Between a Rock & a Hard Place

Inventive hardscapes prove style is but a stone’s throw away.

A rolling stone may not gather any moss, but a strategically chosen, expertly laid, beautifully lit stone will certainly garner plenty of attention. With all the decisions homeowners face throughout the landscaping process, choosing stone as the “bones” for your project might just be the natural choice.

When it came time for Susanne Lumsden of Appleton to update her home’s landscape, maintaining a natural aesthetic was top priority.

“There had been some existing white stone that looked artificial,” says Lumsden, who began work on her landscape project last fall. “We didn’t want that feel.”

With the help of Oberstadt Landscapes & Nursery in Fremont, Lumsden created an outcropping with larger stones to soften the area. The home’s pond also got a facelift with some flat stone pieces creating a cascading waterfall.

For an added touch of personalization, Lumsden picked out large boulders of Wisconsin quartzite Lannon stone to serve as the pond’s bridge. “It all ties together nicely,” she says.

Reasons to Rock

Choosing natural, local stone was a chinch for Lumsden.

The benefits of stone are its durability, minimal maintenance requirement and low carbon footprint. The rich look and feel of natural stone is hard to beat, even if it is pricier than its manmade counterparts.

“From a design perspective, natural stone is the most exciting to work with,” says Andy Vande Hey, president of Vande Hey Company in Appleton. “Natural stone works like a giant puzzle. It’s really an art form.”

A 2010 home design trends survey conducted by The American Institute of Architects reveals a growing interest in outdoor living spaces, despite a general downsizing in homes overall. Instead of building or buying new homes, savvy homeowners are looking to increase the functionality of the space they already have by expanding outward.

“People are spending more time at home,” says Jim Willey, owner of Mosquito Creek Home Renovations & Outdoor Living in Appleton. “Our needs have gone beyond an old concrete slab or wooden deck that no one takes care of.”

Blame the shaky economy if you must, but right now our favorite weekend retreats as spring turns to summer seem to be our very own backyards. It makes sense for these outdoor sanctuaries to be a “room” worth the investment.

Utilizing natural stone to construct the framework of an outdoor living space will prove to be a solid investment because it will stand the test of time, unlike many manmade materials.

“In some cases, the stones we use have been around for millions of years so you have almost a lifetime guarantee,” Willey says. “It also weathers nicely when exposed to the elements with very little maintenance.”

There aren’t many materials that are as eco-friendly as stone. Don’t worry about carbon emissions during the manufacturing process––Mother Nature took care of that already––and the recycling possibilities are endless.

“A stone’s life cycle continues based on what the next person wants to do with it,” Willey adds. “That’s an extremely unique thing. Stone begs to be reused again and paid attention to years down the road.”

Natural Attraction

Luckily for Wisconsinites, the Badger state is a hotbed for natural stone just begging to be used.

“It makes the decision to use natural stone easy since you aren’t paying to truck it in from across the country,” says Soren Nelsen, residential outside salesman at County Materials in Appleton.

The Fox Valley sits smack dab in the middle of Wausau, Fond du Lac, Chilton and Door County. Nelsen points out these cities are home to some of Wisconsin’s richest supplies of indigenous sandstone, limestone and granite.

The same kind of stone will vary since a stone is often named after the quarry or location from which it comes. Granite is the exception and is often classified by its shape, such as boulders or rubble.

Color will also vary by location. For example, limestone from Chilton will feature shades of red and brown while Fond du Lac limestone can range from beige to white or even gold.

The vast array of stone types and colors to choose from is representative of the countless ways which the mineral can be manipulated for landscaping purposes.

Stone Suggestions

One of the hottest trends in stonescaping is highlighting the natural essence of the stone and embracing its imperfections.

“When you’re done with the project, you have the ability to make it look like it has been there for 100 years. It doesn’t have to look so manicured and developed,” Vande Hey says.

Stone works beautifully to create visual lines throughout the landscape. A line might include fences, garden edging or pathways. Juxtapose curved and straight lines to heighten interest, encourage a particular path or draw the eye to a special design element.

“When you use the right light at the right angle, it brings out colors and textures in the stone you didn’t even notice during the day,” Vande Hey says.

The key to getting the most out of your hardscape is personalization. Choosing the right stone for the project is key, as well as making sure the stone choice fits your home’s existing architecture.

To further personalize the stone, find what is special or unique about that particular piece and emphasize it. Vande Hey suggests looking for unique colors, stratifications or surfaces.

One of his clients turned a holey boulder into an impromptu birdbath. Each time it rained, the holes filled with water attracting wildlife.

“It ends up being those little, tiny details that make the big difference, especially with natural stone,” Vande Hey says. “It’s all about how to turn the stone and what stone is used where.”

Pebble Pointers

  • Pay special attention to the installation of the stone to achieve the desired affect.
    A straight, clean shot provides a modern approach while a meandering path feels whimsical and causal.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix stone surfaces. Experiment with incorporating two different types of stone, flat pavers or crushed stone. Surface variation is an upcoming trend in hardscaping and works to define gathering areas and boarders.
  • To enjoy your outdoor living space into the evening hours, the right lighting is a must. Lighting can quickly add atmosphere, especially when working in conjunction
    with your hardscape.

—By Amelia Compton

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