Celebrating Exterior Stone: An Architect’s Perspective

Working with any type of natural stone presents some unique challenges; this remains true with interior and exterior stone products alike. When working on an exterior stone project, however, it’s just as important for the stone to have visual and functional appeal as it is for the material to hold up to temperature extremes, precipitation, and other elements.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with architect and builder Robert Berger, who has studied and worked on stone projects for his entire life. He shared with us some of his expertise in working with exterior stone and how he’s designed with it in such a way that brings the entire structure’s character to life.

What Makes Natural Stone Unique

Berger maintains that natural stone is unique in that it brings personality traits like timelessness to a home or structure that some other materials simply can’t. Beauty, depth, strength, and color are all common descriptors that come to mind when most people think about stone as a building material. Wealth, nature, and depth are a few other terms that may come to mind.

Simply put, stone is one of the few materials that holds all these wonderful personality traits — but those traits only come out in a design when the natural characteristics of the stone are respected. As Berger explains, “If you don’t respect the stone, then [the design] falls short and the whole structure falls flat. It lacks substance; it’s no better than a paperweight.”

One of the biggest design challenges with stone, Berger continues, is “truly just recognizing how all the elements come together.” An exterior stone design, when properly executed, should take into account the other materials being used, as well as the unique shapes and even the layout of the structure itself. Understanding the personality traits and characteristics of specific stone and how to choose it and work with it shows respect. That stone will then come to life and proudly work for you.

Making Sense of What the Client Wants

Even some of the most experienced stone professionals can have trouble getting clients to really communicate exactly what they want to see in an end product, especially with an exterior stone project. In his many years in the stone industry, Berger has found that the most effective way to get a true feel for what a client is looking for is to ask them not what they want to see, but how they want it to feel.

When clients are asked to use adjectives to describe what they want to feel when they see their completed stone project, a whole new world of possibilities is opened up for designers. And that, Berger explains, “is the difference between designs that work and designs that fall flat.”

A Working Example: The Woodbridge House

Architect Rob Berger explains how these principles of stone design came into play with a recent project, the Woodbridge House. The clients in this project wanted to beautify their home’s exterior, but they didn’t want to do any major renovations other than adding a front porch. Essentially, the home needed a “facelift” because its original design utilized a variety of materials that were not cohesive and simply did not work well together. They had vertically applied stone veneer in an attempt to add texture, however, it was not used and respected as a personality. The existing stone was also used the same way the siding and shutters were used – as an applied skin from the ground up, without taking any of the other material into consideration. Because all of these materials were treated separately from one another and not as a community, it was barely clear where the front door was and there was no focal point to the home.

Once Berger was able to recognize the underlying shape of the architecture and what style would best lend itself, he knew the Shingle Style could be developed without changing the existing structure or framing of the house. In order to first create the base, Berger focused on the stone specifically. Since Shingle Style has traditional and historical aspects that involve strength, wealth, flow or movement, and a sense of confidence, he knew the perfect stone that would work in tandem with these qualities – Liberty Hill. This particular stone would unite the color, shape, size, strength, cohesion, and reflection of all the elements to get the homeowners the exact look and feel they desire.

Once the stone was selected, Berger was able to use it with the architectural style of the home to establish how to create the design, feel, personality, and hierarchy. Berger then cut the Liberty Hill into large blocks and used it to soften and create a deep-set front door arch. The detailed use of the stone worked together with the siding and the trim and transitioned into the windows and column. There was even a plinth or block detail that was added to the stone columns to incorporate some of the personality traits that were previously mentioned.

The front walkway was another element where Berger brought personality and warmth to the home. He incorporated Mountain Grey granite pavers that had the same color range, texture, and crystalline qualities and reflectivity as the Liberty Hill. Not only did this help to incorporate beautiful colors and tones, but the reflective property created a focal point that draws the eye upward as you approach the front door. Ultimately it worked in tandem with the dark mahogany front doors and created the heart of the home — a focal point that balanced out the entire design.

This project was an incredible example of how merely respecting the materials and understanding how they work together can yield an incredible end result. When exterior designs evoke the natural personality traits the materials already possess, amazing things can happen.

For more information on exterior stone projects and materials, contact Connecticut Stone today!

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