Raise the Profile of Manufactured Stone Veneer
authors Chuck Ross
Manufactured stone veneer can add new beauty to a home’s appearance in both exterior and, increasingly, interior applications, but its value to homeowners can be more than skin deep. In fact, the return on investment can be even higher than that of siding for the most frequent exterior uses. So, for homeowners seeking an easy update to what might be aging siding or a dated fireplace surround, veneer products could be a great option.
Adding to the growing appeal of these offerings is a new attention to contemporary style, according to the eight manufacturers with whom Qualified Remodeler recently spoke. While a decade ago, homeowners were drawn to the old-world charms of irregular, rounded river rock designs, today’s remodeling clients are seeking a cleaner and more rectilinear look. Interestingly, a parallel trend is the growing interest in reclaimed wood looks, similar to those showing up in board-style porcelain tiles for interior flooring. Now, some of those tiles are literally climbing the walls.
But it’s not all about the homeowners in some manufacturers’ lineups, with several companies offering products that don’t require a skilled mason’s touch. Companies are paying attention to the labor shortage affecting all the construction trades, with a number of them promoting veneers that install mechanically, like siding, rather than with mortar and grout.
Where’s It Going?
Exteriors remain the primary application for manufactured stone veneer, according to all the manufacturers with whom we spoke. The varied colors and textures provide an eye-catching contrast to vinyl or aluminum siding, and can help call out architectural features that might otherwise blend into the background, adding to a home’s curb appeal.
“It is frequently featured as an exterior home design accent, as a knee wall or door surround,” says Kelly Warren, marketing manager for CertainTeed Siding, maker of the unit-style Ledgestone and panelized STONEfaçade product lines, echoing comments heard from a number of manufacturers. “It is now even showing up on many of the popular home renovation TV shows.”
Beyond walls, however, veneer products also are enhancing outdoor living areas, notes Joey Peters, senior masonry brand manager for Oldcastle Architectural, which recently consolidated its masonry products into a new subsidiary, Echelon Masonry. “We are finding that outdoor living spaces are no longer a trend but an expectation with homeowners, both in new construction and remodeling,” he says, adding, “a slab of concrete and a few plastic chairs won’t cut it these days. Manufactured stone veneer was traditionally a bottom-third cladding for wall exteriors, but has found new life in bringing the outdoors and indoors together.”
To Peters’ point, a number of companies are seeing veneers venturing onto interior walls as well. “On the remodeling side, the fireplace is probably the largest application we see,” says Mike Nutter, sales director for Ply Gem Stone. “Many times homeowners had sheet rock, or a lot of times we see them replacing tile with stone—that’s probably 60 percent of the remodeling business.”
Peters adds that some of Echelon’s customers are opting to use the same stone for both outdoor and indoor fireplaces. “The continuity creates connection between interiors and the great outdoors,” he says, noting there’s an economic advantage as well. “It is more cost-effective for the homeowner—one pallet of the same stone versus multiple, or creating blends from two pallets.”
And fireplaces aren’t the only places where homeowners see stone veneer as a strong replacement option for existing tile. Sarah Lograsso, marketing director for Eldorado Stone, points to kitchen and bathroom backsplashes as a growing application. And David Barrett, vice president of product development and marketing for Environmental StoneWorks, notes a more unusual use for the material.
“We’re starting to see stone going into bedrooms,” he says, adding that the shift to greater interior adoption has been building recently. “It’s been going on for a couple years. We’ve been on five [of] the last seven New American Homes [at the International Builders’ Show], and we use that a lot to gauge trends.”
Across the board, manufactured stone veneer makers are seeing a move toward cleaner lines, which generally means uniform unit heights, though length and depth can vary. This growing trend is evidenced in Eldorado Stone’s Modern Collection and Echelon’s new imported Mirage porcelain veneer panels, among others.
“When we look at the entire category of stone, we’re seeing a lot of the real square, almost blockish appearance,” says Aaron Sims, Boral’s business development manager for its TruExterior Siding and Versetta Stone lines. But the blockish shapes can vary in profile depth, he adds. “It’s a more rugged look, like our Ledgestone product. It fits in well with cedar shake and lapboards, and it links to that continued trend of diverse textures for the exterior.”
The move toward linearity is also leading to a renewed interest in brick-style veneer. “We’re starting to see it come back into a modern-type look,” says Barrett, who explains Environmental StoneWorks’ Cast Brick offerings are experiencing new interest. “We’ve seen customers who say, ‘I want clean brick, and I don’t care what color, because I’m going to paint it.’ It comes back to creating clean lines, but adding texture to highlight various areas inside the house.”
According to Emily Bonilla, product development manager and area sales manager for Cultured Stone, this trend is playing out in the company’s Terrain Ledgestone line and, most recently, in its new Sculpted Ashlar introduction. She says the new offering, which has a tumbled finish, combines “a thoughtful collection of naturally weathered stone textures with a purposeful variety of shapes and sizes.”
Phil Wengerd, ProVia’s vice president of market strategies, says his company’s Terra Cut line was launched two years ago to meet just this demand. “It was a culmination of what we’ve been hearing from the field,” he says, describing how Terra Cut’s pairing of a more linear arrangement with stones of a range of depths was developed. “The more depth you have in that profile, the more the color will pop.”
Nutter from Ply Gem Stone says that a tighter, more fitted look, without visible mortar joints, is starting to take hold. Though taste trends are very regional, he’s recently started seeing a move to an even more contemporary appearance. “We’re starting to see a smoother texture—sort of a rustic contemporary look.”
Coloring Our World
Obviously, earth tones are a part of all manufacturers’ palettes, as they work to create manufactured stone products that realistically reproduce the look of the real thing. That said, there appears to be a trend toward darker colors that can build on the larger push for a more contemporary look.
Barrett from Environmental StoneWorks also sees a stripping away of color to create simpler palettes and patterning. “Prior trends were the more color you could get in, the more realistic it looked,” he says. “But now, it’s a lot of white to every shade of gray you can imagine.”
Barrett also has an interesting take on where this contemporary, more monochromatic push is coming from. “Some of the answers I’m getting is it’s the millennials who’ve grown up with Apple products, and that design scheme mimics some of the trends we’re starting to see in today’s home design.”
Boral’s Sims sees the influence of commercial design driving this more monochromatic approach. “The line blurs when you talk about contemporary and commercial looks,” he says. “And we’ve seen a lot of residential design moving in that direction.”
Regardless of the trend’s origins, other manufacturers echoed the growing importance of gray for today’s homeowners. “Grays are definitely in, especially with a gray base,” Nutter says. “That goes from a light gray to a dark charcoal.” He adds that Ply Gem’s latest color, Niagara, adds a plum highlight to a gray base tone.
Similarly, Bonilla notes Cultured Stone has been working “to develop new explorations of contemporary aesthetic touches as the market embraces color and patterns that skew more modern.” This means pairing high contrast colors, from silver and charcoal to copper and iron hues, with traditional tans and browns.
Making Things Easier
Manufacturers also appear to be united in their understanding of the labor challenges remodelers now face in most regions of the country, with a number offering options that attach mechanically, rather than with mortar, in either panels or individual units. This is exactly the issue Boral’s Versetta Stone was designed to address, according to Sims.
“A pain point across the industry is labor, especially skilled labor,” he says. “We’re addressing that labor shortage and that lack of skill—there’s no additional knowledge needed to meet certain codes. You just screw it to the wall.”
Ply Gem Stone’s Durata Stone product pairs panelized veneer with a unique clip system that builds in ventilation and drainage when installed over a solid substrate.
“It looks like a dry stack when you put it together, but there’s no mortar,” Nutter explains, noting that, for example, siding contractors now have a chance to get into the stone veneer business. “You don’t have to be a mason—you can come from another trade.”
CertainTeed’s STONEFaçade has a similar integrated-rainscreen design, which Warren says eliminates the need for traditional masonry-style prep work. “Scratch coat and mortar preparation are two of the most important steps in a traditional stone veneer installation,” she adds. “Mortar-less installation using panelized stone relieves many concerns regarding stone veneer installation.”
Additional examples include Beonstone, imported from Canada and distributed by Oldcastle; several profiles in Eldorado Stone’s Modern Collection; and Environmetal StoneWorks’ ClipStone line. The latter company also has addressed remodelers’ labor concerns by developing its own national network of installers. This arrangement gives remodelers greater flexibility in product selection, without the need for arranging masonry installation on their own.
With a broadening range of profiles and greater attention being paid to easing installation, manufactured stone veneer is worth a new look from remodelers who previously offered only traditional siding products—at least ProVia’s Wengard thinks so. With veneer’s popularity increasing in new construction, he believes remodelers’ clients are becoming more interested in adding the material to their homes’ exteriors.
“A lot of stone is being used in new construction today—the majority of product is going onto new structures,” he says. Remodeling trends generally trail closely behind those of new construction, Wengard adds, and that’s a pattern he’s been seeing play out with stone veneer. While it may be a new offering for many remodelers, Wengard believes a growing number are beginning to recognize the aesthetic appeal of these products for homeowners.
“I think we’re going to see more of these people bring in manufactured stone as a product line,” he says. “It’s a small part of the business today, but we’re going to see more of it.” |QR