for which stone is celebrated, including all the heirloom qualities that come with designing with a product that comes directly from nature, as well as its durability for both walls and floors and its resistance to heat and weather etc.

Additionally, with some stones such as calacatta, etc. continuing to reach astronomical heights in terms of cost, travertine can prove a surprisingly affordable stone, while still providing the upscale visual and textural attributes for which stone is known.

 forte_forte store in milan — image courtesy of archdaily

MS: What are the most common places to use travertine? 

Osburn: Not as hard as granite but stronger than marble, travertine can provide a sturdy surface for many areas. Bathrooms and showers are great spaces to use travertine, and for floor use, travertine provides more slip-resistance than most stone surfaces.

When using it for decorative wall surfaces, travertine is a wonderful finish and the shades available in travertine have recently become very popular for indoors and out, especially around pools, though outdoor use should be restricted to warm climates. However, as a natural stone product, a wide range of color and veining variation should be expected.

 (left) pierre hardy’s paris apartment designed by vincenzo de cotiis — image courtesy of architectural digest; (right) forte_forte store in milan — image courtesy of archdaily

: How does travertine work with various aesthetic styles? 

Osburn: clé defines travertines as having a similar visual sensibility as that of wood. With linear veining echoing that of wood grain and with coloring that is primarily monotone travertines lend themselves to almost any design style. Like wood, travertine is easily incorporated as a muted accent that can add an elegant design note in any space.

MS: What are some colors/palettes that pair well with travertine? 

Osburn: Travertine shades are stunningly neutral so they work really well in any setting. Currently, they are lending soft texturing to spaces that are all neutrals, and are having their biggest comeback in spaces using pale desert tones. However, they also work well lightening up a dark palette by offering a quiet surface instead of a bold contrast.

off-white flagship store, paris — image courtesy of archdaily


MS: Any advice for our readers about how to best care for or maintain their travertine surfaces at home?

Osburn: Travertines are very durable for most spaces and require very little upkeep. However, with some sealing support, travertines can be remarkably easy to care for. For showers and backsplashes–and especially for floor use–be sure to use an impregnating sealer, as travertines can be susceptible to staining especially from acidic substances. And because of the natural holes created from the calcium precipitation, travertine has natural slip-resistance when used for floors. However, you will want to be sure to fill the gaps in the stone with grout and seal the resulting surface.

MS: In your opinion, why is it making a comeback?

Osburn: Natural materials in their unfinished tones are trending heavily right now: wood finishes, natural fibers, glazes, and clays like terracotta. This color and material trend fits in perfectly with the earthy, striated and unpolished look of travertine.

And there is a strong 70’s pull to our current design aesthetic which pairs perfectly with travertine, as this surface was very popular during this era and epitomized the types of stones that were most popular in design at that time.

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