Stone, Stapled On

By Dave Fratello | March 20th, 2007
For untold thousands of years, humans have built homes starting with a stone foundation, framing out the bases of major walls with stone or brick, then building out the rest of the structure with wood. This remains true today -- though slab concrete substitutes for stone a lot.

In new construction and remodels, "cosmetic" stone adornments are all the rage. It is a simple matter to add tiles or laminates to a wood, concrete, stucco or cinder-block structure to give the look of stone without the expense of actually building with stone. But with this simplicity comes lots and lots of opportunities to make ghastly mistakes. Homeowners, builders and on-the-fly contractors seem to blow it regularly in Manhattan Beach.

The problem is that too often, the use of a stone-look material is conceived and executed with no thought as to whether the surface being "stoned" might actually ever be built with the stone that has been used. You have a problem if the final product -- a planter wall, a fireplace, a major structural wall -- does not look plausibly like it could have been built out of stone.

Our first example is a multi-million-dollar south-end beach house.

This is by any measure a delightful structure, from the outside a sweet mix of beachy design & materials, nice colors, nice landscaping, so inviting that you might wonder why you are scratching your head and saying, "Something is not right."

Here's what's not right: I'm afraid that if I go knock on the front door, I'll be squished. Am I supposed to believe that that gigantic, apparently heavy stone fireplace and chimney are being held aloft by a few 8 x 8 posts? That thing could collapse any minute!

Even when my rational mind takes over, and I realize those are a bunch of lightweight, synthetic stones glued onto wooden walls, I can't help feeling nervous.

Scan down, and we see a small but egregious error that continues the mistakes made high above. Down in the garden planter, very nice stonework suggests to the eye that the wall of the planter might have been built from the ground up from actual stone.

But the stairs give the game away. Here, the vertical parts of the risers feature shards of the step stones pasted onto... well, I guess, concrete. All at once I lose any illusion that the steps were ever built of stone. Now I see a preformed concrete staircase with shards stapled on.

In the "sue your contractor" department, MBC offers a different example. The house at 1508 Highland, right near city hall, was purchased last June and remodeled. (Sale price $1.249m.) To add interest to a stucco box, the new owners repainted and added a waist-high wall of stone laminate.

Sadly, an incompetent installation adds question marks, not just interest. Using a range of stone sizes, the installers failed to keep their lines straight. The stone appears to sag on the right half. (It's evident in the photo but vivid in person.) If we are supposed to believe that this is actually the stone foundation of the house, the saggy lines beg the question of why the whole house has not yet toppled over.

Again, the answer is that the stones are just stapled on, so the structure is fine. But what a horrid result when the intent was to beautify the property.

Note: This is a subject of interest, and MBC will revisit this issue shortly, and probably repeatedly.

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