It doesn’t have to be real to be real good

Our story so far: One can’t build one’s home solidly, as we aspired to do in the converted Methodist church, without stone. As we executed the interior design of Church Sweet Home, stone in some form or another played an important role. First decisions to make were about the fireplace.

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Once again, Tyler did not purchase the 40-inch-wide fireplace when a 48-inch-wide one was available. This was the centerpiece of the biggest room on the house after all. After shopping the options, he ordered his enormous gas fireplace online to be delivered directly to the church. Oh, just wait. We planned to put a TV above the mantel. We wouldn’t be stingy with the size of that either.

In full, the chase of the fireplace would be seven feet wide. As we pondered the design, we considered putting it in the corner of the great room or along the east wall but ultimately sided with symmetry; the fireplace would be located where the altar once was, appropriate perhaps, given that the Pagans used altars to burn sacrifices. Though we toyed with shorter options, our “go big or go home” philosophy drove us to build the chase to the ceiling even though it was actually vented to the exterior chimney. Which meant we would be investing in two-hundred square feet of stone.

poly brick closeup
An extreme close-up of the polyurethane stone veneer revealed bubbling and a plastic-like look.

While shopping for rigid polyurethane foam beams, Tyler found faux stone in the same material. We ordered a sample, hoping to be as impressed as we were with the polyeurethane beams. It would be fun to heft actual stone to the top of the chase. But the faux stone was horrible. The edges weren’t as crisp as real stone would be, and one could see bubbles in the material. And unlike the beams, people would be able to walk right up to it and inspect its faux-ness. Back to the drawing board.

Faux stone. No way.

Natural stone, though, was substantially more expensive and would require the skills of a bricklayer.


Maybe we could afford manufactured stone, which is made of pigmented cement baked in molds. Though certainly not as light as high-density polymer, veneer stone weighs about half of its natural stone counterpart. Tyler had experience installing this type of product so while he would need help, he wouldn’t need an artisan mortar man.

Our lead drywaller suggested a stone vendor a half-hour away. One day when we needed a break from the dust and noise of the church, we paid this vendor a visit. Thank goodness for Google maps, which led us through multiple intersections into the back of an industrial park filled with nondescript buildings. The store barely had a sign, but inside we found a small showroom and an upright display of the brand of manufactured stone we had in mind. I began pulling samples off the display (samples of stone, even manufactured stone, you probably aren’t surprised to learn, are heavy), and we were impressed with how it mimicked the look of natural stone.

We selected a sedate gray ledge stone and held our breaths while the salesman did the math on our square footage.

His number sealed the deal. We found our fireplace veneer.

poly vs brick
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the high-density polymer stone veneer (left) vs. the manufactured stone veneer we ultimately chose. From a distance, the polymer looks fine, but up close it was too slick for our tastes.

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Tomorrow: The mantel comes with a story. Read it here.

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