Stone is a powerful material to use on both the exterior of your home as well as the interior. It recalls castles and tide walls, but remains touchable and warm. On this fireplace wall, there are many uses of stone that give depth and functionality to the room.
When selecting an appropriate stone material for your home, determine what style or feeling you want. Each stone choice evokes a particular place. When designing, remodeling or building a home in Little Rock, Arkansas, perhaps select a local stone, such as Ozark brown or blue stone. This fireplace is made of stacks of real Ozark stone. The colors were varied to give the maximum color range. The individual stones were selected to blend and contrast for visually effect.
The roughness of the stone wall was selected to enhance the acoustic properties of the room. A rough wall like this breaks up noise reflection, since sound waves refract differently off the various planes and surfaces, in the same way that the curved ceiling varies the reflection of sound waves and prevents the repetition of echos from reinforcing themselves as they do in a rectangular room. This living room was designed for acoustics. It houses a grand piano for the owner, a pianist with sharp ears for how architecture can affect sound.
One popular installation technique for stone today is a dry stack. Like a stone fence on the side of a pasture or field is the dry stacking by the farmer to use the stone he finds in his field, it avoids the use of mortar to hold the stone together. The natural stacking has a great deal of shadow and interest. These walls tend to be thick to compensate for their inability to handle heights. To get this effect and the height, the mortar could be deeply recessed and the individual stone each cantelevers a bit so as to not show mortar in the joints. The effect is expensive. Its growing popularity on developers’ houses and even shopping centers is a result of the development of precast concrete pieces that look like stone. This method is not used here, because we wanted the real mass and texture of actual stone in such an intimate room. The mortar is colored to match the grey base colors and allow the stone to show off its highlights.
The lintel is the dark beam of stone that spans above the firepit opening. It is also Ozark Blue stone, and reminds you that the stone is heavy and load bearing and must use ancient techniques to be constructed. (Ok, I’ll be honest. There is a steel lintel as well behind it, attached to the concrete block structure.)
I could have cantelevered the lintel beam out or added another mantel of stone, but chose instead to use a contrasting wood for the mantel to relate to the curved wood beams of the room. The mantel is a very special wood from a store called African Odyssey, a name that resonates with the themes of the house. This wood is from South Africa where it was first cut and shaped to be a railroad tie on the African railroads. When that railroad was removed, the ties were used by shippers as ballast to fill their empty ships for the ships’ return voyages. The ties ended up in a port warehouse in Houston, Texas, where an appreciative carpenter refinished them into wonderful beams, tables, and flooring. We took the longest raw tie beam they had and installed it as the mantel. Not only does the rich wood visually work well with the Ozark stone, but it gives the Owners a wonderful story to tell.
The hearth is flush with the floor and is covered in flat flame cut slate slabs that match the Ozark stone colors. The walls of the living room are more formal and black, though they have a silver blue sheen to it. From the floor to the top of the sliding doors, the African silver slate is matt finished, giving it depth and shadow between the wood and glass opening and setting the fireplace off as the major color, while above the doors, the same African silver slate is glossy sheened to give the wondows and height of the living room more sparkle and light. I chose to diferentiate the finishes on the black slate as a detail that the Owner’s and guests would notice only on reflection or second visits. A designer must not give away all his design’s secrets at first glance. The texture of stone or the sheen of the tile should be discovered by exploration. The real miracle of the design is how the light hits it at different times of the day and even different seasons. Without the material’s textures to capture the light, those subtle differences in light may tragically have gone unnoticed.