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Q. How would we use beautiful lake pebbles, that we’ve collected, to decorate a wall or floor in a bathroom?

Q. We have lots of beautiful lake pebbles that we’ve collected over the years, and we would like to use them to decorate a wall or floor in a bathroom. How would we go about this?

A. One of the pleasures of living near Lake Michigan is the abundance of lovely, smooth stones you can find along its shore. Many people have baskets or windowsills full of them, but the idea of making the pebbles a more permanent part of your decor is alluring. Stones are becoming a popular design element in bathrooms, says Barbara Warren, owner of Tile Gallery (225 W. Illinois St., 312-467-9590), who adds that it’s possible, with a bit of effort, to create an attractive border, backsplash, or mosaic for a bathroom wall using beach pebbles.

Warren advises do-it-yourselfers not to take on a whole floor, at least at first, unless they have an extraordinary number of pebbles all of the same thickness-a lumpy floor would be very uncomfortable to walk on. She suggests starting small, perhaps removing tile from a 12-by-12-inch space in a kitchen or bathroom wall and filling it with stones. If you’re hoping to create a specific design or a mosaic effect, experiment first by arranging the stones on a tabletop to make sure your design will work, then take a picture of it to guide you through the rest of the project.

When you’re ready for installation, apply thin-set mortar to a clean wall surface, and set the stones into it. You’ll probably need to grout around the pebbles once they’re set. “Grouting is a sensitive issue,” says Colette Rodon Hornof, partner at 2RZ Architecture (1629 N. Elston Ave., 773-384-4400; www.2rzarchitecture.com), a firm that has incorporated stones in some bathroom projects. “If you put thick grout on, you sometimes lose the pebble effect, so use it sparingly.” Apply a sealer afterward to keep the stones and grout from absorbing dirt. Check with a reputable tile installer for a recommendation on the type of sealer to use, based on the kinds of stones you’ve installed.

If you like the look but don’t have your own pebbles (or the desire to collect them), expect to pay between $18 and $50 a square foot for professionally accumulated and sorted stones, depending on the type of rock and the supplier.

Another way to bring the pebble aesthetic into your room is with mesh sheets that come with stones already laid out on them; the interlocking sheets are designed to fit together perfectly, Rodon Hornof says. The sheets, which come in a variety of sizes and colors, install just like regular tile.

“Sometimes you need texture to help emphasize a sleek design or bring in softness,” she points out. “Stone is a natural product. It makes a room feel as if you’re out in space, out in the wild, out in reality. I’ve used river rock on shower floors before, and people love stepping on the rocks. They feel like they’re outside.”


Have a design or renovation question? E-mail us at chicagohome@chicagomag.com. Sorry, we cannot take questions by phone, or guarantee individual responses

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