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Fireplaces: Adding the Warmth of Natural Stone

By Mark Haverstock

Fireplaces

Who can resist the magical feeling of warmth and intimacy that a fireplace provides? The cozy atmosphere naturally draws people together ? whether it's an intimate group enjoying glasses of wine around a small stone hearth, or a large family gathering around a grand structure that rises to a vaulted ceiling.

A fireplace can also be a refuge where individuals can enjoy solitude and peacefulness. It's an open invitation to sit for a spell, a diversion from the must-do list and the generally hectic pace of modern life. Relaxed, you lie back and admire the color and texture of the hearth and surround, knowing that Mother Nature herself could only create such beauty.

Fireplace serves as centerpiece for spacious living room
Fireplace serves as centerpiece for spacious living room

Artistic License

Stone and art have always been an inseparable combination, dating back to the ancient Greeks. Modern artists, such Pete Archer, while inspired by this rich history, are using stone in new and creative ways. For his own home, Archer relied on Sepulveda Building Materials to provide him with a combination of Lompoc Oatmeal flagstone, Lompoc Mountain ledgestone, Gray Blend and Lompoc Mountain Ledge Cream to build his one-of-a-kind creation. "What he did was cut down the full-size veneer and did a dry stack out of it," said Steve Ashton of Sepulveda. "The detail on it is amazing ? he took the flagstone and hand chiseled for a perfect fit."

With all of the pieces custom cut, Archer took almost two years to complete the fireplace and other related stone projects around his residence. "There's plenty of detail," Ashton said. "He has a header, hearth and a mantle where he used thicker material to give it the desired projection."

So why does Archer, along with countless others, insist on natural stone for fireplace construction? "I think people who are building new homes or remodeling want it done right and will spend a little extra money to get the real thing," Ashton said. "You can put any name on artificial stone you want ? faux, manufactured, imitation or engineered ? it still comes back to the same thing: it's not the real thing. If they're going to spend the money to put up stone, I believe that they feel they're cheated if they're not getting real stone."

Hand-crafted fireplace constructed of Lompoc Oatmeal flagstone, Lompoc Mountain ledgestone, Gray Blend and Lompoc Mountain Ledge Cream.
Hand-crafted fireplace constructed of Lompoc Oatmeal flagstone, Lompoc Mountain ledgestone, Gray Blend and Lompoc Mountain Ledge Cream.

According to Ashton, knowing the market is important to satisfy customer preferences. "I buy all the veneer for the company, and I'm always doing market research to make sure we have what our customers want," he says. "The brown shades are the [trendy] colors [in Southern California] and have been for a few years. In the mountains, the darker colors are in demand."

Granite Centerpiece

Dominating the rear quadrant of a California guesthouse located in Raymond, Calif., is a massive fireplace. Made of Sierra White rip-rap from Cold Spring Granite Company's nearby quarry, the fireplace features a cozy stone seating area around the outside. "We made a four-inch thick seat that wraps from the front of the fireplace back into it ? it coves in about six feet," said Mark Mansfield of Cold Spring Granite. A granite flagstone floor covers the area from the front of the seats to the fireplace. Above the firebox is a recessed area for decorative accessories.

"The design is an existing one based on a job we'd done about 20 years ago," Mansfield explained. "Basically, I'd sold the product to a customer who wanted to build his own fireplace. Before we began, he gave me pictures of the original and we used them as a basis for the design."

Fireplace constructed from Cold Spring Sierra White rip-rap features a cozy stone seating area near the firebox opening.
Fireplace constructed from Cold Spring Sierra White rip-rap features a cozy stone seating area near the firebox opening.

This current version is somewhat larger than the original, containing about 22 tons of rip-rap, ranging from four to 10 inches thick. To accommodate this sizeable structure, architect Michael Karby and contractor Jake Koop Canam had to engineer a suitable base and supporting structure. The fireplace was built on 15 yards of concrete foundation, six feet deep. On top of this foundation is an inner wall constructed from concrete masonry units. The arched cove was built out of a steel structure and the granite was then tied to the structure.

Old World Charm

Because the owner of the Upper Warson Residence in St. Louis is a hunting enthusiast, he challenged the architect to design this dwelling incorporating the characteristics of an Old World hunting lodge and the informality of a 300-year-old English country cottage. To complete the effect, massive stone fireplaces ? five in all ? became an integral part of the design. They chose Indiana Buff limestone, installed by Spencer Brickwork Inc., for the interior fireplaces.

Decorative carvings in the Indiana Buff Limestone accent hunting lodge motif.
Decorative carvings in the Indiana Buff Limestone accent hunting lodge motif.

The largest fireplace, which serves as the focal point of the 29-foot-by-52-foot vaulted living room, was inspired by the residential fireplace designs of English architect Edward Lutyens. The stone facing ? featuring an outdoor scene and ducks ? was carved by the Arthur J. Lager Monument Company and reaches 14 feet tall and 10 feet wide, with some pieces weighing up to 1,300 pounds.

At mantel height, the fireplace angles in on each side as well as from front to back all the way up. A massive firebox approximately six feet by six feet and 38 inches deep connects to a large stone chimney that rises to a height of 38 feet. The exterior chimney uses tumbled, split face Cottonwood and Silverdale from Raineri Building Materials Inc.

Veneer Makes Inroads Indoors

With the advances in fireplace technology, including gas and direct-vent wood-burning fireplaces, builders are now looking for a natural, lightweight facing that can be used on a variety of fireplace enclosures. "Our thin veneer gives you all the colors, textures and benefits of real stone without the weight," said Mike Ruetz of Buechel Stone. "Now there's an alternative."

Structurally, you no longer need a conventional foundation for the fireplace. In the past, you'd typically build the firebox and chimney outside the home. But using a zero-clearance fireplace with lightweight veneer, you can put the fireplace just about anywhere you want on a standard floor, usually without additional reinforcement. "Less expense for foundational support reduces new construction costs, and the ease of installation reduces the labor costs generally associated with natural stone installations," added Jane Bennett of Champlain Stone Ltd.

Typically, Buechel's veneer stone is 3/4- to 1-1/4-inch thick and can be applied easily to drywall or cement board. If you use cement board, you can generally skip the first scratch coat of mortar. With drywall installations, metal lath is applied over the drywall, followed by a scratch coat and then the stone is placed on the wall. For ease of installation, Buechel and many other veneer suppliers offer ready-made, 90-degree corners. "We can do returns and custom corners, too, such as a 135-degree angle," Ruetz explained.

Full Castle Rock thin veneer earth tones add warmth to family room.
Full Castle Rock thin veneer earth tones add warmth to family room.

According to Buechel, natural veneer stone is durable, unique and will add real value to a home. When compared to other traditional building materials such as wood and vinyl, natural stone is virtually care-free and will endure for the life of the home. "Manufactured stone products have a limited lifetime for colorfastness and durability. And if scratched, chipped or broken, the exposed surface shows the concrete matter it is made from," Bennett said. "When natural stone is broken or chipped, you see more beautiful stone."

With the wide variety of veneer stone and blends, choices tend to be based on personal and regional preferences. "We sell a lot of our Chilton, which features earth tones, reds, beiges, buff colors," Ruetz said. "Rustics are also popular, including our Seam Face Weather Edge Stone and our signature Wisconsin Weather Edge.

In and around the Adirondack region of New York, Champlain Stone's granites are very popular. "American granite and Summit granite feature earth-tone colors and weathered or rustic surfaces; these are perfectly suited for the log- or timber-frame homes and the great camp style that is synonymous with the region," Bennett said. "Some of the older lakeside estates have undergone restoration or expansion and require stone that matches or complements the original, native stone. Our Corinthian and Van Tassell granites, with their full-color ranges, are typically chosen and also present a more refined or sophisticated appearance."

A blend of Corinthian granite roughly squared/roughly rectangular and South Bay quartzite roughly squared/roughly rectangular quoining for the firebox.
A blend of Corinthian granite roughly squared/roughly rectangular and South Bay quartzite roughly squared/roughly rectangular quoining for the firebox.

(article from Building Stone Magazine)