The early copies lacked depth and texture and were mostly shades of brown, charcoal and gray. Today's manufactured stone is a mix of concrete, small stones and color pigments that is poured into intricately detailed rubber molds. These molds are created from collections of natural materials, like river rock from Great Lakes streams, stones unearthed from Western prairies, canyon rubble or limestone quarried from the Midwest.
The results are textures and hues - purples, reds, blues and greens - that only the weight of slow-moving glaciers or centuries of erosion from a white-water river are supposed to achieve. Eldorado Stone's Spann says that his company's coloring technique is a "trade secret."
When Frank Giaquinto of East Islip remodeled the exterior his 1989 two-story, four-bedroom contemporary this year, he wanted a siding that not only had style but also was maintenance-free. He considered lots of materials, including synthetic stucco, before choosing manufactured stone, specifically Eldorado's Charleston Mountain Ledge, a blend of earth tones. "We liked the color and texture," says Giaquinto, a commercial maintenance contractor. "No one wants their remodeling concept to look like an afterthought, and there's definitely a character to the product."
Sapio says while the most practical use of manufactured stone continues to be exterior siding or fireplace accents, he envisions more uses in the next few years.
"We're seeing it more in interiors now," he says. "Countertop backsplashes or highlighting one wall in a room. More people are definitely thinking about where or how it can be used."
Eldorado's Spann agrees, and he also figures that more professionals buying into the product is a positive sign.
"In the last decade, a big reason for the rise in popularity," Spann says, "is because more architects and designers are saying, 'I like working with this stuff.'"
BEGIN BY VISITING THE SHOWROOM
Thinking about building or remodeling with manufactured stone? Here are five tips, courtesy of All County Block & Supply Corp. in Bohemia, one of several Long Island distributors of the product:
See the product personally. "Visit a showroom," says Moses Mulligan, All County's manufactured stone sales associate. Pictures don't always give you an accurate reading in terms of color, texture and size, Mulligan says. A homeowner has to go out and see it.
All the manufacturers make good products; the difference between them is in the appearance. "We find the largest manufacturers have more success in creating realistic pieces," All County owner Robert Affenita says. "The larger manufacturers have trial-and-error experience."
Proper installation is important. "Make sure the contractor knows his stuff," says All County's Joe D'Attolico. "A homeowner can install the product, but it takes a lot of skill and some artistic flair to do it right." Get contractor referrals from a local masonry yard. If installed properly, most manufacturers will warranty the product for 50 years. Installation instructions or videos often can be downloaded from a manufacturer's Web site.
A little stone goes a long way. "It is best used as an accent," says installer Paul Bruton of Emerald Isle Custom Brick Work in Oakdale. "On exteriors, it looks best when it covers about half the wall. When it's used all the way up the wall, it's just too much."
Use the right sealer. On exterior applications, use a breathable sealer. "A breathable sealer will not trap moisture," D'Attolico says. "If you seal the stone indoors, make sure the sealer will resist oil and dirt."