Ouch. I feel like I’m backstabbing my trusted old friend, the natural stone panel. Lately we’ve seen a surge of interest in faux stone products, particularly for backlighting applications, and have found ourselves recommending these products for certain instances. There are some high-quality acrylics, poured resins, and co-polyester materials that have made advancements in the last five years and become promising contenders to the natural stone panel.
You’ve specified an exotic natural onyx, the client has fallen in love with it, and now after budgeting exercises, you need value alternatives that still come close to the original design intent. The inherent beauty of onyx panels instantly makes them the focal points of space, so it’s not always wise to cut the budget in these areas. There ARE certain instances in which man-made faux stone panels will maintain your design intent, meet the budget, and please the client, but decisions should be made with discrimination.
When is a man-made onyx material a decent architectural solution? Here is our criteria for selectively determining when to use man-made faux stone panels versus the real thing:
1. Complex Geometries
Let’s face it – even with the most advanced processes, natural stone panels just doesn’t like to be coerced into complex geometries (particularly bent and curved shapes). Man made stone materials offer real flexibility in creating thermoformed and custom shapes. In addition, mitered edges are easier to fabricate and control quality.
2. Overhead applications
In terms of offering dramatic weight reduction, faux stone panels offer real benefit to designers and greatly reduce structural requirements. Plus if the stone will be viewed from a distance and out of reach from physical contact, it’s likely that the occupants will never know the difference.
Based on our experience, faux stone panels are typically about 50% less expensive than traditional glass-backed natural stone. The lightweight nature will reduce the amount of structural steel necessary to support the faux stone in a feature wall or ceiling application.
4. Control/ Predictability
Especially when you’re in a time crunch and looking for a quick material solution to add to your specs, mother nature doesn’t always provide natural stone material in the exact way you have envisioned it, packaged neatly for insertion into architectural drawing sets. For optimal control and predictability, man-made materials offer the advantage.
This piggy-backs onto #4 above. With an easier specification process, man-made translucent stone panels greatly simplify the decision-making process. Existing product collections set clear parameters on available surface styles and options. While the manufacturing lead times for faux and natural stone panels are roughly the same, the sampling and specification process for acrylic or resin stone panels is usually quicker.
--> Now of course, there’s always a distinct set of parameters in which materials are best suited, and I must do justice to GPI's long history in the natural stone industry. So stay tuned for when we explore the advantages of using natural stone panels (which, if nothing else, will ease my guilt for writing this blog post!).