Contemporary Stone & Tile Design Magazine

Enhancing Outdoor Settings with Stone and Tile

April 6, 2009
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Photo by Bill Timmerman / Timmerman Photography, Inc.
Stone and tile remain materials of choice when it comes to exterior design. Imola Thassos white porcelain floor tile in 1- x 2-foot format develops a seamless transition from the interior living space to the outdoor decks and patio of an upscale residence in Scottsdale, AZ. Architect: Michael P. Johnson Design Studio, Cave Creek, AZ; Tile Manufacturer: Imola, Italy; Tile Supplier: Imperial Tile, Phoenix, AZ


With the desire for solid “curb appear” as a constant for all project types, many property owners, architects and designers devote a significant amount of planning to the exterior architecture of a residence or building. And no matter the style, size or budget of a project, there are stone or tile products available to suit any design requirement.

Giving proper consideration to the exterior of a home or commercial building makes sense on many levels. If quality materials such as stone and tile are used throughout an interior space, it is only logical that the outside of the structure reflects the same design standards. Exterior architecture sets the tone for the overall design. It presents the first impression as visitors arrive.

Photo by Bill Timmerman / Timmerman Photography, Inc.
“I have always had great success with porcelain tile,” said Michael P. Johnson of Michael P. Johnson Design Studio in Cave Creek, AZ. “I have used it outside and never had problems.”

With this in mind, stone and tile materials are being used for exterior designs to make an impact. Utilizing varying finishes on the same stone material or large-format porcelain tiles for a facade packs a punch, and can make a home or building stand apart from its neighbors. Exterior design considerations can also increase the amount of “useable space” for a project.

In the residential sector, for example, some homeowners are looking to make their backyard an extension of their home. They are seeking outdoor living spaces where they can relax, have fun and enjoy natural scenery. Stone and tile products are ideal for building timeless and long-lasting architectural elements such as patios, built-in barbecues and fireplaces - all of which enhance the overall aesthetics of a residence as well as providing a recreational area for the family.

Photo by Bill Timmerman / Timmerman Photography, Inc.
Further contributing to the seamless transition between the home’s interior living areas and its exterior elements are floor-to-ceiling glass doors that completely slide open - creating one cohesive open space.

thers are using products such as stone and tile to make a smooth transition from the interior to exterior for an overall clean look. And the durability of these materials allows them to be employed in high-trafficked areas and for applications that are affected by outdoor elements.

A seamless transition

“I always consider it important to have a seamless relationship from the interior to the exterior,” said Michael P. Johnson of Michael P. Johnson Design Studio in Cave Creek, AZ. “I like to use the same material throughout.”

And the architect did just that when designing a 4,000-square-foot private upscale residence in Scottsdale, AZ. Imola Thassos white porcelain floor tile in 1- x 2-foot format flows throughout the home’s indoor and outdoor applications - maintaining a consistent overall design for the residence.

Photo by Bill Timmerman / Timmerman Photography, Inc.
“I always consider it important to have a seamless relationship from the interior to the exterior,” said Johnson. “I like to use the same material throughout.”

“This is a house for a bachelor who passionately collects regional art,” said Johnson. “He wanted a house that was like a hotel resort and that could accommodate parties for 300 people. I have been to a couple of them, and it works.”

Further contributing to the seamless transition between the home’s interior living areas and its exterior elements are floor-to-ceiling glass doors that completely slide open - creating one cohesive open space. “When he has a party, all the doors open and it operates as one room,” said the architect.

The porcelain tile, which was given a polished finish for the interior, moves from the kitchen, living room, bedrooms and bathrooms to the pool deck and entry court. Johnson explained that when his client hosts his parties, he sets up food and beverage stations in various areas of the residence. “It’s almost like a resort,” he said. “All the rooms are accessible to everyone.”

Photo by Bill Timmerman / Timmerman Photography, Inc.
According to the architect, when the large sliding glass doors are open, the interior and exterior areas of the home function as one space.

The large glass doors - as well as the home’s decks and patios - also allow the homeowner and guests to take advantage of its beautiful natural surrounding. “It sits on a virgin piece of desert,” said Johnson. “The views are fantastic.”

In total, it took about three years to complete the house. This included a year from conception to permitting, a year for permitting and then a year for construction. And according to the architect, the large-format porcelain tiles were ideal for the outdoor architecture. “I have always had great success with porcelain tile,” said Johnson. “I have used it outside and never had problems.”

An outdoor “living room”

Taking advantage of their property’s pristine views was also part of the design goal for the homeowners of a private residence in Austin, TX, who desired an outdoor living space for their backyard. To capture the homeowners’ vision, regional limestone was used in developing the exterior architecture, according to Stewart Davis, Principal Architect and Design Director at CG&S Design-Build in Austin.

“After the homeowners had built a wonderful pool, they called us in and said that they needed outdoor living space, and they wanted to build a pool house,” said Davis. “The homeowner is a real outdoorsman. His freezer is filled with a lot of game, so he also wanted an area [outside] to cook.”

Photo © Greg Hursley/courtesy of Through the Lens Management
To capture the homeowners’ vision of an outdoor living space for the backyard of their home in Austin, TX, regional limestone was used in developing the exterior architecture. Architect: CG&S Design-Build, Austin, TX; Stone Mason: Custom Masonry Corp., San Antonio, TX

In addition to the built-in barbecue, there was also a need for changing and bathroom facilities, according to Davis. Moreover, the design also includes an outdoor shower, a sitting area, a fireplace and a dining area near the grill. “It’s really an outdoor living room,” he said. “It’s all about living outdoors. At the center of the building is a small garage, which was intended to house a riding mower, garden storage, etc. It had enough height to put a mezzanine, so we built a loft space.”

The architect went on to explain that CG&S Design-Build had done some previous work at the home. “We built arbors on the back of the house so the back patio was usable,” he said. “The back side faces the west. The sun is very intensive. The arbors gave them partial shade.”

Photo © Greg Hursley/courtesy of Through the Lens Management
“After the homeowners had built a wonderful pool, they called us in and said that they needed outdoor living space, and they wanted to build a pool house,” said Stewart Davis, Principal Architect and Design Director at CG&S Design-Build in Austin, TX.

When designing the pool house, one of the more challenging aspects was integrating the relatively large building, which measures a little more than 1,000 square feet, with the rest of the exterior architecture, according to Davis. “We wanted to give it generous overhangs because of the sun,” he said. “The challenge was planning how to make it fit in without overpowering the pool or the house. We had to figure out how to link it seamlessly.”

The solution was to create a broad set of limestone steps that cascades down from the structure to the pool. The stone steps not only anchor the pool house to its natural surroundings, but they also match the existing stonework.

According to Davis, the design team was not involved in choosing the limestone for the project. “The stone was pre-selected for us,” he said. “The owner is in the construction business, and he wanted to use some of his own sub-contractors.

Photo © Greg Hursley/courtesy of Through the Lens Management
Because the homeowner is an outdoorsman, the exterior design included a kitchen, which also was built of local Texas limestone.

“The home has limestone with ‘smeared’ mortar joints,” Davis went on to explain. “We matched that. It’s an ‘Old Texas Farmhouse’ approach.”

The architect also said that the Texas limestone utilized for the fireplace and outdoor kitchen was laid as a simulated dry stack. “That was a coursed stone,” he said. “The pieces were random sizes. That was pulled from the pool. They had done the spa wall that way.” Additionally, the same material was employed for the copings and column bases.

For the patios, the stone palette continues. Lueders limestone flagging, which exhibits the same warm tones as the other stone architecture, flows throughout the outdoor living space.

Photo © Greg Hursley/courtesy of Through the Lens Management
The new pool house also features a storage area - complete with a loft.

While the design team was not involved in the selection process, the architects did have to determine where to apply the different types of stone, according to Davis. “We were out there the whole time [supervising],” he said.

In the end, the pool house not only provided the function that the homeowners desired for their outdoor environment, but it also screened them from the neighboring residences. “It was intended to give a buffer,” said Davis. “The whole thing encloses the pool a bit.”

All those involved with the project were happy with the finished results. The homeowners are now able to swim, cook and relax comfortably in their backyard. “The views from there are beautiful,” said Davis. “The whole thing sits on a hilltop. You see a vista view from the south.”

Photo by Darius Kuzmickas
The Pavilion office building - located on Charleston Boulevard in the Summerlin District of Las Vegas, NV - has distinguished itself as a Class “A” facility with an attractive exterior design featuring Turkish travertine. Architect: KKE Architects, Inc., Las Vegas, NV; Stone Supplier: Amazon Masonry, Las Vegas, NV

Travertine sets a tone

With sweeping views of Red Rock Canyon and notable tenants such as City National Bank and TD Ameritrade, the Pavilion office building in Las Vegas has distinguished itself as a Class “A” facility. And in addition to the structure’s prime location on Charleston Boulevard in the Summerlin District, its attractive design - featuring an exterior skin of Turkish travertine - makes it stand above the rest.

“Although Las Vegas’ office market is tightening, Pavilion’s high-quality materials and upscale design set it apart from the competition,” stated Howard Thompson, Managing Principal of KKE Architects, Inc. in Las Vegas, the design firm for the project. “We had no intention of blending in. There was never a question of providing a superior building that would prescribe the highest standard for future development and establish the architectural tone for a whole new neighborhood.”

Diligent planning and research from the start were reasons for a successful design, according to Project Manager Alan Fox of KKE Architects. “The intention with Pavilion was to set the architectural tone for a new neighborhood rather than only look at the building for investment purposes,” he explained. “Careful research was conducted from the beginning to determine market competition, potential client demand and tenant expectations. This information supported the desire and need to build a quality, upgraded Class ‘A’ office building. A major design goal was to provide potential tenants with spectacular views, elegant surrounds and amenities that were different from any other building project in the area.”

Photo by Darius Kuzmickas
To create the standout design that was desired for the six-story building, travertine in both honed and split-face finishes, which was quarried in Turkey and supplied by Amazon Masonry of Las Vegas, NV, was selected for the exterior facade. “Travertine allowed the best exterior cladding without having to seal the stone, and it created a new look not found in the Las Vegas valley,” said Project Manager Alan Fox of KKE Architects.

To create the standout design that was desired for the six-story building, travertine was selected for the exterior facade. The material is utilized in both honed and split-face finishes, and it was quarried in Turkey and supplied by Amazon Masonry of Las Vegas, NV. “Travertine allowed the best exterior cladding without having to seal the stone, and it created a new look not found in the Las Vegas valley,” said Fox, adding that glass, limestone, marble and granite had also been under consideration. “The selections were made with owner review and approval based on our professional opinion.”

Photo by Darius Kuzmickas
The majority of the building’s exterior is clad in 16- x 24-inch travertine pieces with a honed finish. As an accent, 24- x 8-inch pieces of the same stone with a polished finish were employed for window trim.

The majority of the building’s exterior is clad in 16- x 24-inch travertine pieces with a honed finish. As an accent, 24- x 8-inch pieces of the same stone with a polished finish were employed for window trim. Moreover, Juma Stone with a split-face finish was used at the building’s “pop-outs.” The pieces with the split-face finish were all 4 inches high and had random lengths.

“We decided to use two different finishes to create variation, contrast and interest in the design,” said the architect. Fox also explained that weekly site visits were made after the mock-ups were approved. “Meticulous general notes, details and product specifications were developed to provide proper installation instructions and standards,” he said.

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