How To Use Instone’s Game-Changing Virtual Home Design Tool

Visualizer Tool Example
Visualizer Tool Example

How To Use Instone’s Game-Changing Virtual Home Design Tool

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With the Instone Visualizer, you can complete a wall-to-wall virtual home makeover in a matter of minutes. The free online tool allows you to simulate what a home or property would look like after a renovation with any combination of stone products from Instone’s expansive catalog.

Powerful yet simple, the Visualizer offers installers and dealers a way to show clients renderings of projects that can be used to assist with sales, and homeowners a way to browse their options for veneers, pavers and other stone products. Users can upload photos of a job site and redo a wall or patio area with new masonry in a couple of clicks. 

Instone Vice President of Natural Stone Products Justin Alicandro said the Visualizer has made the need to assemble stone samples or create mockups for clients obsolete. 

“This is so much more efficient than the way we used to do things,” Alicandro said. “Homeowners can come out of a session knowing pretty much what they want, and if they don’t like the products once they see real samples, they can tweak the project again in the Visualizer and try a plan B. The Visualizer is such a great tool.”

How It Works

To get started, find or snap a digital photo of your project area and add it to the Visualizer. (If you don’t have an image available, you can browse our samples for one that resembles your property.) Photos should be at least 1600 pixels wide and not exceed 16 MB. A standard camera phone pic will do nicely. 

With the photo now online, the Visualizer’s AI will scan its features and automatically identify areas most likely for stonework. The technology will also recognize features like windows and doors and omit them. If it misses a wall or ground section you’re interested in, don’t worry – you can draw a polygon to highlight the area manually. 

You can then click on any of these areas and choose the interior or exterior Instone masonry product you’d like to see applied there. Once it appears, you can try different brands, profiles, and colors to see how they look, and even change the stone sizes on the fly. The images you create can be saved, shared, and easily edited later. 

Fine-Tuning

The Visualizer has multiple editing tools to help fine-tune your renderings and make them more realistic. You can adjust the opacity of the masonry to totally block out the surface beneath it or to allow important features to peak through. Another tool allows you to adjust the perspective, which can realign the stone if it’s not quite level or doesn’t track the angle of the surface accurately. 

For the best results, we recommend taking your photos facing straight ahead toward the surfaces that will be clad. If possible, it’s best to move any furniture or other obstructions out of the way.

The Visualizer will even help you simulate the appearance of non-stone upgrades. You can apply paint colors to your banisters and doors or try out new shingle styles and colors on the roof. These features can be combined with the stone improvements to give you a full picture of how all of the materials will look together.

visualizer editing tools
Before and after using the Instone visualizer with Pangaea® 3 Course Ashlar Oxford

Share & Create a Report

The Visualizer offers a range of options for sharing before and after images with clients or anyone else who may be interested in giving feedback. You can quickly export the renderings as JPG and PNG files or use share buttons to email them or post them to Facebook, Twitter/X or Pinterest. 

Of high value to masonry professionals, the system can generate attractively formatted reports showing the finished home and thumbnails identifying all of the products featured in the project. 

“For a contractor trying to win a job, price is obviously important, but if you can demonstrate for a homeowner what their house is going to look like when it’s complete, that will definitely set you apart from others trying to quote the job,” Instone Chief Operating Officer Rob McKay said. “Ultimately, a lot of people will still want to see a sample and feel it in their hands, but the Visualizer is a great tool to help them narrow down their choices.”

Watch Our Full Tutorial

For a full demonstration of what’s possible with the Visualizer, watch our training video (“Pro Tips for Selling With The Instone Visualizer”) above. You can also check our Visualizer page for FAQs and a series of shorter videos with tips and demos focused on specific Visualizer questions.

Precision in Stone: Navigating Complex Cuts with Instone’s Fabrication and Design Team

Fabrication and Design Team
Fabrication and Design Team

Precision in Stone: Navigating Complex Cuts with Instone’s Fabrication and Design Team

The Instone Fabrication and Design Services team turns big ideas into reality. Whether you need a tricky stone cut done for a single stair tread or guidance for a large-scale design-build project with elaborate outdoor amenities, Instone has you covered.

Fabrication and Design Services offers project management solutions including value engineering, estimating, and global sourcing of natural stone materials. Its fabrication pros can provide any stone cut or finish needed to complete a project or achieve your target aesthetic. 

“Not everything drawn on paper by a landscape architect is always possible for a mason,” said Design Services Manager Zach Beaulieu. “We take the concept they’re shooting for in their project and help them physically create it.”

Among the highlights of Instone’s state-of-the-art fabrication shop in Plainville, Massachusetts, are:

  • A Jaguar bridge saw with the capability for profiling (designing unique edge finishes, slopes, etc. with software).
  • Tools used for edge treatments, bullnose cuts, and leathering stones.
  • A sandblast room for giving a variety of finishes to stones.
  • A dust booth where stone fragments produced by grinding are extracted, ensuring safe air quality.

Instone’s fabrication capacity is not limited to this one shop. The company has access to a vast network of partner suppliers, vendors and quarries that serve as an extension of the Plainville facility. If necessary, any of these specialized or larger facilities in the U.S., Canada and abroad can be tapped to handle big jobs faster and cheaper.

Scroll below for a glimpse at some projects which exemplify what the Fabrication and Design Services team can do.

Contemporary Pool

Beaulieu views high-end outdoor residential renovations like this one as the Fabrication and Design Services team’s specialty. “This is an example of a project that was designed to the nines and we really needed to help detail that out for the client,” Beaulieu recalled. Instone cut all the steps, walkways and pool coping to complete the architect’s vision. Instone also assisted with the outdoor fireplace’s Blue Mist granite hearth.

Courtyard

The signature feature of this courtyard, constructed for a private high school in Massachusetts, is its large, semi-circle seating wall. “Anything radial is a challenge to do,” Beaulieu said. “There’s a lot of computer software programs that you need to work with in tandem with a saw. You also need a skilled fabricator to finish the stone accurately.” To achieve a cost savings for the client, Instone had the granite blocks cut and given their thermal finish by a network partner in Canada.

College Campus

Instone supplied all of the veneer to clad these two buildings on the campus of Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Fabrication and Design Services also handled the stair treads and radial wall caps, designed for students to rest on between classes. Beaulieu recalls this as a massive project, with 30-40 containers worth of material needed to complete it over the course of a year. Since it takes time to accumulate that much finished stone, Instone had containers delivered as soon they were ready to keep the project moving.

Rooftop Terrace

Fabrication and Design Services handled the stone cuts for this firepit, the focal point of a Boston apartment building’s rooftop hangout. The gray center ring is made of Stanstead granite with a honed finish. Beaulieu said such one-off stone cuts can be complex and expensive, but have the power to make nice projects into special ones.

Learn more about the various places where your outdoor design may need custom fabrication and what’s possible here.

A Cut Above

Visit our Fabrication and Design Services page to view our catalog, meet our team and learn more about how our team can help you accomplish your goals. You can also use our online form to contact our team with questions or get started. Turnaround times for services can vary based on factors like workload, time of year and material needs, but our team will always respond promptly with answers and estimates. 

“The goal is always to give the quickest turnaround time for the best price possible,” Beaulieu said.

The Art of Hardscaping: Unveiling the Benefits of Polymeric Sand

polymeric sand

The Art of Hardscaping: Unveiling the Benefits of Polymeric Sand

Fill the Gaps with Polymeric Sand

Polymeric sand is to hardscaping what grout is to stone veneer. It fills the gaps between each stone, adding an attractive, durable border that protects the structural integrity of the mosaic.

Polymeric sand is what it sounds like: grains of sand mixed with polymers that bond together once mixed with water. While it is not the only type of material used for filling joints – standard fine sweeping sand is still more widely used by installers – it offers advantages that make its modestly higher price point worth it. 

Stop Weeds and Ants

Among them, joints filled with polymeric sand can stay intact for up to a decade. Unlike standard sand fill, they are resilient in the face of heavy rains, winds and freeze-thaw cycles, and can’t easily be picked apart by ants.

Patios and walkways sealed with polymeric sand are also less likely to suffer weed outbreaks. Because the grains are bonded tightly together like cement, vegetation can’t push through like they can with loose fill and seeds won’t have cracks to seep through. Once weeds get established, they can spread rapidly and become tough to control.

 “Every spring I would go out thinking I could knock the weeds out in one day, and then you realize just how many joints there are. And I’d say wow, I did not anticipate this being as hard as it is,” Instone Video Producer Ken Czechanski recalled of his old patio, which did not use polymeric sand. “It’s long and arduous to sit there on your knees scraping them out.”

Additional Benefits

In a recent episode of InBuilding Design, Czechanski welcomed the crew to his Chicago area backyard to chronicle the replacement of his cement paver patio with one made of Aura Natural Landscapes natural stone pavers. Another benefit he’s noticed to using polymeric sand is its ability to protect the base of the patio. As seen in the episode, his old patio had multiple loose pavers that presented a trip hazard and pooled water during storms. Just as potholes form when water freezes and melts beneath the roadway, excess water seeping through your joints in the winter can chip away at a patio’s stability. Czechanski immediately noticed that the polymeric sand was helping control stormwater more effectively.

“When it rains, as soon as it stops, you can see the stones begin drying immediately,” he said. “Polymeric sand is protecting the base and preventing the stones from shifting.”

Polymeric sand is available in a variety of color blends, giving contractors plenty of options to fulfill the desired look of the project. Czechanski considered three colors that could serve as an accent to his Aura Sandy Point granite stones – a gray, a tan, and a brown.

“We ended up going with the brown because it provided a nice contrast to the stones, which were lighter like the beach,” he said. “It also helped to highlight the pattern, which had brown speckles in it.”

Installing Polymeric Sand

Filling joints with polymeric sand is simple. As seen in the clip above, the first step is to pour the sand onto the patio and use a broom to sweep it into the gaps. Excess sand is carefully swept off the patio to ensure it won’t bond to the stone face later.

Once the joints are properly filled, the installers wet the patio down with a garden hose on a shower setting – strong enough to rinse off any residue, but light enough that it won’t blast out the sand. The water activates the polymeric sand and makes it bond together.

Try out Color Combinations

You can use the Instone Visualizer to help select a stone and polymeric sand combination that’s right for your project. The online tool enables you to upload photos of a property and instantly simulate what it would look like with Instone’s full range of products.

Although Instone doesn’t carry polymeric sand, the Visualizer does model several colors to give users a sense of how it would look with various stone types. Customers may purchase polymeric sand through their dealer or browse product choices at a local home improvement store.

From Patios to Pools: The Secret To Choosing The Right Stone

Aura Blue Sandstone
Aura Blue Sandstone

From Patios to Pools: The Secret To Choosing The Right Stone

When it comes to hardscaping choices, applications matter. A property owner may have their heart set on a stone color or finish, but there are times when the available options would be a poor match for the project.

“For a front walkway, you want something that complements the house and front steps, since it’s a focal point,” Instone Vice President of Natural Stone Products Justin Alicandro said. “For a patio, the homeowner can go with whatever they like best because you don’t typically have limitations. But for a pool, you are limited. It’s not as simple as picking a color you like and going with it.”

Alicandro offered some key guidelines that buyers and installers should keep in mind when choosing the right natural stone for their projects.

Budget First

A good first step for any project is for property owners to assemble as much information about the job site and their goals as possible to get the most accurate estimate. If installing a patio, they should measure the space, take pictures of the construction area, and provide it to the dealer. A professional can spot details like undulations in the turf that will require extra grading that impacts the cost.

With that done, the client will be better equipped to select a product that fits into their overall budget. Instone carries the largest selection of natural stone in the country, from fine, hard-to-find products available at the highest price point to similar-looking alternatives that cost much less. Alicandro estimates that there can be a 30 percent difference between the most and least expensive natural stone products. With patio projects often topping 1,000 square feet, the material choice can significantly affect the bottom line.

Pool Decking

When it comes to surrounding a pool, buyers should think with their feet. Since these areas will be enjoyed with no shoes on, it’s best to avoid finishes that are rough to the touch and stone types that will generate too much heat. Stones with natural finishes can be abrasive, become stubbing and trip hazards, and trigger accidents with children. It’s also best to avoid dark stones that attract the sun – think of the difference between walking on black asphalt and a white sidewalk in the summer. Light color stones like travertine and quartzite are beautiful and more practical.

Alicandro said homeowners often splurge on elaborate pools with top-of-the-line mechanical infrastructure but talk themselves into saving money by using concrete stamp decking. He urges them to resist the temptation to skimp at the end of the project.

“If you’ve already spent $150,000 on pool construction, spend the extra 10 percent or so and go with what you love, and that’s natural stone,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is what your family, friends and neighbors are going to see.”

Finishes

Customers should consider the pluses and minuses of the available stone finishes for their specific project.

Natural Cleft: Many would argue that natural cleft is the most beautiful, natural-looking finish on the market. That doesn’t mean it’s the right choice. For those living in cold northern climates, the bumpy, tough surface can make it difficult to shovel snow when used as a walkway stone. It is also rough on the feet as pool decking and its unevenness can cause furniture to wobble as a patio stone.

Honed Finish: A high percentage of stones with honed finishes are used for pool decking since it’s comfortable to walk on. Stone with honed finishes are sensitive to exposure to snow salts, though, so they are not advisable for walkways. Since patios aren’t used often in the winter, these finishes can be a sensible choice.

Thermal Finish: The most popular finish of all, thermal has a natural, textured look and feel. It is practical in just about any application – it can be salted, it’s easy to clean, and has the fewest number of drawbacks.

Stairs Treads and Sills

Natural stone stair treads are typically placed on top of a veneer, so it should either complement or contrast well with the other material. Although buyers should consider how the stairs will be used when selecting a finish (e.g., will people walk it barefoot, will it need to be shoveled), the selection is less about the physical and more about what looks right with the stone or veneer used for its base.

The choice considerations are similar for natural stone windowsills. For example, Alicandro said a popular trend of late has been to go bold with a black sill over a gray veneer. Sills are all the same basic size and shape, he noted, so the choice is largely one of aesthetic preference.

Outdoor Kitchens, Fireplaces and Firepits

Choosing the right stone for outdoor kitchen, fireplace and firepit areas is similar to selecting stone for sills. Since these heated gathering places all typically sit on top of patios, the stone styles should complement one another. If an outdoor kitchen is added to an existing patio, veneers should be selected that work well with it. If they’re all being installed at the same time, the color choices should be coordinated in advance.

Careful consideration should be given to the stone used for an outdoor kitchen’s countertop, though. It is possible for oils and wines to stain stone, so a dark color is the safest bet. But if a lighter stone is desired, Alicandro recommends going with thermal and leathered finishes. The thermal treatment will give it a textured feel, while the leathering adds an antique look that makes it harder to stain.

Getting Started

Homeowners can consult their local stone dealer or supplier for recommendations on materials and top local installers. Dealers will have a list of businesses who they’ve worked with and received positive reviews from their customers. Contact Instone today to learn about dealers in your area or visit Instone’s Aura Natural Landscapes page for catalogs and videos featuring our wide variety of natural stone products. 

For more help with your dream exterior home project, visit our blog on the do’s and don’ts of planning a backyard makeover. 

Natural Stone vs. Concrete Pavers: The Ultimate Patio Material Showdown

Aura Patio design
Aura Patio design

Natural Stone vs. Concrete Pavers: The Ultimate Patio Material Showdown

So you’re weighing the pros and cons of natural stone vs. concrete pavers for your patio. As you move ahead with your research, allow us to share a few data points for consideration.

  • The Parthenon was built in 447 with marble.
  • Stonehenge was built around 2,500 BC with bluestone and sarsen (a sandstone).
  • The Sphinx was built around 2,500 BC of limestone.
natural stone examples
The Parthenon; Stonehenge; The Sphinx

These breathtaking structures, still standing strong after thousands of years, were all made of natural stone – some of the same varieties of stone we use for patios, pool decks, and walkways. Look at pictures of these wonders. The stone radiates atmosphere, history, and mystery. Can a concrete stamp do the same?

“When you have natural stone, you have a story behind it,” Instone Territory Sales Manager for New England Jake Alicandro said in a recent episode of InBuilding Design.

“You have a stone that’s coming from the earth, that’s been here thousands of years, vs. a paver that’s manufactured, that’s only a few months old or so.”

Don’t Oversimplify Patio Paver Cost

Too often, the choice of natural or artificial hardscaping comes down to cost  and the notion that concrete products will save you money. Sometimes that’s not even true. There are manufactured pavers that cost more than natural products, so buyers should compare the specific products they’re considering. 

Overall, the gap between the initial costs of concrete pavers and natural stone pavers like those produced by Aura Natural Landscapes have been narrowing. But when comparing prices, it’s important to factor in the costs of upkeep and the expected life of the product. The greater durability of natural stone can save money in the long run on repairs, maintenance, and the need to replace materials vs. concrete pavers, which are prone to suffer chipping, cracks and deterioration. 

And then there are the intangibles. Getting beyond the initial material purchase, here are a few reasons why purchasing natural stone products is money better spent.

Natural Stone Pavers Retain Their Natural Beauty

aura oxford buff sandstone patio
Aura Oxford Buff Sandstone

Mother Nature is a talented designer. Natural stone is full of the speckles, swirls, tints and other details that give each piece its own unique character. There’s a reason why many manufactured stone varieties are created to look as much like natural stone as possible.

“The great part of natural stone is the creativity you see within it,” Alicandro said. “You have stones that have a lot of movement in them, and there are stones that are very uniform and linear. The possibilities are endless when it comes to natural stone.”

You can amplify those qualities by laying out your stones in irregular patterns. Irregular pavers are pieces of stone that are not uniform in shape and size, like squares or rectangles, but can be arranged together to create attractive mosaics that call other patterns in nature to mind. Aura Natural Landscapes irregular pavers come in consistent cuts designed to fit together like a puzzle, making them 10 times faster to install than other irregular flagging products.

Aura irregular pattern patio
Aura Silver Ridge Irregular Pattern

Eliminate the Vulnerability of Concrete Pavers

Manufactured pavers have come a long way, but even the best of them can’t match the shelf life of natural stone. They are far stronger structurally.

According to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), an independent organization that develops standards for construction materials, typical granites can withstand 16,000-25,000 pounds per square inch (PSI) of pressure; sandstones upwards of 15,000 PSI; and limestones in the range of 8,000 PSI. The regular concrete used for projects like patios and sidewalks support in the neighborhood of 2,500 PSI.

Even if your stones or concrete won’t be used for a project that will bear the brunt of heavy weights on a regular basis, the elements will deal plenty of abuse over time. The harsh freeze-thaw cycles of the Northeast and the extreme heat waves of the South expand and contract your material, causing a gradual degradation. Concrete pavers are more vulnerable to these swings. .

The fresh appearance of concrete pavers also won’t hold up like a high-quality natural stone. Concrete paver colors are made with pigments and dyes that eventually fade from exposure to sun and the elements, while standard white concrete tends to stain. Take a look at the sidewalks and curbs around your town – are they pretty to look at? And while trends in paver colors and patterns come and go, a classic natural stone never goes out of style.

Aura commercial paver project
Aura Italian Bluestone Sandstone

 The Eco-Friendly Choice

The concrete manufacturing process is energy intensive and can rely on chemicals, rocks, cement, and other ingredients being shipped from far and wide. The Natural Stone Institute notes, “From an overall sustainability perspective, natural stone has a lower environmental footprint than precast concrete. This is due to the minimal resources used to quarry, fabricate, finish, and transport natural stone. … Every step in the precast concrete manufacturing process requires the use of a lot of energy, which contributes to their total global warming potential.”

No environmental harm comes from the disposal of stone. In fact, the waste materials from quarrying and preparing natural stone flagging can be recycled for a range of uses, including gravel, artificial reefs, the foundations of construction sites, the bedding beneath patios, and even as ingredients of concrete.

For these reasons, using natural stone can help a project earn points to attain a U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

See the patio where Aura sandy point pavers replaced concrete pavers
Aura Sandy Point

Go Natural

To learn more about the possibilities for a property you own or are working on with natural stone products, visit our Aura Natural Landscapes page . There you can browse its online catalog of granites, sandstones, marbles and other natural stone varieties in a range of colors and patterns, all competitively priced. You can also count on Aura’s design services team to collaborate with your architects, consultants, and other professionals through each project phase.

Contact Instone today to get the conversation started!

3 Superior Building Materials for Luxury Home Construction and Renovations

Pangaea Fieldstone House
Pangaea Fieldstone House

3 Superior Building Materials for Luxury Home Construction and Renovations

High Quality Stonework Transforms Homes

From cellar to ceiling, from front yard to fence line, nothing can transform a home quite like high-quality stone work. Natural stone products have the power to set the atmosphere of a room, boost curb appeal, and make a property feel like a personal vacation getaway. 

When it comes to high-end residential building projects, choosing the right products can make all the difference. Luxury building products possess distinct characteristics that set them apart from standard materials. The allure of exquisite craftsmanship, superior quality, innovative features, customization options, and the ability to fulfill client expectations drives builders to seek out these materials.

Aura Silver Ridge granite patio
Aura Silver Ridge Granite

Instone carries a trifecta of natural stone brands that experts consider as best-in-class for veneer, hardscaping, and fireplaces: Pangaea Natural Stone, Aura Natural Landscapes, and Isokern Fireplaces & Chimneys. Used in combination, the trio works together seamlessly to make residential building projects and luxury home renovations beautiful on the inside and out.

By using luxury building products in their projects, builders can create remarkable structures that exemplify sophistication, durability, and unparalleled beauty.

Using low-quality materials can have the opposite effect. In an episode of our InBuilding Design series covering the differences between natural and manufactured stone products, Instone President Kevin Grotke observed that lesser-quality artificial stones look “obvious” and can cheapen the look of a home.

“Sometimes we’ll call it ‘Chiclets’ when you see an entire stone painted red, and then brown, and then orange – it just looks fake,” Grotke said. “I think the unfortunate thing is, a lot of people don’t know what they’re putting on their home, and it’s permanent.”

Chiclets’ example

Ultimately, the highest-quality materials elevate the overall construction experience and deliver exceptional results that leave a lasting impression on both builders and their clients. Their innovative design, factory preparation, and packaging also allow builders and contractors to complete jobs faster, saving homeowners money in the process.

Below we explore why Pangaea, Aura, and Isokern are an ideal triple play for custom home construction and renovations. 

More Than A Pretty Face

Pangaea Natural Stone Veneer

Pangaea Natural Stone veneer stands apart from its peers on the strength of its quality and innovative features. 

  • Stones are available in seven unique patterns and styles, each with multiple color options, providing plenty of possibilities to suit any living space. 
  • Pangaea’s pallet layers come pre-arranged in an optimal blend of stone colors and sizes so they’re ready for immediate installation. Each pallet of Pangaea stones comes pre-cut, tooled, trimmed, and fitted, simplifying the installation process and ensuring greater quality control. 
  • Additionally, each stone is pre-scored with grooves to ensure secure, long-term adhesion to any surface. 
Pangaea designed living room
Pangaea Fieldstone Westcoast

Handpicked Stone & Personal Attention

Aura Natural Landscapes

Unmatched quality, consistent availability, and superior stone fabrication services, that’s Aura Natural Landscapes. Customers and masonry professionals alike consider Aura a premier partner from sourcing to completion.

Aura’s extensive network offers access to the top stone products from quarries around the globe, whether for patios, steps, poolside pavers, pebble edging, walkways, or other hardscaping improvements. 

  • Aura offers a deep catalog of granites, sandstones, marbles, and other natural stone varieties in colors ranging from classic speckled grays to ruddy earth tones, all competitively priced.
  •  A project’s design professionals can also count on Aura’s design services team to help unlock their creative ability by collaborating closely with architects, consultants, and others through each project phase.
Aura misty blue granite patio
Aura Misty Blue Marble Blue Mist Granite

Superior Warmth & Selection

Isokern Fireplaces

Isokern manufactures high-end modular fireplaces made from pumice (volcanic rock), the most energy-efficient material on earth.

  • The Icelandic pumice used in Isokern components has remarkable refractive properties that distribute heat back into a room. This sets it apart from site-built concrete, metal, and masonry fireplaces. 
  • Modular Isokern fireplaces are not only quick to install, often taking less than a day, but are also more cost-effective compared to traditional masonry fireplaces. 
  • Isokern includes options for wood-burning and gas, vented and vent-free fireplaces. This makes them suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. Isokern offers a complete line of fireplaces and complementary products, including firebrick, fireplace stone, flues, and Isoset mortar.
Isokern Magnum series
Isokern Magnum Series

The Allure of Luxury Building Products

Luxury building products hold a distinct appeal in the construction trades. Builders who are dedicated to creating exceptional and high-end structures understand the importance of selecting materials that will help them exude that quality. Here are some of the top attributes Instone’s masonry and installation partners say they look for in their products. 

Exquisite Craftsmanship: Builders seek out materials that display exceptional attention to detail and meticulous artistry. Whether ornate moldings, intricate metalwork, or finely crafted custom cabinetry, these elements showcase the dedication and expertise of skilled artisans. 

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Superior Quality and Durability: Builders prioritize materials that are designed to stand the test of time, ensuring that structures maintain their appearance for years to come. From top-of-the-line veneer for a façade to flagging that can endure harsh freeze-thaw cycles, natural stone products offer unparalleled strength and resilience. 

Eco-Friendliness: Homebuyers and developers are factoring sustainability into purchasing decisions with more prominence than ever. Builders are responding by expanding their use of environmentally friendly materials and seeking out manufacturers that go the extra mile to reduce their carbon footprints.

Pangaea is recognized internationally as a trailblazer for the steps taken to make its operations and products more sustainable. Among them are its recycling of waste materials and water, renewable energy use, and specially designed packing crates to thwart the spread of invasive pests. 

Isokern uses all natural pumice the natural insulator and reclaims the pumice out of vast lava fields. In addition all of the products are recyclable, exceed EPA standards and help reduce greenhouse particles.

Unique and Customizable Options: Builders are drawn to luxury building products that allow for personalization, ensuring that the finished structure stands out as a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. From custom-designed tiles or irregular flagging, the ability to tailor these products to the project’s specific requirements allows builders to create a truly exceptional and personalized space for their clients.

Prestige and Client Expectations: Luxury materials evoke a sense of prestige and exclusivity, reflecting the status and lifestyle that clients desire. These products help builders fulfill their clients’ aspirations and create an atmosphere of opulence and refinement. 

Explore Our Luxury Look Book Here

Elevate Your Work

Pangaea Natural Stone, Aura Natural Landscapes, and Isokern Fireplaces and Chimneys present a winning combination for upscale home projects.  

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Precut Irregular Flagging Shakes Up The Industry

Precut Irregular Flagging Shakes Up The Industry

Aura Natural Landscapes revolutionary new product wows installers and homeowners

This seasons’ most sought-after product for backyard patios bring a rustic, natural look that standard backyard pavers can’t beat. Thanks to consistent cuts, and stone pavers that fit together like pieces of a puzzle, irregular flagging is in high demand. Irregular flagging is showing up in backyard patios, walkways, and poolside hardscaping. 

Installers commonly assume that irregular flagging projects take more time and money than standard ones. This is because the stones used have different thicknesses and shapes. However, Aura Natural Landscapes is turning this notion on its head by producing precut, consistent stones. They are 10 times faster to install than other irregular flagging products. . 

Irregular flagging, sometimes called irregular pavers, are flat pieces of stone that are not uniform in shape and size. Arranged together, they create attractive mosaics that can call other patterns in nature to mind, like the turtle shell or rocks scattered along a brook. Irregular stones are often also spread apart as stepping stones. They can form a paver walkway on surfaces like grass lawns, gravel paths, or mulch bedding.

 

Paver walkway ideas - Aura Natural Landscapes Irregular Flagging

Eliminate Joint Pains in Paver Installations

 

Instones VP of Natural Stone Products

“Irregular flagging is most attractive when masons can work the stone and create consistent joints throughout the whole patio or surface,” Instone’s Vice President of Natural Stone Products Justin Alicandro said. He noted that many irregular flagging applications aren’t completed this way, though, due to the cost of installation. With most products on the market, achieving consistent joints requires the mason to shape each stone so it fits smoothly next to the other irregular shapes. This is a process that can be laborious and lead to waste. 

“Just in a 2-foot stretch of one joint, you’ll see some installers go from 3 inches to a half-inch wide,” Alicandro said. “They just shape it quickly and throw it down, even though it looks sloppy.” 

Aura’s irregular flagging solves this issue thanks to its signature precut, repeating pattern of seven stones that fit easily together. The eye sees an irregular pattern, but for the installer, it’s a no-hassle job. 

 

Aura Natural Landscapes Irregular Pattern

Consistent Thickness Reduces Time and Waste

Another challenge with installing the majority of irregular flagging products is their varying thickness. Most are extremely inconsistent in thickness which creates installation issues. This forces the mason to either shape or cut the stone to a routine width in order to lay the pavers. Or, they need to  add/remove subbase material beneath every stone to ensure they don’t bulge or dip.

Aura eliminated the need for that work by producing its irregular flagging stones at a consistent 1.5” thickness. Installers can simply screed the sub-base and start laying stones one after another. Installing Aura irregular pavers proceeds at a pace no different than regular pavers. 

“With most install jobs, the cost is 70 percent labor and 30 percent material,” Alicandro said. “Because Aura is precut and the thickness is gauged, it saves a tremendous amount of labor.”

Landscape designer Cysilia Schaub chose Aura irregular flagging when she needed hardscaping materials for an extensive lakefront backyard project. The job called for materials that accentuated the property’s natural environment and were durable enough to withstand heavy foot traffic and could be delivered and installed on a tight deadline.

“The way this product came – precut, premeasured in each pallet to fit the pattern, the material was gauged, thermaled on the top, the joints were perfect – the installation was really quick,” Schaub said.

Versatile for Outdoor Living Designs

Aura has two attractive colors of standard stock irregular stones available for a quick order: Blue Mist and Silver Ridge granite. For projects with lead times greater than about four months, Aura can make just about any other color in its stone catalog available for order, Alicandro said.

The stones can be cut easily with a regular masonry saw to fit them against a house, steps, or other structures. Instone’s in-house fabrication and design service is available to assist with any special cuts needed for your project. Coordinating treads, coping and widestock are also available for a cohesive outdoor space. 

Irregular flagging projects have been especially hot in markets like the Midwest and northern New England, where people tend to have larger properties that can showcase the sizable stones. Although they are commonly used in projects 1,000 square feet and larger, Alicandro said it ultimately comes down to the taste and vision of the property owner.

To learn more about the possibilities for a property you own or are working on with irregular pattern products, visit our Aura Natural Landscapes page.

7 Ways Instone Makes It Easy for Dealers to Succeed

Instone team
Instone team

7 Ways Instone Makes It Easy for Dealers to Succeed

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“We Make It Easy” isn’t just our motto, it’s the very foundation that Instone was built on. But we’re going to let you in on a little secret – making it easy for our dealers to get the products they need for their customers faster than other outlets isn’t actually easy. We’ve spent the past 30 years building a nationwide network of warehouses and distribution centers, creating a digital system for faster service, and helping dealers build their businesses.

For the first time, our Chief Operating and Marketing Officer Rob McKay shares the secrets behind Instone’s success in delivering for our dealers – and their customers.

Secret #1. What You Need When You Need It

It all started in the mid-1980s when Instone founder Gordon Strout started buying Cultured Stone and realized how difficult it was to get it from where it was manufactured in California to the East Coast. He designed a truck routing system that’s still in place to this day. 

“The dealers tell us what they want, and we get it to them,” says McKay. “That way, they’re not sitting on inventory, taking up space, and tying up cash. They just buy what they need when they need it,”

The route trucks take the guesswork out of deliveries with pre-scheduled weekly lanes servicing customers from Instone’s distribution centers. Dealers get their product within days, not weeks.

Secret #2. What You See Is What We’ve Got

Every company these days has a website. But it’s what’s on Instone’s website that makes the difference: inventory information.

“We show our inventory availability without having to log in. So, when a sales rep gets a request from a customer, they can look at our website and see what we have in stock. They can order it today and get it tomorrow. It’s super easy,” says McKay.

And an upcoming site update will tell dealers when the next shipment of a particular product is coming in. “If we don’t have enough of something in stock that day, you will know when we will,” he says.

Secret #3. A Digital Organization System

We know that the faster a dealer can get a product, the quicker an entire project can go. That comes down to knowing where the product is in the first place. And that’s why all of Instone’s products are barcoded and entered into a digital system.

“We can put anything anywhere, and the system will tell us where it is,” says McKay. “We can utilize space differently and store more materials and diverse products to serve our customers better.”

Nothing is more annoying than wasting time looking for something, other than not finding it at all. And companies without a robust digital system like Instone’s run the risk of losing track of what they have, where it is, making it impossible to get it to you.

Secret #4. Offering Way More Than Thin Veneer

As a product fulfillment company, inventory in multiple locations across the service area is key for fast delivery. Instone recently expanded the number of its warehouses by acquiring sites in the Ohio and New England areas to allow for more diversification of products.

“We started as a strictly thin veneer company. Now we’ve become more valuable to our dealers by having a broader offering of products,” says McKay. “And we’re always looking for new products within those product lines and the next big product itself.”

Secret #5. Information At Your Fingertips

Instone is proud to offer support that goes the extra mile to dealers. One of the ways we do that is through the information we include on our website.

“The dealers don’t have to be experts on every product,” says McKay. “They can sit at the counter, have our website up and know everything there is to know about the product. They have all the technical information and what’s in stock.”

We know that if people don’t feel knowledgeable about a product, they can’t sell it. “You can feel comfortable selling our products compared to other products that you’re not as familiar with and shy away from. We’ll make you look like a stud!”

Secret #6. Here to Help You Sell More

We believe customer service isn’t just about getting the dealer what they need; we want to help them build their business. Our competitors have a lot of inventory, but it’s just a pile of goods and that’s it. We’re here to provide any training, education, or support that you need to take your business to the next level.

“We want to help dealers sell the product,” says McKay. “We want to educate them so they can get more business. We want to bring them leads, get them involved and trained. We’re always doing training sessions. Our sales team partners with the manufacturers. We want to ensure everyone who comes in contact with the product is comfortable knowing how to sell it.”

McKay says the next step is teaching the businesses we work with to market themselves. A lot of these businesses have been family-owned for decades, and the dealers are great at what they do. But they’re not marketers. They want to do more, but they don’t know how. We’re here to teach them how to do marketing so they can grow their business.

The Instone Team Having Fun

Secret #7. We’re Not All Business

The Instone team enjoys coming to work because of the environment we’ve created.

“We’re very inclusive, and we treat everyone like a winner,” says McKay, who stresses that we value everyone’s ideas because we’re all part of the team. Even the idea for our brand of beer came from an employee. “That came from one of our customer service reps. He said, ‘Hey man, we should have a beer!” And we made it happen.”

This attitude includes how we interact with dealers and customers.

“We have an openness here, and that makes people relaxed. They can be real. But we’re all working our tails off!” says McKay, who adds the company has a “Work Hard, Play Hard” approach.

We work at Instone… of course we had to do this trend!😅*****#stonesupplier #instone #instoneco #instoneteam #instonemakesiteasy #buildingproducts #funatwork
There’s nothing more natural than irregular flagging. Jake Alicandro, Instone’s Territory Sales Manager, introduces you to irregular pavers and shares how they can be used to create unique patterns arranged in a variety of ways.Dive into our Dealer Training series with Jake and our team of experts as we explore the stories behind different types of stones and uncover the beauty that lies beneath their surface.Featured products: Blue Mist and Silver Ridge.*****#instone #instoneco #instonemakesiteasy #auranaturallandscapes #naturalstone #naturalstoneveneer #outdoorliving #buildingproducts #instoneteam #masons #masonryproducts #stonemason #stonework
These guys from @indigital_media are the bomb!💣A behind-the-scenes look at how we created our 2024 #InstoneBeer launch video. Tried it yet? Share your thoughts in the comments below!👇PS: send us a DM if you have a project you'd like Instone’s video team to capture. *****#instone #instoneco #indigital #videoproduction #buildingproducts #instonemakesiteasy #funatwork #instoneteam
I mean, look at this!Truly believers, that what works doesn’t need to be changed. For more than 50 years, Cultured Stone® manufactured thin veneer has provided its users with process innovation and the development of quality manufactured stone veneer products to meet the latest design trends. And the best part? It’s Rocky-approved!💪*****#instone #instoneco #instoneteam #funatwork #stonesupplier #culturedstone #culturedstoneveneer #stoneveneer #fauxstone #manufacturedstone #contractors #builders #masonry #mason #stonemason #stonemasonry
Alamo Stone? But Ken's creativity doesn't stop there and he goes to… explore the basement? Can you guess why? Share your comments below!👇*****#stonesupplier #instone #instoneco #instoneteam #instonemakesiteasy #buildingproducts #guesstheinstone #alamo #alamo #texas

“We like to have fun. We have lunches together, and celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. And we invite customers to sit in with us at meetings and offer feedback. Those relationships are important to us. That’s just who we are.”

Partnering with Instone means having access to all these benefits and more, giving you and your business the tools you need to grow. So why wait? Contact Instone today and see how easy we can make it for you to succeed.

Backyard Makeovers: What You Must Know Before Planning a Backyard Project for Summer

Backyard Makeovers: What You Must Know Before Planning a Backyard Project for Summer

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The Do’s & Don’ts Of Planning a Backyard Makeover

Dreaming of summer already? Even though the weather outside may be too chilly for dining al fresco or a dip in the pool, the winter is actually the perfect time to start planning your backyard makeover projects. We recently interviewed Paul Saladino, owner of Stone Creations of Long Island, who shared his dos and don’ts to make sure that your project goes as smoothly as those summer days you’re day dreaming about while the snow falls. Whether building a pool, patio, fireplace, outdoor kitchen or the full works, Saldino will set you on the right path to completing your build in time for outdoor fun and entertaining with family and friends. 

DO Have Inspiration

Saladino says the first question he always asks his customers is, “what inspired you to do this project?” Is it something you saw on social media, something at a neighbor’s house?” “Years ago, everyone got their ideas from catalogs. Now it’s all social media,” says Saladino. “Once they tell me the idea for what they want, I can start a design and work in the different elements.”

If you don’t have an inspiration yet, there is a wealth of content online, from Pinterest to Instagram, to get ideas for your backyard stone project. You can even check out our very own Pinterest page for some more backyard makeover inspiration.

Still have a creative block and need some help getting started and inspired? Our good friends at Tilly Design can hold your hand through the design process.

DO Build in Phases

Creating a backyard oasis sounds like a dream come true. But it’s a big project and investment. Saladino suggests setting the expectation of doing your backyard amenities in phases. “You don’t want to go and spend a quarter of a million dollars and get yourself deep in debt. Phase it out. Start with a pool, then a patio the following year,” he says.

Check out our Guide to Building a Backyard Oasis for design and material inspiration for for pools, patios and outdoor kitchens to more extravagant pavilions and beyond. 

DO Plan Ahead

Saladino says one of the most frustrating things he experiences as a builder is when a customer comes to him with a request for pool in May, expecting the project to be installed in two weeks. Contractors book jobs far in advance, and summer is their busiest time of year. If you want a pool in time for summer entertaining, the winter is the ideal time to get started planning. “I always say two seasons out. Give yourself six months to get your inspiration together, get the permits, get the contract done, check the liabilities and insurance of the people doing the work, then book them,” he says.

DO Make The Time 

There’s no set amount of time a job will take. It depends on the project’s complexity and also making allowance for bad weather days when the project needs to be paused. Saladino says to expect about two weeks for each phase.

Natural stone pavers and stone veneer are the star of this backyard makeover.

DO Your Research

A must is to check out the company that is doing the work and make sure you get along with them. Check references, check licenses and check insurance. Saladino says to ask to see their paperwork, don’t just take their word for it. “Some guys are like, ‘yeah, yeah I got it,’ real nasty about it when asked for papers. These are not people you want to work with. Tell them you want to see it. Any licensed contractor would be more than happy to show their papers.”

A liability contract is important with coverage of a million or two. Also, make sure every worker on site is covered under the company’s workman’s comp. “You want to know they’re not just picking up workers on the corner,” says Saladino. And check that the state attorney licenses your contractor.

Most importantly, get everything in writing. “You want to have the contract, the warranty and go over every single detail,” Saladino says.

DON’T Go with The Lowest Bid

Backyard makeover build projects can run from affordable to luxurious. The cost depends on the size of the project, the materials you use, the labor, and the job’s complexity. Saladino says whatever you do, don’t try to save money. “You’ll get prices that are on the high end and the low end. Try to stay in the middle. Never go with the lowest bid and try to save money. Those contractors will try to skimp on the materials they use and cut corners. Skip a few dinners, save your money and get it done right,” he advises.

He adds to also plan for a little extra in case something comes up that will increase the cost of the project. “If a contractor gives you an estimate, add 10% just in case. If you don’t spend it, great. “You don’t want to get halfway through a job and run out of money. Put a little extra in the cookie jar.”

DON’T Disappear During the Job

When you have builders doing work on your property, it’s your responsibility to check the work daily and ensure the work is going according to your plan. “Don’t go on vacation with the idea that when you come back, you’ll have a pool,” says Saladino. All the decision makers in the household should also be looking at the job daily to make sure it’s what was agreed upon by all. Revisiting any work will cost you more money, time, and aggravation.  

DON’T Be Afraid To Ask Questions 

Saladino says you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions before or during a build. “Check progress daily to ensure everything is going as planned. Sometimes they miss things and you’ll want to catch any mistakes right away. Morning meets are often the best time to connect with your contractor. “


Checklist for Homeowners When Planning an Outdoor Project

Get Inspiration 

Pinterest is a wonderful platform to explore for outdoor project inspiration. Search for terms like these to explore boards and starting pinning your favorites……..

  • Patios
  • Outdoor living
  • Stone veneer
  • Pavers  

There are many online sources to help you create a vision or plan for your backyard oasis. Here are a few from Instone: 

  1. 6 Places Your Outdoor Design Needs Stone Fabrication and What’s Possible
  2. Use Aura Natural Stone To Turn An Ordinary Backyward Into An Oasis
  3. Summer is the Perfect Time for a Pizza Party with the ISO’ven

Make sure your backyard makeover ideas and materials are appropriate and available for your area. Instone can assist you and your contractor/builder with locating a dealer in your area. Contact us here. 

Plan Ahead 

  • Start planning your backyard makeover project in winter to break ground in spring/summer.
  • Plan for larger projects in phases and anticipate two weeks for each phase of work.
  • Check that you have the space to accommodate your project(s).
  • Find out what building permits are needed.
  • Review bids and consider the quote that comes in the middle, never go with the lowest bid to save money. 
  • Check out the license and insurance of the company you want to work with.

During The Build

  1. Make sure you have the money to pay in full when the build starts and anticipate that the cost can go up as the project moves along.
  2. Put it on your schedule to be home during construction.
  3. Review the work daily to maintain good communication with your builder and to ensure there are no mistakes that would cost you more money and delay the project.
Backyard makeover that mix and matches natural stone for a wonderful result.

Terms To Know Before Starting A Backyard Makeover

Stone Samples – Ask your local dealer for stone samples to pair with other finishes and colors and to perform your own tests. Place the samples in different areas in the stone installation area to see how it changes in various lighting and with different conditions (i.e. when wet, dry). 

Square Footage – Learn how to calculate the area for your stone project to set realistic estimations and a budget before you meet with your contractor. The calculation at its basics is length multiplied by width, but this can get a little tricky if the space is not perfectly rectangular or square. This means there may be times where you need to get approximate square footages instead. There are other variables as well of where you may need to subtract from the area like if there was going to be a firepit, water feature or flower beds in that area. This work will help save time and effort on everyone’s part. It will also help you to determine if that material you fell in love with is a fit for your project. 

Stone Fabrication – Seeing, understanding and approving of your backyard design before it is sent to a fabrication shop is key to ensuring that your project meets your expectations. You may also learn more about the wide-variety of finishes, edge profiles (split face, eased edge, bevel), and the cuts that can bring your project to life and in line with your vision.

The Instone Team - Here To Help With Backyard Makeovers

When Instone’s Fabrication and Design teams receive a plan (or drawing) set of a full backyard design, takeoff and stone schedule, they then provide an estimate to your local stone distributor. Once the quote is approved, the shop drawing process begins for each stone. It includes the type of stone, dimensions, finish and fabrication work such as edging and placement according to the stone schedule. Instone works closely with local distributors, landscape designers and contractors to ensure the shop drawing is perfectly constructed and accommodates the needs of their projects. 

Technical data – Instone will give your contractor the technical data including the stone’s stocking sizes and country of origin, as well as mechanical properties such as density, water absorption, and rupture compression strength. This information is helpful so you can have a conversation with your contractor when they reference the materials you select for the backyard makeover project. For example, will the stone you use around your pool be slip resistant and suitable for a salt water or chlorine? Will the stone be warm or cool on bare feet? What are the care and maintenance considerations? These are all good questions to ask when sourcing your project materials. 


If you have questions or need assistance sourcing material or a dealer in your area, contact Instone today. Start planning in the winter months for a fun-filled summer in your new outdoor space. 

Guide to the Home’s Hottest Natural Stone Colors for 2023

Guide to the Home’s Hottest Natural Stone Colors for 2023

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The start of a new year is the ideal time to gather inspiration for those exciting outdoor living spaces and home exterior upgrades. In recent years, homeowners have claimed more outdoor space than ever before, transforming neglected square footage into thriving year-round outdoor spaces for entertaining and dining. Many homeowners also boosted their curb appeal and property value with easy exterior stone siding. But let us not forget those interior updates as well, where stone fireplaces and feature walls can make all the difference in your home’s wow factor. Make a resolution to update your home, inside and out, in 2023 with Instone’s hottest stone colors and styles on the market.

So what’s trending in stone colors and style? To find out, we spoke with Justin Alicandro, Instone’s VP of natural stone products, who shared the most popular stones from the Midwest to the East Coast.

Blues and Grays Dominate

Beautiful blue and gray tones and tints have been extremely popular along the East Coast for years. The demand has almost outpaced the availability, which is why Alicandro brought Aura’s Blue Mist Granite to Instone. It quickly became a best-selling product. The timeless elegance of the bluestone wash mixed with the grainy grays of granite makes this stone pleasing to the eye. The blue tones pair nicely with homes with a cooler color palette. Alicandro says the blue and gray colors will continue to dominate along the East Coast for years to come.

Looking to go with blues and grays for your home’s exterior siding or outdoor renovation project? Here are some complementary stone veneer colors, styles and brands available through Instone:

Make Way for the Buffs

Look out blues, there’s a new color in town! Alicandro says buff tones are gaining traction as a popular look for landscaping, with Aura’s Phoenician Buff leading the charge. 

This stone features pale speckles and veins of gray and pink mixed with beige-buff coloring to create beautiful texture and movement with a gentle warmth.

Another buff stone is Aura’s Oxford Buff Sandstone, which Alicandro says is relatively new, but quickly gaining popularity. “It’s really catching the eye of homeowners,” he says. The taupe beige sandstone is speckled with darker tones of black and brown for a classic neutral that will go with warm color palettes.

When planning your project in buff tones, here are some complementary colors, styles and brands available at Instone:

Lighter Colors Are In

Lighten up! At least in your backyard space. That’s what Alicandro says is trending at the moment. “I see the lighter colors coming on strong. We have some travertines that are ideal for these palettes.”

Silver Travertine has become in high-demand for pool stone, says Alicandro. “It’s popular because it’s light, and doesn’t get as hot in the summer, so people won’t burn their feet on it.”

As for granites in lighter colors, Alicandro recommends Silver Ridge Granite. “This is really a nice, light granite with a lot of character and movement throughout. It’s very unique,” he says, adding that the product is exclusive to Instone and recommends placing orders this winter for those spring and summer patio and pool projects.

Alicandro says Gray Granite is in the same color range as Silver Ridge but without the movement. “This is a more formal-looking, light-colored granite.” Here are some complementary pairings for a light- color project palette:

Home Improvement Projects

Just fell in love with a stone color and style but not sure how to begin planning your new project? Check out our blog on creating a backyard oasis with natural stone for a little help. Some projects to consider:

  • Curb appeal – siding, entryways, driveways, walkways, steps, pavers, curbing, walls
  • Interior – fireplace surrounds, feature walls, bars, kitchen islands
  • Backyard entertainment – patios, outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, fire pits, pizza ovens
  • Water elements – pools, hot tubs, fountains

This winter, spend some time indoors planning your next home project thanks to a little inspiration from Justin and our wide variety of the hottest stone colors and styles of 2023.

Fill out the form below for access to our 2023 Color Guide!

We want to know your favorite stone color combination! Vote for one of the combos above in the comments below.