Stone Selection for Your Home: Q&A with Mason Rick McGann

Stone Selection for Your Home: Q&A with Mason Rick McGann

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Only a sculptor might speak more enthusiastically about a slab of rock than Byggmeister subcontractor and mason Rick McGann, but it could be a draw. Working in masonry and landscaping for more than 30 years, Rick can use brick and stone to transform a yard, entryway, or sunroom and he is always eager to explore all the options with clients.

How do you approach a new landscape design project?
Most of the time, the site determines what we do. We want the stone selection to fit with the surroundings including the style of the house and then design elements like walls and steps to follow the flow and contours of the land to create interesting features. Then, when it comes to picking out a batch of stones, or a slab, we go with the client to a stone yard and hand pick them together.

Do certain kinds of stone work better for different types of masonry projects?
You have to be careful what you select for an entrance, for example, because while some stones look really nice, they may scratch or stain easily. Limestone is a good example. It's beautiful but it scratches, so I wouldn't recommend it for floors. You also don't want anything too rough in an outside entry or path because that will be tough to shovel, something we have to think about here in New England. We do a lot of our own fabrication, so we can do almost anything. Very often, we recommend different kinds of finishes to take advantage of a stone's characteristics and create a texture that works for a specific application.

What are the different kinds of stone finishes?
How we finish the stone has a lot to do with where the stone is being placed, whether it's meant to be formal or informal, the colors of the house, and the surrounding landscaping. A refined saw-cut finish is a standard, flat finish, and on top of that, we can actually do what we call a "thermal finish" where we burn it with a torch to rough it up a bit but still maintain a flat look. That works really well in entrances. A split natural cleft has an uneven surface and it can be either a heavy cleft or light cleft. A heavy cleft in a stone like slate could actually be a tripping hazard, but a light cleft is very natural and brings out the stone's colors. Some of the roughest finishes are done with a chisel. You would see that on the out-facing edges on steps or the slabs that top walls. It's for vertical surfaces because you couldn't really walk on it.

Do you have any favorite types of stone?
All the different types of granites are nice to work with, come in all kinds of colors and take different finishes. We really like to use the local stones, like field stones with earth tones, and even stones that are left over and recycled, like antique granite. They tend to be weathered so they aren't so bright and shiny. It is more interesting looking. I usually like to mix up stones a bit, make the walls out of one stone, the steps out of another. One of my favorite things to do is build a wall out of field stone and cap it with a blue stone and do a blue stone walk. But, I have to say that I really like talking with clients about what we can do with brick.

Why brick?
Brick comes in all different colors, cuts and textures, and we can do a lot with it. When we want to mix up materials, brick is a nice addition to that—like a brick wall with a natural stone cap or a brick walk with slabs for steps and some kind of natural or cobbled edging. Any kind of pre-cast shape, including pavers, can be used for driveways or walkways, and we can select a range of shapes, sizes and colors to create an interesting pattern. Cost wise, brick and natural stone usually end up about the same, because while brick as a material is less expensive, it requires more labor.

What are your thoughts on ceramic tile that mimics stone?
That is a really good option for interiors and with high quality ceramics you may have to look closely to tell the difference. In a recent project, we used a ceramic tile that flowed from the entryway into a new sunroom and it carried through the blue stone look that the owners used for the exterior entryway and patio. It worked really well.

Speaking of mimicking stone, you can change the whole look of a home using thin-cut stones, can't you?
We can do that. We take natural, quarry-cut thin stones and set them into a cement foundation to make it look like it is made of field stone. It is also the approach we take to matching an addition's foundation to the older side of the home. And, we can do the same thing to make an old brick chimney look like stone without having to pull the whole thing down. It can make a dramatic difference on the exterior of the chimney or even the interior fireplace surround. Something a lot of people think about this time of year.

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Whatever the change to hearth, home, yard or drive, Rick advises clients to stay true to the original surroundings and style so that all the elements, new and old, create a harmonious whole. According to Rick, "It really all needs to flow together—the plantings, the stonework, the exterior, it should just look like it's always been that way."