by Emmi Micallef
September 23, 2017
French Limestone is one of the most noble limestones the world has known. It is considered the ultimate limestone for prestigious building projects due to the softness of the color palette and it's durability. Although limestone is found in deposits all over the world, it is the French limestone that does hold in one's memory as extraordinary.
There are many cultures around the world throughout the centuries who have created beauty from limestone materials, but the French culture has more than a savoir-faire for molding limestone into magnificence. Take for example the Loire Valley in France. The châteaux, numbering more than three hundred, represent a nation of builders starting with the necessary castle fortifications in the 10th century to the splendor of those built half a millennium later. When the French kings began constructing their huge châteaux here, the nobility, not wanting to be far from the seat of power, followed suit. These numerous châteaux where they eye is beholden to the architectural ideals of the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment, takes one's breathe away. And there is no château perhaps more famous in the Loire Valley than Château de Chambord.
Château de Chambord is one of the most recognizable châteaux in the world because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. The building, which was never completed, was constructed by King Francis I of France.
The splendor of this castle is made even more sublime by the indigenous limestone used to build the structure. The indigenous stone material that comprises this edifice is a French Limestone called Tuffeau. This is a local limestone of the Loire Valley of France that formed 90 million years ago as a vast sea bed. Over the millennia, sediment from the sea floors comprising of fossilized living sea organisms and sand particles became compressed. Mining this French limestone reached it's peak in the 15th century and is characterized by it's chalky, sandy, fine grained limestone texture with colors ranging from white to yellowish creams. What's most interesting is at first, Tuffeau is a soft limestone upon extraction, but it hardens as time and air set upon it. And underneath the talented hands of French masons and artisans, we bare witness to white French limestone staircases and architectural ceiling elements that even the most ardent admirer of contemporary aesthetics and minimalism could not admire...
How I loved the details in the limestone ceilings, each one magnificent sculptures and a testament to time and talent...
As for me and my family, we spent hours exploring the château some years ago...
These French limestone steps leading to one of the back entry ways of Château de Chambord could reveal many secrets....and maybe the one our daughter is sharing with her Papa as well!
These pictures bring back glorious memories of Château de Chambord and reinstall my appreciation for the artistry in general of French artisans and masons and the indigenous limestone within their terroir.
I did not know that marine limestone, like that of French limestone, which is formed from deposits of small marine organisms like fossilized clam shells, form different types of limestone. Take for example chalk. Chalk is a very fine grained marine limestone composed almost entirely of microscopic fossils. Travertine is a freshwater sedimentary limestone that is commonly formed at springs and marble is usually a "marine limestone that has been squeezed and deformed like plastic by great heat and pressure deep beneath the Earths' surface". Marble is some of the purest forms of natural limestone - and breathtaking. I do love marble. However, there are some French limestones and they way artisans hand work their surfaces that do resemble the silky satin patina of marble.
Two fine examples of French limestone that begin to resemble marble in texture are our Marie-Antoinette French Limestone Tiles and our Montclair French Limestone Tiles.
The image above is our Marie-Antoinette French Limestone tiles. This hand-finished aged French limestone floor is befitting for a queen...hence the name. The surface texture is comparable to a polished satin oyster shell. It has the slightest pillow edging that still allows for an elegant, tight grout line. The translucency of the colors - from oyster grey and cream to beige and wheat - nearly make the floor ethereal but still the perfect pairing to the most elegant kitchens and baths.
And this above image is the companion stone to the Marie-Antoinette French Limestone. Royal and handsome, it is this French limestone that has an elegant masculinity in it's rich color saturation of grey, wheat and touches of vintage olive tones. The surface texture is hand-finished to a satin patina with a perfectly aged edge to replicate an 18th century time worn patina. The pairing of this stone with reclaimed materials is magnificent.
If I may underline an important point here...French Limestone in all their textural glory, veining, durability and soft color palettes would be just hunks of stone if it were for the technicians and craftsmen that continually advance their techniques to achieve 18th century surfaces and patina.
The two above French limestones are called Aged French limestone for they are newly quarried French limestone that have been hand-worked to achieve these antique looking stone surfaces. To prove the quality of this French artistry, I will now show you images of one of the most beloved antique French limestones in our business - antique Dalle de Bourgogne pavers.
These images, taken in our Pavé showroom while prepping for it's installation, show first-hand how breathtaking Dalle de Bourgogne French Limestone really is. With it's extraordinary color variations, texture and patina - beauty and authenticity on the largest scale pour from these surfaces. However, the reason is simple - you are viewing reclaimed pierre de Bourgogne, salvaged Burgundy French limestones from various fine manor homes and châteaux throughout this region in France.
Nearly 400 years ago, local artisans sourced their building materials from top-quality limestone quarries in the Bourgogne region of France. This incredibly hard limestone had to be split by hand instead of sawing them into dalles. Due to this hand hewn technique, the resulting pavers varied in size - contributing to it's classic beauty that we cherish today. With thanks to the generations who resided in these old bastide and châteaux, these successive families refined their patina and have become the magnificent pavers we recuperate today.
It is true that is hard to beat Mother Nature and time for original patina, but aged French limestone still holds beauty to the eye. One of the most popular aged French limestones I know of is the white French limestone we call Dalle d'Escoffier. White French limestone tiles, in general, are hard to find and it's important to have extraordinary surface texture to make an architectural wonder from blocks of excavated white French limestone.
This unique white-on-white aged French limestone floor is prized by designers and architects to create that white-on-white vintage or contemporary kitchen with softer lines. It's satin patina surface with slight hammering has an interplay of textures that keep the stone architectural, while white cream, white gray and white beige commingle into perfection.
In closing my blog on French limestone, I would like to present a final aged French limestone tile and compare it with a wildly loved antique French limestone, to view for yourself how lucky we are that French artistry is alive and well when recreating 18th century stone surface textures.
Dalle de Napleon, as seen in the image below, is a popular French limestone tile choice for it's rich color hues of light walnuts, olives and creams. However, the texture radiates an aged patina and hats off to the French masons who have established themselves the leaders of aging French limestone!
Loved by designers and architects as a neutral color palette in the beige and wheat range with a touch of vintage olive tones, this aged French limestone floor from France has a handsome patina with slight chiseled edging. It's the perfect installation for kitchen and bathrooms that are using warmer woods and reclaimed materials.
For my comparison (I feel like I'm back in graduate school), the image below (taken in our Pavé showroom as we were prepping for it's installation) is a rare antique French limestone tile...paver....called Bar de Montpellier. As you look at the image, it's the authentic 17th and 18th century patina that you are beholding. The colors are so rich and vintage!
Originally quarried in the 17th Century from the Montpellier region of France, these stately flagstones were used extensively in grand country homes and handsome manors throughout this area. These original flagstones with 17th century foot-worn patina were hand sewn and shaped with such artistry that each stone paver is a work of art. A rare French building material, once installed, a fine home transforms into an historic home of elegance and authenticity.
For many alas...antique Bar de Montpellier and Dalle de Bourgogne are French limestone tiles that hover close to sun in terms of price per square foot - but of course, it is done and well worth every penny. For others who yearn for beauty and authenticity of French limestone in a price point a bit more down to earth...it can be done...and done beautifully.
I am finally ending this blog, but not without design advice when installing antique or aged French limestone tiles. What do you put on your kitchen backsplash, fireplace surround and bathroom walls when they are in the infinite presence of extraordinarily aged or antique French limestone tiles? Please consider staying within the realms of history and forgo just once the subway tile, the water jet stone mosaics and glass tiles. Choosing historic decorative wall tiles from France, Amsterdam, Italy or England may charm and amuse you...and you will stay in step with the provenance and splendor that is French limestone.
Thank you for your time,
Emmi Micallef, co-owner of Historic Decorative Materials, a division of Pavé Tile, Wood & Stone, Inc.
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