Three Things I Wish Customers Knew About Using Natural Stone
Photos courtesy of Mario & Son.
As a natural stone fabricator and sculptor, I can appreciate the timeless beauty and durability that only a building material like natural stone can provide. After all, I work with it every day (well, five to six days a week, but who’s counting?) and have done so for nearly thirty years now. I see the depth in the material, the luminosity, and the interplay of light refraction between different minerals combining into one beautiful, unique form. Man has tried to copy Mother Nature’s beauty by artificial means but has fallen short every time.
Not so many years ago, it was this one-of-a-kind beauty that drove in new customers, primarily countertop buyers, and expanded the market exponentially, a market once reserved for public spaces and the super-rich. These days however, there seems to be a stone fabricator on every corner pushing the universal business cry of “better, faster and cheaper” to the masses. Advances in machinery, diamond tooling, material handling and software have allowed just about anyone with a little ambition to set up a shop in order to get in the fabrication game, and as a result, our customers seem less interested in the stone and more concerned about cost and schedule, ignoring the qualities of the product itself.
Which leads me to the very first and most important thing I wish customers knew about natural stone:
1: A good job takes time.
That doesn’t mean that a well-run and efficient shop can’t produce a job very quickly. They can. But in the natural stone business, things can and do go wrong from time to time. Machines break down unexpectedly, pieces break, employees call in sick, etc. and when the “finish line” doesn’t move, something’s got to give, and that something’s more likely going to be a compromise of quality to meet a deadline. A deadline that in many cases is arbitrary, just simply set by the client because they want their product.
My recommendation to consumers is to set clear expectations about schedule but communicate with your fabricator. If they need an extra day or two, be flexible.
In my shop, almost all jobs go in on schedule, but in a given week there are always one or two that I wish we had an extra day to work on for the sake of the client, not because we are running behind necessarily, but because the stone dictates it. There are so many new stones on the market, many we are fabricating for the first time.
2: Look beyond the color.
So many people choose a stone based on color alone. Yes, we all understand that it’s one part (and usually a substantial one) of a design theme, but it’s important for the end user to understand that they are buying all the stone’s attributes, perceived flaws and all. When that “perfect” color is laying horizontal on a large island with an even larger picture window casting it’s reflection on it, revealing various natural pits, fissures, artificial resin fill spots, etc., the reality of natural stone will be front and center, and for many unsuspecting customers, a shocking and unwelcome surprise. Therefore it is paramount that during the selection process with your fabricator that you examine the material not only for color and pattern, but look across the surface at low angles to see all its surface characteristics. Insist that your fabricator move slabs to better lighting if you cannot reasonably accomplish this.
Some clients assume that the stone will be sealed, and the sealer will “fill” these natural voids in the stone, making the surface “as smooth as glass.” Again, wishful and uninformed thinking on the part of the consumer. Stone sealer is an impregnating process, designed to penetrate into the pores of the stone, not to fill voids and coat the surface.
3: Perfection does not exist in our world.
Even the most beautiful natural stone will have something that someone will perceive as a “flaw” if they go looking for it. So many clients come to a stone showroom armed with magazine pictures of their ideal kitchen. Mind you, many of these projects are professionally photographed, beautifully lighted and touched up in Photoshop to create a flawless glossy image. In addition to that, they have the visual advantage of distance. Viewing a natural stone project as a whole, appreciating the design and the thought that went into creating the perfect space is infinitely different from scrutinizing every square inch of a stone surface in person. I can absolutely guarantee that perfect picture you’re holding will have a few “sins” if you were there personally looking for them.
Even the world’s most beautiful supermodels sans makeup and Photoshop will reveal themselves as all too human, and natural stone is no different.
To sum it up, there are so many reasons to use natural stone in your project. For a successful installation, remember that the surface character is as important as the color, and always work with a fabricator with a clear and open line of communication to get that stone through the process professionally if and when delays should occur. You will be enjoying the stone for years to come, a small delay now would be better than living with quality issues because the project was pushed through to meet an arbitrary schedule.