The Splendor of Stone 

Making nature's foundation work for your home.

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A humble ring of river rocks around a bed of impatiens. An intricate, multitiered flagstone terrace. A marble mosaic bringing a shower to life.

Richmonders are using stone to add definition, utility and visual interest to their homes. We decided to see how they're taking advantage of materials and methods both ancient and new to express themselves.

The Interior

Spangled black granite countertops are a stunning counterpoint to the soft tones of the slate floor in Tom and Cathy Cawley's spacious kitchen, the heart of the home they built two years ago.

They'd decided to leave behind the increasingly congested Short Pump area for the peaceful seclusion of Goochland County's wooded hills. In planning their new home, they looked at magazines and other houses for inspiration, and spent months deliberating on everything from the property to the floor plan to the materials for each room.

Beauty and practicality made stone an attractive choice for spaces both big and small. "We considered our lifestyle, and we thought about what we liked and didn't like about our old house," Cathy says.

Her husband loves to cook, and the couple frequently entertains friends and a large extended family, so they designed the kitchen to be the hub of the household. When it came to choosing a practical floor, Cathy says, they liked the light ceramic tile in their previous kitchen but it was difficult to keep looking clean. For the new house, they chose peacock slate in 18-inch square tiles.

Peacock slate ranges from typical blue, gray and green colors to soft peach, rose and salmon tones, so it is beautiful and doesn't show wear. The sheen of the sealant, used to protect the stone, also enhances its color, says the Cawleys' interior designer, Tom Duke of the Planning Partnership. He used 12-inch tiles of the same slate to form the backsplash behind the stainless-steel stove. Each tile is so different it could be a separate abstract painting. "The look of the tile changes completely as the light in the room changes," Tom Cawley says.

The couple chose black galaxy granite twinkling with copper-colored flecks for the countertops. The solid dark color is a rich contrast to the subtle kaleidoscope of the slate. And a stacked stone fireplace at the far end of the adjoining den adds a rustic atmosphere and visual balance to the slate backsplash in the kitchen. Neutral wall color and sparse artwork allow the complex beauty of the slate and granite to remain the visual centerpiece of the room.

Small spaces lend themselves to stone too. Marble and onyx mosaics and porcelain tile finished to look like stone create a variety of effects in the couple's bathrooms. Porcelain is an excellent material for the bathroom, Duke says, because it's more impervious than stone, so it rarely discolors and is easy to maintain.

To impart the serenity of the East in the downstairs bath, the Cawleys paired a simple mosaic of brown emperador dark marble on the side of the tub and at the top of the tub wall with neutral faux-stone porcelain tile on the floor and in the bathtub area. The Oriental feeling of the room is completed with an angular sink sitting atop the marble slab vanity, austere fixtures and a tiered towel holder.

Little black, brown and white onyx tiles set in a basket-weave pattern create a jewel-like effect on the floor of the upstairs hall bath. Duke repeated the mosaic pattern in a border at the top of the wall above the porcelain tile bathtub for a unique finishing touch.

To create a restorative spa-like environment in the multichambered master bath, the Cawleys chose neutral marble and porcelain. A taupe marble vanity blends with the emperador light marble mosaic on the floor of the walk-in shower. The mosaic is repeated in the curved front and surface of the spa-tub surround. As for the unfurnished seating area across from the tub, Cathy says, "We are still looking for just the right thing."

The Cawleys say they continue to savor the process of choosing the decorative elements of their home, and they love the results. They encourage anyone contemplating investing in stone to do research and take plenty of time.

The Exterior

A bare expanse of grass became a charming hideaway when Dan Hunt added a concrete paver patio and a flagstone-bordered pond to his Woodland Heights back yard. Hunt used bluestone and other stones from several sources to build up the banks of the pond, which he constructed with the help of the Ashland Berry Farm. Tropical grasses, water irises, and white and yellow water lilies grow in and around the pond, home to a burgeoning family of brilliantly colored koi.

"I'm into grass reduction," Hunt says of the patio that he chose to border in white pavers that mirror the white trim on the house. No maintenance is required of the patio except pulling the rare weed from between the pavers. Hunt likes the moss growing in the crevices because it gives the patio an older look. Lush beds of hosta, black-eyed Susans, zebra grass and other plants make the small yard a visual delight.

Armstrong and Carol Lynn Forman transplanted two 19th-century barns from Vermont and incorporated them into the unique home they built in Goochland County two years ago. There, mason Andres Steinmetz employed ancient craftsmanship to create a welcoming courtyard surrounded by a stacked sandstone wall.

Steinmetz spent several months using a wooden frame and a level to painstakingly stack the 40-foot-long wall using no mortar. The coloration and patterns of the stones are particularly beautiful when they are wet, Armstrong Forman says.

Steinmetz also constructed two flagstone terraces overlooking the rolling hills at the back of the house without using mortar. He carefully chipped and shaped each large flagstone so it fit tightly with the others — leaving just enough space for moss to grow, Armstrong says: "It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle."

In the West End, Roland Millican broke with Richmond tradition in his use of stone. He shunned bluestone in favor of cream and pink flagstone from Luck Stone's exclusive collection for the arched fireplace beside his backyard swimming pool.

Designed and constructed by mason Jonathan Burnett, the gas fireplace is made of fireproof brick and solid block with a flagstone veneer. A new additive that gives mortar strength and flexibility makes this type of application more feasible, Burnett says. The pink tones of the flagstone that also surrounds the pool blend well with the traditional brick exterior of the house. And the light color is much cooler on the feet than the more common dark stone.

Burnett says the increasing variety of available materials has renewed his passion for stone. The surge in the popularity of stone is sending suppliers to the ends of the earth in search of exotic patterns and colors to win customers, and he encourages homeowners to get creative inside and out.

Stumbling Blocks

10 ways to make your stone project run smoothly.

1. Don't skimp on skill. Select a mason with experience in the type of project you're undertaking and check references. Most stone retailers have referral programs.

2. Take your time. Stone is often a major investment, and you can't just paint over it if you decide you don't like it. What are a few extra weeks when you're contemplating a material that is millions of years old?

3. Think outside the bluestone box for outdoor projects. There's a whole world of rock to choose from other than Richmond's favorite bluestone.

4. Expect surprises. Stone is a natural material, and colors and patterns will vary from piece to piece. Even when you select the specific slabs or stones for your project, it's likely there will be unexpected variations in color and marking.

5. Look to the light. Lighting can dramatically affect the look of stone. Get a sample if you can and look at it in the space where it will be installed.

6. Get it all in one trip. Quarried stone changes character depending on what part of the quarry it comes from. Buy all the material you need from the same lot to ensure an acceptable level of consistency in color and pattern.

7. Do you really hate surprises? Consider man-made products that range from polished granitelike material for countertops to natural-looking faux building stone and pavers for exterior projects.

8. Don't get a chip on your shoulder. Man-made stone materials offer many advantages but are sometimes difficult to repair if they get chipped. Ask about durability and repair before you make your purchase.

9. Learn the chinks in your stone. It may be tough, but stone can be vulnerable. For instance, travertine marble is very porous and can be stained by red wine and other spills. Different sealants provide varying levels of protection.

10. Get all the support you need. Heavy materials need the right structural supports — especially in interior applications. — M.M.



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