Why Stone and Accent Tile are Not as Important as You Think

I have worked with many couples over the years as they plan their renovation or new build. And here’s what I’ve noticed.

They get overly worried about the exterior being boring so they go with a combination of stucco, siding AND shingles. Oh, but we’re not done yet, don’t forget the stone AND brick.

When I’m consulting on new build colours, I often ask if they have their landscape design done and the answer is usually NOT YET.

We forget while making decisions about the minutia of every element of the exterior of a new house, that a huge piece of the look and feel of a home is created by the landscaping.

MaryAnne White, my landscape architect from New York designed my  landscaping (by eDesign) three years ago completely from scratch. It was very bad when we moved in.

If you are building a house and need a landscape plan? Hire MaryAnne for drawings and a plant list. Then you can have a local contractor execute the plan.

From MaryAnne, you’ll get a design that could include the correct and properly proportioned stone urn outside the living room window, for example (below).

A boxwood hedge, which stays green all winter, designed so perfectly in my front yard, you’re clear a designer was here.

A curved, flagstone pathway leading to the front door.

A decorative gate and a lattice fence, entering the backyard.

The same happens inside.

It’s easy to forget that decorating is where all the creativity and interest comes in.

And that’s where all the all-too-interesting and creative trendy accent tiles including trendy stone fireplaces happen.

I met James Wiens in November when I commissioned him to paint a piece of flower art for my living room (that post is coming soon).

James and his wife Janet are building a house on Crimson Ridge in Chilliwack and when they showed me the plans for the living room fireplace, James said what bothered him the most about the plan was the angled fireplace created by the trusses in the great room.

He had spoken to the builder who advised him that changing this design would add another $30,000 to the cost of building the house.

So I pulled up these inspiration photos from Velvet & Linen’s Oxnard home.

Interior design by Brooke & Steve Gianetti

Brooke and Steve plastered the old lava rock fireplace (below) and surrounded it with Steve’s art.

Here’s the before with the lava rock.

The point is that the interest in this room is created by the decorating. NOT by the INTERESTING and TRENDY stone. This lava rock was trendy in the 70’s but we don’t love it anymore right?

Same thing applies to all the trendy stacked stone you might be considering as we speak. There are lots of fireplaces in stacked stone right now with these identical colours (above) just in a different shape.

My advice, unless you are building a cottage in the woods or a ski chalet, keep your mantle classic with a simple white (off-white or cream) surround.

via Pinterest

I was so happy when we moved into our house that the fireplaces were totally classic.

James has a Life Aquatic section of art on his website, here are a few of them arranged together just like in the inspiration photo above: 

My favourite is the flower art (I know you’re not surprised), check it out here.

Remember, this advice is for someone who is planning a renovation or a new build. If you’ve already made the mistakes I’m talking about, just get decorating. You need to distract the eye from what you don’t like and styling is the easiest way to do it.

If you need help getting your exterior or interior right, check out our eDesign services.

Related posts:

What it Takes to Have a Classic House

Which Stone Colour is Best for your Fireplace Surround

Should Your Great Room Fireplace Relate to Your Kitchen?

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  1. OMG your house looks so beautiful in the snow! However it also looks so cold. Even we in California are ready for warmer weather! Your comment on landscaping is what makes a house look awesome just like accessorizing your interior. It is like the old adage “frosting on the cake”. Keeping both the outside and inside classic for the long run is the way to go. You can always change the style with furniture and color.

    Love your artist! He is fabulous! I like everything he does but like you I absolutely love the flower art!

  2. The Exteriors on the houses being built now are (almost always) so ugly. Please tell me if I right about this: I don’t think that a lot of what passes for “rock” is really rock. I think it might be molded to look-like rock, cement/concrete or possibly resin.

    I also really dislike the multiple materials trend. I think part of that is the current look/trend in exteriors and I think part of it is an effort to mix more expensive materials with less expensive materials in hopes that the whole thing will seem like it was make of the more expensive. To me the effect is really busy and garbled. I hope something better replaces that trend soon!

    The Fireplace that has lava rock plastered over in white is really georgous. I’d like to know more about the plastering/stuccoing over option (I think there are a lot of things being built currently both interior and exterior that are worth plastering/stuccoing over!). I sort of had the impression that it was tricky though covering one building material with another . . something about expanding and contracting the same with tempeture changes (perhaps more of an issue with exteriors) maybe moisture issue too.

    • I agree, Jill. It’s so disappointing to see some of these houses that could be really nice just mucked up with a mixture of surfaces, especially the fake stone. Honestly, you could have a very nice house with siding that would look better than that junk. You do wonder what people are thinking! There are so many classic designs that look great, I just don’t understand where some new home builders get these ideas.

  3. I am gutting and renovating a 1970’s architect designed home with wooden beam and plank ceilings that soar over the…two giant rustic stone fireplaces. I am altering most of the house, but not the fireplaces. The stone is what it is – authentic, native quarried rock from 50 years ago. I’m not just working around it, I am embracing the heart of the house and letting it tell all occupants that this house is a solid old lady who has real stories to tell. 🙂 It’s in the foothills, so the setting for this type of fireplace works. It would feel really overdone in a city.

  4. Well said Maria! It’s so awesome that you take the time and effort to keep people from making the same old mistakes. As you show time and time again with photos, the most enduringly beautiful spaces are made of simple materials. Thank you for being a strong voice among the cacophony of designers and salesmen trying to push “interesting”! Keep up the great work!

  5. Everything looks so beautiful! When I saw the beautiful living room however, it make me think about sofa pillows actually. ADHD? Anyhow, is there a pillow fabric that won’t slide around on a leather sofa? Or perhaps you have a trick up your sleeve for that. Thanks!

  6. I absolutely love the effect of plastering over the stone – and this artwork is awesome! I just love the result.

    It makes me remember that it probably wouldn’t have been done if there were no stone already there that wanted help. Further proof that necessity is the mother of invention. Some of my best ideas in life were from trying to overcome an obstacle. Four perfectly blank walls may not have inspired that gorgeous “fix”.

    • I was wondering if the plaster job would be as lovely had it been over something more uniform (like say brick) as opposed to the lava rock. The plaster has such lovely variation in texture (all those pretty rounded shapes in the plaster) – I assume that comes from the shape of the lava rocks (which I’m not a huge fan of) underneath the plaster.

  7. My friend had the same ugly stone and ended up tearing it all out 15 years ago and installing the exact white fireplace mantel you posted. It made such a huge difference in her living room. And after 15 years it doesn’t look out dated and still geogous. As always ❤ your posts.

  8. I recently had a client who lives in a classic 1930’s Tudor cottage that people would kill for. She wanted to update the paint colors, and re-do the marble fireplace surround with modern, textured tile. I explained that she had a classic house with a well-known style, and although the tile was interesting, it just wasn’t appropriate for her home.

    In addition, they mounted a big black TV above the white painted brick mantel. It’s off-center, appears “top heavy”, and is the main thing you see when you come in the room. Frankly, I don’t understand people who buy older homes, yet don’t get the classic vibe.

    I also agree with the busy exteriors! I can’t stand the stones in horrible color combinations! They mix up all types of colors that don’t work together, especially the fake stuff. I often encounter older homes with stucco, brick, and stone all on the facade. Usually, they look better though.

    But, there’s an abundance of orange brick! People are often surprised when I talk about how the paint should work with the brick. If they want to do something that would clash, I suggest painting out the brick. I’d rather do that since it simplifies busy exteriors, and gives people more color options if they aren’t into the earthy brick palette.

  9. So glad we listened to your advice five years ago when we were building our new home to put a white fireplace surround in instead of stone! It will be forever beautiful!