Frederick M. Hueston, PhD

It was another muggy Florida morning. I was just sitting around watching TV. I just love watching all those home improvement shows (ha!). This current show featured an old gentleman working on an old dresser. He was sanding it down and restoring it. Little did I know that later in the week I would be recommending one of the techniques he was using. I guess it does pay to watch TV!

I finished watching the show and headed out the door to grab some lunch at my favorite greasy spoon. Of course, my phone rang as I was halfway out of the door. Whenever I’m about to do something important, taking that first step is like a trigger for my phone to ring!

“Stone Detective, here,” I said, as my stomach growled. The call was from an old friend who was doing a historic restoration in a state house, and had an unusual problem. He went on to explain that he was adding some new white Carrara marble to extend a wall, and that the new material “looked too new,” and wanted to know if there was anything he could do to make it look old. He then asked if I could come out and take a look at it sometime that week. I immediately agreed, and almost told him if he wanted it to look old, just put it outside in the weather for a few hundred years. But he wasn’t the type who would appreciate that joke.  

I headed to the diner, anticipating one of Flo’s famous cheeseburgers. I walked in  the door and sat at the counter next to the ole admiral, who always seems to be there. No matter what time of day I go in, he is always there. 

He said, “Hi,” and I politely said, “Hi,” and then pretended to get a phone call. Yes, I know that’s a pretty rude tactic, but I really wasn’t in the mood.  Do you ever get “hangry”? I rest my case.

But It didn’t stop him. He went on and on about when he was a tough young sailor in the Navy, and then launched into another story that actually grabbed my attention, because it had a bearing on the project I was going to inspect later in the week.  The admiral was yarning about all the painting they had to do on the battleship he was stationed on. Just then, Flo slid my cheeseburger plate in front of me with a knowing wink,  and I immediately took a big bite as the admiral continued his story. I was feeling less grumpy already.

Later that week, the appointed day for my trip arrived, and I headed off to the state building. I was amazed at all the white marble. From floor to ceiling, there was marble everywhere I looked, including the stairs and railings. I looked up and my buddy was walking down the stairs. He shook my hand and said, “Welcome to marble heaven!” I was still speechless, so I just nodded and followed him down a long hallway. The walls were all book-matched white marble.

It was a little dark due to the poor lighting, but I could see that the marble had a yellow cast to it. I knew right away what had caused all the marble to yellow. Now, I’m sure most of you are thinking: “Ha – iron oxidation.”  That’s a good guess, but you’re wrong, young grasshoppers. 

This is a type of discoloration I cover in my Historic Stone Restoration seminar, and in order to understand, you have to know a little history.

Some of you may recall that in 1997, President Bill Clinton signed a bill banning all smoking in Federal buildings. Prior to that date, people who worked in the building would go into the lobby and hallways and smoke. All that smoke deposited nicotine on the walls, causing the yellow hue on all that beautiful white marble. 

In some cases, if you sniff the stone you can still smell the smoke!  

Taken during the cleaning process, this photo shows the yellowing nicotine residue from decades of rising clouds of tobacco smoke.

Taken during the cleaning process, this photo shows the yellowing nicotine residue from decades of rising clouds of tobacco smoke.


I looked at my friend and told him that it could be removed with some special cleaners. He looked at me and shook his head in a “no you can’t” gesture. I looked at him, and he just told me to follow him. We came to an area where the marble on the walls looked to be a newly installed white marble. In contrast, it looked blindingly white compared to the old, yellowed marble. He told me that the contract specifically stated not to disturb the existing marble, and to attempt to match the new marble to the old. This is a requirement we often see in a lot of historic projects. In effect, they wanted to persevere the history of the effects of smoking inside a building! I know it sounds strange, but welcome to the world of Historic Preservation.  

“So how do we make the new look old again?” he asked. I told him he needed to get a bunch of smokers and have them blow smoke on the walls for a few years, but  he didn’t find it funny. I laughed and told him that the typical color enhancers wouldn’t work. I’ve tried it before.  

I was racking my brain for a good way to tell him that it couldn’t be done, and remembered the home improvement show I was watching earlier in the week–the old guy who was restoring the dresser.  He made his own stain consisting of chewing tobacco and alcohol.

 With a grin, I told my friend to go let Prince Albert out of the can, and dunk him in jar of alcohol for a week. My hope was that the nicotine in the tobacco would work as a stain, like it did for the guy on TV.  To make a long story short … a week later he tested a spot, and it was  a very close match. Another Case solved. I think I’ll start DVR-ing those home improvement shows and saving it as “research”.

The Stone Detective is a fictional character created by Dr. Frederick M. Hueston, PhD, written to entertain and educate. Dr. Fred has written over 33 books on stone and tile installations, fabrication and restoration and also serves as an expert for many legal cases across the world. Send your email comments to