Stone and timber homes

written by The WellBeing Team


A slick, contemporary, clean-lined house need not be lifeless and forbidding. Two of nature’s most ancient and elementary building materials — stone and wood — have the potential to imbue a Home with captivating come–hither allure and infuse tactility, nuance and spontaneity into just about any style of building.

“These are organic materials that engender comfort and hark back to simpler times,” says architect Bruce Rickard, who, as a key player in the organic architecture movement of the mid-1900s encouraged Australians to incorporate their unique natural assets into their homes. “I love timber and stone for their warmth, colour, variation, grain and the way they play with light and can be used as found and without paint.” Apart from their embrace of their natural surrounds, houses designed by Rickard are remarkable for their timelessness.

Stone and wood provide an experience that’s grounding, says architect Walter Barda, another design doyen who has fashioned these simple and eternal materials into spaces that provide an intriguing and delightful experience. “We can relate to these materials because we intuitively understand where they came from,” says Barda. “They reveal something about a human hand working a surface and speak a language we understand.” And, he says, homes made from these materials mature beautifully.


Stone-age style

Since ancient times, stone has conveyed an impression of strength, opulence and solidity. There’s something about stone that unequivocally declares “this is something special”. Unlike most trends, stone’s classic good looks won’t fade and, when used artfully, can lift a space from the pedestrian to the sublime.

Interior Designer Nicole Drake, who recently clad her brick home in sandstone sheets, says stone provides the perfect foil to today’s pared–down aesthetic. “Stone is very textural, tactile and sensual. You want to touch it,” she says. “It creates an elegant, contemporary style with added warmth and character.”

Depending on the materials and the cut, stone can create either a hard or soft effect, producing stunning results in either modern or traditional-style homes. A single stone feature, says Drake, can totally transform a space. Apart from stone floors and paving, walls, kitchen benchtops and paving, strips of stone sheeting can be used to create feature walls, fireplace surrounds, facings and water features. A stone slab makes a unique and dramatic shower screen or bathroom vanity feature. Or, take a cue from design hotels and create inbuilt stone furniture.

Don’t limit yourself to prescribed notions, advises Drake. For instance, instead of using identical tiles on bathroom walls and floors, extra depth and nuance can be introduced by incorporating different cuts, finishes and textures of the same stone, establishing a stone feature wall, mixing several types of stone or combining stone with other visually striking elements such as glass, steel or pebbles.

Drake suggests using stone sheeting to create “stone columns” around unsightly structural elements such as metal poles. Finishing details can make or break the final look, she says. For example, rather than settle for wafer-thin benchtops, she has extra stone cut and mitred into the edges, creating the impression of a chunky, substantial surface.


An earthy investment

Because stone doesn’t date and can form elements of painterly beauty, using it in your home is like investing in good art. Rickard and many other architects favour stone that is rough, irregular and not dressed, while others relish how polished stone conjures colours and entices light. Whether the look you’re after is rough and rustic, flamboyant or Zen cool, stone can create just about any mood imaginable.

John Raffoul, director of a company that imports a huge range of natural stone, sources stunning, massive stone slabs. There’s ethereal Carrera marble or the drama of dark granite or black or bottle green marble; or mellow neutrals such as travertine that, when savoured barefoot, feel like soft sand. Combine that with the “stonewashed” look of honed stone or the shimmer of highly polished surfaces and the options become almost limitless.

Raffoul says the overall quality and price of stone are determined by colour, degree of imperfection, density and rarity. While stone’s inherent variation defines its uniqueness and beauty, excessive variation risks it looking hodge-podge. Before ordering, advises Raffoul, ask to see a batch or box and ascertain the extent of colour and calibration (thickness) variations.

Colour can also impact on durability. For example, white granite benchtops, being less dense, typically require more sealing, while certain shades of marble, such as green, black, white and cream, are denser and harder wearing. Veins indicate weakness.

Because stone is a natural, more volatile material than ceramic, it’s more vulnerable, so practical considerations must prevail. Heavy traffic areas such as entryways and kitchen floors demand a harder, more durable stone, whereas bathrooms, bedrooms and walls are much more accommodating. Polished surfaces may look lavish, but, warns Raffoul, they’ll highlight scratches and wear and require additional maintenance.

While they look slick, large sheets used on bathroom floors can be woefully impractical, says Drake, particularly in small bathrooms, as they don’t lend themselves to establishing an adequate fall. Critical to a stone’s functionality but invisible to the eye, says Raffoul, is density, which determines a particular stone’s absorption and resistance to impact and wear and tear potential. He suggests asking suppliers to provide data on the stone’s properties, including density, together with recommended laying and maintenance advice. Cut also plays a huge role in the overall look, explains Drake, naming a “rectified finish” as an excellent option where a seamless look with minimal grouting is desired.


Choosing and using stone


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The WellBeing Team