Each of the Sleep Inn franchise hotels -- which span throughout the U.S. -- typically follow the same prototype, while maintaining their own distinctive style. For the recently opened Sleep Inn location in Winchester, VA, that style was determined by franchise owner, Bipin Patel, along with stone supplier Sam Anathula of American Slate Group, Inc. of Decatur, AL. Together, they decided on the use of granite and slate in the design. "Contemporary [style] was the overall design feature for the entire project," said Anathula. "The property of the project was carefully thought out and [the feeling of] nature was initiated by installing all natural stones."

The owner -- with the help of the suppliers -- selected approximately 9,500 square feet of polished South Indian Shivakasi Gold granite in a combination pattern of 12- x 24, 18- x 30- and 12- x 12-inch cut-to-size pieces for the lobby area, walkways and elevators. All 72 rooms in the hotel were also furnished with Shivakasi Gold granite. The vanities, 8-inch aprons, 4-inch backsplashes and thresholds were all designed in granite to give the rooms a crisp look. The vanities were each fabricated with sink and faucet holes, and all of the thresholds at the room entrances and bathroom doors feature 1¿inch chamfering. To accent the gold granite, polished South Indian Black Galaxy granite was also incorporated in 2 cm thick pieces for the lobby countertops.

Granite was selected because of its hardness and the minimum maintenance cost involved, according to Anathula.

In addition to granite, a total of 3,000 square feet of 16- x 16-inch Silver Grey gauged slate was used for the interior lobby columns and around the exterior pool area - chosen to evoke the natural feel the supplier and owner desired. "All of the stone originated in India," said Anathula. "Over 60% of the project involved [custom] fabrication, as it involved precision on every piece made."

Construction for the 45,000-square-foot facility began in 2001 and ended in June 2002.

"Our biggest problem was perfection and time management," said Anathula. "As soon as drawings were sent to our Indian factory, Shanthari Exports (P) Ltd., our engineering team went into action right away -- preparing templates, jigs for all shapes involved in the project and packing sequences, in order to avoid any damage whatsoever during shipping from India. American Slate Group has a 100% Export Oriented Unit facility in Tada, Andhra Pradesh, India, with state-of-the-art processing equipment to handle complex situations."

In addition to careful fabrication, the factory in India paid close attention to the packing of the stone material before it was shipped to the job site in Virginia. "Our full-time dedicated packaging professional took an extra step to have zero damage during transit from India to the U.S. Specifically, cut-to-size dimensions of bubble wrap and thermo coal were used to avoid any abrasion during transit. The level of polishing remained exactly in the same condition as it was originally sent, all because of professionally handled packaging."

Because American Slate Group had done several franchise hotels in the U.S., they were sufficiently experienced in working with hotel projects. "Planning was formulated from day one and carried out in stages, and ultimately we met the deadline set," said Anathula.

Once the stone was brought on-site, the workers of Schneeman Tile, Inc. of Boyce, VA, were commissioned to install it. "The granite we installed was for the floor, entrance, vestibule and vanities," said Ed Schneeman of Schneeman Tile. "We also installed the slate for the columns in the entry lobby. We installed all of the stone with a thin-set application, using setting materials from Tec Specialty Products."

Overall, Schneeman said the project went smoothly, as the crew coordinated with other tradesmen on the job. "We had three mechanics and three helpers, and the installation wasn't difficult. Of course, there were other people working at the same time as we were, but that is really the nature of the beast."

Since completion of the project, the hotel has been well received. "The reaction to this project has been amazing beyond our expectations," said Anathula. "By looking at the quality of the project, several hotel franchisees have approached us for new construction and refurbishing projects in the hotel industry. Credit and total success to this project will certainly go to our engineering staff and dedicated round-the-clock skilled workers, who have made it a reality to handle any project."