From the sun rising over Lake Huron, to its setting across Lake Michigan: it’s undeniable that we dwell in one of the most beautiful regions in the entire world. I’ve had the privilege of living “up north” for most of my life. And I am truly blessed to be here. As Michiganders, we’re never more than six miles from the water. We get to revel in all four seasons: from the white snow-blanketed winters, to the promise of new life in the green of spring, to the water sports and extended evenings of summer, and the gorgeous colors on full display in the fall.
Our properties are our own little piece of the north. They tie us to the land. They become our sanctuaries that we mold around the natural beauty that surrounds us. In the midst of our lakeshores, our woodlands and our open fields, we carve the land to build our homes, and to make our place in the world. It’s a manifestation of our vision of our best lives. It’s not just your house. It’s the place where you bring people to say, “this is who I am.”
We’re in a renaissance period for outdoor living. Just as the internet has made the world a little smaller by connecting all cultures, the same technologies are giving us access to a diversity of building materials like we’ve never seen. Materials like natural stone have always been quarried regionally across the world, each with their own unique look and feel. These local resources and vegetation contribute to the distinctive style of each region. But it can also lead to a type of sameness. When you have access to the same handful of materials as everyone else, it becomes difficult to set your property apart.
To provide a local example: in Michigan we have lots of limestone. In fact, the largest limestone quarry in the world is located in Rogers City. Limestone appears in varying shades of gray and buff. It can be extracted in large slabs, which make for gorgeous, rustic looking retaining walls. No doubt, you’ve seen limestone walls across the landscape, from the Old Mission Peninsula, to Mackinac Island. It’s a timeless look, and a big ingredient in our regional flavor. Our limestone is no slouch. And now we can supplement it with the best stone offered across the United States and throughout the world.
Another timeless look that you’ve certainly seen is bluestone. Bluestone originates from quarries in New York and Pennsylvania. It’s a sedimentary stone, which means that it was originally formed by the settling of mineral deposits. As the name suggests, it’s mostly blue in color. But bluestone can have a wide range of color, from green to blue, to deep lilac and even brown and orange.
Bluestone remains popular for its rich color, irregular shapes, and natural cleft surface. But as is the case with many classic stone materials, modern manufacturing gives us an even bigger diversity of options. In its irregular, natural cleft form, bluestone is wonderful. But if you’re looking for something less rustic, bluestone also comes in a variety of rectilinear shapes and sizes. Ashlar pattern bluestone is a popular choice for patios, walkways, and home entryways. Assorted squares and rectangles fit together in a pattern that appears random to the naked eye.
And if the natural cleft face of bluestone isn’t refined enough, bluestone can be made to have a thermal face. The process of thermalling is where the stone pieces are run through a high-temperature torch. The intense heat blows the top layer off the face of the stone, leaving a very level and lightly textured finish that has plenty of grip, but is suitable for bare feet.
Like many stone materials, bluestone is available in an entire range of complimentary products. Bluestone comes as flagstone or as a paver for patios and walking surfaces. It is also available as a step tread, which can come irregularly shaped, or cut into consistently dimensioned slabs that are safe for walking and can meet any building code. Bluestone can be sawn into retaining wall materials. And it is a popular choice for accents, like wall copings and column caps.
Marble & Travertine
Another incredible set of materials that have gained a lot of traction throughout the north are imported slabs crafted from marble and travertine. Known throughout the world as a luxurious interior surface, marble has been gaining a lot of attention outdoors for use in show-stopping patios, walkways and home entryways. Marble is a metamorphic stone, which means that throughout the course of history, sedimentary (or igneous) rock was exposed to high levels of heat and pressure, transforming the internal structure of the stone, making it much more dense.
For landscaping, marble is processed into pavers and slabs that are extremely durable, and dimensionally perfect. They take on a smooth appearance, but are actually very slip-resistant. Marble naturally occurs in a wide range of vivid colors, including rich creams, deep blues, whites, grays, browns and reds. Each quarry has its own signature color palette. But even within a single quarry, unique variegation within the stones themselves ensure that no two marble patios will ever look exactly alike. If you’re looking for a patio of distinction that nobody else will have, marble can deliver. And because the stone is so durable, it is very low maintenance.
Marble pavers are available in square and rectangular shapes, ranging from small to massive. But perhaps the most visually stimulating marble paver configuration is the French pattern: a twelve-piece pattern composed of squares and rectangles of four different sizes. The visual result is a harmonious explosion of complimentary colors, with lines that intersect and weave through each other. The eye can get lost in its beauty for hours.
Travertine pavers are similar to marble, and have many of the same properties. Travertine is a dense limestone that hasn’t gone through the metamorphic process to become marble. By comparison, travertine is slightly more porous, contributing to its unique look. And in general, the range of colors and variegation within types of travertine can be much wider than marble. It is available in the same range of shape, sizes and patterns.
Even though most marble and travertine is imported from abroad, it is incredible how well the materials blend into the natural aesthetic of Northern Michigan. An excellent example is our featured project, found on page 23. This incredible Lake Michigan home features HIGH FORMAT® Devon travertine pavers and Fond du Lac limestone slabs. It’s a beautiful example of how seamlessly the bold colors and rectilinear shapes of the travertine meld with the natural irregularities and neutral tones of the Fond du Lac and the surrounding environment.
As the rising profile of marble has shown, high-end stone materials from inside the home are getting some major love outside of the home. Another surface you may have in your house that is making a splash in the yard is granite. Granite is an igneous stone, which means that it is formed by the cooling of lava. It is dense, with a complex grain structure that gives each piece its signature sparkling appearance. It can take on a large range of colors, depending on where it’s sourced. But for exterior use, we often see granite that has a relatively consistent color range, be it dark gray to black, or deep blue with veins of beige and salmon.
Granite is an excellent material for walls and step treads. It comes sawn to specific thicknesses, and can have that same sawn look on the face. Or it can have a more natural-looking split-face, where the stone is literally split apart, revealing the natural edge. Granite steps are a great choice in spaces where a super-consistent tread is required. And due to its generally linear look and consistent color, granite is a great choice for modern styling.
It can be exhilarating to explore the great diversity of color and texture that stone can bring to our homes. Another sandbox that we get to play in is shape. For many years, Northern Michigan has experienced a broadly rustic style of landscape design. This has been characterized by the use of irregularly-shaped stone, sweeping curved lines, natural cleft textures, and lots of boulders. Many of these aesthetics were born from the materials that were available locally, like those awesome limestone slabs that have been such an important regional resource.
Landscape designers and homeowners have continually found ways to breathe new creative life into our local palette of colors, shapes and sizes. But today, we’re not constrained to the handful of choices that were available to us even just a few years ago. One result of this new influx of materials is that we’re beginning to see more modern aesthetics bleeding into the local flavor. These styles are characterized by the use of long straight lines, materials that are sawn to size, and color palettes that are consistent and neutral, often showing contrast between the main details like walls and patios, and the finish details like copings and column caps.
The creativity we’re seeing today is boundless. There are no hard rules. Many designs are sticking to a tried and-true rustic aesthetics. Some are bringing in an exciting modern influence. And others are finding creative ways to blend styles in stunning ways. For example, you could take a modern looking wall material like granite, with its consistent dark colors, its long linear styling, and its subtle textures; and you could combine that with a more traditional patio material, like Gold or Silver Quartz, with its irregular shapes, natural cleft textures, and creamy white colors. The materials compliment each other, while contrasting in a way that’s visually engaging.
Silver Quartz belongs to the quartzite family, which is another metamorphic stone, composed of quartz sandstone. It is a very dense, often shimmery material that typically comes in the form of flagstone, irregular step treads, and decorative outcroppings. It is often used in a patio as an alternative to bluestone or limestone options like Chilton or Fond du Lac. The luster of Silver Quartz, and its variant, Gold Quartz, are enhanced by auburn ribbons, and gleaming flakes of silver or gold, that glitter and glisten as the sunlight illuminates the surface at various angles throughout the daytime hours.
There are so many types of stone in all shapes and sizes, colors, textures and styles. Listing them all would be an exercise in futility. But one final type of stone I want to highlight is slate. Slate is a metamorphic stone that is special because of its versatility and its ability to transcend styles. It’s found in a range of dark hues. But the highest quality domestic slate is pitch black. That makes it an incredible choice for modern styling or general accents.
In design, slate refuses to be pigeonholed. Like bluestone, slate can come in both irregular flagstone, and pattern flagstone. The gorgeous natural cleft and singular dark color makes slate equally comfortable in modern or rustic landscapes. But slate can also be honed to a smooth modern surface for use in step treads, copings and column caps. In addition to flagstones and treads, slate can be found in boulders and outcroppings that can be blended into any landscape design.
It’s really a fantastic time to be a property owner in Northern Michigan. The beauty and wonder of the natural landscape draws us here; and it continues to rapture us throughout time. We get the privilege of taking our little pieces of the north, and crafting them into reflections of how we see ourselves. Never in history has there been more opportunity to transform your landscape into the uncompromised vision that has never strayed far from the front of your mind. This is your piece of the north. What will you choose to make of it?