Stone World

Utilizing the adjacent landscape

September 1, 2005


In response to a client's wish for a more modern home, Madison Spencer Architects of Charlottesville, VA, was called upon to design the Randolph County House in West Virginia, using a variety of natural stone found near the site. The 16,000-square-foot house - situated on a ridge where an early 19th century homestead once stood - is clad in stone quarried on site.

“The client had an intense love for the characteristics of the land,” said Project Architect Madison Spencer. “It is geographically unique. We had the topography condition to take into account, since the client wanted to build on a high ridge. I visited the hill up there on a winter day. The wind was whipping, and it was as much of an icy cold plateau as you can imagine. Looking down on the rock bough, I was offered beautiful European-like views. We decided to take this strategy and place the house where it could have year-round benefits of cooling areas off of the points. Also, doing so allowed for some protection from the wind in the winter.” He added that the house was built to conform to the characteristics of a rock bough projected out of the ground against the pond.

For the base of the house, a sedimentary stone comprised of mostly sandstone, with some soft limestone, was selected in three coursings. “We literally bought it from the Army Corp. of Engineers,” said Spencer. “It came from an abandoned railroad. We got in the river, took the bridge down, retrieved the stone and used blocks for the exterior of the house. The rougher stone used on the upper coursing of the house came out of the fields around the property.” And according to Spencer, the bulk of the sandstone/limestone came out of the adjacent ground or from the railroad bridge.

The stone on the exterior walls was installed in a random pattern, and the main blocks measure 22 inches thick. “The stone we secured from the railroad bridge we used in the same dimensions it came off of the bridge, a random ashlar pattern,” said the architect. “For the lower sections of the wall, the traditional masonry mortar was pulled much more forward.” Furthermore, Tennessee Crab Orchard sandstone - from Turner Bros. Stone Co. of Crossville, TN -was used near the ground level of the exterior.

According to Spencer, the key was to preserve the natural elements of the stone. “The walls are over 100 feet long without a single control joint,” he said. “We didn't want to interrupt the characteristics of the stone,” he said, adding that they researched the stone in order to choose the appropriate mortar which is more flexible and more durable.

In addition, Medium Buff sandstone - fabricated by Briar Hill Stone Co. of Glenmont, OH - was used for the belt course, sills and some trims of the house.

The interior of the residence, including the fireplace surround, features Tennessee Crab Orchard sandstone and Portuguese limestone - which was hand picked out of a quarry in Spain. After the Portuguese limestone was imported to the jobsite, R. Bratti & Associates of Alexandria, VA, fabricated it.

Additionally, Pennsylvania Blue-stone was used for terraces and the pool deck, while some green Vermont slate was used on interior features as well.

Cold intense winters posed many challenges for the crew. “At times, there was 10 feet of snow covering the ground,” said Spencer. “It was a seasonal race to get to a stage where we could work under cover.”

He added that it was also a challenge to move materials to the site. “This was best met by the client himself. He is in the road building business and quarry business. He loved the logistical aspect of what it took to move the rock and get it in place.”

Ian Cramb, a renowned Scottish stonemason from Philadelphia, PA, served as the installer for portions of the project, while Rexrode Masonry and Tile Inc. of Monterey, VA, installed the exterior stone masonry.

After three years of construction, the house was finished to the liking of the client. “They love it,” said Spencer. “You can't get enough of it. I love visiting.”

Credit Box

Randolph County House West Virginia

Architect: Madison Spencer Architects, Charlottesville, VA

Stone Suppliers: Briar Hill Stone Co., Glenmont, OH (Medium Buff sandstone); Turner Bros. Stone Co., Crossville, TN (Tennessee Crab Orchard sandstone); Robinson Flagstones, Fort Washington, PA (Bluestone)

Stone Installers: Ian Cramb, Philadelphia, PA; Rexrode Masonry and Tile Inc., Monterey, VA (exterior stone masonry)

Stone Fabricators: R. Bratti & Associates, Alexandria, VA (Portuguese limestone)

General Contractor: G.A. Brown and Son, Inc., Fairmont, WV