Step up: by Ian Knapper

Returning from another research trip to Europe to meet some of my stone suppliers, I have been thinking about the process of finding the perfect stone for a project.

For us, it’s a two-sided approach. First, it is about building good working relationships with suppliers and secondly it’s about managing client expectations – which we all know can be the largest part of the job, especially when you are dealing with a highly bespoke marble staircase, for example.

The world stone market is largely based around the manufacture and supply of 2cm and 3cm slabs of material, as that’s the majority of work that gets specified.

There are numerous stone factories scattered around the world and there’s yard after yard with dozens of materials – marbles, stones, granites and more – where you can literally go and select them from stock. And we do occasionally do that. More often, though, our requirements are bespoke.

For stair treads, the solid rectangular slabs we require must be thick, so the 2-3cm thick slabs are of no use to us. That’s why it’s important for us to visit suppliers to brief them on the parameters we’re working with.

We work with our clients to gain a full understanding of what they want and to manage their expectations regarding what we think is realistic. We relay this to our suppliers to agree what variation of colour tone or markings, for example, are acceptable – this kind of marking is okay or that discolouration in it isn’t and can you achieve this level of detail in the stone you supply.

You have to get an understanding from the supplier of what is practical, too, and make sure that they are not just trying to sell you some old block that’s been sitting there for years. Face-to-face is always the best way to build those relationships, we find.

Plus, we never know what we are going to find. And we are always expanding our knowledge.

This all helps us to understand the material and its properties. That is particularly helpful if the client has a specific vision they are looking to achieve, or we are dealing with a bespoke marble which has more pronounced graining, clouding or marking. Half our job is managing expectations.

Sometimes what is asked of us is just not possible. We are dealing with a natural product, after all.

If we are creating a staircase with multiple flights, then we’re not going to get it all out of one block. Going to see suppliers helps us understand the variables – it really does.

Seeing for yourself where the stone is quarried and how it can vary helps you get that across to the client so, if necessary, we can give them feedback and say

first-hand and realistically what the finished product will be like.

Don’t get me wrong, a trip isn’t always on the cards but in my opinion building supplier relationships face-to-face are worth their weight in gold... or marble, should we say?

Over more than 25 years the name of Ian Knapper, the eponymous head of his company in Staffordshire, has become synonymous with stunning stone design, including the finest fireplaces, staircases and other sculptural and architectural stonework. 01538 722733 [email protected]