Naturally beautiful

Stone Federation’s Matt Robb discusses what he sees as the unique visual appeal of natural stone, and what you should consider before using it in your self-build

In a sector where aesthetics and durability are equally important and individuality is a unique selling point, natural stone is the ideal material. Quarried and mined from the earth, and thus bearing unique characteristics that are the result of complex geological processes, natural stone offers the specifier more than just a material – it offers a story.

No two pieces of natural stone will be exactly the same, and when its use is embraced by specifiers, this material can provide a wealth of options in both texture and colour.

Stone Federation is the official trade association for the natural stone industry, working with specifiers, architects, designers and clients to connect you with the ideal material and company for your project. The federation has over 100 years’ experience helping the professional understand and therefore benefit from the inimitable qualities of natural stone.

Choosing stone

Selecting the right material for the project in hand is crucial to the success of any job, and there are three key steps to follow to ensure correct stone selection for a particular project.

The first step is to ensure that the samples are up to the task in hand, namely giving you a true representation of what the final product will look like. One key factor in this is looking at range/control samples. These will show you the range of geological characteristics typically found within the bed of stone as opposed to the small snapshot you would find in a single indicative sample piece. This helps avoid any confusion as to what the finished floor, wall or countertop will look like.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that this is a natural product, and therefore each stone will have its own unique features.

The second step is the quarry or mine visit. Stone Federation strongly advises that a visit is made so that the stone proposed for the project can be carefully inspected. This is also the ideal stage at which to involve an independent stone consultant to come and provide you with an expert opinion. This allows you to be a part of the unique journey of your material; to connect the final material to its origins and story.

The last of these three steps is the technical assessment of the stone. There are various tests that help build a picture of a stone’s potential suitability for a particular application, and while past projects are a good indicator, recent test data on the CE certificate and Declaration of Performance should be examined. Natural stone is the ideal material for a wide range of applications, but choosing the right materials for the desired application is important, and this is where testing can really help.

When it comes to choosing the right stone for the project in hand, it’s worth exploring the wealth of options that natural stone offers the architectural industry.

The Natural Stone Awards celebrate the best examples of the use of natural stone across a wide range of applications. The winners are a showcase of the successful use of natural stone in cladding, interiors, repair and restoration, landscaping and so much more.

Both the 2014 and 2016 awards saw a wide range of natural stones used in the successful projects stretching all the way from British limestones through to Italian marbles. The finished projects cover everything from the dramatic to the understated, but all have one thing in common – the architect or designers’ skill in choosing the perfect stone for the desired applications.

Natural stone’s offering

From the fossils found in limestone to the natural, subtle layers of slate, texture is a strong selling point for using natural stone. The three-dimensional dynamic that a feature wall of unpolished, naturally textured stone can provide is stunning and definitely a trend that is on the increase.

Unlike many other materials, the same piece of stone can be finished in a number of ways to provide the texture best suited to the application. Flamed, honed, blasted, sanded, polished and line textured are all finishes that can give the same piece of stone a very different visual impact.

When it comes to creating visual impact, geological striations and natural colour streaks found in marble creates a striking aesthetic which is seen across a wide range of applications, from hotel lobbies and city cladding projects through to floors and church steeples. In a market where individuality is key, the unique visuals that natural stone can create are striking, bringing a strong identity to interior spaces of all description.

Stone also of course has strong credentials on durability. As a result of the geological processes, the thousands of years of compression, natural stone is an incredibly hard-wearing material. You need only look at the centuries-old limestone clad streets of London, the granite paved streets of Aberdeen or the Clipsham stone-rich buildings of Oxford to see evidence of the longevity of this natural material.

Finding the right firm

Stone Federation has a membership of over 240 natural stone firms, covering everything from international stone suppliers and British quarry operators through to design consultants and sealant manufacturers. Each member is vetted and approved and has access to a vast resource of technical backup, training and guidance documents on all the latest Government legislation and guides to best practice.

There are a number of ways in which you can find the right company for your project. The Natural Stone Source Book acts as a source of information and inspiration, containing a full directory of members alongside project profiles. The ‘Search for a Member’ tool on the website allows you to find the right member for your specific project requirements.

Our free technical helpline is also a great way of accessing expert advice on everything from stone selection and tolerances through to British Standards and slip resistance.

Matt Robb is digital media executive at Stone Federation