Steamboat Springs Of the many categories of successful businesses in Steamboat Springs, there's one that will always be able to say it's as solid as a rock. The use of solid granite slabs in kitchen countertops, wet bars, vanity counters and bath tub surrounds, is a growing trend among the builders of luxury homes and townhomes in Steamboat.
Two years ago, you could not have ordered custom fabricated granite countertops to be made here. Now, two businesses, Rocky Mountain Granite and Steamboat Granite and Marble Inc., are both turning out carefully polished and sawn products that combine unparalleled durability with singular beauty.
The only material harder than granite is the tiny diamonds on the saw blades used to cut the stone, said Newell Ficker, president of Steamboat Granite and Marble. Both Ficker and Scott Enger, president of Rocky Mountain Granite, agree that solid slab granite countertops are becoming almost mandatory in the higher-end resort properties and expensive second homes around Steamboat. But improving technology is reducing the time it takes to cut the final product out of a slab of stone. As a result, granite isn't that much more expensive than a synthetic product like Corian, Ficker said. Once people see the natural stone isn't too much more expensive than Corian, it's pretty easy to sell them on granite, Enger said.
"It used to be unobtainable, but because of technology and diamond-cutting tools, people are finding they can purchase it in a middle range," Ficker said.
Still, granite isn't cheap. Depending upon the rarity of the stone, the patterns and coloration, basic granite can retail for $15 to $17 a square foot, Enger said. Sandstone, which also can be polished and sealed, costs $35 a foot and rare granite custom harvested from the bottom of the ocean, can cost up to $250 a square foot.
Ficker said he starts with a basic quote of $75 per square foot for the stone, fabrication and installation. Then, depending upon the complexity of the finish trim put on the counter rim, and the cost of the diamond saw blades needed to make the cut, the price can go upward.
For a typical kitchen with 65 square feet of countertop, people should plan on spending $6,000 to $9,000 for the granite, Ficker said. He's had clients building homes in the $350,000 range who have scrimped a little elsewhere to be able to afford granite in their kitchens.
Enger, and partner Jake Masciarelli, both graduates of Steamboat Springs High School, are intent on acquiring the best tools they can afford to steadily improve their efficiency.
"The tools are a huge investment and we're still buying tools to improve the project," Enger said. He has one primary saw that cost $30,000 to purchase.
Even though granite is very durable once installed, it must be treated delicately in the fabrication process. Enger and Masciarelli's crew use a forklift and a sling outfitted with suction cups to lift the 3-centimeter-thick slabs weighing more than a ton and ferry them to the saw table.
Before they cut the stone, they visit the construction site to build a template out of strips of lumber just 2 inches wide. By doing so, they can create an exact replica of the surface of the kitchen cabinets in a home. You can't assume the actual walls of the home and the cabinets themselves are precisely square, Enger explained. And when you're cutting granite, you only get one chance to make it right.
The template allows the crew to go back to the shop and exactly match the fixtures the stone will be fitted to in the home. It also allows them to position the cuts to include the most desirable patterns and colorations in the slab.
The stone itself is also reinforced before installation, once with a light fiberglass mesh glued to the underside. The mesh can increase the strength of the slab ten-fold, Enger said. Second, in the narrowest portions of the countertop for example the band at the front of a kitchen sink, steel reinforcing rods are installed in grooves underneath the countertop.
A great deal of hand work goes into polishing and sealing the stone countertops. Kenneth Muhme, one of Enger's employees, was putting the finishing touches on a spectacular sandstone counter this week. He had invested 25 hours of work in the cuts, bevels and polishing that went into making the finished piece, but the painstaking effort is worth it in his mind.
"It's a big reward when the owner of the home says 'I really like that,'" Muhme said.
Enger got his start in business working nights after high school, installing flooring at the side of a veteran tradesman craftsman. He still owns his own company, Quality Flooring, which is separate from the granite business.
Plans for the future include expanding the granite slabs in stock in his yard in Steamboat.
Both Rocky Mountain Granite and Steamboat Granite purchase their granite from suppliers in Denver. Much of it originates in Brazil and India.
Ficker's career in the construction industry includes 15 years spent building custom spec homes in the Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard areas of Massachusetts.
He came to town intent to narrow his focus to one aspect of the home building industry and went into business with Matt Pawlak in Steamboat Cabinet and Countertop Supply. The two expanded into granite and stone countertops, then realized it was too much for one business. Ficker opted to take the granite business on but still share his retail space with Pawlak's business. The two businesses feed off each other and typically work with the same customers.
Steamboat Granite and Marble and Steamboat Cabinet and Countertop are in Riverside Center, on U.S. 40 in west Steamboat. Ficker can be reached at 870-9686.
Quality Flooring is also in Riverside Center. Rocky Mountain Granite is less than a mile to the east, at 2475 Lincoln Ave. Call 879-6462.