a rock veneer adds depth and texture
Photo: Russell Kaye
Bent over a large bucket of thinset mortar, Roger Cook reaches in with a triangular pointing trowel and scoops up a glob of the icinglike gray mix. In front of him looms a broad concrete foundation wall almost entirely covered in rows upon rows of neatly arranged stone slivers, while behind him, piled on a table, are scores of the rock pieces, looking like the wall's crumbled mirror image.

Grabbing a slice of rock off the table, he butters its smooth back like a piece of toast. Then he turns to the wall and carefully slips the sliver into place along the 20-foot-long horizontal line. It has taken the This Old House landscape contractor nearly three days, but row by row, he's managed to turn a cold concrete foundation face at the TV show's Cambridge project house into a rock sculpture. Using lightweight slices of real stone, he has applied a veneer to the slab that makes the Modern-style house look as if it has grown out of an old farm wall. As Roger explains, applying stone veneer requires some patience. "Slow and careful gets the best results," he says. "It's all about paying attention to the details."

Houses have been built from stone for thousands of years, but today the look of stone construction is much easier to achieve because it can be created with veneer—rock cut into thin, smooth-backed pieces that are applied to cement board or poured concrete. There's no footing required because the pieces are relatively lightweight, ranging from 8 to 15 pounds per square foot. And the flat rear surface of the veneer simplifies mortaring, though you still need to fit stones carefully in relation to others—that's where artistry comes in. Then, unlike solid-rock-and-mortar jobs, there's no cure time, so you can keep right on working. Best of all, you don't have to exhaust yourself wrestling with boulders. "You can set veneer for hours and still function at the end of the day," says Roger.

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