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Interior Design Choices: Natural Stone

by Caitlin Kelch

Kelly Wearstler

Stone is making its way back into homes in a big way in 2017. Rustic looks and reclaimed wood continue to be used to create a modern farmhouse look and feel, but they’re now sharing the limelight with this dramatic, organic material integrated into interiors in a much bigger way than granite countertops. Stone, like travertine, marble and limestone, is making appearances on wall surfaces as seen above in interior designer Kelly Wearstler’s beach house in the Fall 2016 edition of InStyle Home & Design.

While the the luxe appeal of of gold and copper metallics in interiors is still going strong, we’ve noticed that, in some new builds and remodels, those tones are being replaced with the softer sheen, but harder surfaces, of organic materials like stone. The grey paints that rose to fame in the last year perhaps opened the door to the rebirth of stone’s interior inclusion. Of course, we’ve also been speculating that the long-standing geode trend is simply moving onto larger surfaces. Regardless of the trend’s origin, stone has been a preferred building material for ages, and, with advancements in quarrying technology and the demand for green buildings, responsibly natural stone is a go-to material.

stone floor

As the owner of a home built in the 1970s, I can attest to the warming benefits of my own massive stone wall that holds a large fireplace. I’ve added a wood stove insert in place of the original fireplace because it’s way more efficient and heats most of the house. The wall, constructed with mostly 12″ by 12″ stones, heats up nicely and makes the wall-length hearth bench choice seating in the wintertime. Natural stone has beneficial thermal mass (the ability of a material to store heat and slowly release it), which creates a higher indoor ambient air temperature. Energy efficiency has never looked so good!

http://www.minimalisti.com/

Because of the high demand for green building practices and materials, architects and designers are harnessing everything from the obvious aesthetic appeal to the solar reflectance benefits of natural stone. Adding in regionally sourced materials, as well as recycled stone from century-old barns and other structures, architects and builders are able to provide homeowners with the green building materials and practices they’re looking for.

LEED-certified design (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) continues to become more affordable and available in new home construction and additions to existing structures. These LEED certified buildings have many advantages: energy savings, water conservation, improved indoor air quality, and attention paid to best practices for harvesting natural materials and resources, like stone.  While developing the capacity for ecological thinking and sustainability is thought of as being cost prohibitive for first time homebuyers, investigating natural materials for a home down the road should be on the to-do list of everyone. I began this process when I first decided it was time to dive into the home buying process as a way of motivating myself to see beyond the first five years of homeownership.

Click through for more beautiful stone features in interiors and how I used the home buying process as a tool for learning more about sustainability! —Caitlin

This post is brought to you in collaboration with MIA+BSI: The Natural Stone Institute. Visit their website here to learn more about natural stone. 

Images above: 1. InStyle Magazine (Marble) | 2. Steven Graver (Limestone) | 3. Minimalisti 

If I didn’t like a feature of a home in my price range, I’d try to envision it with a slate or tile roof and then I’d price out what that would cost in the long run, what I’d need to save to get there, and what value it would add to my future home when I sold it down the road. This type of exercise also helped me decide on the home I ended up purchasing. The stone wall, combined with the energy savings from my wood stove investment, helped me understand that this home would work for me now and in the future.

As I considered my own home lifecycle in terms of my life in it, I realized it was a great introduction into learning about the lifecycle of buildings and materials in general. Stone measures up as a much more sustainable material than common synthetically produced home materials like laminate flooring and countertops. Extraction technology and techniques have vastly improved the environmental impact of quarrying and it now takes less energy and water to extract stone. Its durability for high-traffic areas and the fact that there are no gases released make it a material worth investing in, either now or in the future.

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The master bath in Kelly Wearstler's California home.
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Marble Systems stone wall work via Houzz.
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Marble System's stone flooring project via Houzz.
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Salt Interiors' stone kitchen project via Houzz
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A rustic stone wall adds major character to this child's room. Via Minimalisti

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Comments

  • My experience has been that one place natural stone doesn’t belong is in the shower. Even with regular resealing and polishing, (not inexpensive!) many types of stone doesn’t hold up nearly as well or as long as high quality porcelain tile. For example, the few drips after a shower from our shower head have over a decade worn a pit in the stone shower floor.

    One must also consider other environmental effects of quarrying besides gases released and energy and water used. Where is the stone from? How much energy is used shipping stone from Africa or Australia to the US? Is a rare or threatened species of plant or animal further endangered by human activity in the quarry area? Developing nations usually have little concern for environmental degradation when jobs and income are at stake. Many factors should be considered if true sustainability is desired.

    • Agreed, regarding the many factors that go into the choice of the actual stone. The green and LEED certified professionals are making decisions to use local and regional stone, as well as recycled pieces from regional structures no longer in use.

      The demand is high for ethically responsible materials and the technology behind quarrying has vastly improved to meet that demand and as well as to forge forward with responsible building and sourcing practices in general.

      Caitlin

    • I have to disagree with the “sustainability” of stone used today. When stone has simply become a thin wallpaper or floor covering, and not a massive structural member, it gets replaced with the same frequency of paint and other interior design trends. As the heavy stone material is also shipped worldwide from India, Italy, Spain, and the like, the massive amounts of greenhouse gases involved in its production should exclude anyone from calling this practice a sustainable one.

      • Hi Cameron

        I’m not sure what type of product you mean by speaking of “stone has simply become a thin wallpaper or floor covering.” I’m not speaking of stone veneer, which is mostly manmade, in this post.

        Caitlin

  • Stone is only sustainable if you keep it for the long run: no ‘fast fashion’ design that will be dated and replaced in the next decade. I am 100% pro stone, but not like designer used in her beach house, cause that won’t be around 30 years from now, let alone 100.

    • Rebecca

      I, too, am not a proponent of ‘fast fashion’. However, I don’t think we should make assumptions about others’ homes or future actions. As I mentioned in the post, recycled stone is in high demand and can be either sold or donated to community resource centers like Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. I just purchased two pieces of an old marble countertop at my local restore and built a table.

      Caitlin

  • I’m not sure about the “sustainability” of using stone as an interior surface material. If it’s used as a surface (for instance cladding a wall or a column) it can be changed by someone who buys the place after you have had to move. We all hope that every home is our forever home, but if your family has a highly mobile lifestyle, and you want to be green, is stone your best choice?

    Stone may be “natural”, but until we grow another planet, it’s limited to the extent of materials in the earth. But wood, on the other hand, grows and can be grown again.

    • Ruth

      One’s lifestyle (and budget) are definitely major considerations when selecting materials like natural stone for one’s home. I agree wholeheartedly. Part of the LEED certified building requirements, and the green building movement in general, are for the rapid development, advancement, and requirement of best practices that continue to minimize planet impact and limit chemical, energy + water use. As we push for a more sustainable lifestyle in general, I was pleased to learn that the stone industry is moving in that direction too.

      Caitlin

  • Hi All

    This post highlights the demand for those LEED builders seeking out and responsibly using/sourcing recycled, regional, and other lower impact stone. When compared to synthetic flooring and other man-made building material choices, this material can offer a more sustainable choice that is longer lasting (and can be reused.) Factories producing synthetic building materials have high pollutants and chemicals involved in the process, as well as water and energy use.

    Caitlin

  • Choosing natural stone from quarries that are located in N. American can really cut your carbon footprint. Stone is often brought here from other countries then sent overseas to be cut again.Soapstone from Virginia, Marble from Georgia, Limestone from Oklahoma, Granite from Pennsylvania. Check out the blog on thehandmadehome.net where Jamin and Ashley Mills write about their visit to the GA quarry. They have soapstone and marble in their kitchen. GORGEOUS.

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