Savvy contractors know how to search the wide world for the rarest marbles and granites, the most painstaking joiners, woodworkers, metal-forgers, and stone-carvers | BY VINCENT TYER AND ROBERT TROSTLE
Longing for millwork fit for a king to embellish your new estate? How about marble flooring with an international pedigree, or iron gates elegant enough for an ancient château? Often, what differentiates one fine home from another is the provenance of the materials that form and enhance it—the place where they were harvested, quarried, or fabricated. True, the Internet has made the world’s resources available at the touch of a keyboard. Today, when homeowners and architects design a luxury residence, they can search the world for exotic treasures, treatments, and techniques. Yet even with this global tool they must do serious detective work to locate these often hard-to-find resources.
Tapping a contractor who can both act as an advocate and ultimately get the job done is a critical step in the building of a luxury home. Some of the finest materials must be sourced internationally, where the indigenous (and sustainable) wood is grown, for instance, or the rarest granites and marbles are quarried. And superior craftsmanship is often found at lesser-known international specialty firms. These firms, which focus on woodcarving, metalworking, intricate stone inlay, or ornate plaster casting, use the same techniques that artisans have employed for hundreds of years. To build the ultimate modern estate, a homeowner needs a builder with experience working with the most exclusive materials and methods and—above all—the right international Rolodex.
To understand how complicated international sourcing can be, consider the request a well-known architect made to our firm, Taconic Builders. He had designed a unique floor as part of a multi-million-dollar residence. Conceptualized to resemble a carpet, the design featured an intricate floral pattern done in marble. The difficulty lay in trying to capture the fine details—the shading and the varying colors and sizes of the flowers—with the machinery available in the U.S.
In fact, the type of marble inlay required for this floor is done best by hand. So Taconic Builders went abroad to get the handwork done. We partnered with a local entrepreneur and importer of exotic materials from India; its craftsmen there could do the painstaking work. Once the design was finalized, full-size drawings and wood templates were made as models and shipped to India. This true-to-life scale ensured that the product, when delivered to the home site, would fit, eliminating the potential for error. The stone was sourced from India, Greece, and Portugal; the baseboards were fabricated in the U.S. In India, the individual pieces were worked by hand into the solid marble and assembled; finally they were shipped back for installation. The global enterprise took nine months.
Sometimes it is a particular design direction that drives the international sourcing. Many “hidden gem” fabricators and suppliers can provide authentic resources for modern estates. For instance, the châteaus of France have captured the imagination of luxury homeowners since America was founded. For a project that requires period design from France, Ateliers Perrault Frères (established in 1760), a metal- and woodworking firm based in Brittany, has an impeccable lineage and is responsible for much of the major restoration of the country’s castles. This firm can provide handcarved wooden screens, traditionally joined wooden doors and panels, and handcrafted latches and hardware to complete the look (www.ateliersperrault.fr/english/entreprise.html). Ornamental metalwork can also be ordered from Les Métalliers Champenois (renovators of the Statue of Liberty’s flame). If they can’t fabricate what is needed in their shop here in Paterson, New Jersey (www.L-M-C.com), they can always turn to their parent company in France (which has the same Web site). Bricard of Paris, founded in 1782 (www.decorative french-locks.com/english/bienvenue.htm), has one-of-a-kind French locks and cremones. Those researching locks or doorknockers for American estates should consult the Web site of the Bricard Museum (Musée de la Serrurerie-Bricard; www.paris.org/Musees/Serrurerie), in Paris. The museum showcases the history of locks and features items that the firm has manufactured for castles and châteaus throughout Europe.
Of course, international sourcing has its share of difficulties and complexities. Language, different time zones, currency fluctuations, geopolitical situations, cultural differences, and local holidays must be built into equations and schedules. Also, when materials are coming from overseas, adequate time must be added to the schedule for transportation and for clearing of customs. And then there is always the unforeseen. What happens if the longshoremen go on strike while a container is in transit? Choosing a contractor who is knowledgeable about sourcing rare materials and techniques and who can navigate the intricacies of international trade will determine whether your home will be simply a big house or your castle. TME
Vincent Tyer is CEO, and Robert Trostle is a senior project manager, at Taconic Builders, a luxury estate builder with offices in Westchester, New York City, Long Island, East Hampton, and Seattle, Washington. 914.698.7456; firstname.lastname@example.org.