Countertop Innovation Takes Firm to New Level

Countertops backlit with LEDs.

Editor's Note: This article originally ran in the January 2007 issue of Kitchen & Bath Design. You can read the full article and see images of the finished countertop here

When you talk to Hal Davis, you get the idea that his company's motto is ingrained in his personality. That motto, "Completely out of the box," is heralded not just by his design philosophy, but in the myriad innovative ways the team dreams up to make one-of-a-kind countertops.

Davis knows that in an industry full of beautiful things, to stand out from the competition, one has to have something truly unique to offer.

However, while others are content to offer the same products as their competitors, Davis has devised a totally new application for onyx that allows him to provide his clients with a product that no one else has - and it's won his firm tremendous word-of-mouth business, he notes.

Estate Granite & Marble is a full-service stone and tile design and installation company that works primarily with granite, marble, travertine and onyx. The firm handles a variety of jobs including kitchen countertops, waterfalls, full slab showers, outdoor furniture, barbecues, tables, fireplaces, etc.

Outside the Box
In December 2005, the company began experimenting with a 6-cm, dual-lamination application that utilized the "translucent beauty of onyx," Davis recalls.

"By placing the onyx as the center lamination, and then backlighting it with commercial grade LEDs, all controlled by a remote dimmer system, we created what appears to be the first of its kind," he explains.

"In this natural stone countertop application, we create a 6-cm edge, utilizing various edge details, and a 2-cm onyx strip is placed as the center lamination." When lit by a commercial-grade LED system, the "effect is nothing short of jaw dropping exuberance and wow!" believes Davis.

In fact, the response has been so positive, it is garnering him both media and client attention as word of the new application spreads throughout the region.

The company currently fabricates and installs an average of six to nine kitchens per week out of its 9,500-sq.-ft. production facility in Redding, CA. The business, Davis notes, is based on the principle of "Old World craftsmanship meeting New World technologies," and its motto - "Completely... out of the box" - is reflected through unique applications of multiple-lamination edge details, as well as the use of light, water and fire to create visual masterpieces that can be used to personalize spaces while adding visual drama.

It's a big order to fill.

Prior to launching Estate Granite & Marble, founded by Davis, Michael Huber and Keith Hickman, Davis and Huber co-owned a corporation that purchased land and developed and remodeled high-end properties.

Then, Davis saw a new way to serve clients in his area: "As a statistician, I followed the fact that more than 85% of buyers for high-end homes were couples, and of these, 99% of the decision-makers were the wives," he explains, adding that consumers' (especially the wives') favorite rooms were always the kitchen and master bath. "And the real 'sizzle' in these rooms, of course, is the countertops..."

So, it's no surprise, then, that high-end countertops have become his passion.

Now in their fourth year together, he and his partners equipped their facility with a series of high-tech, state-of-the-art tools capable of doing the latest high-tech work - equipment that can transform the ordinary into something ground-breaking, Davis asserts.

The company is currently in the process of acquiring a "cutting-edge" CNC machine. This will enable the firm to produce more repetitious work for projects such as hotels and banks, as well as increase efficiency on custom applications, reports Davis.

These and other investments in new tool technology allow for increased production and increased quality for his clients, Davis believes.

The company's market is evenly divided into new construction and remodels, and production currently stands at 90% residential and 10% commercial. However, Davis believes that the new equipment will allow his firm to expand into other areas as well, including more commercial projects, such as banks and hotels in the Las Vegas, NV area.

"Obviously our new innovation puts us on the cutting edge, but a key set of attributes that sets us apart is the ability to quickly identify the realistic expectations of each client [whether it's a custom home or spec home]. Identifying the total and actual use of each room and then balancing the two key factors - function and fashion - is what makes it work," he explains.

The firm's primary clientele is high-end home builders, individual homeowners and contractors who want to install all natural stone products, such as granite, marble and onyx, into their homes.

Pushing the Bar
Complying with the company's motto to think outside of the box, the owners say they are constantly pushing the bar to create new and innovative products.

"My partners and I have engineering and marketing backgrounds - we are unique in our approach to contracting," believes Davis. "We push the machines, the tools and the creative instincts," Davis adds.

Estate Granite & Marble currently employs a staff of 14, who receive special training.

"We implement a strong cross-training environment," elaborates Davis. "Each person can cut on the bridge saw, use all hand tools, run the machines and install [product]."

As a fabricator, Davis finds it challenging, but necessary to educate the customers. "We like to try and find a balance between function and fashion," he says. "For example, when designing a kitchen, it's important to know if the homeowners dine out a lot or like to stay in and cook. And, of course, some edges aren't practical for those who like to entertain, and some are more child-friendly than others," he continues.

"We take the time to explain to our customers where some aspect of the project might be a shortcoming. We believe that a well-informed customer makes wiser choices, and we realize that an ounce of foresight is worth more than a ton of hindsight," Davis adds.

The area around Redding is still somewhat rural, which Davis says "limits the scope of our practice financially." However, the area's high-end properties allow the company a fair amount of latitude, both creatively and in terms of the scale and scope of each project.

Davis notes that his firm is always trying to look ahead.

"We're truly hands on, and with three owners, each overseeing a different aspect of the company, the pride of ownership that accompanies such work is invaluable," he concludes. "We have the consistent desire to be not just the best in the area, but the gold standard of the entire industry."

At a Glance

Location: Redding, CA
Principles: Hal Davis, Michael Huber and Keith Hickman
Showroom: one, 1,000 sq. ft.
Hours of Operation: By appointment, generally opening at 8:00 a.m. - sometimes guests stay as late as 9:00 p.m.
Number of Employees: 14
Major Product Lines Carried: Artisan and C-Tech sinks
Specialties: Unique "one-of-a-kind" granite, marble and onyx applications
Software: The company has created its own.
Business Philosophy: "Our firm showcases Old School craftsmanship meeting New School technology. [We offer a] completely 'out-of-the-box' experience while being patient in the exercising of extreme foresight."