Gone are the days of symmetrical, matchy-matchy patterns and colors when it comes to paver and stone hardscape projects. Clients across the country are now looking to create more unique extensions of their homes with large slabs, natural colors and clean finishes.
“The biggest changes that I've seen over the years have been in the diversification of the jobs,” says Joe Monello, owner and COO of Monello Landscape Industries in New Jersey. “I love that we are getting away from how everything had to have symmetry and everything was exactly the same.”
Contractors are mixing different textures, styles and color blends and favoring larger-pattern pavers for hardscape projects in the east coast area. In the past, clients just wanted a simple patio for their grill and furniture. Now, people are spending more money to do outdoor kitchens and fireplaces to create more elaborate outdoor rooms, Monello says.
“I’ve seen more and more higher-end residential projects using marble, and that’s something that is kind of new. I’d never even thought to use marble outside, but right now, one of the largest jobs we have ever done is doing marble,” he says.
That is also the case in Madison, Wisconsin, where Vande Hey Company operations manager Jerry Schumacher has seen pavers make a big comeback with varieties that look like planks and marble. As the demand for natural stone retaining walls and fireplaces has driven stone prices up, lookalike pavers have become a more economical alternative.
“It looks like expensive stone that people thought they could never touch before. Now, concrete pavers have gotten to the point where some of them look so close to the natural stone that you can use that instead,” Schumacher says.
Wisconsin-area clients love flagstone for its flatness, grainy lines and color blends. Orange, red and plain gray colors are phasing out, while a blend of earthy colors like tans, browns and blacks are in. Clients also prefer bigger stones and outcroppings. For outdoor kitchens, clients want the more formalized look of pavers and opt for larger slabs because of their brighter colors, Schumacher says. “We do very few projects, if any, where it is just a square patio area. We have curves and different shapes to create a more comfortable, conversational space,” he says.
A natural look.
It’s a different story in Austin, Texas, where natural stone is readily available at a low cost from several quarries surrounding the city. For Paul Fuller, owner of Paul’s Lawn & Landscape, the most popular requests are for modern designs using sandstone and limestone to match the exteriors of homes in the area.
“We are seeing a lot of charcoal louvers, so instead of flagstone we are using solid limestone sheets that are smooth and rectangular for patios or walkways instead of natural-looking stone. Modern is getting pretty popular, which means there’s no curves, just straight, clean lines and flat surfaces,” Fuller says.
Other trends in Austin include square and rectangle cuts of rock, chop block stone and flagstone veneer placed vertically. Fuller says pavers aren’t as common anymore.
“Pavers are more expensive than stone here and pavers in no way, shape or form look natural, so they don’t really match anything. You’re limited on shapes, and the colors aren’t always natural,” he says.
Many manufacturers offer wetcast pavers, which are molded to look like real stone. They are more costly than a typical concrete paver, but they can be easier to install because their sizes are more uniform, Monello says.
“If you’re going to use real stone, you’re going to have unevenness, different edges and different shapes and thicknesses. When you are using wetcast pavers, you still have some unevenness and uncertainties. When they chip, they have a different material underneath. It’s not that smooth-coated concrete on the outside to make it look like real stone. We’ve had some clients unhappy with sharp, uneven edges when they are cut side by side in a pool, so we have had some challenges,” he says.
In South Dakota, wood plank pavers are on trend. In the past, stamped concrete and hatch or herringbone patterns were common. Now, clients are steering clear of those and instead opting for multi-block patterns, says Nick Bahr, Madison Lawn Care owner and president.
“We are not stuck doing three-block patterns over and over again in Sioux Falls. People want unique; they want different. They don’t want the same patio their neighbor has,” Bahr says.
A wow factor.
On lakefront properties in Madison, South Dakota, clients want gas fireplaces and built-in grills, seating and lighting in their outdoor living spaces. They want high-end amenities that can be enjoyed out near the water and give their property a wow factor, even from a distance, says Tyler Patch, Madison Lawn Care landscape designer.
“When you’re on the water, you can’t tell how much time and money you spent on nice pavers. It’s the walls and columns and fireplaces that are built up that you can see from a distance that people are going for,” Patch says.
For stairways and steps, clients and contractors alike prefer to get away from pavers and use outcropping instead, Patch says.
“We use a lot of fieldstone boulder and get pretty creative with those. One of the advantages of using real stone versus manufactured is that you just have to shelf it off and kind of stack them, whereas a block wall, you have to dig it out, fill it with gravel, make sure it’s level, stack it and glue them. With real stone, instead of putting 10 blocks per step, you are just using one big one,” he says.
Installing natural stone can create challenges for a contractor, from getting colors to match, to creating heaps of debris at a project site, to mixing mortar correctly. Yet, those challenges can make working with stone more satisfying, Fuller says.
“I think there's more gratification from doing natural stone than pavers because you know exactly what the paver job is going to look like when you’re done, but with flagstone, the patterns, colors and shapes are always different. With a good mason, it really looks like a piece of art when you’re done with it,” he says.
Most contractors opt to keep some of the more common types of pavers in stock at their shop. When there is excess product after a project is complete, it goes back to their shelves for use in repairs and other projects, Schumacher says.
Overall, trends in outdoor living spaces reflect lifestyle trends. Families want to spend more time at home and want to encourage their children to bring their friends over instead of going somewhere unattended, Schumacher says. “If they can have the yard set up for entertaining, then the kids will be around more. They are trying to get back to being comfortable, entertaining and family-oriented,” he says.