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 to get you started.

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.

The Homeowner’s Guide to Building a Backyard Oasis With Natural Stone

The Homeowner’s Guide to Building a Backyard Oasis With Natural Stone

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Imagine stepping into your backyard and having everything you love right at your fingertips.

—a pool for cooling off, a fireplace for warming up, and an outdoor entertainment area for drinks and dinners. If you’re planning to create a backyard oasis, whether small or big, there are a few things you should keep in mind. We spoke with landscape designer Cysilia Schaub with The Concrete Service, Inc. to find out what you need to know before you start designing your backyard project.

Landscape Designer, Cysilia Schaub

What’s Your Vision for Your Backyard Oasis?

When you look out back, what do you want to see? Maybe it’s a pool for the kids and a patio dining area for you? Schaub suggests starting by living in your space for a little while to get a feel for how you might want to use it. Then make a wish list. Be sure to have all parties involved who will be using the space, such as both partners in a couple.

“If it’s just the wife doing the design, then the husband may come in and want something different. Then the designer has to do a lot of extra work going back and redoing the plan to accommodate them both, which can also push out the timeline.” Schaub says.

She suggests putting what you want in your wish list and your likes and dislikes. If you see something at a neighbor’s house or online, add it to the list to share with the designer. “That way I can make sure to start steering them in the right direction,” says Schaub.

Timing Is Everything

Being aware of timing is also important. Schaub says many homeowners want to start a backyard project as soon as the warm spring weather hits. But then they face the reality of waiting for materials, available contractors or the project taking longer than they imagined. She says it’s a good idea to start planning a year to six months in advance. “If you only give your contractor a couple of months to come up with the design, figure out a budget and get everything mobilized, chances are it’s not going to happen. If you want a project for next summer, start planning this summer.”

Start By Contacting a Reputable Landscape Designer or Architect

As a homeowner, it may be daunting to know whom to call to start a backyard project. A little industry insight: A landscape designer can create a backyard project based on their experience and knowledge. They may not be formally educated in the trade or have a degree in a related skill. A landscape architect may have a higher education in engineering or civil architecture. Some design-build firms are both design and install, and have a collection of landscape designers and builders who work for them and can complete a project from beginning to end. Some designers work independently to design a project and then can recommend contractors to do the work.

Schaub says finding the right people is really important. Not only are you making a major investment in your home, and you want the work to be done well, but you also have to work—and live—with these people around your home potentially for months. “You’re going to have to look at and be with them every day,” she says. “You want to trust them and get along with them.”

Be sure to take the time to research them and meet them. Look at their portfolio, understand their experience. Get a sense of how they work and their capability of handling your project so you both feel comfortable going in.

The Onsite Walk-Through to the Design

Your landscape professional will first want to do a walk-through of your property and discuss what you want to do. Keep in mind that functionality is a priority over aesthetics. Your intended use of the area must be established. Then you can make it pretty. Once the designer understands your vision, they will create a design for you to approve or ask for revisions. Schaub says it’s worth including a building contractor in the discussions to note any challenges to technical aspects of the installation and to make sure the design is within budget.

Natural Stone vs. Manufactured Stone or Concrete

Schaub notes that a big part of the budget will be determined by the cost of the materials, followed by the labor cost. When your design is getting to the final stage, your designer will likely bring you samples from a company like Instone for you to select the stone style you want. While natural stone such as Aura Natural Landscapes may be a bit more expensive than manufactured stone, Schaub recommends it because the benefits outweigh the cost. “A big benefit is the aesthetic. The color and movement of natural stone just looks so much better,” she says. “Concrete products are made to mimic natural stone and some do it well, others don’t.”

She adds that the durability of natural stone also can’t be beaten. It’s stain resistant, scratch resistant and fade resistant. It’s been on earth for millions of years and can withstand the elements. While some concrete products try to include these benefits, Schaub cautions, “By the time you’re getting into the price range of a concrete product that has all of these features, it’s pretty close to the price of natural stone. So it’s pretty easy to make that jump and just go with natural stone.”

Here are some selections of Aura Natural Landscapes:

Benefits of Using Aura Natural Landscapes

Schaub says she’s now worked with Aura Natural Landscapes for several projects. She says what she likes about it is how consistent the product is. “The colors and thickness of the stone are exactly what you’re expecting, which is really important from an install standpoint.”

She says the availability is also better than other products meaning short lead times. “It’s not uncommon to have to wait three months for materials. But with Aura, I can usually get it within a couple of weeks. And their customer service is great. I’ve had questions about how to manipulate the product, and they are quick to respond.”

What Can You Put in Your Backyard?

Some options to consider when setting up your backyard oasis include:

Features:

  • Outdoor kitchen/bar
  • Pool
  • Patio
  • Garden
  • Sitting area
  • Fireplace
  • Fire pit
  • Water feature (fountain, waterfall)

Design Style:

  • Formal
  • Informal
  • Modern/Contemporary
  • Woodland/Natural/Rustic

While it’s easy to want everything, and improving your backyard space will bring a higher return on your home’s value, it’s better to start small than go overboard. You want to make sure you’re going to use everything you put in. A simple design may also be more attractive if you want to sell your home later on to someone who will like what you’ve done rather than someone who may want to rip out an overdone backyard. And remember, the more complex the project, the longer the installation will take.

Other Considerations for Your Backyard Oasis

Schaub says you also want to consider what is already in your backyard. Is there a view you want to take advantage of? Are there slopes that need to be accommodated with steps and proper water drainage? Are there mature trees with large roots? Your designer will help you work around challenges and take advantage of the natural beauty of your property.

Also, note what permits you may need to do building work. These can range from county soil and erosion permits, building permits and permits if your property is on an inland lake or stream. Check your local township and state requirements for what’s needed. In addition, check what setbacks you have to follow for your particular property. Your landscape designer should be able to help you find out what permits you need for your specific design.

So if you’re thinking about a backyard makeover, the time to start planning is now. Make your wish list and contact us for samples of Aura Natural Landscaping products!

5 Steps to Expertly Source Natural Stone: The Landscape Architects Resource

5 Steps to Expertly Source Natural Stone: The Landscape Architects Resource

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With more people spending time outdoors, backyard designs are in high demand. And so is beautiful stonework to create all the amenities for luxurious outdoor living: patios, pools, spas, outdoor kitchens, fireplaces and fire pits, as well as the hardscaping: steps, walls and walkways.

5 Steps to Expertly Source Natural Stone: The Landscape Architects Resource

Instone can provide landscape designers and architects with the stone information, samples, technical specs, shop drawings and custom stone fabrication they need to complete projects and satisfy clients.

It starts with a plan set. When that is sent to Instone, the Fabrication and Design Teams get to work to provide the support that landscape architects’ needs.

A Stone Sourcing Checklist for Landscape Professionals:

“Availability is key,” says Instone’s senior estimator, Nicole Blackburn. “We can let them know what standards we have in stock and how fast they can get it. We provide samples for their requests. We’ll also provide options based on our experience and expertise. We will let them know the time it will take to get the product and the price point so they can take it back to the homeowner to decide on what they want.”

Instone also gives landscape architects 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.

Example of the product specification Instone provides for each of its Aura stone products.

“Usually, they want to know the density of the stone, how durable it is, how it will hold up under the weather conditions and if the stones get hot underfoot. We can provide all of that information,” says Blackburn.

When the 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 a 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 their needs.

Once all parties approve the specifics, the work begins with fabrication cuts on the natural stones to prepare them for installation.

Because timing is everything with stone, Blackburn advises homeowners and landscape architects to plan ahead. “Most people want to start backyard projects as soon as winter is ending. The weather is warming up, and they want the stone quickly. They may be limited to what we have in stock, or they will have to wait if their heart is set on a particular stone, we work to get it for them.” She recommends people start their planning process before or during the winter months, so if there is some wait time, the project will be completed by the start of summer.

Instone’s Fabrication and Design Teams are here to help landscape architects and designers get what they need quickly and professionally to create beautiful outdoor living spaces for their clients.

6 Places Your Outdoor Design Needs Stone Fabrication & What’s Possible

6 Places Your Outdoor Design Needs Stone Fabrication & What’s Possible

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When creating a project with hardscaping, most of the work can be created with standard-size products. But if you want something a little more unique or specific to the project, Instone’s in-house fabrication and design teams are at your service.

Going beyond standard will give you the flexibility to create backyard patio ideas uniquely you. Feature non-standard shapes, specialty finishes or cut to size pieces in your outdoor kitchens, fire pits, pool coping, water features, wall caps and staircases.

Our design team can work with you on any project to do custom natural stone cuts and finishes for the specification of Aura® Natural Stone Landscapes products. We can also be your partner in the design of large-scale projects offering project management solutions, estimating, engineering and global sourcing of stone products for a truly turnkey solution.

Our Design Services Manager, Zach Beaulieu, shares the details on all our fabrication and design departments offer.

Introducing Instone’s Fabrication Services 

When you want something custom to match your artistic vision in stone for a residential or commercial project, or you’re inspired by something you’ve seen in-person or on-line, let Instone’s fabrication team bring your hardscaping vision to life. 

“We do custom orders,” says Beaulieu. “Instone carries standard stock sizes of Aura products, but if a client wants something a little different, we can cut it to different sizes and finishes.” There isn’t a request the team can’t handle regarding sizes, cuts, finishes, edges or shapes. “

There are certain situations where most jobsite tools just won’t be able to perform the work needed to cut and finish stones efficiently and effectively. That’s where Instone’s shop equipment and expertise comes into play. Many of the large-scale machines at the shop are stationary and require special calibration to make them operate properly and the expertise of our fabricators is an important factor in getting those nuances and details just right.

From slab countertops to custom stone finishes, Instone’s equipment and craftsmen provide you with access to the most cutting edge technology and customization to get the job done right. 

Some of the options available include:

  • Straight cuts
  • Radial (curved) cuts
  • Edge finishes 
  • Rockface
  • Bullnose
  • Half Bullnose
  • Chamfer
  • Thermal
  • Shotblast
  • Eased – 1/8, ¼, 3/8
  • Slow C
  • Leathered
  • Top finish for countertops such as a leather finish
  • Profiles: custom shapes for countertops such as L-shapes

This customization can be applied to any of the following projects:

  • Outdoor kitchens
  • Sills
  • Firepit caps
  • Spa coping
  • Stair treads and wall caps
  • Monolithic steps

Want more inspiration?

Review our portfolio of custom projects. 

Available materials: 

Introducing Instone’s Design Services 

Instone’s Design Team works on large-scale, high-end residential and commercial projects, including backyard renovations, main street businesses to college campuses. Natural stone can beautify just about any space.

According to Beaulieu, “The design team offers solutions depending on what the project entails.” That usually means working with the landscape architect on the stone aspect of the project. We can help with color recommendations and stone sourcing, fabrication, and estimating the value and engineering. We also create a stone schedule, which assigns each stone piece a code that dictates placement in the project, like a giant puzzle with instructions for assembly.”

Usually with these large-scale projects, there are a number of parties involved, including landscape designers, landscape contractors, project managers, local dealers, wholesale stone distributors and quarries where the stone is sourced. Beaulieu says they primarily deal with the landscape architect, who creates the initial design, but all parties agree on the final outcome.

The timeline of projects of this magnitude can vary from weeks to years, depending on the complexity involved and availability of the materials. Instone’s design team will work efficiently to ensure your stone products meet your needs and source the optimal material for your project and timeframe.

See our webpage for details on the options available for fabrication and design.

Summer is the Perfect Time for a Pizza Party with the ISO’ven

Summer is the Perfect Time for a Pizza Party with the ISO’ven

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Pizza recipes, cooking tips and more
from our resident pizza experts!

Give your outdoor kitchen a fun upgrade – just in time for outdoor summer parties.  If you want a knockout addition to your back patio space for entertaining friends and family, an outdoor pizza oven is the perfect choice! Here’s what you should know about having a pizza oven:

The Difference is In the Taste

Isokern, the maker of high-end fireplaces, offers the ISO’ven Outdoor Wood Burning Oven, for making pizza and other dishes over a wood burning flame. What makes cooking in the ISO’ven different from your regular indoor oven is the taste.

“The wood-flamed cooking experience is outstanding,” says Instone’s President and CEO, Kevin Grotke, who uses his ISO’ven on a regular basis. “We cook pizzas and do cooking in cast iron skillets to finish off dishes such as macaroni and cheese, lasagna, roast, bullion sauces and red sauces. The richness of flavor from the wood cooking is amazing and so unique. You can make the kind of pizza you would get at a high-end pizzeria in your own backyard.”

The Entertainment Value Alone is Worth It

An outdoor wood-burning pizza oven creates an entire experience for you and your guests.

“It’s a really fun appliance to have,” says Grotke. “It’s a whole event to build the fire, keep the fire going, managing the heat, making the pizza, turning the pizza in the oven while it cooks.”

Not only does the experience set an outdoor oven apart from an indoor oven, but the pizzas cook very quickly – about four minutes when the oven is up to full heat, which is between 750 and 900 degrees as opposed to a conventional indoor oven that maxes out at 500 degrees. 

Building the fire and getting it up to full heat is a ritual in itself, which takes about an hour. It’s the perfect time for a pre-meal happy hour!

Because the fire is in the back of the oven, turning the pizza to cook it evenly becomes an interactive activity that adds to the fun. Since the pizza cooks quickly, guests can make their own individual pizzas and have them ready at about the same time. That’s definitely a pizza party in the making!

Easy Installation

Grotke says the ISO’ven is relatively easy to install because it comes in components. “A medium-skilled DIYer could do it themselves in a couple of hours. Then you would add the stone veneers or whatever finish for the look you want.” He says outdoor cooking and entertaining has definitely become more popular over the last few years. A pizza oven in your backyard can provide a fun focal point for your next party.

 Wood Burn or Gas Starter – Your Choice

While the ISO’ven is intended to burn solid wood fuel, a gas starter is also available. We recommend using cherry, applewood or hickory wood for added flavor.

How to Make a Great Pizza

Our resident pizza expert at Instone, CIO Jim Palatine, offered some tips and recipes for making a great pizza. He says he got into making pizza when he saw a shop that made beautiful granite slabs and decided to have a pizza stone made for himself and to give away to friends. He started experimenting with making pizzas at home and trying recipes from what he refers to as the ultimate pizza recipe book: “The Pizza Bible: The World’s Favorite Pizza Styles.”

He shares some of his best pizza making tips:

The Key to Great Pizza Crust

“The difference between run-of-the-mill pizza and extraordinary pizza comes down to the dough,” says Palatine. “You really want dough that’s been fermented for three days in the refrigerator.  You can make it with any recipe or buy it frozen. Just make sure it is pizza dough, not bread dough. Then put it in the refrigerator and cover it with a film wrap and let it sit for three days. That will give you a really nice elastic texture and it’s easier to make a nice round pizza crust that will have a nice chewy and nutty taste to it. It’s a real game changer.”

Typically, dough is sold in one-pound balls.  Cut the ball in half and make two smaller half-pound balls.  Separate them on a plate dusted with flour, and loosely cover with a plastic bag or anything else so the surface doesn’t dry out.  Leave out at room temperature for at least an hour prior to making pizza.

The Key to Using Ingredients

“Less is more—and use good quality,” Palatine advises. “People often tend to put too much sauce and too many ingredients on a pizza. When you put the sauce on, spread it very thin and sprinkle the other ingredients on. Always use good quality ingredients. If you use mozzarella cheese, use whole milk, don’t skimp with low fat. Get good pepperoni in a natural casing and don’t slice it too thin.”

Some of Jim Palatine’s Favorite Recipes

TIP: Use either corn meal or “Wondra” brand flour, between the pizza peel and the pizza. This enables the dough to slide off pizza peel when putting it into a hot oven.

Cheese, Pancetta and Arugula White Pizza (The Palatine Pizza)

  • Have the raw dough in front of you.
  • Put a little bit of extra virgin olive oil and minced garlic down.
  • Add a light coating of shredded mozzarella cheese. Then sprinkle a little feta or goat’s milk cheese.
  • Sprinkle some matchstick slices of pancetta.
  • Cook in the oven until brown and crispy.
  • Dress a bowl of arugula lightly with olive oil and red wine vinegar; put it on top of the hot pizza and let set.

Cheese and Sausage

  • Have the raw dough in front of you.
  • Put down a thin layer of tomato sauce (canned tomatoes in a food processor with salt, pepper and olive oil).
  • Add a light coating of mozzarella cheese.
  • Cut uncased Italian sausage into dime-sized pieces and sprinkle on top.

Cheese and Onion

  • Have the raw dough in front of you.
  • Add a light coating of mozzarella cheese.
  • Add goat’s milk cheese.
  • Sauté onions with a little bit of sugar until brown.
  • Sauté mushrooms.
  • Sprinkle the dough with the onions and mushrooms then drizzle with truffle oil.

TIP: Use cherry, applewood or hickory wood in your wood-burning oven for added flavor.

To learn more about the Isokern ISO’ven Outdoor Wood-Burning Oven, visit the Isokern page on the Instone website.

What’s your favorite pizza recipe?

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Use Aura Natural Stone to Turn an Ordinary Backyard Into an Oasis

Use Aura Natural Stone to Turn an Ordinary Backyard Into an Oasis

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Turn An Ordinary Backyard into An Oasis Using Aura Natural Stone

Spring means the weather is warming and the flowers are blooming. It also means summer is right around the corner and it’s time to get your outdoor space summer-ready. Upgrading your backyard with a new pool or patio will add to your enjoyment factor and increase the ways you can maximize that real estate you paid for. It will also increase your resale value.

Aura Blue Mist 

We spoke with Andrew Everleigh of Environmental Pools, who uses Aura natural stone on pools and patios around the New England area. He says the color selection is really where a project begins. “The color pattern is crucial. You start there and then think about the texture you want.”

The color you choose depends on what goes with your house and what’s popular in your neighborhood, whether it’s the blues and grays or more of the tans and browns. 

Throughout much of New England it’s blue, particularly Pennsylvania Blue Stone that is often requested. Because of its popularity and recent supply chain issues due to the pandemic, this stone often isn’t in stock. However Aura offers equally beautiful blue hues, including Italian Blue Stone, Blue Sky, and Blue Mist. The newest, Italian Bluestone is a very strong sandstone with no iron in it so the color stays blue with no rusting over time.

Indiana Limestone is another popular stone that is often hard to get. For that, Aura has comparable alternatives like Sandy Point and Oxford Buff.

 Before & After with Aura Sandy Point

Aura natural landscapes can add beauty and durability to your new patio and pool area. Aura is a premier source for domestic and imported natural stone for hardscaping projects. There are a variety of stone options including granite, limestone, pebbles, quartzite, sandstone, and Travertine.

Using natural stone products on and around your home will immediately increase its value thanks to its longevity and because it is resistant to wind, fire, water, and bug infestation. Often, it also has greater slip resistance than manufactured stone. 

Aura Blue Ice Thermal Sandstone

Each stone is uniquely beautiful, and Aura offers a large selection of colors and finishes to choose from, sourced from countries worldwide. See the selections in our Aura brochure.

Aura Silver Ridge

Everleigh says it’s best to work with a professional such as a landscape architect or a contractor like Everleigh’s company, Environmental Pools. They have the experience and knowledge required to suggest colors. “They would help narrow down the color options and source samples to see the color in person and feel the texture,” he says.

Aura Sandy Point Granite With Bluestone Coping

For a homeowner, a pool and patio project may feel like a daunting task. Everleigh breaks down where to start. “Everything starts at the master planning level. An architect, or somebody like myself, would work with the homeowner to create a patio layout and determine where everything sits and consider the size of the stones. Homeowners just need to trust the process. We do this work every day and understand the sequencing and different types of topography. Everybody’s yard is different, so every project will take a different approach. Hiring an experienced firm is really important.”

Everleigh says to be sure to hire someone experienced in installing patios and pools. “Don’t just bring in a mason to layout a backyard just from walking around. It takes studying the topography, the water, everything, to make an effective project come to life.”

If you’re not sure what you want your new patio and pool area to look like, you can try doing a few searches online for ideas or look at what your neighbors have. Pinterest is a great source of design inspiration.

Everleigh has a catalog of his team’s projects that he uses to give people ideas of what’s possible. “We go through and narrow down what they’re looking for and see what they like and don’t like. We help drive the conversation based on what we know, as opposed to just having them find photos on their own. There’s so much out there; it can be overwhelming.”

He says outdoor kitchens and bars have been popular for patios lately along with water features for pools. As for color, Aura’s Blue Mist and Silver Ridge granite are the biggest sellers in his New England area.

Landscape Pebbles Accentuate This Poolside Design with Aura Pebbles Beach

Everleigh says that designs for pools and patios don’t really go by trends, since people aren’t likely to rip out a backyard area based on a new style coming in. The looks stay pretty streamlined based on what a homeowner’s friends have done, their home’s architecture, or what‘s popular in the area.

The best piece of advice Everleigh can provide to homeowners wanting a new patio or pool in their backyard is to make a plan. “The more you can figure out ahead of time the better. Working through a design before you start building saves a lot of headaches on the backend.”