Despite being used in construction since as long as anyone can remember, as a cladding material for contemporary homes, natural stone has only recently started to be seen on the list of must-have design features.
While it has featured over the years in some of the most iconic buildings – think of the architecture from the 1950s and 1960s by Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra and Kenneth Lind – it has only been in the past few years in the UK that it has come to the forefront of cutting-edge design.
“It is definitely catching on as a cladding material,” confirms Director of Riverdale Stone, Martin Fildes. “It is a material that suits all styles of property and we have seen it become much more popular recently for new homes — even kit homes and modular homes, such as Baufritz designs, are using it now.”
Most commonly used as a cladding, fixed to a concrete backing block but also suitable for timber frame constructions, natural stone is laid in much the same way that a dry stone wall might be — even on contemporary homes.
“People are often misled in thinking that a random stone wall won’t suit contemporary homes, but it does,” says Martin.
“We recently did a project for a property developer who at first thought the best option would be to go for all coursed stone to get the contemporary look he was after. In the end he went for a random stone and is really pleased with the results.”
Types of Stone
Using local natural stone in general is a good, eco-friendly choice, but opting for random stone over coursed makes it even more environmentally sound. Used in this way, the stone is simply taken straight from the ground and used as it is, while sawn stone requires more of a manufacturing process.
Although the stone is often constructed in much the same way as dry stone walling, some kind of fixing is required. Brick ties are usually used, and a mortar applied to the back of the stone, kept hidden from view.
“The stone used for this type of project is usually around 150mm thick, although the harder the stone, the thicker it tends to be,” says architect George Batterham of Batterham Matthews, who has completed several award-winning stone-clad contemporary projects.
There are a few considerations to bear in mind, however. Perhaps the main concern for many is the cost — using stone as a cladding material is undoubtedly an expensive business.
“Although the materials are relatively cheap and only a little mortar is used, labour is the expensive part,” explains Martin Fildes. “You would be looking to pay upwards of £200/m² for supply and fit.” You also need to bear in mind that many companies specialising in this type of work will be travelling to the project and may need to factor in accommodation to the final costs.
Finding a Tradesperson
While it is relatively easy to find a good bricklayer or dry stone waller, pinning down a tradesperson skilled in contemporary stone cladding is a little more complicated.
“This is a job that is caught in the middle of two trades,” explains Martin Fildes. “Traditional stone wallers tend not to have the experience of working on a building site, while bricklayers are unused to the random nature of stone — there is a degree of training required.”
Building With Stone
Then you need to factor in the length of time that the stone takes to lay. “Good stone cladding is a work of art really,” says Martin. “In reality you could expect no more than two metres a day to be completed for a good job.”
At Riverdale Stone, the stones are shaped using only a hammer — no chisels or saws. “You need the stone to have a flat bottom and top to create the tight joints required to conceal the blockwork beneath — it takes time,” explains Martin.
George Batterham agrees: “It is more expensive than other cladding materials and takes a long time,” he says. “For this reason we tend to use it just for the front of houses, combining it with another cladding material on the rear.
“We use quite a lot of cedar cladding with stone,” he continues. “Stone has a certain mass and solidity to it and it is nice to play this off with something lighter, such as cedar.”
In terms of visual design, the stone you choose will partially come down to personal preference, but using a local stone remains the best option. “It is best to use a stone that is local to the area. It adds a degree of regionalism and makes the house look appropriate to the area, even when the design is contemporary,” explains George Batterham.
Look at other projects that have successfully used stone in a contemporary way and take your cue from them. “Stone cladding should come up from the ground,” explains George. “It shouldn’t be used high up in sections — it doesn’t look right.”
“Remember, despite its relatively high cost, the stone cladding is the very first thing people are going to notice about the house. Make the most of it — it looks fantastic when lit up from below,” adds Martin. “It also requires no maintenance once built, and is one of only a handful of materials to visually improve with age.”
Featured image: This award-winning home in Gloucestershire, designed by Batterham Matthews, features a fine example of modern stone walling with hidden mortar to give the effect of a dry stone wall. Random coursing, usually associated with traditional styles, works well with the 21st-century scheme