Stone tile can be used to create avante-garde designs in both the residential and commercial sectors. For the exterior of a home in Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, artisan Samuel McPeek utilized a variety of slate and quartz to create a three-dimensional nature scene.

Another example of a creative use of stone tile is a mosaic floor design entitled “Trilogue,” which was installed in the entryway of the Workforce Development Center at Heartland Community College in Normal, IL.

Whether it is an exotic onyx with wild veining and unique colors or granite with consistent shading, natural stone offers a host of options when it comes to design - be it a residential or commercial application. New material is constantly being discovered around the world, from places as far away as India, South America and Africa. Moreover, the numerous varieties of marble, granite, limestone travertine, onyx, sandstone, slate and quartzite are offered in a range of format sizes and different textures - further contributing to the extensive selection on today’s market.

And with such a broad spectrum of stone products available, the possibilities are exciting. Applications are not limited to floors and walls of 12-by-12-inch tile. Architects and designers, as well as homeowners themselves, are combining different sizes, stone types and finishes to put their own unique stamp on their designs. As a result, many of today’s living areas and public spaces are hip, fresh and visually stimulating.

Taking it a step further, stone tile is also being custom cut to create lavish murals or floor patterns. Creativity such as this transforms stone applications into works of art. An example of this is the exterior entrance of a home in Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, where artisan Samuel McPeek used a variety of slate and quartz to create a three-dimensional nature scene. With 30 years of experience as a master tile installer, this is just one of many unique projects that McPeek has realized.

“I work almost exclusively with stone,” said McPeek, whose shop is located in Nanaimo, BC. “When I started working with it, I hated it - then I started seeing all of the things that I could do with it. It’s an amazing medium. It leads you in a different direction as you are working with it.”

For the residential exterior, the artisan worked with the homeowner, who is a gifted artist herself. “The art piece was a collaboration of ideas that started with a picture of a tree,” explained McPeek. “The homeowner and I clicked the minute that we met. She had a vision of an art piece for the front of her home, and when she saw my work, she knew I could bring her vision to life.”

To initiate the project, McPeek and the homeowner stood in front of the house and discussed their ideas, he explained. “We wanted the house to have an island flavor, so we chose an Arbutus tree, and I felt a Blue Heron would complement the picture.”

McPeek went on to say that the picture of the tree that inspired the design had branches swinging off in only one direction. “I felt that the energy of the branches swinging one way had to be counteracted,” he said. “So my idea was to put the bird in.”

The artisan explained that he drew a picture of the Heron and made it as large as the house scale would allow. “Its flight was towards the door which counteracted the tree branches, which were also towards the door,” explained McPeek. “This was done to draw you to the center of the home and the front entrance.”

The cutting was all done in the artisan’s shop in Vancouver. “I keep a large selection of stone tile from all over the world,” he said. “A lot of it was hand picked for color and movement. Because it is an exterior piece, I used a lot of African slate, Brazilian slate, a bit of dense Chinese slate and quite a lot of quartz. I used a Greek marble for the bird, which had the perfect movement to replicate feathers, and Bianco Carrara for the sky.”

To further add detail, McPeek used a grinder to groove the face of the Bianco Carrara marble to form the clouds. He then polished the stone with diamond pads to bring back the shine to a matte finish. “When I was working on something like the tree, I try and have as many pieces of stone, in the color spectrum that I am using, laid out where I can see it,” said the artisan. “I sort it out from light to dark and have 50 pieces or more so I have all the colors to get shading and grain direction.”

According to McPeek, because of the massive size of the mural, he had to create it in three pieces. “This made it more challenging, as I had to visualize how everything would fit together in my head and hope it would all match up and flow once completed,” he said. “Once it was cut out, I transported all the cut pieces to the jobsite. Because it was an exterior installation, I meshed everything and then used waterproof membrane to make sure it would last forever.”

“I chose marble because its color and structure is unpredictable and, therefore, unrepeatable,” stated Youlia Tkatchouk, who designed the mosaic floor. “It makes for a totally unique and fascinating floor design.”

With 30 years of experience in the trade, McPeek ensures structurally sound work. “The most difficult part of the job was the installation,” he explained. “There were hundreds of small pieces, and they are cut to fit tight together with little or no grout lines. To get everything to fit was very challenging, and climbing up and down the scaffolding several hundred times a day was also very challenging. This job was a labor of love.”

In total, McPeek calculates that it took approximately 700 hours - from design to installation - to complete the project. He explained that it was time consuming due to the fact that the stone tiles were layer upon layer. “I used extra backerboard behind [each piece] to give it dimension,” said the artisan.

While the mural was being assembled, McPeek’s work caught the attention of many driving by. “They knew it wasn’t painted, because they saw me out there working on it,” said McPeek. “When they came walking up, it was really neat to see their reactions. Every time someone came close to it, they were really blown away. It’s nice when I have customers that have confidence and let me have creative freedom. I see it as I do it - something will jump out at me.”

Recently, McPeek was honored for his work on the ornate stone mural with a Prism Award for “Design + Detail,” which was sponsored by Coverings - an international tile and stone exhibition that took place in Orlando, FL, this past spring.

According to McPeek, who has 30 years of experience in the trade, his work is a collaboration between his clients’ visions and the creative liberties they usually allow him to take. In addition to typical applications, stone tile can be used to create decorative pieces such as this wall design.

An Unrepeatable Pattern

Another example of thinking “outside of the box,” which also was honored in the Prism Awards is a mosaic floor design entitled “Trilogue.” It was installed in the entryway of the Workforce Development Center at Heartland Community College in Normal, IL.

The design objective for the floor pattern that took First Place in the Institutional Category was fueled by the State of Illinois’ vision to construct a “green” building. The natural marble tile used in the mosaic floor fits comfortably with the LEED goals of this project, according to Youlia Tkatchouk, who designed the mosaic floor.

Tkatchouk was basically given creative freedom in the design process. “I chose marble because its color and structure is unpredictable and, therefore, unrepeatable,” she stated. “It makes for a totally unique and fascinating floor design.”

An assortment of marble from Canada, China, India, Israel and Italy were chosen to create the intricately detailed colorful mosaic design, which creates a swirling path in a field of carpet at the building’s entry.

“One challenge for this project was the thoughtful use of labor intensive mosaic design with the larger floor plan of this public building,” stated Tkatchouk. “Trilogue strikes an excellent balance between large empty monochrome planes of carpet with a rich variety of mosaic design that demands closer inspection.”

According to the artist, the majority of the mosaic was created offsite in sections that were later brought to the jobsite for final fit and installation. “Each piece of marble was hand selected and evaluated for color and placement,” she stated. “Then each piece was chiseled to create the tight fit required for smoothness of design. This fluidity of forms recalls earth, water and sky; soul, body and mind.”

It took approximately 12 months for Tkatchouk to realize her vision. The design was presented and approved in 2006, and the Grand Opening for the building was held in August 2007. BLDD Architect Inc. of Champaign, IL, was responsible for the overall building design.