Trend Setter

Words: Dan KamysMarch 2008 Natural Stone

Genuine Stone proves itself to be a time-tested option for design professionals.

By Jennie Farnsworth

[caption id="attachment_10686" align="alignright" width="275"]Genuine Stone Image courtesy of Natural Stone Council[/caption]

The finicky world of design seems to swirl and evolve on its own axis. With so many influences and points of origin, one can hardly predict what the latest and greatest design trend will be in the distant future, let alone tomorrow. Even in the much slower waters of architectural design, it's difficult to keep up. However, Genuine Stone is one of the rare materials that seems to have transcended the undertow that has cast aside so many others deemed unfashionable or out dated. Despite the world's endless design evolution, natural stone always seems to find its rightful place in building trends.

From the beginning of time, the material's strength, beauty and uniqueness have made it a top choice for building design professionals. Even when design trends make drastic changes over the ages, Genuine Stone has steadily continued to increase its presence in the built environment. Once just a staple for exterior structural use, natural stone has expanded its usage to hardscaping, flooring, kitchens, bathrooms and more. And, while many materials' popularity has waxed and waned, industry professionals agree that Genuine Stone has not only held steady as a top choice for design professionals and owners, but also is seeing continued growth in the market.

"Stone has been so successful in terms of being a durable product, one that sort of transcends the trends, and is seen as a classic product that will carry through the lifetime of the given application. Because of these reasons, people have started to use natural stone more," says Tyra Dellacroce, VP of national interior sales at Connecticut Stone Supplies of Milford, Conn.

Transcending the trends

From commercial to residential, exterior to interior, Genuine Stone's steadily increasing popularity has had many influences that have helped jettison the material into even greater use.

While past design trends have often been deeply seated in repetitive use, many design professionals are now bucking this philosophy and searching for inventive, unique and untapped creative designs.

"Architects and designers constantly reference uniqueness, creativity — they want something that's different — and every piece of genuine natural stone is unique," says Mark Fernandes, president of Charles Luck Stone Centers of Richmond, Va., and chairman of the Natural Stone Council.

Brenda Edwards, owner of TexaStone Quarries in Garden City, Texas, agrees. "We're seeing a lot of unique and different design uses of natural stone. We're seeing a lot of water features used in interior applications. In commercial applications, they're completing a lot of unique fountains, park areas and municipal areas in natural stone, which gives a natural softness to the building. Of course, certain areas are going to be more apt to certain styles of design."

Recently, in addition to the already inherent uniqueness of Genuine Stone, the number of stone varieties available to design professionals is also expanding. As the world market continues to open up, a seemingly exponential spectrum of natural stone varieties is beginning to make its way into U.S. building designs.

[caption id="attachment_10687" align="alignleft" width="219"]Genuine Stone Image Courtesy of TexaStone Quarries[/caption]

Dellacroce believes that the creation of manufactured stone proved to be a great boost to Genuine Stone because it "woke" the industry up and encouraged its members to look at the products differently.

"The reason manufactured stone came into being was to answer something that the industry was not responding to," she says.

In response, the stone industry created improved technologies that made their products more competitive, both in physical structure and price, such as the introduction of natural thin stone.

"Most of the major stone quarries around the United States are now producing their own thin stone," Dellacroce explains. "It's great because it has all of the benefits that the manufactured stone had — a lighter weight, more cost effective, and easier to install — but it's real stone."

Edwards says that the industry's investment in technology has evened the playing field.

"I believe the homeowner would always rather have the real thing as opposed to manufactured, and I think the cost for natural stone is comparable now," she says. "If the consumer is given a choice, they're going to choose natural stone."

Technological advances, such as natural thin stone, have not only increased the material's use among its core market share, but has opened the door for use in lower econonmies.

"From an affordability standpoint, [thin stone] opens up the demographic that the product can serve," Fernandes says.

New industry technologies have also aided in designers' search for unique and distinctive design opportunities. From natural and polished, to antiqued and leather, the number of natural stone finishes has become almost as limitless as the types of stone available.

"What [designers] enjoy the most about genuine natural stone is the palette that's available to them," Fernandes says. "What we see a lot now is they're mixing materials and finishes. So for a patio, for example, they may mix a honed material, sandblasted material and a natural cleft material, creating a really interesting pattern. They're savoring the design flexibility of the product."

Dellacroce agrees, adding, "The trend seems to be that architects are using the full knowledge and capabilities of the industry to design to the specific style of the home. So rather than coming in and saying, 'This is really hot right now, we're going to use this,' they're finding that the same product can be tumbled, flamed, sandblasted or bush hammered in any number of different ways. To that end, they are specifying specific to their architectural intent more than [designing for] what's considered popular."

Genuine Stone

Commercial and high-end residential building design has made extensive use of natural stone, which has further increased its prestige and longstanding prominence. In seeing these grand uses of natural stone and longing for the finer things in life, Americans have aspired to someday have their master bath completed in natural stone from tip to toe and a stately stone pool, outdoor kitchen and hardscaping ensemble for their own future homes.

"When we look at things that we aspire to, or look at things that we are inspired by, we hope to one day participate in these things," Fernandes says. "A lot of it is when we look at that fantastic house that may be a price point or two above ours, and we say 'Man, I would love to have that someday.'

"Spas and resorts are a perfect example," he continues. "Worldwide, a lot of spas and resorts really have to try to differentiate themselves. So spas and resorts really kicked up how they were trying to design their spaces, incorporating a lot of Genuine Stone in earth tone colors for that soothing ambiance. And guess what we're seeing in residential: The master bath is our ultimate sanctuary and we're seeing an incredible push toward big master bathes with a heavy spa influence. It's not just stone tile in the shower any more; now we see it in the floor, walls and more."

Industry experts also state that the psychological effects of Sept. 11 have created a need in Americans to nest, or "cocoon," using their financial resources toward making their home the perfect place to be. [caption id="attachment_10689" align="alignright" width="250"]natural stone Image courtesy of Natural Stone Council[/caption] "Ever since 9-11 and the travel industry slow down, we definitely saw people start to pay more attention on their homes and start to put their money into their homes," Dellacroce says. "People weren't traveling as much, they were entertaining at home, so as a result they were trying to create a very comfortable and relaxing place to entertain. So we saw a big increase in the number of creative uses for stone in the backyard, whether it was something as simple as a barbeque or outdoor fireplace, to more elaborate pools incorporating waterfalls, boulder landscaping or stone pool houses. We definitely saw a spike because people were staying put and putting more money into their homes, and hardscaping was a trend that took." The Ripple Effect Increased use of natural stone can mean great things for mason contractors who harness the information. As natural stone's popularity continues to soar, its price becomes more competitive, and design professionals discover new ways to use this material's vibrant palette for interior and exterior uses, mason contractors can benefit by broadening their stone experience.

"Obviously, it is very important to [the stone industry] that masons — whether they are brick, block or stone — continue to educate themselves in setting stone," Fernandes says. "If you're a masonry company, natural stone work presents a really nice opportunity. As the Natural Stone Council increases education and awareness of Genuine Stone, we're also increasing demand. If [mason contractors] position correctly for that, they'll experience growth for their companies."

Jennie Farnsworth is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and editor.    
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