Behind the Beauty: What Really Goes into Proper Hardscape Patio Planning and Preparation

aura patio photo

Behind the Beauty: What Really Goes into Proper Hardscape Patio Planning and Preparation

Embarking on a hardscaping project is akin to crafting a masterpiece. It’s not just about laying stones or constructing patios; it’s about sculpting an outdoor oasis that exudes beauty and functionality. To the untrained eye, a nice patio can look deceptively simple – you just pull out the grass, flatten the dirt, and lay the stones on the ground, right?

The reality is, the area where you’ll have pavers installed should be regarded as a construction site. The beautiful layout of stones will be what catches everyone’s eye, but beneath is a foundation that was painstakingly prepared to ensure your surface remains stable for a lifetime.

This is specialized work that requires experience and often heavy equipment and should not be approached as a do-it-yourself project. For property owners getting ready for backyard makeover, the following is an overview of the basic steps of the installation process so you’ll know what to expect.

Backyard hardscape work being done

Planning and Preparation

The first part of the process could be described as a research phase, and you may be able to help. Your contractor will want to learn everything they can about the spot where the stones will be installed. The drainage, soil composition, and existing masonry that needs to be removed or built around can all impact the design. So can mature trees with bulky roots and the natural grade of the yard.

The team will also need to know if there are any underground pipes, cables, tanks, or other features in or close to the construction area. This may require a review of construction records in your local government office. Any knowledge you can share about the property’s condition and history could be useful.

You may also need to make a trip or two to the town hall to take care of permitting paperwork. Regulations can vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but beyond the standard construction approvals, it’s possible you may need soil and erosion permits, waivers if your land is on a sensitive waterbody, or zoning board approvals if the project will exceed impervious surface or setback regulations. Consult your contractor and check with your municipal government at the start to make sure you have everything covered.

With all of the needed permits and site information in hand, the masonry team can now finalize its plan to make your vision for a backyard oasis a reality.

Preparing the Base

The “Ultimate Backyard Makeover” episode of Instone’s InBuilding Design video series offers an excellent glimpse at what a typical foundation preparation process looks like. Once the dimensions of the patio or paved area are determined, the contractors will begin clearing soil to make room for a new foundation. The depth will be calculated based on factors like the ground conditions and the desired elevation of the pavers.

In the video above, the crew begins by filling the hole with a layer of large rocks, then covers it with a layer of medium-size gravel and compacts it. They then add a sand-like layer that can fill the gaps between the stones and compact it once more.

The result is a base of material that is strong enough to support heavy pavers without any risk of shifting or crumbling due to freeze-thaw cycles, heavy rains, extreme heat, or other conditions they’ll endure over the years. Natural stone pavers (e.g., granite, sandstone, marble) are significantly less susceptible to these issues than concrete products and can better withstand the pounding of foot traffic. Visit Instone’s Aura Natural Landscapes page to learn about its wide variety of stone types and color options.

If your design includes heavyweight features like an outdoor kitchen and fireplace, the crew will dig further and fill the ground with concrete for support. They may also lay a tarp-like liner called a geotextile beneath the foundation materials to help control drainage, weeds, and erosion.

When the foundation is set, work may need to pause briefly to allow the town to complete an inspection. Contact your local construction office before the project begins or talk to your contractor, who should be familiar with your town’s requirements.

Rob on job site

Laying the Pavers

As a homeowner, here’s where the excitement really begins. With every stone that’s laid, you’ll see your dream yard design emerge before your eyes.

This is where the artistry of your masonry team will shine through. While your overall project design will have been worked out well before the first stone is laid, there are many details and decisions that will be sorted out on the ground. Among them are how to arrange the stones, which may come in a variety of shapes and sizes, in beautiful patterns. Another highly popular style right now is irregular flagging, pavers that are not uniform in shape and size. Arranged together, they create attractive mosaics with a rustic appearance. 

Aura Blue Mist Irregular Pattern
Aura Blue Mist Irregular Pattern
Aura Silver Ridge Irregular Patio
Aura Silver Ridge Irregular Patio
Aura Silver Ridge Irregular Pattern Patio
Aura Silver Ridge Irregular Pattern Patio
Aura Silver Ridge Irregular Pattern Patio
Aura Silver Ridge Irregular Pattern Patio

Styling choices and careful measurements will determine how to cut edge pieces in ways that look symmetrical and artful. Sometimes a few custom-cut pieces can make or break a project. In these cases, your team may look to the Instone Fabrication and Design Services crew for help with the cuts and shapes that can only be accomplished with specialized equipment.

With the stones laid, a final step is to fill the joints (gaps) between them with a sand or polymeric sand filler of your color choice. Polymeric sand is a type of material that bonds together after its exposed to water, tightly sealing the spaces to prevent problems like excess rainwater intrusion, weed growth, and ants carrying away the grains. The clip above shows a crew applying polymeric sand to a Mid West patio project.

Learn More

No one knows stone like Instone. Whether you have a large-scale backyard hardscaping project or a small stone veneer accent wall coming up, we have the materials and experience to help.

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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.

Choosing Manufactured Stone Veneer: A Quick Guide to Colors, Factors, and Brands

Echo Ridge Country Ledgestone
Cultured Stone Veneer

Choosing Manufactured Stone Veneer: A Quick Guide to Colors, Factors, and Brands

The Mason’s Pallet

Just as every artist has their palette of paints, every mason has their pallet of stones. 

No decision in an indoor or outdoor stone veneer project makes an artistic statement like the choice of material colors. Materials like stone have the power to set a tone, make a bold first impression, and pay tribute to the personality of a homeowner.

Manufactured stone veneer (MSV) aka stone siding provides masonry professionals a full spectrum of color options. While natural stone is colored through ancient geologic processes that are beyond human control, there’s an artistry to the creation of MSV that allows for personalization in both shape and shade depending on demand.

Cultured Stone Aspen Country Ledgestone
Cultured Stone Aspen Country Ledgestone

Unmatched Color Schemes

Cultured Stone, the first-ever MSV manufacturer and industry leader,, offers over 75 stone colors in two dozen textures and styles. They are also the producers of various brick veneer profiles and colors, including Tenley Brick, hailed by Azure Magazine as “structural as well as decorative … and [introducing] a contemporary spin to old-world character.” Dutch Quality Stone, on the other hand, is available in 36 colors and is a great cost-conscious alternative produced by Westlake Royal Stone Solutions, Cultured Stone’s parent company.

These collections pay meticulous attention to detail and boast an extensive range of colors. Incorporating a stone profile that harmonizes with your exterior color palette or compliments the interior with an accent wall is a great way to elevate the look and feel of a space. This is precisely why they stand as the preferred selection for architects, masons, and discerning homeowners alike.

Cultured Stone’s color palettes are inspired by nature and align with the latest design trends and styles, ensuring its array of veneer ensures its veneer colors look vivid and compelling. Iron oxide pigments are applied by hand to each mold before the concrete and aggregate mix is poured, ensuring the color seeps thoroughly into the stone’s face and all the way around its edges.

“The coloring line is the most detailed and sought-after job in the plant,” Joe Marxkors, Sales Area Manager at Westlake Royal Stone Solutions said in an episode of Instone’s “InBuilding Design” exploring the benefits of MSV. “It takes 10-15 years to get there. You could have up to 10 different colors on one stone.”

As a result that craftsmanship, Cultured Stone has created some of the most realistic looking manufactured stone on the market. Marxkors sometimes carries a briefcase with a block of natural stone and a similar MSV version and challenges viewers to guess which one is real. Even the most seasoned masonry professionals often get it wrong.

“Cultured Stone the brand looks like the most natural stone product in the industry,” Instone CEO Kevin Grotke observes in this discussion on the differences between natural stone and MSV. “They are the founder and leader of the industry. They go to a great extent to capture the texture and the coloring of the stone.”

Manufactured Stone Veneer Color Considerations

Several factors may determine the veneer color a mason chooses for a home. Its appearance must complement the overall home design, enhance its curb appeal, and harmonize with the surrounding environment. Here are some key factors that masons tell us influence their color choices: 

  • Architectural style plays a significant role in color selection. A traditional or rustic-style home may benefit from earthy tones like brown, beige or gray, while a modern or contemporary-style home will look sleek with vibrant colors like black, white, or shades of blue.
  • Existing exterior elements such as the colors of the roof, siding and trim should be taken into account to create a cohesive and balanced appearance.
  • Surrounding landscapes are often considered to ensure the home blends with its environment. For example, a material like Cultured Stone’s white Fossil Reef Coral Stone is a natural pick for a home in a coastal community, while the rugged and earthy Bucks County Dressed Fieldstone is a great match for a home on a wooded property.
  • Neighborhood character should also be taken into account. Whether to use a veneer that blends with the surrounding homes or a bold color that makes it stand out from the crowd is an important design choice.
  • The climate and natural lighting in the area are factors to consider. In regions with intense sunlight, lighter colors may be preferred to reflect heat and keep energy costs down. 
  • Last but not least, homeowner preferences are of course crucial in the decision-making process. Masonry professionals should guide their clients’ choices to ensure they fulfill the vision for their home.
Stone Veneer Buyer's Guide: Colors, Factors, Brands: Dutch Quality Tuscan Ridge
Dutch Quality Elkwood Tuscan Ridge

CULTURED STONE TOP 5 COLORS OF 2023

FLIP CARDS TO REVEAL COLORS

Echo Ridge Dressed Fieldstone

Grays with blues and browns

Bucks County European Castle Stone

Cream with Brown & Red Features

Chardonnay Alpine Pro-Fit

Khaki with Charcoal & Reds

Gray Southern Ledgestone

Varying Gray Shades

Aspen Dressed Fieldstone

Dark Beige with Brown & Gray Highlights

DUTCH QUALITY TOP 5 COLORS OF 2023

FLIP CARDS TO REVEAL COLORS

Prestige Weather Ledge

Prestige

Cream with a mix of greys and orange

Winter point

Winter Point

Light gray with darker tones

Elkwood

Blend of grays and ruddy colors

Sienna

Reddish-brown with gray features

Quail Grey

Mid-tone gray with dark and lighter elements

Stone Siding Home Exterior Color Trends

Even with the endless variety of MSV colors available, there are a few timeless styles that are always in demand. MSV is made to mimic the appearance of natural stone, so veneers that have gray or beige bases like granites, limestones andsandstones maintain their appeal over the years, even as design trends change. The top five regionally-based est-selling Cultured Stone and Dutch Quality veneer colors of 2023 are a reflection of that.

Your Trusted Stone Supplier for Manufactured Stone Veneer

Instone carries manufactured stone and brick veneer brands in hundreds of color options for both interior and exterior home renovation projects. Contact our team today to discuss the perfect material, color and finish for your project today.

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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The Power of Curb Appeal: How Your Home’s Exterior Impacts Its Value

Dutch Quality Home Exterior
Dutch Quality Home Exterior

The Power of Curb Appeal: How Your Home’s Exterior Impacts Its Value

Dutch Quality stone veneer on the exterior of this home
Instone offers hundreds of stone veneer options, including this Dutch Quality® Sagewood Weather Ledgestone, ideal for traditional style home renovations to new home constructions.  

When it comes to selling your home, first impressions matter. Time and time again, Bridget McCann, a broker associate with Baird & Warner, has seen homes with more attractive exteriors sell faster and for more money than those with superior interiors. She recently sold a home in an upscale, competitive Illinois neighborhood, and the one feature that really stood out to buyers was the stunning stonework around its pillars.

“The buyers’ first reaction was, ‘Wow, this entranceway is stunning,’” McCann recalled. “As you walked up the staircase, you felt like you were at a million-dollar home because of how pretty the stonework was.”

This is the power of curb appeal.

Simply put, curb appeal is how attractive your home looks from the street. A well-manicured lawn,  quality landscape stone, and a good paint job are just a few things that can make a big difference in your home’s curb appeal.

Curb appeal is a property’s attractiveness when viewed from the street and the impression it leaves on a passerby or first-time visitor. It can be driven by factors both simple and structural, including a nice lawn, quality landscape stone, a good paint job, the cleanliness of the property, and the architecture and construction quality of the home.

And it’s not just about aesthetics. Research shows that homes with good curb appeal sell for more money and spend less time on the market. A study published in The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics found that curb appeal can account for up to 7 percent of a home’s sale value.

“The curb appeal premium is more pronounced during times of housing market weakness and greater in neighborhoods with high average curb appeal,” said lead author Sriram Villupuram, of the University of Texas at Arlington College of Business.

Cultured Stone Vellum Modera Pro-Fit Ledgestone on home exterior
For a modern aesthetic, Instone offers a variety of exterior stone siding selections, including this Cultured Stone® Vellum Modera Pro-Fit Ledgestone

With a decade of experience in both the real estate and construction industries, McCann knows that stone veneers on a home’s facade, natural stone walkways, and pavers flanking a driveway can all add an upscale feel to a property.

And in today’s digital age, the first impression buyers get of a property is often through its online listing on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). That’s why it’s crucial to make sure that the property’s front porch and overall image is compelling enough to draw them in for a closer look.

“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression and the exterior of a house is always your first impression,” McCann said. “If it doesn’t have a nice exterior, you won’t want to step inside the house and check it out.”

Pangaea® Ledgstone Copper Canyon Stone Veneer on Home Exterior
Instone’s Pangaea® veneer products offer over 40 natural stone patterns and colors. Pictured here is Ledgestone Copper Canyon.

McCann emphasized that the use of neutral-tone stonework, such as light grays and off-whites, has been quite successful in selling homes in her suburban Chicago market. She suggested steering clear of exotic colors that cater to too specific of tastes but emphasized that well-installed and tastefully designed stones are always a plus for your curb appeal.

While stone veneer siding is not a search criteria listed on the MLS, McCann stressed that it could set your home apart from others in the subdivision and give you an edge. As buyers tend to spend more on renovating the interior, having an attractive exterior that doesn’t require further renovation is crucial. When clients ask her for advice on boosting their curb appeal for a sale, McCann doesn’t recommend making pricey investments. Instead, the focus should be on maintaining the home and avoiding letting any features fall into disrepair.

Forbes suggests three simple steps for improving curb appeal, including making sure that any stone or brick work looks clean through professional power washing to remove stains and grime and “reveals a clean, fresh look that adds to the attractive ambiance the home should display.”

“Make sure you’re keeping up with the exterior of the house – there’s no peeling paint anywhere, there’s no shingles missing on your roof, there’s no siding hanging off, or anything like that,” she said. “Get all of your ducks in a row on the exterior because poor curb appeal will cause buyers to stray.”

So if you’re looking to sell your home, don’t underestimate the importance of curb appeal. Invest in quality materials, like natural stone veneer, keep your property clean and well-maintained, and you’ll be sure to make a great first impression on potential buyers.

Contact Instone today to learn more about products and services that can help enhance your home’s curb appeal.

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.

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.

If you need some more direction when it comes to the design process from inspiration to finalizing a design for a contractor, Tilly Design is a great resource for helping you create a custom landscape design.

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.