The DNA of Stone Design & The Outdoor Room

Words: Dawn Carroll
Words: Dawn Carroll
Photos: Gregory Lombardi Design Inc., Zen Associates

As a stone designer, I am intrigued with and will collect anything unusual extracted from the earth. Enthusiastically, mineral experts and rock nerds like me will dig deep, ready to nose dive into the dirt all over the world, answering an energetic primal call that beats for our attention. Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated with the journey of a stone and inspired as an artist to find spectacular, awe-inspiring gems, that will become a masterpiece in a designers portfolio.  

Rock peddlers are a unique group. Stone artists and designers are always waiting for the rumor that something astonishing has been found, so passion can engineer gigantic ideas that will surpass our previous project. Or a design that will pay great respect to the geological wonders. One never knows how deep, far, or long one must dig, sifting through the dirt before finding a worthwhile stone. But once an unusual find is exhumed, it soon becomes the talk of the industry and the centerpiece to a new luxurious space. 


The quarry has a mystical charisma that shimmers and whispers behind the shadows, releasing intense captivating stories and energy from the past. Stone takes you back in time, plunging you into the earth hundreds, thousands and millions of years ago. It extracts secrets, history, beauty, and creates a deeper understanding of the turbulent creation of our earth. As stone specialists, we try to understand and predict prehistoric materials and how they might be relevant today. 

 Passion for natural stone leaves many breathless and is the collateral for many sparkling unique friendships. I have met exciting, high-voltage collectors from all over the world who need tranquilizers when gathering and talking about their love of stone.   

Stone projects of all kinds rely on imaginative design, when I see a new rock, I can’t wait to create its new use and locate its new home. The design world is small and the adventure to be the first to use something just found is a world of adventure for any stone professional. The network of innovative collectors, my design clients, are always waiting for my call, alerting them that something new is on the market, perfect for the project they are brewing and hoping to be the first to set the stone.   

Irish Grey Limestone known for prehistoric shells and coral

Once the unique stone has been found, we return to our blueprints feeling inspired. Design masters worldwide will use their talent and imagination to create a dreamy space that can shake our soul and make us feel brand new. Once we have procured the objects, we then seek the advice of the craftsmen “Masonry Masters” and “Stone Fabricators” who will cut, grind, carve, and polish the dream into reality. Challenges are around every corner, which is all part of the design's fate. Designing on the spot is often our greatest skill with natural stone and reactive design is not unusual. Stone is spirited and has a mind of its own, often the flaws wake up, pop open and present a challenge. Imperfections are what attract me the most, even the ornery reactions can become a joy, producing something glorious and keeping our job fascinating, as man starts to polish the ancient into something modern.  

Our quest to be surrounded by the marvels of Mother Nature is influencing stone design more than ever. Welcoming one home with elements of water cascading to a stream, the ballet of Koi swirling at our feet applauding our approach. I understand that a peaceful design is becoming a necessity. Composing an interior “ballad” that allows us to exhale, settle, soothe and console, will be our most dynamic trend in this New Year.  

New England is a region that craves outdoor living spaces and finding exotic materials that can withstand the manic temperatures can be a challenge. With short balmy seasons, designs must be flexible, top performing, stable, and engineered with extreme weather consideration. For many months’ arctic blasts with snow, rain, sleet and ice waltz with the sun and even in the dead of winter, stone heats up fast. As the stone soaks in the heat of the day, bitter cold lingers in the darkness and can quickly freeze the recently thawed. This can create an expansion that can crack, chip and irritate elegant installations. The reaction from sizzling hot to frozen stone can be severe. Ruggedly built spaces that remain delicate and worthy of royalty have designers like me on the hunt for materials that can stand the test of time. Luckily, natural stone serves as both exquisite and invaluable for the outdoor room. 

Northern Italy, Cumar Marble and Granite


There is a thin, almost invisible, wall that divides the world of interior stone and exterior stone use. Walls of glass with continuous rock gardens allow one to enjoy these spaces year-round. Clever placement of natural stone can connect your home to the beauty of the outdoors. 

DESIGN That Awakens The Spirits of Another Time  

Stone chambers and modern-day fire pits have us designing spaces that desert modern life and reach back a million years ago where the dancing flame was first used for warmth, protection, cooking, and bonding. Faraway and long ago, in the deserts of Africa, the traces of the very first use of human-influenced fire by design was found. Our infatuation with the flame is mysterious, has had many meticulous purposes, and our individual modernization of this ancient ritual continues to satisfy our need restore the frazzled, adding light and comfort to the cool of the darkness.  

Just like a million yesterdays, today we create these spaces as unique and intimate gathering spots that reconnect us, perhaps, to our ancestors.

Waterfalls, Koi Ponds and outdoor kitchens embellish our landscape and have become works of art that draw us to the outdoors. They yank us from the blue rays of electronic devices returns us to simpler times surrounded by the stars, wind, trees, birds, and wildlife. It is a space where you can actually hear yourself think, dream, appreciate, and improve.  


We are lucky that New England is plentiful with exciting stone design talent. As much as I adore the minimalist concepts of Modern Design, there is nothing like the original New England recipe. There is something magical about driving down on an old country road and seeing earthy, moss-covered, textured patina colored rocks that some of our greatest writers have written about. Something that allows you to get your emotions under control and experience pure joy. 

Romancing the stone, I am only one writer among many who enjoys telling this tale. Writer John-Manuel Andriote writes in his incredible article about geologist Robert M Thorson’s study on the walls of New England: It was American Poet Laureate Robert Frost, perhaps more than anyone else, who imbued New England’s stone walls with mythological significance. Frost’s poetry helped solidify the heroic, all-American image of the Yankee farmer — independent, self-reliant and resilient — standing up, defiantly, to the relentless stone”. Thorson says that for Frost, “stone walls were more than symbols. They were oracles. 


There are many stone heroes who design unique spaces flaunting a windswept soothing way. The marriage and fusion of wood, glass stone, and metal truly awaken my design spirit and as an artist. I have been weaving these materials together since my teens. Harmoniously, these unique combinations support each other and cast their own spell.  

LEW FRENCH Photo Allison Shaw

There is raw power in the structures that acts like a passport, keeping us connected to the past while we stretch our minds and reinvent their future. Poetically, unique stone structures tell dazzling stories, they speak about stability, fragility, journey, inclusion and the significance of preserving our great outdoors. Lew French is one of my favorite stone virtuoso’s. His art is thought-provoking and takes us on the adventure of the materials he uses in his pieces. You can actually close your eyes and dream; drift on the wood that travels the seas, never giving up until it reaches a welcoming shore.  

Singing Stones That Chant, Calm Sound: 

Forecasting, predicting and hopefully influencing, I see tomorrow’s design being driven by therapeutic balanced environments rather than spaces that lack sense, the artistic addition of auditory design just might be found in every room. We will want a spa-like atmosphere in every room, realizing more than ever that it is essential to our wellbeing. Sound design is something that I am exploring now more than ever. Lightening, vibration, fog machine, recorded symphonies of mother nature are all becoming part of the traditional stone setting. We want all the sounds of nature, the gentle brooks, the mysterious forest, the mist, the rain, the thunder and the fog and many of us will need to rely on the injection of technology to produce these sounds in our city spaces. We want to experience the exotic call of unknown creatures so we can wonder, imagine be inspired to explore. We want everything in our interior and exterior spaces that can repair us from grueling, stressful days, and a chaotic world that demands more and more from us.  


Though New England doesn’t have natural hot springs, that does not stop us from creating soothing outdoor stone bathing spaces. Humans marinating in healing water is nothing new, and expert stone design has always had a starring role. In ancient cultures, we’ve found carefully crafted alabaster soaking tubs in Ancient Greek ruins and rock pools in Japanese culture tracing back to the 1200s. Splashing cold water from the sea onto the scalding rocks heated by an open flame, creating rooms of steam and this ancient bathing ritual remains in demand to this day.  

Arenas & Modern Day Gladiators 

Ancient Romans might be amused at our private Coliseums. A gathering spot for entertaining is re-visualized in many private residential spaces. Competitive sports and the joy of cheering the masters during their “tug-of-war” tournaments has always been a favorite pastime and discovering that “tennis” on grass courts, made its American debut just north of Boston, in Nahant Massachusetts was an added pleasure to writing this piece.  

Tumbled Stones & Your Home 

Blank spaces thrive under the mentoring of design masters who use their talent and imagination to create prestigious spaces with mammoth responsibility. Spaces that restore and make us feel at home with the great outdoors. These playful, soothing, educational, nourishing, and romantically embellished spaces tame the stress of the day and become a tonic that inspires joy into our lives. Stone remains popular because it sings the rhythm of the earth, it seduces and has a magnetic pull for us. A coastline full of tumbled stones is always pleasing to the eye, but usually only one lands into your hand and finds its way to your home. 

Garden integration among the stone has always excited our senses and this year I am inspired more than ever. Learning about these gorgeous, mesmeric spaces where the wind in the trees, the release of water, and where hundreds of tiny eyes all stare at you holding their breath waiting for your next move basking in the paradise, the garden of delight, begging you to just sit and be still.  

The splendid path to success is self-expression, growth, wisdom and we can learn a lot from rock and its wondrous journey. Surrounding yourself with thoughtful design can be the best investment you make in yourself. Creative spaces unlock potential, allow you to discover hidden talents, and allow you to put pen to paper and wake up the artist inside of you. Stone design can be spine-tingling simple and amazingly simple. Gorgeous stones are right at your fingertips and Earth is open 24/7 and offers unique one-stop shopping. We don’t have to be owners of posh estates, each of us can have an intimate space that can bring us joy and teach. Rock Gardens inside and out are irresistible - rock collecting is easy and there are so many gifts from the earth just waiting to become a new member of your home.  

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