Why one of the world’s oldest building materials feels fresher than ever.
Stone has long been the bedrock of a civilized society. From the ancient pharaohs of Egypt to the Roman Empire—not to mention the Flintstones!—stone has been an integral part of how we live. The Inca culture revered stones as much as living beings. Italians treated stone with great care: There are the elaborate mosaics of Pompeii. Venetians perfected the art of terrazzo, and the Duomo in Florence features an awe-inspiring marble façade. Fashioned out of local marble, ancient Greek monuments have not only stood the test of time, but also have influenced architecture around the world for thousands of years. Needless to say, there is no shortage of cultures whose artists and craftsmen made enduring and inspiring impressions with stone, many of which survive to this day.
From architecture to landscape design to interiors, stone has long played an integral role in how we cultivate our personal surroundings. Because of its durability, functionality, beauty, and, of course, timelessness, each new generation devises unique ways to use stone in seemingly countless new ways and applications.
In homes of the last hundred years or so, stones were often relegated to a few key places. Perhaps a foyer or mudroom, fireplace surrounds, and marble or granite countertops in a kitchen or bath.
But in the last decade or so, there has been a quiet, albeit seismic, shift in where stone appears both inside and outside of our houses. With the rise of outdoor living amenities, the same stone used indoors often segues outside, as well, making for a seamless living experience.
No room is off limits to stone applications, and while marbles and granites with more consistency and less variation were de rigueur in many kitchens and baths, now bold and exotic specimens reign supreme. Instead of being sidelined by one-of-kind markings or unusual colors, those unique slabs are now often the focal point of a well-designed space.
“We had a long period of monochromatic grey and beige limestones and, of course, white marbles,” says DeeDee Gundberg, Ann Sacks’ Chief Designer. “But in the past few years, the more colorful and unique veining structures have become popular, and for good reason. Each slab is like a piece of art, and people are genuinely obsessed with the slabs they are selecting for their homes, as they should be! My theory is that consumers are looking for a more meaningful connection to nature and therefore have a stronger appreciation for the natural beauty of stone.”
Because of this unabated interest in unique stones, Ann Sacks is expanding its offerings. The company has always carried smaller 30” x 72” slabs in their assortment, but a new gallery specifically devoted to showcasing much larger slabs is opening in Dallas this spring, and the Nashville gallery, slated to open in the fall, will also feature an extensive selection of large slabs on site.
“We are constantly thinking about how our customers shop,” says Gundberg, “and how we can provide the most inspiring and, also, the most efficient experience. For this reason, we created a small design studio within the slab gallery so that our clients can have a comfortable space to lay out their plans or other finishes while looking at slab options.”
Erin Heaton, Ann Sacks’ Director of Product Merchandising, points out other gallery amenities. “Typically, people are going to slab yards where it's dirty and dusty, and if it's in a warehouse, the lighting is not great,” she says. “And so we wanted to get rid of all of that. The new slab galleries will have beautiful lighting and a beautiful atmosphere. It's a really clean, elevated experience.”
The curation of the slabs falls under the unerring eyes of both Gundberg and Heaton. They personally approve every single, one-of-a-kind slab—sourced from around the world—that becomes part of Ann Sacks’ offerings.
“Because each slab is like a piece of art, one must look at each one like a canvas,” says Gundberg. “We look at veining structure and layout, background color, inclusions and other markings, and select slabs that are balanced and harmonious.” Yet not every slab makes the cut. “There are definitely some slabs that are perfect in veining structure and layout, but the background color is off, and it ruins the entire slab.”
Designers and homeowners are devising unique ways to play up a stone’s unique characteristics. “Texture and dimension are definitely something that's trending right now,” says Heaton. “If you've got a stone that has a lot of beautiful veining and then you add some kind of textured surface or dimension like flutes or ribs, it accentuates the stone’s features even more.”
Beyond texture, colored stone is increasingly popular.
“In addition to slabs with intense veining, we are seeing lots of color in stone,” says Gundberg. “Slabs with swaths of red or violet are particularly popular, as well as stones in hues of green or blue. Travertines are also having a moment. They tend to be more rustic and earthy, and are generally found in tones of beige and brown, which are palettes that are trending throughout the home.”
“I am obsessed with leathered finishes,” adds Gundberg, “which gives a slab a wonderfully soft, matte surface and creates a more tactile experience because the veining becomes more defined during the fabrication process.”
“I am absolutely loving stone slab kitchen hoods,” says Gundberg. “This is a fantastic look, and creates such a dramatic focal point, especially when the veining is continuous from the hood to the backsplash. I also love the stone slabs with a single shelf backsplash. It combines the slab trend with the open shelving trend, and is simple but sophisticated. Both these applications make the most of that heavy, dramatic veining that is so popular right now.” Heaton loves the stone kitchen hood look as well. “It's such a classic statement that you're taking something that has been in the earth, in the mountain, for tens of thousands of years, and now you have this beautiful slice of history that you're putting up on your wall.”