Specialized Stoneworking:
Waterjet technology advances residential design

September 18, 2001
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When custom homebuilder John Lowe of Panorama Homes in Albuquerque, NM, wanted to give his customers the opportunity to add their own personal flair to the design plans of their houses, he turned to Linda Miller and Dream Weaver Designs. They worked together to allow clients to add custom-designed stone and tile inlays as part of their package.

The idea surfaced when Dream Weaver Designs was contracted to complete several inlays within the model home for Panorama Homes. "We wanted to do something special for the new model home, so we worked out a design scheme and took it to John," Miller said. "He loved it."

This design, known as "Grapevine" took three weeks to put on paper, and that was only the first step. "After the initial design stage, we had to choose a stone that would highlight the area of the inlay we wanted the most accent on," said the designer. "For this project, that area was the trunk."

The design inlay itself was cut from granite and travertine. Three types of stone were chosen to show the appropriate colors: Empress Green and Tropical Verde granite for the leaves and Tabasco travertine for the trunk. Then brass highlighting was added coming from the upper right hand corner to look like sunshine, and copper was laid across the backside to give it some shading.

Once the stone and tile were chosen, it was time to write the CAD programs necessary to cut the granite inlay using the waterjet. "It took about 40 different programs to cut the grapevine - taking into consideration everything from how it would lay on the tile to how to get the best out of the granite," Miller said, adding that a separate program must be written for every piece that is cut, including the field stone tiles.

After writing the programs, the granite is brought to the waterjet for fabrication. "We build a huge jigsaw puzzle," Miller said. "We cut the field tile first, followed by the individual pieces of the inlay. Each piece is numbered and then laid into the field.

"A lot of times, our designs have no grout lines at all. The pieces fit together snugly. Omax allows me to get very tight, consistent lines," said the artist. Dream Weaver Designs uses the Omax Waterjet 2652, which features CAD software and is known for its rapid turnaround and precise machining. "My favorite part is the user-friendly software," Miller said. "I had never used CAD software before we got the Omax, and by the end of the training period, which lasted three days, I was programming."

Regardless of how proficient the machine's operator is, however, there can still be some surprises. "It can happen, depending on how intricate the project is," Miller said. "You can lose pieces of stone in the waterjet, especially if you have a very small corner. We have lost a few pieces, and sometimes after we cut the pieces, they don't lay right or the color isn't what we had expected. It can change the character of the inlay at that point."

In addition to the grapevine, which is displayed in the front entry, Miller has also created a kitchen backsplash for the Panorama Homes model house. This design was lifted from the fabric of a kitchen chair and done in the same color scheme to match the room's decor. Also in granite and mounted on a field of porcelain tile, this inlay matches the stone used in the kitchen's island. It also utilizes a product known as Questech, which looks like copper, but is a form of plastic tile with metallic laminant. Waterjet technology from Omax is especially beneficial when it comes to fabricating symmetrical patterns such as this, in which both sides must have identical cuts.

Dream Weaver Designs has also completed a number of inlays for a private residence in Albuquerque, NM, which was designed by La Siera Construction and is owned by Geraldine and Morris Gutierrez. The designs in this home included elaborate flooring in the entranceway and a mountain scene shower surround with matching sun mirror.

The travertine theme in this residence begins in the entryway. The travertine fieldstone is ornamented with cast bronze in the center, light petals of beige limestone and Tropical Verde granite accents, which are also picked up elsewhere in the house.

The 12-foot shower surround was a special request made by the home-owners. "They wanted a mountain scene, so we supplied the artwork of the Sandia Mountains in travertine and then added slate with their approval, because it brought the project to life," Miller said. "Slate is one of my favorite stones to work with because each layer you cut into is different than the one on top of it, and you get a different flavor with each. Slate, like flagstone, has so much life of its own that when you add it to something else, it adds more character than a manmade porcelain would."

The field behind the mountains is made of travertine. "We laid and cut the travertine right up against the mountain and then trimmed the slate for a more even look, which added additional highlights as well," Miller said.

A matching backsplash sits behind the sink and a coordinating stone mirror hangs above it. Miller used the Omax waterjet to cut both the flagstone and the glass for the mirror. "The fine lines that we can cut in travertine, such as the rays of the sun in this mirror, are amazing," she said. "Without the Omax, we would never be able to hold such precise detail."

Whether the designs are her own invention or a custom request, Miller enjoys her work. "For the most part, these are just so much fun to do," she said. "It's incredible to watch how a project grows and changes as you cut each piece, especially after looking at it for so long on only a computer screen."

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