Travertine-a variety of limestone formed from calcium carbonate deposits in or near hot springs or limestone caves-is one of the most popular types of stone used in architecture, and has been for centuries. In fact, the Colosseum in Rome, completed in 80 CE, is almost entirely built of travertine and is the largest such building in the world. The Getty Center in Los Angeles, which opened in 1997, is a modern take on travertine; the inner and outer surfaces of its buildings are clad in 1.2 million square feet of this beautiful stone.
Today, travertine is prized as a durable, elegant, and character-filled material for residential applications, too, including flooring, countertops, backsplashes, shower and tub surrounds, fireplace surrounds, and outdoor pavers used on patios and walkways, and around swimming pools. Unlike granite and marble, travertine has a naturally weathered look that suits both casual and formal decorating styles.
The largest travertine quarries are in Italy, but the stone is also found in Turkey, Peru, Mexico, Croatia, Iran, China, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and elsewhere throughout the world. Like all natural materials, travertine has pros and cons to grapple with before you incorporate it into a renovation. If you're considering this stone for your home and weighing it against marble and granite, read on to learn what to expect from travertine in terms of appearance, maintenance, and cost.
You'll find travertine pavers, slabs, and tiles in many soft, warm neutrals, including ivory, gold, beige, brown, rust, and peach. Typically, the color swirls and waves throughout the stone, creating unique patterns that give travertine its timeless beauty. What you won't find with travertine are boldly colored blotches and freckles, as is common with granite, or strongly contrasting dark veins on a lighter background, which is characteristic of marble. Instead, most travertine has tone-on-tone coloration and patterns far more understated than those other popular stones.
Travertine also differs from granite and marble in that its surface is characteristically slightly pitted with small holes and indentations caused by the bubbling of carbon dioxide up and out of the stone during its creation near natural hot pools. While these holes give travertine its rustic appearance, they tend to gather dust and debris when used as countertops or flooring, so most often, the holes are filled with an epoxy mixture that's then sanded down evenly with the surface of the stone. This makes the travertine tile smooth and easier to clean without diminishing from its desirable weathered look. Some homeowners choose to leave the holes and indentations unfilled when travertine is installed on a vertical surface, such as a backsplash or fireplace surround, however, for a more aged, rugged appearance.
Once travertine has been quarried, it's generally finished in one of four ways for decorative use in homes and commercial settings.
- Polished Travertine: This finish is the most modern and elegant. Before polishing the stone, its natural holes and crevices are filled, and then the surface of the travertine is buffed until it is smooth and shiny. Because polished travertine tends to be slippery when wet, this isn't a good finish for bathrooms, kitchens, or around swimming pools. It looks very high-end and luxurious, however, on entryway floors, counters, backsplashes, and tub surrounds.
- Honed Travertine: This is the most popular finish for residences. Most often, the holes and crevices of the stone are filled, and then the travertine is sanded on one side to produce a smooth, almost-matte finish that suits virtually any decorating style. You can use honed travertine as flooring throughout the home, for countertops in the bathroom or kitchen, outdoors, and on walls, backsplashes, and fireplace surrounds.
- Tumbled Travertine: Put travertine tiles in a large tumbler with small stones, tumble gently, and you get the most weathered and rustic finish, ideal for Mediterranean, Spanish, Tuscan, or other Old-World decorating styles. With its matte, heavily textured surface, tumbled travertine is good for outdoor flooring, as well as wall insets, shower or tub surrounds, and fireplace surrounds. Because it is so textured, however, this isn't a suitable finish for countertops or indoor floors.
- Brushed Travertine: The least common finish, brushed travertine has been slightly smoothed with a wire brush, leaving a surface with more texture than honed travertine, but not quite as textured as tumbled travertine. It's a rustic and weathered finish that suits casual or Old-World decorating styles. Use brushed travertine anywhere you'd use tumbled travertine.
Although it's not as hard as marble or granite, travertine is still a very durable stone. It stands up very well to foot traffic, and isn't likely to crack with temperature extremes, although a tile might crack if struck with something heavy. While travertine is somewhat susceptible to scratches, these are less likely to show on honed or tumbled travertine than on polished stone. To avoid damage, never drag heavy furniture across travertine tile floors, and sweep up sand or other gritty substances tracked in by pets or shoes right away.
Given enough time and exposure to the elements, travertine does tend to wear and age, but for many homeowners, that's a plus. While many people like to leave travertine-particularly travertine used outdoors-unsealed specifically to allow weathering, regular applications of sealer can keep your stone looking new, if that's your preference.
Thanks to its porous nature, travertine easily absorbs liquids, grease, and oils, leaving stains to mar the stone's surface. It's also prone to etching-a chemical reaction that eats away at the stone-from acidic substances, including wine and other alcohols, vinegar, coffee, tomato juice or sauce, and citrus juices. Bleach and ammonia can also cause etching on travertine. While polished travertine does have some natural resistance to stains and etching, a lingering spill is still likely to leave a mark.
To stave off stains and etching, most travertine is treated with a protective sealant specifically formulated for natural stone (such as Miracle Sealants 511 Porous Plus, available on Amazon). Generally, you'll need to renew the sealant every three to five years. The process is easy; you'll just wipe or buff the sealer onto the stone with a rag or lamb wool applicator, wipe away excess, let the sealer dry, and then repeat with a second coat.
Maintaining travertine floors, countertops, or surrounds is easy.
- Sweep floors at least once a week to remove any grit that could potentially scratch the stone. Mop weekly or as needed to clean up messes with a barely wet microfiber or cloth mop, using a cleaner specifically formulated for stone floors, if desired.
- Protect travertine countertops with coasters, hot pads, or trivets to help absorb drips. Don't cut directly on your stone countertop; instead, use a plate or cutting board. Clean the counters with a slightly damp microfiber cloth as needed. If a little more cleaning power is required, use a product made for stone or a gentle liquid dishwashing solution. Never use vinegar, bleach, or ammonia to clean natural stone counters.
- Use a squeegee to wipe water off your travertine shower surround after every use. Every week or two, spray the stone with a soap-scum remover that doesn't contain harsh bleach or ammonia; choose a product that indicates it is safe for use on natural stone.
- Wipe up spills right away on any travertine surface.
While natural stone of any type isn't the least expensive material for floors or countertops (that would be carpet or vinyl), as a general rule, travertine costs less than granite or marble. While prices vary greatly depending on where you live, the size and complexity of your project, the quality of the travertine, and the finish you choose, you can expect to pay an average of $15 to $30 per square foot. By contrast, you will typically pay nearly double that for marble, and slightly more for granite.