The Popularity of Stone – Through the Ages

by Tania Wannenburg
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Natural stone floors have been used for millennia and continue to be a popular flooring option. The use of natural stone offers the appearance of sophistication and elegance and can also add value to a property.

Stone is unique, each and every piece of it, which is the driving factor behind its popularity. It can help to keep the climate cooler in the home. Its sturdiness and durability makes it a particularly great fit for high-traffic areas. With the technology of sealing products available today, maintenance of stone is relatively hassle free.

The History of Stone

An interesting fact about stone flooring to keep in mind is that any type of solid stone flooring you’ve ever stepped on is millions of years old. Natural stone forms deep beneath the earth’s surface under intense pressure and heat. This is where the massive blocks of natural stones like granite, marble, slate and travertine are formed. Its rich history is found, outstandingly, in Ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire and it still remains popular today.

Alison Weihe, Director at Colonial Stone, commented that reconstituted stone flooring is full of character, has low maintenance requirements and can greatly enhance a particular feature area, such as wine cellars, rustic patios, fire pits, garden retreats.

“Reconstituted stone flooring also lends itself to interesting inlays and details and can be used in combination with other products to create interest and accent detail,” says Weihe.

Characteristics of Stone

A great characteristic of natural stone is that there aren’t any two pieces of stone that are completely alike. Some stone can also have extreme variation in colour and veining from slab to slab. Stone tiles can have four levels of absorption, namely:

  • Non-vitreous
  • Semi-vitreous
  • Vitreous
  • Impervious

Stone flooring can also be used in all areas of the home but is also frequently used in outside areas such as patios, verandas and porches. Whether you use stone inside or outside, or you’re after a shiny, matte or textured finish, its options are endless.

Michael Tully, Managing Director at Mazista, says that natural stone continues to be a great choice for any flooring project because it offers a one-of-a-kind solution. “Natural stone is unique – it can’t be recreated or copied. A piece of stone or marble that’s found in a particular region of the world can’t be reproduced in another geographical location. There aren’t any knock-offs in the natural stone market,” says Tully.

“Natural stone was used in the construction of the very first houses ever built. In my opinion, this flooring option offers unrivalled beauty,” says Tully.

What to look out for

Tully explains that there are a few things that design professionals can look out for when it comes to natural floor installations. “If the installation has been done badly, the edges will be chipped or there will be lippage – which means that one tile is slightly higher off the floor than the surrounding tiles. Also, it’s a good idea to dry-lay the tiles to make sure the pattern of the natural stone flows well. Only after you’re happy with the pattern and flow of the tiles should you wet-lay the flooring,” adds Tully.

Weihe adds that a successful installation is normally achieved by using a recommended, reputable installer. “Reconstituted stone floors, like all floors that have been badly installed can look terrible. Without the correct substructure, a poor installation can lead to structural or technical ramifications. On any stone feature, untidy grouting can greatly diminish the desired effect,” says Weihe before adding that there are three things a buyer, specifier or contractor can look out for when purchasing reconstituted stone flooring: durability; consistency; the track record of the supplier/manufacturer.

“Cheap prices invariably constitute an inferior product, whether in natural stone or simulated stone. The saying you get what you pay for applies for all construction products, particularly in manufactured products,” adds Weihe.

Lars Nielsen of Natural Stone Warehouse says it’s also important to remember that each piece of stone is unique. “As each piece is unique, blending is a very important part of stone installation. If not done correctly by an experienced installer, the outcome will not be good,” comments Nielson.

Trends in the stone flooring industry

The stone market is seeing an influx of new granites and marbles from India and China. “These are new, never-before-seen granites at affordable prices,” says Tully before adding that large-format tiles are becoming increasingly popular.

“More and more designers are leaning towards open-plan designs. Large-format granite tiles look better in these wide open spaces, which is why a number of manufacturers are creating 1,2m x 600mm tiles and 800mm x 800mm tiles. While the large-format tiles are more aesthetically appealing, they’re more difficult to install, so make sure you partner with a reputable flooring contractor,” warns Tully.

Nielsen adds that there are some fantastic new trends in seamless stone floors. “The tiles are ground down in situ to the desired finish resulting in a completely smooth floor with barely visible grout lines. We’re also seeing tiles in different formats, like large rectangular tiles 1 200 x 600mm, and different textures like brushed marble, saw-cut marble and flamed granite, for example” says Nielsen.

There is also a major trend towards installing flagstone flooring in unusual exterior lifestyle spaces such as rustic wine cellars for intimate dinners, “boma” fire pits at safari retreats, pool pavilions for entertaining with built-in kitchens or braais, or adding another element to a herb garden retreat. “An increasing number of people are installing flagstone flooring for these types of exterior lifestyle spaces. Whether it’s a rustic wine cellar, a boma or a vegetable garden, people like the idea of using flagstone flooring for seating because they can combine this functionality with the aesthetic appeal that granite brings to such a tranquil area,” says Weihe.

“All these trends signify a retreat to simple pleasures and a connection to nature, and away from the opulence and excess of some of the earlier lifestyle trends. This is an interesting phenomenon when one considers the effect of the worldwide recession and the trend towards greater global awareness,” concludes Weihe.

Acknowledgement and thanks are given to the following for information obtained for the compilation of this article: Lars Nielsen from Natural Stone Warehouse, www.naturalstonewarehouse.com; Michael Tully from Mazista, www.mazista.co.za and Alison Weihe from Colonial Stone, www.colonialstone.co.za.

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