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Artificial stone: to do or not to do

As the Tuscan craze continues and continues and continues, I get a lot of requests for stone facing on fireplaces, barbecues, walls, and columns. A lot of the time, people wonder whether they should go with an artificial stone. So I thought I would take a minute to go over the benefits and drawbacks of artificial vs. the real deal.

The main thing that is in artificial stone’s favor is that it is less expensive, typically 50% to 75% of the cost of real stone. Also, because the pieces have been designed to fit together easily, the installation cost is also less. The other thing that I think draws people to the artificial options on the market is that some of the companies are fabulous at marketing so that it is very easy to tell which ones will give you that iconic Tuscan look that people just seem to drool over (as in the photo here).

So what are the drawbacks? First off, artificial stone is essentially formed concrete that is faux-painted to look like stone. That means two things: 1) that the color does not go the full way through so any chips will show the grey inside color, and 2) the paint colors aren’t that natural so they are tough to match with any other natural materials you might pick (like, say, the travertine tiles that people also seem to drool over). But I think the biggest drawback is the “Disneyland effect”- they are good fakes but they are still fakes! And once your eye is trained to see the fakeness, they will never look real to you again.

So, what I like to recommend is to use the real stuff- actual stone!- whenever you can. Use it smarter. Use less of it. Use it where it counts. It will never get dated or look oh-so-2005. If it chips, you’ll just see more real stone underneath. And best of all, it will always have that wonderful color and luminescence of real stone.

“But the cost,” you say! It isn’t as bad as you think. Luckily, a few stone companies took their cue from the artificial stone makers and came out with thin veneers of real stone that are pre-cut to the shape you want (just like the fake stuff) so they weigh less and are easy to install. They are still more expensive than the fake options, but consider this: in ten years I think we will all be pulling the fake stuff off. It will look dated and passe, but the real stuff will still be beautiful to us in the way that gorgeous Craftsman tile from the 1930’s is still beautiful to us. The real stuff will be cheaper in the long run because you will still like it.

A few sources:

The fake stuff: El Dorado Stone and Cultured Stone are the two top manufacturers
The real stuff: try Thompsons Building Supply for some great options including NSVI and Montana Rockworks

And of course check out our website, where you can see examples of some of each!

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at