Enchanted Homes

Stylin' with Stone

The Art of Home Design


In recent years, natural stone has taken backseat in the trend towards contemporary design with its use of concrete, porcelain, and the many shades of gray. I happen to love natural materials, so I was thrilled when my most recent clients turned out to be geologists with a lifelong passion for rocks and a desire for unique stone treatments throughout their house.

The design process had scarcely begun when enthusiasm jumped the gun, driving a discussion of the stone fireplace that was to anchor the Great Room. We looked at all the usual regional treatments (sandstone, river rock, and granite) but they all fell short, leaving me with the task of finding a stone that had never been used here. (This sort of thing happens to me all the time.)

The mystery material appeared, right under my feet, on a trail run in the foothills of the Picuris mountains. I was quite familiar with this dominant stone from a previous project high above Tierra Blanca: geologists told me it was San Miguel quartzite, and explained that the entire Picuris range is basically a big lump of quartzite, shaped by wind and rain, and considerably older than the granite Rockies.

Have you ever noticed the colorful rock that falls into the Rio Grande south of Pilar – pink, purple, red, white and gray? That’s the stuff. But since quartzite typically breaks into jagged pieces, roadside rockfall just wasn’t going to work. Fortunately, I had access to a canyon filled with water-smoothed material of all sizes.

I collected some samples and presented them, adding one proviso: the homeowners would have to come with me to handpick the stone and help me load it. A few months later, and after much ooo-ing and ahh-ing, we had six truckloads stockpiled. Loveless Stone and Tile cut the rough pieces into workable thicknesses and did a masterful installation the following winter; I prepared a rough-hewn spruce mantlepiece; and Loveless added a five-inch hearth of water-rippled New Mexico sandstone. The result: a one-of-a-kind fireplace, complete with a great story to tell!

That was quite a start to our stone project - but ahead of us lay all the countertops, splashes, shower surrounds and bathroom floors. The owners liked the idea of using sandstone countertops in the guest baths (available aqui en Taos), but they still wanted exotics for the kitchen and master bath.  Once again, none of the slabs in New Mexico showrooms rang the geologists’ bell. But my clients lived in Houston, a port-of-entry for vast amounts of stone from around the world. When they made the rounds of “Granite Row” they soon came up with – guess what – some spectacular quartzite slabs.

The kitchen material, dubbed “Tourmaline,” looked amazingly like an abstract expressionist painting, and was so dynamic that I questioned whether I could make it work in a somewhat traditional setting. In a NYC loft, no problem - but in El Salto? I had my doubts.

I needed to find a backsplash that would add some texture to soften the quartzite’s impact, while remaining in the background and letting the artwork speak. Finding a good color match was difficult, but eventually I found an off-white tumbled marble in a 2”x4” brick pattern that provided the necessary bridge to the surrounding wood and plaster finishes.

The master bath proved to be a bigger challenge. The gorgeous “Fascination” slabs featured a colorful wave pattern that demanded a gray surround - and ultimately led to a contemporary treatment of the entire space. I found a honed 16” gray-green limestone tile called “Seagrass” that was laced with white fossils - it perfectly complemented the countertop and delighted the owners. We used 4” cuts for the backsplash, 3” squares for a slip-proof shower floor, and full-size pieces for the shower walls and the wainscot behind the free-standing tub. Half-inch white limestone liners frame the backsplash and wainscot, and for a floor we used a honed 18” Classic Limestone.

We constructed the cabinets in vertical grain Douglas fir, and stained them gray using a vinegar-based iron acetate formula. Brushed steel fittings and lights completed the look.

Would I have made the same choices – or even something similar – if the owners hadn’t been so involved? Nope. Did the collaboration deliver a successful result that we could never have predicted? Definitely yes! Kudos to Jim and Sharon for being so enthusiastic, and to Aaron Magee of MageeBuild for putting it all together.

Behind every custom home is a story, and this is a particularly sweet one. But we’re not done yet: landscaping is in full swing right now (featuring tons of stone, of course) and furniture design is ongoing. Look for a full story in 2020!


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