November 18, 2016

Rock on

Lighter and more streamlined, modern stonework adds sleek style to hearth and home

By Michael Bernard


Streamlined stone makes a stylish surround for a gas fireplace.

Styles of stonework come and go, and the cosy crackle of wood-burning fireplaces has largely given way to the hum of natural gas and electric models. But overall the business of building hearths in homes remains a stable one, say those in the stone industry.

Metro Vancouver’s major rock and stone masonry companies say the use of lightweight stone veneers, and the changing styles of stone fireplaces, are keeping them busy year round.

Our wood-burning fireplace is the focal point of the house. It’s the ambiance of sitting around with family and friends and enjoying the crackle and warmth of
a fire.

“It’s a very steady business,” says Jack Kok, fabrication manager for Adera Stone, one of the leading suppliers and installers of stonework in the region. “I haven’t had a day off in 26 years.”

Kok began his career as a sculptor, honing his skills at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. He worked for several artists, studied in Italy and even tried his hand at carving monuments and headstones before moving to Vancouver and taking up masonry work, including hand-carving cornices for fine homes.

Much of that work today is performed by computer-guided machines, so he spends most of his time at the drawing board designing fireplaces and overseeing their installation.

Fireplace styles have morphed over the years, he says. The once-popular country fireplace with round river rocks was replaced by the highly refined appearance of polished marble and granite. More recently, the streamlined look of ledgestone has come into vogue, in keeping with modern day sustainability and reduced energy for construction and transportation.

Today’s Metro Vancouver convenience-conscious consumers favour natural gas and electric fireplaces over wood by a margin of about eight to one, say local dealers, but that doesn’t diminish interest in attractive fireplace surrounds.

In fact, freed of the requirement of heavy foundation construction demanded by traditional wood-burning fireplaces, homeowners with natural gas and electric models can now focus more on the esthetics, says Owen Huard, owner of Huard Marble and Tile.

“The finishes nowadays lend themselves to easy transitions,” he says. This allows consumers to change the look of their home by installing new stonework right on top of older, outdated fireplace surrounds.

He estimates that fireplace surrounds can be built for as little as $800 to $1,000 although more involved floor-to-ceiling models using marble and limestone can run into many thousands of dollars.

Unless a condo owner is changing gas lines or doing other permit-required work, changes to fireplace facades generally don’t require permission from strata councils, he adds.

Despite the urban trends, wood-burning fireplaces remain a favourite in ski resorts such as Whistler, where master mason Eric Craig and his company True North Masonry are kept busy building them year after year.

So it came as no surprise when Craig got a call from his old friend Jack Mann to build a wood-burning fireplace from basalt at a new 7,500-square-foot home in Coldstream near Vernon.

Mann says when his house was being designed, the contractor sketched in a natural gas fireplace. “There was no way that was going to happen,” says the retired builder, noting he owned seven wood-burning fireplaces in Whistler. “I knew what I wanted, and I wasn’t going to walk backwards.

“Our wood-burning fireplace is the focal point of the house. It’s the ambiance of sitting around with family and friends and enjoying the crackle and warmth of a fire.”

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