The use of non-stone materials in combination with stone is not new. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many buildings were designed combining stone mosaics with both glass and ceramic. A common practice during the early 1900s, with the building of many of our state capitals and federal buildings, was to design the first floor and lobby areas with elaborate marble floors, walls and interiors and then use other materials such as ceramic and glass on subsequent floors. This practice can be observed in a large number of our government buildings.
The design of these interiors required careful design, combining the stone materials with the non-stone materials with an unnoticeable transition. In the past many of the non-stone materials were used to mimic stone. Scagliolia, a plastering technique, was used extensively and could easily be mistaken for stone. Concrete surfaces were often tooled to look like real limestone. Even wood surfaces were painted to emulate stone. Today, it is acceptable for the non-stone materials to show their own attributes. The contrasting colors and texture of non-stone fabrics with the beauty of real stone are found in almost all our new buildings and are even found in the American home.
The architect and designer who use these combinations need to be totally familiar with the properties of the individual materials and the potential problems that may develop when combining them. The following problems should be considered when designing with dissimilar materials.
Wood and marble combinations are often used for flooring and walls. The warm feel of wood combined with the elegance of stone complement each other. These materials differ considerably and allowances must be made when designing with these combinations. Many wood floors have been designed with stone inlays only to be plagued with cracking of the stone surface due to the expansion of the wood. Sufficient expansion allowances must be considered.
Will the wood be refinished and stained before installation or after? Stone is a porous material and wood stains will penetrate deeply into the stone’s surface. This is especially problematic with the darker stains. Prefinished wood may be a safer choice.
The wood can also become stained by the polishing of the stone surface. Oxalic acid is found in most marble polishing powders and is the same acid used to bleach wood. The designer must specify complete protection of the dissimilar materials to avoid these problems.
Many designers ignore the fact that these materials will need to be refinished. The refinishing techniques for wood and stone differ considerably. Wood requires dry sanding whereas stone requires wet sanding. Will the water used to refinish the stone damage and warp the wood? Will the sanding of the wood damage the stone?
Many patterns using wood and stone combinations make it difficult if not impossible to refinish these materials. Consult with a stone and wood expert. A good design will consider the refinishing requirements of the respected materials.
How will the materials be maintained? The wax and polishes used on wood may not be appropriate for the stone surface. Can the wax be applied to the wood easily, avoiding the stone surface? How will the stone be cleaned? Will the, stone cleaners affect the wood? Should the stone be sealed? A careful consideration of the maintenance requirements of the design is necessary.
Brass, aluminum, stainless steel and copper are often used in combination with stone. Stone water fountains often contain metal sculptures and reservoirs. Metal dividing strips are often found between stone tiles. Metal and stone can be used effectively together but the following should be considered in the design.
Like wood, metal can also stain stone. Bronze and copper will deposit an ugly green tint to the stone surface. This is especially true in exterior applications where bronze plaques, flag poles and sculptures are placed on stone surfaces.
Metal cleaners used will also cause staining. It may be necessary to seal the stone to aid in removal of any potential staining. Iron containing metals may also rust. Rust is readily absorbed into stone surfaces and is very difficult to remove.
Like wood metal surfaces also expand. This is especially true if the metal is exposed to high temperatures. Metal expands rapidly when heated and can cause cracking in adjacent stone surfaces. It is important to design sufficient room for expansion.
The refinishing and maintenance requirements for metal and stone also vary. The restoration of metal requires strong acids which can damage stone surfaces. Metals are usually coated for protection. Will the application of the coating harm the stone? Will metal cleaners harm the stone? Certain stone cleaners can also damage the metal surfaces. Metal surfaces are easily scratched and will require frequent refinishing.
Combining stone with other materials is becoming popular. The designer needs to study the materials to be used and fully understand their respective properties. Expansion, wearablity, installation specifications, slip resistance, refinishing and maintenance requirements are factors that need to be considered before a design is finished. No longer is aesthetics the dictating factor.
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