Retaining Authenticity with Natural Stone Walls
In the face of our fast-paced, machine-made, money-driven future, today’s luxury can be defined as artisanal. It’s natural and sustainable, easygoing and unpretentious. Therefore, in terms of hard-landscaping materials, natural stone is the ultimate in contemporary luxury.
When designing with stone there really is only one ideal: authenticity. It is a simple truth that the more out of place and character stonework looks, the less sophisticated the ultimate effect and the higher the environmental footprint. So, we really should be looking to our local neighbourhood and natural landscape rather than Google and Pinterest for inspiration.
I always feel like I’ve hit the jackpot when a site I’m working on has its own stone, and I hardly ever send rock off site, but rather incorporate it into the design. In the absence of this blessing, I turn to my stone masons who always know what stone is being excavated on building sites in the area. Essentially a waste product, this is a very environmentally friendly source of stone and guaranteed to be locally appropriate.
One of my favorite examples of this is how we are seeing gorgeous applications of pebbled paving emerging in areas of the Boland rich in alluvial stone. Not only does this feel in keeping with the natural landscape, but it speaks to our Cape vernacular ensuring an utterly timeless installation. Depending on where a property lies in Cape Town, where I’m based for example, the primary choices are sandstone, granite, or shale. The most enduringly elegant stonework is always that which comes from its closest natural environment.
Stone walling is where we are seeing the market’s increasing desire for authenticity most clearly. There is a distinct move away from the very static, tightly packed, dry-stone cladding that has been so prevalent over the last thirty years. Today, it’s the intangible allure and rich character of stonework that can only truly be achieved using time-honoured building techniques that capture our imagination. There is a magic to solid stone walling, which is very hard to achieve with a brick wall only clad in stone. Solid stone walls are now my first prize always and we sometimes need to push project engineers to embrace this traditional approach.
When building solid stone walls, one needs to first decide if they will be dry packed (no cement used) or held together with mortar. Dry-packed walls, as one often sees in rural settings, are incredibly charming and are essentially living walls as one can grow plants in their crevices. The design possibilities for dry-pack walls are truly endless and this application is not limited to traditional-style gardens. Dry walls constructed of flat shales or slate, for example, sit beautifully in a contemporary setting — as do dramatic retaining walls of giant stacked boulders.
In instances where a mortar-held stone wall is more appropriate or when the only solution is to clad a brick wall in stone, the choice of grouting method is as important to the end look as the choice of stone itself. I love exploring the local neighbourhood and taking inspiration from old buildings in the area as this ensures a sense of harmony with the built environment. There is endless room for expression and creativity within the choice of grouting, and it’s astonishing how a grouting technique as traditional as monumental pointing can look absolutely smashing in a contemporary context. Gone are the days when we try to make a clad wall look like a dry pack wall, with natural stone, it’s all about keeping it real.