An artistic approach to countertop fabrication

February 1, 2005
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It was Haim Amir's passion for stone and the arts that inspired him and his wife, Ruti, to leave their home in Israel five years ago and build a new one in the U.S. As a sculptor, Amir believed the move would enhance his career. But soon after settling down in Baltimore, MD, the artist realized that a second source of income would be beneficial to his success. For this reason, the couple opened Milestone Granite & Marble about two and a half years ago -- a fabricating operation that today produces three kitchens a day.

“I came to make art in America,” said Amir. “I would come to the U.S. about five to seven times a year to go to shows in New York and Chicago. I said to my wife, 'Let's take a break.' I came to the U.S. to make sculptures. I didn't plan to make a factory.”

Amir explained that in addition to being a sculptor in Israel, he had taught art and philosophy at the university level. The couple also ran a stone-processing plant in Israel, which opened its doors 18 years ago and still runs today. “I have a factory in Israel with 45 people,” said Amir. “There is a also a studio there with heavy-duty equipment that can be used for sculpting.”

Because of the expense of sculpture exhibitions and travel costs -- even when living in the U.S. -- the Amirs decided to rely on their experience and start a fabricating facility in Baltimore. “I'm still very excited,” said the sculptor. “Fabrication is like art to me.”

Beyond anything else, Amir stresses quality to his workers. “We do no more than three countertops a day,” he said. “I don't want to do more than this. We are looking at high-end quality. Everyone working here is an artist. I'm not a company that makes 10 to 15 kitchens a day. We are a studio.”

To ensure a high level of quality, Amir hires and trains all of his employees himself. “It's 50% people and 50% equipment,” he said. “We have high standards. I teach people to do it well.” Currently, Milestone Granite & Marble employs nine workers -- three in the shop and six installers. “This nine is like 30,” said Amir. “We are like a family. The organization is very good.”

Producing quality stonework

The shop is equipped with a Marmoelettromeccanica America bridge saw and Master 3500 router, both supplied by Regent Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA. It also uses a Wood's Powr Grip vacuum lifter with eight suction pads and various hand tools for shaping and edging. Adhesive products from Tenax are also used in the fabricating process. Recently, Amir doubled the size of his facility to 6,000 square feet, and invested in a USI Belt Edge Polishing machine supplied by United Supply Inc. of Chantilly, VA.

“The saw is really wonderful,” said Amir. “I checked out a lot of companies, and Marmoelettromeccanica is really top of the line. I'm so happy that I bought it. I feel like I bought the best one.”

Additionally, Amir speaks highly of his relationship with Regent Stone Products. “When I started to build a factory, I went to one of their seminars to learn the American way of working, because no [fabricators] would let me in,” he said. “In America, everything is business to make money, but you don't make money if you are not good.”

The company runs one and a half shifts. “Right now we are working 12 hours a day,” said Amir. “People want their kitchens for the holidays. We are a small factory, but we are working like a large one.” Craftsmanship and dedication to hard work are two key factors in creating a successful business, according to the owner, who is proud to say that when fabricating countertops, they need one seam per 100 square feet of counter space.

The majority of sales for Milestone Granite & Marble is in the Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia regions. “We are working with about 20 importers around the area,” said Amir, explaining that the company does not keep any stock on the premises. While 90 to 95% of the material that the company works with is granite, it also is a large distributor of Caesarstone, which now offers colors that replicate Jerusalem stone and Carrara White marble. Furthermore, Milestone Granite & Marble offers 30 colors of Swanstone for sinks, which are produced by a U.S. manufacturer.

According to Amir, Milestone Granite & Marble primarily sells to showrooms and builders, such as David S. Brown. “We are the professional connection with the homeowner after the showroom gets the work,” he said, adding that he welcomes customers to tour his facility. “It's exciting to let them see the cutting and polishing.” Expanding on this idea, Amir is planning to host a seminar in the near future for builders, designers and showrooms, to educate them on the stone industry and its processes.

To ensure quality, Amir and his wife make templates for the countertops themselves. They also discuss the design with their clients. “From the first minute we start to work, we talk about kitchen design,” said Amir. “We understand the work and explain to the customer what is good -- every material is not good for everything.”

In addition to residential work, Milestone Granite & Marble also produces commercial projects. At the time of Stone World's visit, the company was working on a large order for the Dallas International Airport. Amir admits that his passion is for customized work because of the creativity involved. Once he has his expanded operation up and running smoothly, Amir attends to dedicate more time to his first love -- sculpting.

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