One – on – One… With Vincent Marazita
March 1st, 2006


By Jeffrey Steele

March-April 2006

“For a reasonable price, you can have an everlasting material or surface.”

“In high-end areas, it’s amazing how many times the words granite, stone, limestone and marble are mentioned. The point is that natural stone is a recognized marketing element and value addition in real estate listings.”

Vincent Marazita is the president and owner of Los Angeles-based Marazita & Associates, an international consulting firm specializing in market research and educational seminars in the natural stone industry. He’s also a member of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) and the Marble Institute of America (MIA). In addition, he serves on the board of the National Advisory Council for Continuing Education of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Marazita isn’t hesitant to discuss the skyrocketing popularity of stone in home building and remodeling. In this frank and engaging interview with TileDealer, he talks about the factors behind that growing acceptance, the ways stone producers are responding to the surging demand in the U.S. and elsewhere, and stone’s future as a much-sought-after building material.

TileDealer: What is your background and business experience?

Marazita: I graduated from college with a degree in sociology from Harvard, then went to Genoa, Italy, on a Rotary Scholarship. As part of the Rotary Scholarship year, I studied in the architecture department at the University of Genoa, and then spent five years as an English lecturer in the architecture department of University of Genoa. I then took a job with the Italian Trade Commission in Los Angeles for 13 years, during which time the main goal was to promote Italian products in the States, and act as a liaison between U.S. and Italian companies. Because of my architectural interests in the building trades and materials industry, I was hired to promote Italian business in the U.S., helping small- to medium-sized companies establish a presence here. I also accompanied architects and design professionals to Italy to learn about and buy stone.

At a certain point, salary issues told me it was time to move on. So I started Marazita & Associates in 1998, and now about two-thirds of my business is related to stone, and that’s growing every year just because the stone industry is doing so well, and—I like to think—because I provide good business services. As part of those services, I’ve been hired as a speaker, and have spoken at many design industry conferences and conventions, as well as to stone trade shows and mining conferences in Italy and other countries.

And at least once or twice a year I bring a group of design professionals—architects, designers and sculptors—to Italy to learn about the stone industry—from the quarries to installation. These continuing education courses I’ve offered have been audited and approved by the AIA, ASID, NKBA, RIBA and RAIC.

TileDealer: What is the value of stone in remodeling?

Marazita: In terms of primary value, with regard to all things done in remodeling, the kitchen is number one. I‘ve heard it’s no longer location, location, location in real estate but location, kitchen, kitchen. In most real estate listings, you have 25 words to list a home. Especially in high-end areas, it’s amazing how many times the words granite, stone, limestone and marble are mentioned. The point is that natural stone is a recognized marketing element and value addition in real estate listings.

Since 1996, we’ve had double digit growth every year in stone imports and use in the U.S. That has varied from 15 percent on the low side to 28 percent in 2005. If you go to remodel your kitchen, it’s the cabinets that are the most expensive elements in a remodel. But countertops and flooring are really the number one value added, and they’re already the number one marketing tool, in terms of real estate listings. Stone should be used in the design, if you want to add value to your house.

TileDealer: Where besides a kitchen and bath do remodelers or builders use stone?

Marazita: After kitchens and after baths, they use stone in horizontal surfaces everywhere, including living rooms, family rooms and media centers. In high end homes, it’s definitely found in entryways and grand staircases, and here I’m speaking of homes $500,000 and up. But even in $200,000 homes, it’s being found in entryways. You might not see a stone staircase in a $200,000 home, but that also depends on the area of the country where the home is located.

Most prevalent are fireplace facings and flooring in every conceivable room. Particularly in living rooms, and sometimes in family rooms—though those often tend to offer wood and carpeting. Smart designers should try to incorporate stone in every room.

It could be in countertops, it could be in fireplace facings, window sills, even in things as simple as thresholds between two dissimilar materials, such as tile and carpeting, or tile and wood. Or even two different stone materials.

TileDealer: What are the design trends for stone at various price points?

Marazita: I see stone entering at lower and lower price points. Now stone competes in many cases with ceramic tile, with carpet and even with vinyl tile. Natural stone is certainly competing well with other hard surfaces. In fact, for more than eight years the overall value of stone imports has surpassed the value of ceramic tile imports.

TileDealer: A $200,000 house?

Marazita: At the $200,000 price point, stone wouldn’t be seen on floors throughout the house, but you might see it in certain areas, such as the kitchen and bath, the vanity, the counters and fireplace facings. And natural stone is a popular choice for hearths because it satisfies fire codes, and it’s beautiful as well. And in the outside, even where there is vinyl or wood siding, you might see exterior elements of rubble stone masonry, slate, fieldstone and other types of stone. You might see stone paths.

TileDealer: A $500,000 house?

Marazita: Stone will be used throughout, from kitchens to wine cellars, from bathroom vanities to sculptural columns, from stair treads to balustrades. I’ve even seen alabaster used as doors, and in backlit divider walls. With the introduction of waterjet technology, all sorts of decorative elements and medallions in stone are also used.

And of course you’ll see it in kitchen counters and backsplashes in kitchens; stone is used as vanity tops and tubs and shower surrounds in the bathroom. You know, we shouldn’t refer to them as bathrooms at this price point. I really think that they should be referred to as “home spas.” Because of the value inherent in a spa, you really need to have high-end materials, and that’s where stone comes in. It offers great value, and isn’t necessarily the most expensive choice.

TileDealer: Stone requires upselling, so how should a dealer approach that?

Marazita: [Dealers should emphasize] number one, stone is unique, and number two, it has an incredibly interesting production cycle. All stones are different, brought out of the ground in different parts of the world, and brought out of the ground differently.

Not only is the color variety incredible, but nature’s way of painting these incredible, unique surfaces also makes stone a great addition to a home. And even if it’s a bit more expensive in the short run, it will pay off in low maintenance and durability in the long run.

It will remain beautiful forever. If you see a scratched stone countertop, architects and designers still love that, because it’s rusticated. If something looks used, it gives a history to the house, and stone is one of those things that can look like it’s been used, and in that way give history to a house. But if you see a scratched butcherblock or Corian® or stainless steel countertop, you’re probably going to replace it. In general, stone will last forever, and remain beautiful forever.

TileDealer: Are there grades of stone that the buyer should be aware of?

Marazita: For residential use, not really. Most stones will hold up to most residential uses. The time to be more diligent is when you use stone for structural applications, such as cladding and weight-bearing pavements.

At any rate, it is a fair question to ask your stone supplier. Sometimes, lower quality stone costs less and is adequate for the particular use. I would also warn design professionals and consumers to ask for “range samples” when they can, to get an idea of the color and texture variation they will receive, especially on projects with large square footage requirements of the same material. Shopping malls, plazas and exterior cladding would be examples of such projects.

TileDealer: How are stone producers responding to the growing popularity of stone?

Marazita: Around the world, quarries realize that the U.S. is one of the hottest consumer markets for dimension stone. And they are investing in new equipment and labor to increase their quarrying capacity, while at the same time looking for new quarries and new stones. If you’re in the stone industry, you have to learn about new materials all the time.

TileDealer: Is there a downside to using stone?

Marazita: If you don’t have a qualified stone installer, it can be terrible. As easily as we can get it to market, getting a competent stone installer is not as easy. Because the industry is growing so fast, you have people who have never installed stone installing it. Up until yesterday, they might have been cabinet manufacturers, and now they’re installing stone.

Because of the great demand for stone, we don’t have a large enough competent labor force to keep up with the growth. You want to get someone who’s done good work and has good references, and if you have to wait a couple weeks or even months longer, it’s worth it in order to have the correct installation. Because stone is the one thing that will attract everyone’s attention, and you don’t want your most attention-getting material to be poorly installed.

That’s especially true when you get around kitchen countertops. Because when you get into standard-sized cabinets, not so standard-sized sinks, and the irregularities of plumbing and electrical fixtures, and the structural requirements to support the stone correctly, you can begin to understand the importance of finding someone who knows what they’re doing.

The main problem with stone installations is the tradesman who was there previous to the stone installer. That’s why it’s very important the stone installer approve whatever came before, whether it’s the substrate for the floor, or the level and support of the countertop.

TileDealer: Overall, what do TileDealer readers need to know about stone?

Marazita: Stone is unique. The countertop you have, no one else will have. The floor you have, no one else will have. And the higher up the high end of the market you go, the more customers will want that uniqueness. If you have a Jewish client, what better way to design his home than with important elements in Jerusalem stone? If you have an Italian client whose grandparents came from the Carrara area, what better way to personalize his home than to include a carved fireplace facing in white marble from Carrara? If you have a Chinese client, what better way to serve him than by designing a carved portal out of limestone from China?

Here’s a building material that actually has a story. There’s definitely a story with stone. The bottom line is for a reasonable price, you can have an everlasting material or surface.

TileDealer: How do you view the future of stone in building and remodeling?

Marazita: I know it sounds like a straight promo, but I really believe there is a new renaissance in the use of stone. As more and more stone gets used, more and more people see it for what it’s worth: A beautiful, unique building material that can upgrade the quality of the built environment.

I also predict that as new construction slows, remodeling with stone will continue to grow, or at worst, remain constant, in that we all want to protect our main investment—real estate. By upgrading the materials and by making a more beautiful home, consumers will see first hand that they have a great return on the remodeling investment when they’ve included stone in the design. Remember to look at the real estate ads. You’ll see what I mean.

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