Interview With Gavin Chamberlain and Liam Hall

Can you give us a brief history of Heritage Masonry?
Gavin Chamberlain:
I started Heritage Masonry 14 years ago with a borrowed ’88 Toyota truck and a brand new wheelbarrow. As business picked up, I brought my brother over from England to work with me and persuaded another local mason, Dan Bird from my town in Northern England, to join us. He was working elsewhere in Victoria at the time and became integral to our initial work ethic and traditional masonry sensibilities that are still core to our company ideology today.

We have certainly grown since those early days but our foundational principles remain the same. Whether we are conserving a 100-year-old bridge over the Fraser River or building a new set of basalt stairs in Cadboro Bay, our values carry through into all of our projects: an extraordinary quality of service, a deep understanding of the materials and an exceptional finished product.

What is it about traditional masonry that gets you excited?
GC: How do you feel when you walk into a medieval gothic cathedral or stroll down a country lane bordered with dry-stone walls laid hundreds of years ago with the stone that came from the field it surrounds? Timelessness, grandeur, craft and mass are words that come to mind. It’s the most authentic material there is as it lasts centuries –  all of the eight wonders of the world are built in traditional masonry.

How does Victoria rank as a city that embraces stone masonry within the scope of the home industry?
As a tourist destination and a valued city to reside in, Victoria is known for its signature heritage homes dating back to the mid 1800’s. Heritage homes need careful maintenance and our expertise is in the restoration and conservation of those old brick and stone elements. Often in a renovation there will be a requirement to match or rebuild an original masonry detail.

Liam Hall: Masonry has become more prevalent on new builds over the past decade and I think local stone supply options are a part of this growth and interest. We are fortunate to have relationships with people who are building highly detailed homes and landscapes using the best materials.

What do you think the perception of stonemasonry is in Victoria?
I think there is a misconception that traditional masonry techniques and style can’t be incorporated into new and modern homes. We work with architects and designers to go beyond the ‘lick’em-stick’em’ offerings and help them find quality materials installed by traditional artisan masons. To provide the highest quality product, we’re constantly pushing change within the design and building community to move away from imported stone and focus on some of our more locally sourced material whether it be Squamish basalt, Valdes Island sandstone and Vancouver Island marble.

GC: I am passionate about informing people about the lasting benefits of using stone and brick in their design and provide them with all the local options. There is some incredible talent in the local building industry and the majority of these folks hold masonry in high regard.

What are some of the main applications of masonry within the residential market?
Masonry can be used as either part of the building envelope or in the landscape. We have always worked on both residential new homes and renovation envelope cladding which can include window and door surrounds and chimneys. Every year we build several individualized fireplace surrounds and hearths with many different stone products. In landscapes, we install a significant amount of natural stone flatwork, retaining walls and columns, pool copings and so on.

GC: Thankfully, we are seeing a movement away from the fad of thin stone veneers and back to the classic full-bed stone builds. Don’t get me wrong, thin stone has a time and place in renovations and we certainly use it but it doesn’t replace the real thing. We are grateful to have enough clients, general contractors and consultants who require authenticity. We are also seeing a welcome trend towards using local stone from local suppliers. From the world class Hardy Island granite to the elegant Tahsis marble vein, our incredible local stone is used in landmark builds all over North America to Europe.

If someone was renovating a home that didn’t already have any form of masonry, what would be the obvious entry point to bringing this element into their design?
LH: Landscape flatwork is the easiest initial application as it can have the greatest impact at a more affordable cost. This can be done in a natural flagstone or in a dimensional tile application. Stone and brick is available in so many different formats and styles that you have seemingly limitless options and masonry works inside and outside the home so if you have limiting factors on the interior then build an outside fireplace or dry-stone wall. We are always open for a chat about how to get a natural stone product into a project and have lots of expertise to help us move projects forward.

Aesthetically speaking, does stone masonry only fit within the context of old or traditional homes?
A traditionally styled home will almost certainly incorporate at least an accent of stone or brick but a modern home can benefit from it too. Brick or stone cut square (commonly referred to as ashlar) will complement the clean lines and linear nature of a typical modern home.

LH: Not at all but again this goes back to the techniques and style of the build. We always want to use traditional full-bed techniques as often as we can but this can change the structural and envelope engineering requirements so has to be considered as a foundation of the project design in its early conceptualizations. We have ongoing projects using modern materials and design in waterproofing and insulation while still having full-bed cladding window headers and sills on a modern and contemporary design.

Would you say that stone masonry is a trade that is seeing a global revival?
In a world that seems to be changing at lightning speed, the most analogue thing you can do is build a locally sourced stone wall or fireplace that will last for generations. The demand for this has never been greater and consequently my most important task is finding the next generation of masons to keep up this ancient and invaluable trade.

LH: We’re doing our best to bring traditional masonry back into modern and contemporary design. I’m not sure there is a revival of the trade but we have been able to bring journeyman masons to Victoria from England and eastern Canada as our construction market is seemingly more insulated from global forces and generally more predictable than in other parts of the world. This has allowed us to bring a talented group together to perform some pretty outstanding work in both new builds and in conservation and restoration.

If you could dream up a dream stone masonry project what would it look like?
LH: Honestly, we’re doing it right now on a few current projects. Some of them are career defining in that they don’t happen very often in our industry. The complexity and level of detail has everyone in the company buzzing. There are collected fossils embedded in masonry for a retired geologist, 150 tons of cut stone on another site, an infinity pool in golden granite, a tympanum carving in limestone and onwards. Our clients keep us on our toes to keep evolving and honing our masonry skills.

GC: We are currently in the discussion phase with a client about recreating/referencing a ruined temple in the Khmer style (think Angkor Wat…) which would be pretty amazing if we get to do that. I’d love to build more dry-stone walls so if readers are looking for a traditional garden with dry-stone walls with steps and an underground wine grotto then give me a shout.