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Knockoff Marble That's More Beautiful Than The Real Thing

An ancient, low-budget alternative to marble becomes a coveted material in its own right.

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While alchemists never succeeded in their quest to turn lead into gold, crafty builders since the Roman age have been transforming inexpensive plaster into far more luxurious materials, like faux-marble and lapis lazuli, using a process called scagliola. While the technique is typically used for architectural flourishes like moldings and columns when more expensive stone isn't feasible.

Artist Deborah Moss, of the Toronto-based studio Moss & Lam, uses scagliola to create furniture that's handsome in its own right. Used the same process that's been around for centuries, Moss mixed together plaster, pigments, water, and glue to produce the marbleized material. She then molded it to make the statuesque side tables.

Moss is one of a handful of contemporary artists who are experimenting with ways to spin humble materials into marble-like finishes. Danish designer Pernille Snedker Hansen adapted Suminagashi—a traditional Japanese technique in which artists dip paper into an solution of oil, ink, and water to produce a marbleized effect—for her technicolor floor tiles. The Edmonton, Alberta–based studio Concrete Cat mixes prismatic concrete together to create pieces that look like exotic stones. Thanks to these artists' ingenuity, copycat materials are even more covetable than what they're imitating.

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