Build It Better

Many outdoor spaces are benefiting from striking paver, stone, and brick designs made possible thanks to the creativity of designers and manufacturers.

Brick paving complements natural elements in outdoor designs. Photo Courtesy Of ValleyCrest Companies

Across the nation, these new ideas create that “wow” factor clients want, without breaking the bank.

Whether rough and rugged or refined and elegant, pavers, stone, and brick offer a unique combination of natural beauty and historic style few other building materials can match.

Hardscapes built from these materials seem like a more natural part of the environment, and provide an old-world charm and sophistication.

Landscape architects have chosen the look of stone and brick for hundreds of years because they’re some of the most durable construction materials in existence. These materials hold up for years against wind, water, pests, and fire.

They’re also cost-effective and versatile, providing the elegance of natural settings, which is exactly what’s desired for an outdoor space.

There are several areas where landscape architects can put these products to work. Using the same materials throughout can provide a seamless flow, while incorporating a variety can designate key areas.

“No matter where it’s used, pavers, stone, and brick make a lot of sense,” says Landscape Architect Kurt Buxton, a senior principal at ValleyCrest Design Group’s Orange County, Calif., office.

“Its raw beauty can be used throughout the space. Because they’re such strong design elements, even using a little will make a large statement.

“The smallest spaces often can be the best, and because they’re small, as a landscape architect, I can invest more money in the highest-quality design and materials.

“High-quality hardscape design is definitely appreciated by my clients because that small attention to detail is often overlooked.”

To ensure the plan looks at place in its setting, choose a style that’s native to the area. There are numerous colors, textures, and installation styles available to match regional preferences.

Pavers, stone veneer, and brick can break up a monolithic look, and using a variety of stone facades, textures, and colors minimizes the mass.

“Certain materials really create elements of delight,” notes Miriam Tate, president of Miriam Tate Company in Costa Mesa, Calif.

A stone walkway is beautiful, durable and economical. Photo Courtesy Of ValleyCrest Companies

“While color blocking with paint is very effective in achieving this, stone cladding placed on important pedestrian-level building planes creates a warm and inviting atmosphere, while visually de-massing the environment.

“Repetition, height, and consistent materials can make spaces seem dehumanizing, but clever use of materials will make it much more friendly and inviting.

“Shopping centers of today have embraced these scale and materials application concepts. You are much more likely to see these paint and stone treatments in a multitude of retail settings, anticipating that shoppers will feel more comfortable in the environment, stay longer, and spend more money.”

Stone Veneer 

Stone veneer is a popular way to add the look of full-sized natural stone to an outdoor space. It normally costs less than other materials, and is easier to install. When stone veneer is added to either internal or external walls, it gives the impression of solid stone.

Veneers are often employed when a full stone wall is cost- prohibitive or impractical. In some areas, the style and color of real stone simply isn’t available to architects, but veneers come in more than 100 colors and textures.

They’re not only versatile, but also have the advantage of being low maintenance and tolerant of a variety of climate conditions. Plus, manufactured stone veneers come with a 50-year limited warranty.

One such product, Cultured Stone, is a replica of natural stones cast in flexible molds and hand-colored with mineral oxide pigments. Made with Portland cement and light-weight aggregates, the veneers are approximately one-third the weight of full-thickness stone, and can be adhered to most wall surfaces.

In some cases, recycled materials can be used to reduce the environmental impact. Cultured Stone products have a minimum 54 percent recycled content in all stone veneers. It is one of the few stone-veneer manufacturers that have met the high standards of the strictest requirements in the industry–AC-51. To comply with building codes, stone veneers cannot exceed 15 pounds per square foot.

Landscape architects also want stones that are safe to handle and that will ensure safe performance. Concrete mix used to make stone must withstand at least 1,800 pounds per square inch without damage, ensuring its durability and 50-plus years of service.

Its service goes beyond this, says Jeff Byers, product manager at Boral Stone Products in Napa, Calif.

“Stone veneer is also a great way to play heritage to the flora and fauna of the environment, as though it was a natural element. Strategically used, stone helps achieve consistency,” Byers says.

“Using different materials and colors provides a three-dimensional quality, creating more interest and depth to a building. Layering also helps articulate human scale while complementing the architecture and surroundings.

“Colors and materials can also be manipulated to change the scale, scope, and style, which allow for a custom look without a custom price.”

Are there drawbacks? Not many, but designers should know that stone veneer should not be submerged in deep water, and heavy sprinkler contact on a daily basis should be avoided.

Stone-veneer columns, most often featured at entranceways, can vary in design from traditional Tuscan to a sleek and modern style. For a Tuscan vernacular, elements will be completely cladded, as if the materials were “pulled off the land,” and an outbuilding (a bathroom, utility building, or snack bar) can utilize the same materials.

Construct a low wall around a garden bed, a retaining wall to hold back plants, or clad a barbecue or cabana. These materials are durable, classic options for lining walkways and borders. A stone wall is strong and stable, adding the feel that it has been there for years.

Clay Pavers And Bricks 

Flexibility in design is one reason why clay pavers make a lot of sense for outdoor areas. There are a number of sustainable reasons too.

Permeable pavers are often the environmental choice for preserving natural water drainage through both traditional and unique segmental pavements. Certain pavers meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Stormwater Phase II criteria as a structural best management practice.

Pavers also significantly reduce runoff from rainstorms, eliminating surface puddles and minimizing local flooding and erosion.

Shelley Ross, director of marketing for Boral Bricks, based in Roswell, Ga., explains other reasons why clay pavers are a good choice.

“Clay pavers are durable and long-lasting, their color will never fade, and they don’t require a sealer. Made from natural sustainable materials–clay and shale–they provide color contrast and texture to a landscape. They also provide warmth and scale to a project,” Ross says.

“From a performance standpoint, there are some really good arguments. Boral manufactures very sustainably, and the use of clay pavers can contribute to LEED points earned in both water-management and reflectivity. Boral provides both a super-permeable and permeable product for varying needs in water management.”

Clay pavers also allow air and water to reach the root zone of trees planted within the area, so snow melts faster, reducing ice hazards.

Brick is one of the most cost-effective materials in building because unlike other materials that require expensive finishes, such as render and paint, brick doesn’t need any coating to preserve its good looks and durability.

Plus, it needs little maintenance, apart from occasional cleaning. This saves time and money. The natural brick texture actually hides dirt and grime, unlike paint finishes, which highlight it. Bricks are also termite-resistant.

When it comes to utilizing bricks and clay pavers, professionals should keep the following in mind:

Bricks do have limited uses. A brick-veneer wall will typically be applied to a block back wall to make it look attractive. A single wythe wall is not structurally sufficient to function as a retaining wall.

Clay pavers are typically used in “brick” sizes and dimensions. Concrete pavers can be formed in a variety of interlocking shapes so a cobbled look is achievable, but that will fade out.

Brick or segmental paving is the type of product installed for the long term. If the hardscape is to be redesigned or reconfigured in a few years, materials that would be easier to remove should be considered.

Today’s Outdoor Trends

Outdoor spaces require the same care and detailed design as interior counterparts, so what are some of the latest trends in styles and colors with these materials?

“For the Gen Y market segment, the color direction is definitely dynamic–bright, saturated colors along with everything environmentally conscious.  Natural elements playfully interacting with cool contemporary elements is the new direction,” says Victoria Currens, principal with Style Interior Design in Irvine, Calif.

Today’s trends are definitely following the hospitality industry, inspired by luxury sites like the Roosevelt, Standard, and W hotels. The resort look involves spacious grounds incorporating both softscapes and hardscapes that separate zones of cabanas, outdoor eating areas, fireplaces, fire pits, lounge areas, pool bars, and comfortable pool-side chaises.

The nightclub look is found in a more condensed area with less landscaping and harder surfaces. The areas tend to be on podium decks or rooftop decks with spectacular views.

Since these areas are primarily comprised of hard surfaces and minimalistic landscaping, activities are not segregated. There is usually one large event area.

Michael Schrock, principal of Costa Mesa, California-based Urban Arena, says Las Vegas is the place where new outdoor trends are being played out.

“While some of the things they do are not achievable due to cost or manpower, the overall feel and excitement is obtainable. The consumer wants the exciting amenities they have to offer, and it sells,” Schrock says.

No matter where stone, pavers, and brick are used, these materials make a lot of sense, and their raw beauty can be called upon throughout any space. Because they’re also such strong design elements, even incorporating a little will make a large statement.

The smallest spaces often can be the best because a landscape architect can invest more money in the highest-quality design and materials.

Christine Rombouts is a freelance writer specializing in the building industry. She can be reached at crombouts@ca.rr.com

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