Rusticated block came into use in the late 19th century as an affordable cast on-site concrete substitute for true stone foundation blocks. They rose in popularity very quickly when Sear’s & Roebuck began selling the machines in their catalogue and offering them as a part of their famous Sear’s Kit Homes.
The cost of using actual field stone or boulders in building a crawlspace foundation wall was always expensive and with the progress in technology there were now affordable machines that allowed builders to make a their own concrete blocks that had an attractive rusticated appearance rather than the plain flat face designers wished to avoid.
Rustication is a type of masonry treatment in which the blocks making up a wall have a face that appears rough and irregular to mimic the appearance of stone. They are articulated by exaggerated joints rather than being flush with each other.
Use in Architecture
Rusticated block was used in everything from residences to churches to commercial buildings and a fair amount of gas stations. Most commonly it was used to construct the stem wall around crawlspace foundations in residential houses, but it was also used to construct whole buildings when budgets allowed.
You can find a handful of examples of houses where the whole structure is rusticated block which gives an almost castle like appearance and conveys strength and substantial construction.
It went by a number of different names over the years and in different regions. You may recognize a few of the names below.
- ornamental concrete block
- decorative block
- rock face block
- mold-formed block
- imitation stone
It was useful, practically speaking, to have critical elements of the home like foundations built with fire and rot proof elements like concrete to protect against the decay and insect damage. This is yet another reason why construction using rusticated block became so popular.
Advantages of Rusticated Block
Rusticated blocks absolutely soared in popularity when they began being included in the Sear’s catalogue in the early part of the 20th century. From a distance these blocks mimicked the look of actual stone giving a high end look without the expense of shipping in tons of rubble rock.
Check out the simplicity of working with the Sear’s machine in this video below!
Builders could order their own “Wizard” Concrete Block Machine from Sear’s for $32.95 and start producing 125 blocks a day for one laborer and upwards of 250 blocks a day with a two man crew on the jobsite. That meant the builder could produce exactly how many blocks they needed without waste, but it also meant that quality was varied from house to house since cement mixes were standardized.
Another advantage that spurred on their popularity was their ease of use. Installation was very simple since all sides except for the textured face were smooth and straight. They could be stacked easily and mortared in place without issue. Even for the remedial builder, slight flaws in alignment were hidden due to the irregular face unlike brickwork that needed a talented mason to be perfectly laid out.
Rusticated Block vs Split Face Block
Rusticated block eventually fell out of favor for split face block over the years. Many people assume the two are the same, but they are not. Split face block is a product that is created by splitting a block in half and using the broken face parts as the decorative face.
This results in each block being slightly different since the face is a result of the natural break patterns of the block. Rusticated block have the same pattern on each and every block based on the pattern of the machine they were made in. There are different molds that rusticated block come in but each mold only makes one style block.
Split faced block looks more natural than rusticated block especially over large walls where the repetitions in pattern can be clearly seen on rusticated block. Personally, I like the kitch of the old rusticated block because it speaks to me of a time when homes were built by hand on site. What else did you expect from a guy like me?
Where to Buy Rusticated Block
There aren’t many places to find this historic building material, but they can still be found. One good place to always start is by checking your local architectural salvage yard where they collect old building materials and sell them to folks looking for the real deal.
Below are a couple websites that still fabricate and sell rusticated blocks.
The patterns in the Sear’s Catalogue were pretty extensive and you may recognize some of the styles below taken from a vintage Sear’s catalogue. Wherever you find your block do your best to find a good solid match and you’ll have a product that looks historic and last for centuries if done right.
Founder & Senior Editor
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.