Article by: Camila da Paz | Source: Dwell | Photos: Ensamble Studio

Have you ever wondered what should be made out of abandoned quarries? I know many cities turn old quarries into public parks all around the globe and, I am aware of people getting their wedding reception in an old quarry in Italy, a luxury hotel built in an old quarry in China, an amphitheatre and swimming pools. (I promise I'll make a post for each one of them in the near future!) Reading about finding new purposes of old quarries I found this very interesting article by Dwell Magazine of a family who built their minimalistic home in an abandoned quarry in Spain. Here's their story:

Three summers ago, architects Antón García-Abril and Débora Mesa went on vacation with their kids to Menorca island and, during their wanderings around the Balearic landscape, they stumbled on an abandoned sandstone mine near a local farm. Captivated by its material qualities—they conduct experimental research as principals of Ensamble Studio—they decided to acquire the land for an unusual excavation project. The architects wanted to convert the grotto into a place to live with the least possible disturbance, giving rise to Ca’n Terra, meaning "house belonging to the earth" in Catalan.

Through October 31, Ca’n Terra is available to tour virtually through T-Space, the Rhinebeck, New York–based gallery established by the Steven Myron Holl Foundation. The digital tools that Ensamble Studio used to survey, draw, and document the site create a virtual exhibition even while the pandemic keeps most cultural venues shuttered.

"Our goal is to touch the space very gently, to add the necessary elements to make it inhabitable and therefore preserve it and give it new meaning and new life," Mesa says. "It’s a project that found us. It’s something we came across; we found meaning in it, and once we saw it, it was probably the architect in us who just couldn’t ignore it." 

"The island of Menorca is filled with these very porous stone quarries," Mesa says. "We found one that was abandoned, and we just couldn’t refrain from purchasing the land where this quarry was and then intervening in it, without really having a reason behind it except that there was a lot of potential there to be worked with and to be explored." 

The four kids enjoy plentiful space for play and relaxation.

Mesa and García-Abril live in Boston, where García-Abril is a professor at MIT, and visit Ca’n Terra when they can—on vacations and with their studio. "It’s become like a spiritual retreat and a laboratory," says Mesa. "It’s a space that we keep transforming and we keep visiting to learn how to better adapt it. The project is not finished, in a way. It doesn’t have a finishing date. We need to live in it, we need to experience it to see what makes sense to continue adding more touches to it." 

The interior accommodations are spare: a hammock between rough-hewn walls, mattresses and pillows on stepped cuts of sandstone, a table and chair within a carved crevice, a sink installed between an opening of rock. Yet the extensive space makes room for minor design indulgences as well. A pool cut into a grotto, lounging areas and long couches fitted into rectilinear openings, a slim elemental railing, and an extravagant L-shaped standing desk form elegant compositions along stretches of exposed rock. 

A bike rests in a corridor at the entrance.

"There’s not a traditional organization of function and spaces," Mesa says. "What we did a lot of flexibility in how functions happen, so we haven’t assigned a fixed place to rest, eat, or socialize. In a way, the quarry serves as a canvas where activities can happen in different places throughout the year, throughout the day." 

The initial process of adaptation took place for over a year. The 19th-century mine had evidently been used by soldiers during the Spanish Civil War to store ammunition, and, they think, as a refuge. Furniture and personal objects remained, left open to the elements, and wildlife and animals from a nearby farm had freely wandered through. Using an existing well, solar panels, and an aerobic septic system, they powered equipment and sustained themselves as they removed a century’s worth of debris with excavators, power washers, brooms, and shovels. 

Thin translucent plastic sheeting allows light into the space while keeping out dust and animals.

"Extracting stone is perhaps one of the most primal modes of construction," continues Mesa. "What we’re interested in is something that is industrial at some point and has a vision of exploiting the land suddenly can become a space that nature can claim back, or a space that has other uses, other functions, other values, other lives. What is a pity for us is to make such an effort of excavating and extracting the material and then not seeing the value of what is left behind." 

Aiding their conceptualization of the interior plans, Ensamble used a 3D laser scanner to capture high-precision 3D information with infrared light. From that, they created the model and drawings. "The discovery was a shock and also an act of faith," García-Abril notes during an online tour for the T-Space exhibition. 

"What we found was a dark hole we couldn’t even breathe," says García-Abril. "Here started the technology part, the architectural process, where we were capable to laser scan everything…We discovered through these prints the beauty of that space, how it was going to vibrate, and the amazing uncertainties that a man-made construction, without willing to be architecture, could contain as a space." 

A pool fills a grotto furnished with lounge cushions.

By cleaning the quarried walls, they restored the stone’s natural off-white color, allowing it to reflect greater sunlight into the volumes. Pouring concrete in parts of the ground gave them an even, smooth floor, and reinforced plastic sheeting hung on a metal armature creates a thin, translucent membrane between inside and outside, keeping out dust and animals—and balancing temperature and humidity. 

Because of the quarry’s inextricable connection to the exterior landscape, temperature variations throughout the days and seasons make some areas more hospitable than others. "So we wanted functions to move through the space and also react to the outdoor conditions," says García-Abril. 

A tree survives on top of a slice of rock cut to create a skylight.

To improve natural lighting and ventilation, the architects carved a square aperture through the ceiling of one quadruple-height volume. The excised stone fell into the quarry, bringing a tree along for the ride. It began growing on the cut-out plinth, lit from the skylight above, creating a charged, luminous moment that expresses the potential for breathing new life into an abandoned mine. 

Article by: Camila da Paz | Source: Lynn Byrne

Arabescato Vagli marble kitchen backsplash by Elizabeth Roberts Architecture

Kitchens and bathrooms designed around natural stone slabs have been popping up on the Instagram feeds of design lovers everywhere. It is one of the hottest trends in kitchen and bath design today. Three top designers explain what's behind the trend and offer tips on how to get the look successfully in your own home.

What's driving the Trend

Keeping up with the Jones' is out.

Since natural stones slabs are like snowflakes--no two are alike--it is near impossible for homeowners to have the same looking stone.

Interior designer Jean-Louis Denoit uses Georgia marble when he designed this Miami Beach bathroom.

According to Young Huh, a New York City designer and board member of the National Kitchen and Bath Association, today's design savvy homeowners are "yearning towards unique extraordinary things."  Huh adds that natural stone installations are so eye-catching now because "the organic and singular movement of natural stone sets it apart from engineered bland quartz or what was popular forever, plain white marble."


Of course, like all good trends, designing with natural stone slabs is not new at all.  The Barcelona Pavilion, designed in 1929 by Mies van der Rohe, represents the quintessential use of stone slabs.

Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion

It features large extravagant expanses of red onyx, marble and travertine.  Mies' used this simplicity and natural beauty to achieve what he called "an ideal zone of tranquility." 

Perhaps a desire for that zen feeling also explains why today's frenetic homeowners are using large expanses of natural stone in their homes.

Where to put slabs

Learning from the Barcelona Pavilion, it's clear that natural stone should be the focal point. "Install natural stone where it is most eye catching," says Huh, adding that the "look is minimal... but glamorous."

White Cherokee marble countertop and backsplash

Any large accent wall could work.  Think the inside of a glass enclosed shower stall or the walls above a kitchen that has floating shelves.  You don't want the beauty of the stone interrupted with medicine cabinets or other closed storage.

Arabescato marble bathroom by Ellen Hanson in her New York City Home

Tina Ramchandani, recently named one of House Beautiful's Next Wave designers,  cautions against using a solid natural stone slab on floors, especially where it can be wet.   "I love the look of stone slabs on floors because you don't have the breaks of grout lines", but "tiles are safest in wet areas," because that grout offers traction.  An uninterrupted slab floor can be a bit slippery and dangerous.

Practical Considerations

If you choose to use natural stone, Ramchandani strongly advises that you visit a natural stone shop to see the entire span. "Since stone is a natural material there may be large blemishes or veining that you either love or hate."

The finish also is important. "For kitchens, a leathered finish is great because you don't see as many fingerprints as polished, and it's easier to clean.  A honed finish is another great low-maintenance option," says Ramchandani.

Kitchen and bath expert Carla Aston bears her geological chops urging you consider whether the natural stone reacts to acidic chemicals like lemon, wine or tomato sauce.

La Dolce Vita marble kitchen island in the Anna Bond's home, CEO of Rifle Paper Co.

Aston explains that "Calcareous stone reacts to chemicals (acid) and siliceous stone does not."  She adds that "granite, soapstone, slate and quartzite will never etch..... because they are siliceous," while "marble, limestone, travertine, and onyx might."  Certainly something to keep in mind when installing a natural stone kitchen countertop.  Some homeowners happily accept (and even desire) the patina from etching, while others want their slabs to remain pristine.

Are you ready to install a natural stone in your next renovation?  I am having a visual crush.

Post by Camila da Paz | Source: The Conversation

The first Labor Day was hardly a national holiday. Workers had to strike to celebrate it.

Hey guys, Happy Labour Day Weekend! With this important holiday just around the corner, I would like to honor the spirit of this day and not talk about work in this post. Instead, let's dig a little bit into the history behind this National Holiday, shall we?

Labor Day is a U.S. national holiday held the first Monday every September. Unlike most U.S. holidays, it is a strange celebration without rituals, except for shopping and barbecuing. For most people it simply marks the last weekend of summer and the start of the school year.

The holiday’s founders in the late 1800s envisioned something very different from what the day has become. They were looking for two things: a means of unifying union workers and a reduction in work time.

History of Labor Day

The first Labor Day occurred in 1882 in New York City under the direction of that city’s Central Labor Union.

In the 1800s, unions covered only a small fraction of workers and were balkanized and relatively weak. The goal of organizations was to bring many small unions together to achieve a critical mass and power. The organizers of the first Labor Day were interested in creating an event that brought different types of workers together to meet each other and recognize their common interests.

However, the organizers had a large problem: No government or company recognized the first Monday in September as a day off work. The issue was solved temporarily by declaring a one-day strike in the city. All striking workers were expected to march in a parade and then eat and drink at a giant picnic afterwards.

The New York Tribune’s reporter covering the event felt the entire day was like one long political barbecue, with “rather dull speeches.”

Why was Labor Day invented?

Labor Day came about because workers felt they were spending too many hours and days on the job.

In the 1830s, manufacturing workers were putting in 70-hour weeks on average. Sixty years later, in 1890, hours of work had dropped, although the average manufacturing worker still toiled in a factory 60 hours a week. These long working hours caused many union organizers to focus on winning a shorter eight-hour work day. They also focused on getting workers more days off, such as the Labor Day holiday, and reducing the workweek to just six days.

Surprisingly, many politicians and business owners were actually in favor of giving workers more time off. That’s because workers who had no free time were not able to spend their wages on traveling, entertainment or dining out.

As the U.S. economy expanded beyond farming and basic manufacturing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it became important for businesses to find consumers interested in buying the products and services being produced in ever greater amounts. Shortening the work week was one way of turning the working class into the consuming class.

Common misconceptions

The common misconception is that since Labor Day is a national holiday, everyone gets the day off. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While the first Labor Day was created by striking, the idea of a special holiday for workers was easy for politicians to support. It was easy because proclaiming a holiday, like Mother’s Day, costs legislators nothing and benefits them by currying favor with voters. In 1887, Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey all declared a special legal holiday in September to celebrate workers.

Within 12 years, half the states in the country recognized Labor Day as a holiday. It became a national holiday in June 1894 when President Grover Cleveland signed the Labor Day bill into law. While most people interpreted this as recognizing the day as a national vacation, Congress’ proclamation covers only federal employees. It is up to each state to declare its own legal holidays.

Moreover, proclaiming any day an official holiday means little, as an official holiday does not require private employers and even some government agencies to give their workers the day off. Many stores are open on Labor Day. Essential government services in protection and transportation continue to function, and even less essential programs like national parks are open. Because not everyone is given time off on Labor Day, union workers as recently as the 1930s were being urged to stage one-day strikes if their employer refused to give them the day off.

In the president’s annual Labor Day declaration in 2016, Obama encouraged Americans “to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities that honor the contributions and resilience of working Americans.”

The proclamation, however, does not officially declare that anyone gets time off.

Have we lost the spirit of Labor Day?

Today Labor Day is no longer about trade unionists marching down the street with banners and their tools of trade. Instead, it is a confused holiday with no associated rituals.

The original holiday was meant to handle a problem of long working hours and no time off. Although the battle over these issues would seem to have been won long ago, this issue is starting to come back with a vengeance, not for manufacturing workers but for highly skilled white-collar workers, many of whom are constantly connected to work.

If you work all the time and never really take a vacation, start a new ritual that honors the original spirit of Labor Day. Give yourself the day off. Shut off your phone, computer and other electronic devices connecting you to your daily grind. Then go to a barbecue, like the original participants did over a century ago, and celebrate having at least one day off from work during the year!

Happy Labor Day!


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