All about engineered marble and protecting polished floors from damage…


Architect Navneet Malhotra is a perpetual student. He loves to break myths and unmask the true cause for bad work by constantly sharing experience… “Path to gaining knowledge is through sharing,” is his motto.



I’ve laid Italian marble in my new 1,800-square-foot apartment. Since the imported kitchen I ordered has arrived, I asked the mason to polish the marble so that the kitchen could be stored and installed later. But he wants the false ceiling work to be completed first, before commencing with the polishing. The false ceiling, which is part of the interior project, will take some more time to be finalized. In the meanwhile, the kitchen company will charge me for storage… which is just a waste of money. Is the mason correct in asking me to complete the false ceiling work first? In view of my predicament, if I do go ahead with polishing, is there a way to protect the polished floor from the damage that may happen during the false ceiling/interior/panelling phase of construction?
Venkat Babu, Chennai

The false ceiling level is derived from the finished floor level and has little to do with the raw roof slab above. All heights — counter top, door, window sill and lintel levels — are also derived from the finished floor level. Thus floor comes first.  Part of the solution lies in the type of false ceiling system chosen: wet or dry. In case you choose a (dry) gypsum board false ceiling over a (wet) POP false ceiling system, you can easily postpone its execution to the end of the project and go ahead with the finishing process. The drawback of employing gypsum and deferring its execution are restricted to:

a) Some joints tend to open up (hairline cracks) when induced to thermal variations or vibration over a given period of time. To prevent this, stick a four to six-inch-wide synthetic ‘net tape’ on all joints along with gypsum paste. This will eliminate almost 90 per cent of cracks. If cracks do appear after this, they can be attended to even after a year or two.

b) Like plywood, typical gypsum boards are available in sheets of varying thickness, 0.5 inch or 12 mm being the most common. These 8 ft x 4 ft wide sheets are easy to saw (cut) but are not very workable when it comes to a 3D curved roof design. For this, you can use wet POP that lends itself well to such designs.

c) There is a possibility of damage to the counter or floor below when executing the false ceiling. To counter this, use gypsum boards, which along with their frame, are very light andwould cause little or no damage.

Ideally, if you had the luxury of time, you could have followed this process:

Stone flooring first:
We prefer using partly-polished stone slabs where the stone pattern is clearly visible and it is easier to match colour tones and veins. Test the desired slopes required in flooring. This is not possible when the stone surface is covered under surface sealers or epoxy resin. Please note that surface will need to be polished again at the end of the job.

Marking of floor level:
Once the floor has been laid, its level is recorded or marked on the surrounding walls. At times it is marked on two opposite corners of the room but most often it is marked as a horizontal line on all the adjoining walls at 1 or 2 feet above the finished floor level. This line is marked using a wet string dipped in a washable coloured (blue, red) powder.

Securing or protecting the finished floor:
After the finished floor level has been marked on adjoining walls, we cover or conceal the floor under thick black plastic sheets. These sheets are inexpensive and are sold by weight.  While the sheets are available in widths of six to 12 feet, the surface area covered per kg depends on the thickness procured. Please avoid using thin varieties. To secure the plastic sheets further and to add a little rigidity to the flimsy surface, we make a thick POP paste and spread it evenly on the entire surface. The POP is allowed to dry for about 24 hours before movement on the surface can resume. It would be a good idea to place plastic strips to mark locations of floor-standing cupboards, cabinets, etc.

Execute and test all peripheral services:
All electrical conduits, wiring, pipes (for water, gas and air-conditioning), etc have to be ‘installed’ before starting with the wall treatment and false ceiling. Get wall surface finishes out of the way first, followed by false ceiling after testing all concealed plumbing. Remove the plastic sheets below the readymade cabinets first while leaving the ones on the floor intact. Clean all surfaces thoroughly before installing the cabinets. Install all gadgets, fittings and fixtures. Remove the remaining floor plastic (by this time, it would have started to disintegrate anyway, creating more dirt!). Polish the floor.

I have recently bought a 1,365-square-foot apartment. Please suggest what type of lighting will make it appear spacious and beautiful.
Neeru Sarin, Ghaziabad, UP

Even though natural light is critical to a space (and I cannot stress this fact enough), I will restrict my answer to artificial lighting solutions as I know it is difficult to alter the shape, size or even the material of the existing fenestrations in an apartment.

Main entrance: Yellow light is essential here. I prefer to have a small entrance foyer housing several low-intensity lights that collectively create a warm, welcoming glow. But knowing, in your case, that we enter straight into a mid-size living cum dining hall (18 ft x 15 ft), you should create a strong focus point on the wall opposite the main entrance door to hold the visitor’s attention for a short while before they get familiar with the surroundings.
The ‘device’ could be a stunning piece of art or a beautiful evergreen indoor plant. You could further highlight this space by using back lighting or spots. The former accentuates foliage very well, while a combination of back lighting and overhead spots does the trick for artwork. Avoid creating a low light ‘pocket’ around the entrance. Any space in which the eyes take a while to adjust is not desirable, especially for a guest in unfamiliar surroundings.

Living area: Use table lamps along with indirect (hidden) light sources and wall lights. You can always plan the combined space with varying light intensities in different areas. The trick is to try and achieve good-for-reading light in the sitting area slightly lower intensity light in the movement space around it. Avoid using white, CFL and bright lights. The latter tends to kill  the ambience, lays bare flaws in design (if any) and highlights (leftover) dust spots.

Dining area: You need a light of high intensity restricted to the confines of the table (think of a pool table). Use one or more suspended down-light fixtures above the dining table to achieve this. Take care that the lights shouldn’t be too low (you’ll have problems serving and seeing food) or too high (the light will spill over to the other parts of the room). Ideally, the light source should be about 3 ft to 3 ft 6 in above the surface of the table. Avoid using halogen bulbs as they
tend to generate a lot of heat and can render your air conditioning ineffective.

Kitchen: Bright lights are desirable here. Make sure you use energy-efficient light fixtures that are evenly spread out. Overhead lighting is essential, but only in the centre of the room. Overhead storage tends to throw a shadow over the counter below. This can be corrected with lights below these cupboards. With a little extra effort, you can also put lights inside the cupboards that automatically switch on when the shutter is opened. Avoid using white lights just over the cooking area (hob or burner) as this will make your food look fallaciously bland. Any improvement by use of food colour, turmeric, spices, etc under this artificial hue will ‘harm’ the dish.

Bathrooms: Artificial lights of high intensity and lots of natural light are much desired here. I cannot understand the purpose behind those small pigeon-hole-like ventilators stuck high above the walls. They can neither be operated nor maintained effectively, nor do they provide sufficient natural light to disinfect the space by killing bacteria. As a rule-of-thumb, a bathroom of less than 35 sq ft, should have at least 25 per cent of the floor space as window area. This percentage can be reduced as the bathroom size increases. Avoid white light over the bathroom mirror if you use the area to apply facial make-up; you will end up ‘overstating’ your presence!

Bedroom/study/utility room: Along with bright ambient light, we require (depending on the design) mellow lighting around select areas of the room. The secret is to have one or more light fixture on each wall of the space. Choice of white and yellow light is subjective here. But if you ask me, I would recommend yellow lights everywhere. Provide ample (5 amp) plug points for chargers, cordless phones, laptops and other gadgets. Try and bring the switches of the overhead fan and the bed-side reading light to one side of the bed for convenience… else you’ll have to hop out of bed every night before sleeping.

I was told that quartz-based engineered marble was durable enough to be used on kitchen counters and does not pick up stains. Is this correct?
Shabnam Malhotra, New Delhi

It is difficult to give a general answer to such a question. Producers of engineered marble use different raw materials and techniques to manufacture their product. I suggest you take a small sample of the desired stone and subject it to common cooking ingredients such as turmeric powder, lemon juice, (wet) tea bag, cooking oil, etc, for up to 8 hours and observe the results. There is a high possibility that the sample would have either lost its surface sheen with lemon juice or picked up a slight stain with soya sauce, turmeric powder… but this is not true for all products. This is only our observation with the samples of a few products available in New Delhi that we tested in our office.