A passion project gives you satisfaction and happiness. Large or small, it provides great satisfaction in both the eye of the beholder and the person completing the project. A mason by trade as well as a project manager at Douglas Landscape Construction, Chris Peeters’ most recent passion project truly shows off his love of masonry and stone. Limestone has been used for carving by French masons for centuries and this has long been a favorite of Chris’. When he first approached Peninsula Building Materials as the stone supplier for his backyard project, we knew this project was going to be special. Keep in mind, Chris’ PBM Texas Cream stone total was a whopping 22 tons. If we were writing a book we might call it, “Romancing the Stone, the True Art of Masonry”. We think you’ll agree when you view the pictures and the videos.
Chris first created a gothic doorway for his backyard in Livermore. After 15 months of work, it weighed around 14 tons. Further inspired, three years later he added a fountain with a number of special masonry touches. The fountain was made from a piece of Peninsula Building Materials limestone he had had his eye on for more than a decade. It took almost five months to complete. In this Design & Build Blog we follow up with Chris to find out what inspired him to such greatness and at the end we’ll share videos of the finished products as the stone supplier.
“If someone else can do it, why not myself?!” Chris Peeters.
Masonry: A Learned Craft With an Appreciation For Gothic Architecture
Chris has traveled throughout France and Italy for three decades studying masonry. This long travel apprenticeship may have led him to his backyard project. Toiling as a mason for 36+ years, Chris frequently puts his hand on the worked stone in Europe to paint a picture in his mind for later. He also takes the pictures of the following so he can reflect on the craftsmanship when he is stateside:
- Size of mortar sand
- Sizes / types of chisels
- Hammer strikes used
In his online research, Chris found a French website that provided:
- Contact information for French guild master masons located throughout France
- Guild’s intention is to preserve masonry skills and techniques from centuries past to pass on skills to new generations.
- Descriptions of the tools used in the traditional manner
- Descriptions of the quarrying methods
Chris translated the site into English. He then studied it and sketched plans before he made his first hammer strike against the limestone.
“The rest, as they say, is history,” Chris said.
Career Masonry Inspiration and Opportunity with Limestone
The gothic doorway has been a career challenge for Chris. The gothic doorway is special because he hasn’t done a passion project like this before. It includes:
- An architectural piece that draws in a person’s eye
- Special details
- A chance to experience stone carving like our respected forefathers before us
Aside from using power tools for rough carving, Chris used traditional chisels, hammers and techniques to achieve the desired finish. He showcases the work in this YouTube video.
The limestone fountain he calls an “opportunity”. There is an interesting backstory to the limestone that includes Peninsula Building Materials as the stone supplier. There was a 4,200 pound block of limestone on display at the old PBM Sunnyvale yard. Chris walked by it many times for over a decade. He always thought that something nice could be done with it. When PBM was cleaning house to move to Santa Clara, the piece of limestone managed to find its way into Chris’ yard.
After studying its potential, Chris carved all the components in his front yard. “This was much to my neighbor’s dismay – the dust it created was otherworldly!” Chris added.
Masonry Carving in Limestone
Carving at times for six hours straight, forgetting to eat or drink, it is easy to get lost in the work. For masons, this is known as “meditation”. “I was energized, extremely satisfied, and proud when I assembled it,” Chris said. “The final stone at the top was just 1/16” off. I used a rock handsaw to cut the joint clear and 10 min later it fell into place. It was spot on.”
When ready for installation, the 1,200 – 1,400 pound blocks were hoisted up by Chris himself, using a block and pulley. He purposely wanted to keep the construction as traditional as possible. “No machines or oxen used,” Chris said smiling.
Proud Masonry Moments
The masonry walls of the gothic doorway are a natural stone blend of 20% McGregor Lake and 80% Loon Lake from Glacier Stone Supply. “The gorgeous natural stones, with their mineral patinas, complement the sage green body color of our house,” Chris added. “My wife Janie gets the credit there. It offers a pleasant contrast to the limestone.”
One part of the project remains close to his heart. Chris likes Pierre, the 12th century styled mason “working away” on the side of the fountain. It was actually harder than the creation of the arch because “he’s organic”.
“There was a real sense of triumph in me when I first passed my fingertips over his carved forearm, maybe because I used my own left arm as a ‘living muse’ as I created it, muscles and all,” Chris added. He loves his determined look and the wine bottle off to the side.
Self-Learning and Discovery During the Limestone Project: Romancing the Stone, the True Art of Masonry
For Chris, self-learning and discovery as a mason is more of the inspiration than the project itself. However he continues to be very energized by the masonry project. He hopes by sharing the photos and video with Peninsula Building Materials, others will be inspired too. Who knows – maybe he’ll even inspire a new generation of Pierres.
“Appreciate what nature provides us with raw materials like natural stone. Never allow fear to direct you. Give yourself a chance to explore a hidden talent and don’t be too hard on yourself because life is too short,” Chris Peeters.
Design & Build Blog
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6 thoughts on “Romancing the Stone: True Art of Masonry”
I see the back of this structure everyday and I am still amazed from my backyard. Yes, Chris is passionate, crazy and one hell of a friend, can wait to see his next masterpiece.
Thank you for the kind words my Friend!
We have had the pleasure for several years of receiving visits to France from Janie and Chris, an opportunity for us to confirm this common passion for stones. Chris makes us discover the art of French masons…
Merci beaucoup Dominique et Isabelle! Je suis honoré!
Love your work
I’m a landscape architect who has worked with Chris for many years. He so talented as a mason and artist but is even more talented as a manger of large estate installs.
Great work Chris