In Episode 18, Patrick tries something different and speaks directly with a homeowner – artist Steven Blakey.
- How customers don’t use the same language fabricators do
- What a successful countertop installation sounds like to a customer, especially in the context of a larger remodel
- As always – the importance of communication
- How a customer might think about the slab selection process
If you have stories or insights that you’d like to share with other fabricators, please reach out to Patrick.
Patrick: Welcome to StoneTalk, the podcast for countertop fabricators. Brought to you by Moraware, makers of JobTracker scheduling software and CounterGo estimating software for countertop fabricators. I’m your host, Patrick Foley. Today, we’re doing something a little bit different and speaking to an actual homeowner who recently purchased countertops. Our guest today is Steven Blakey and we’re going to be talking about his overall experience of getting new countertops. I have no idea what to expect but let’s give him a call.
Patrick: Hey, Steven. This is Patrick. How are you doing?
Steven: I’m doing well. How are you?
Patrick: Good. Is this still a good time to talk?
Steven: Yes, it is.
Patrick: Awesome. Let’s just dive in then. So I saw a picture of your new kitchen. What made you pick granite for the counters? Why not something else?
Steven: Well, it’s my third full kitchen remodeling. I’ve done other partial kitchen remodels but granite, there’s something about the natural stone. I’ve looked at other synthetics and other things but the stone itself has its own little life and it adds so much to what you’re doing with the kitchen. I think it adds like a – it’s like a stone jewel part of the kitchen. With this particular remodel, I had a very large island. It was 7.5 feet by 4.5 feet and I really wanted to make a statement with what that surface was going to be and so I went with the granite.
Patrick: So spoken like a true artist. I noticed your page, stevenblakey.com in case anyone wants to go. You do beautiful work.
Steven: Thank you.
Patrick: So clearly you care about having beauty in your kitchen as well and it did turn out beautiful. So are you happy with it? Do you like the way it turned?
Steven: I’m very happy with it.
Patrick: Okay, good. And just for some of the basics, what is the name of the color? Do you know the name of the color of that granite?
Steven: Oh, gosh.
Patrick: That’s so funny.
Steven: I’m not in the room where I have all my paperwork on the actual thing. I could grab it if you want me to.
Patrick: You just informed again, countertop people tend to think everybody knows what Uba Tuba is and Arctic Pearl and all this and clearly someone who really cared about their countertops didn’t know it off the top of his tongue.
Steven: I didn’t because you go to the granite yards and you start looking at slabs and you have to be open to not going with what you know. I mean Uba Tuba I did in one of my kitchens so I like that particular one.
Patrick: And it’s a great name.
Steven: Yeah. This particular one is from Brazil. I don’t recall the name of it but it’s so unique because it’s from a small area in Brazil that it wouldn’t have a recognizable name, I don’t think.
Patrick: Okay. And we’ll put up a picture with the show. And do you know what kind of edge they used? I can kind of see it on the island. Do you remember how they described it?
Steven: It’s just a squared off mitered edge.
Patrick: Okay, cool. So it was mitered then?
Patrick: All right. Cool. And as you’re planning this, did you make all of the decisions, are you a solo act or do you have a team?
Steven: As far as who planned this kitchen I did it.
Patrick: Okay. You did all the work…
Steven: But I had a contractor that…
Patrick: I’m sorry. Are you single or married or living with someone?
Patrick: Okay, so you had final say. You didn’t have to run up by a spouse or anything like that?
Patrick: Okay. So you worked with a contractor or designer. How did that work?
Steven: I hired a contractor based on a lot of recommendations and I did some interviews with different contractors and I felt he was the one to go with. Yeah, I mean I’ve had… Oh, gosh, I’ve had so many contractors from the past that either wouldn’t listen to me or their attitude that the consumer doesn’t know what they want. But you’re going to have some consumers that really do know exactly what they want down to that quarter inch but how it looks… and so I did get a contractor but really communicated with him a lot and he had a granite fabricator that he highly recommended because he had worked with him in numerous projects before. And so I had to trust him but I did meet with the fabricator prior.
Patrick: Really? So prior to hiring the contractor or after you said I’m using this contractor but I want to approve this fabricator?
Steven: The contractor basically said I have a fabricator that I recommend that you use.
Steven: And so I set up a meeting so I could meet this fabricator to make sure that I was comfortable with it.
Patrick: You’re a much more careful than I am. That’s the right way to do it I suspect, making sure that you like someone before you spend a lot of money with them.
Steven: Yeah. And it’s not as so much liking but when you talk to them and get a feel for things and then when I had the design and I showed him the design he, one, liked it and another thing he said he had no problems with the way it was done and he felt very confident that it would look great. So I don’t know, there is something about him that I felt I could trust, there’s that feeling.
Patrick: Nice. So you hired a general contractor. Just at a high level, how many different things did you do to your kitchen? It wasn’t just the countertops I assume.
Steven: The kitchen was completely gutted so everything was taken out, cleaned all the old flooring down to the cement and then had to move some electrical. The island, there was a little island in the kitchen before that ran the opposite direction so there was electrical down there. They had to jackhammer through the foundation to move that electrical. They had to move 20 line. No plumbing had to be moved in this though I did move plumbing and stuff in the bathrooms. I did granite for the bathrooms as well. It was a complete remodel from cabinets, flooring, appliances, everything was new.
Patrick: Very cool.
Steven: Lighting had to be changed.
Patrick: Oh, wow. So how long did this take from end to end? Like from the time you started calling contractors and interviewing them to the time you stepped back and said this looks pretty good. How long was that process?
Steven: Well, from signing the contractor and I probably found him a month before they started because they have their projects going on so you have to find out when you’re going to fit in their schedule and they were going to be starting a full condo remodel, and they said they would be done with that at such and such a time and they could start March 2nd my kitchen. And he gave me an estimate of about three weeks to a month and they did it in three weeks.
Patrick: Wow. Everything. That’s really impressive.
Steven: Everything. I came home from work the first day and there was nothing left in the kitchen. Now it was kitchen and family room that they did so they had to take all. The family room was nothing more than basically the flooring and the woodwork but it had some lighting they had to put in and they had to run new lighting electrical in through that area. One day they had all the demo completely done and were starting on the flooring the next day.
Patrick: So overall, the whole kitchen remodel, were you pretty satisfied?
Steven: Very much so.
Patrick: Yeah. Because I mean that seems like an incredible success story to start and be done three weeks later with that much work. It’s kind of amazing.
Steven: Yeah. Completely done.
Patrick: Cool. And so let’s say I’m your neighbor. Let’s say you don’t know me very well but I heard all these banging and saying, “I want to see what you did.” And I notice, I walk in and I fall in love with your countertops. Describe to me, I said, “I had no idea how this works. I need new countertops like this. “What do I do? How does this work? How would you describe the countertop process to a neighbor who had never put in new counters before?
Steven: Well, if somebody really needs to know what to do for countertops, you first want to see what they want for the surface. What kind of countertops do they want and what kind of budget do they have. They’re all different in costs even among granite. You can get much cheaper granite that’s so, so common. Baltic brown is one of those. It’s just super common to get anywhere, Home Depot, wherever. It just depends on where your budget is and what you want and what kind of design that you have. But the whole process of finding somebody that’s a good fabricator and knows what they’re doing and even if you want to see stuff that they’ve done. Most fabricators will actually take you to a house that they’ve been on or have photos or something. But in picking granite I always go to different stores or different places and actually pick out my slabs and make sure that those are the ones that I want.
Patrick: Yeah. I think that makes a lot of sense. And this isn’t your first rodeo.
Patrick: You’ve done a few different remodels. What gives you the itch to want to redo that? Was it a new home or was this one you had already remodeled ten years ago or did you just move into it?
Steven: I’ve been here for about four years and it was one of those houses that had great bones, great floor plan and a fantastic lot but needed a lot of upgrading. It was not old. It was built in 1999 but it was a very standard typical oak cabinets you can buy at any home improvement store. And I knew it could be a lot better than that so it started. There’s a casita attached to the house. It started with that room but once you’ve got contractors working it’s like, well, if you’re going to demolition that bathroom, let’s do three more. It’s four bedrooms, four baths. So you just keep going through and changing things and I did a lot of work myself. I did all the woodwork, I did all the handles on the cabinets, all the design work but it’s been a long haul. You’ve got to make if your own home. I think because I got it at such a low price it gave me the equity in order to invest back into it and not be upside down on it.
Patrick: Right. Right. There’s a lot of interesting parts of your purchasing decision that I’m going to kind of bounce around a little bit in here because again, I’m just trying to get the mindset in various parts of it. So you mentioned that this big island is a focal point in the kitchen.
Patrick: Did your desire for that come from having that smaller island and saying, “I don’t have enough room to cook on,” or “It just looks too small in the kitchen. I need something to fill this up.” How did you decide that a big island is better than a small island?
Steven: For this particular kitchen, they had a small island in it but it ran in a different direction. It was 90 degrees different because they tried to create like an eating kitchen area on one side of the kitchen which really looked strange because it made the kitchen look half the size that it could have been and had less cabinets. So it was both an aesthetic issue of I want this big island to show this whole half of the room is all kitchen. But in creating the island what I did was I had cabinets and things on one side and then I put cabinets on the other side so the island actually has two rows of cabinets back to back. So I really added a lot of space. So it had a lot to do with function. So instead of doing what’s typical is you’ll do a little pony wall, a little half wall and you have cabinets on one side and then your granite goes over that and that creates your eat up counter, right? So I didn’t want a wall there so I just put two cabinets back to back in a line to create the island and still the granite goes pass that for an overhang.
Patrick: Got it.
Steven: [inaudible 00:12:36] kitchen but the center of the kitchen now is that island.
Patrick: Right. So I’m looking at the picture and I can see. So it’s basically a little more than twice the depth of typical cabinets. Is that a fair description?
Steven: Yes. Yeah, it’s 4.5 wide, 7.5 feet long.
Patrick: Nice. But you said eat in as well so you do pull up a chair, a stool and eat at the island.
Steven: Yeah. I just got the stools delivered yesterday actually, so there’re no stools sitting there.
Patrick: Nice. And what is more important to you now? Again, I’m bouncing around quite a bit chronologically but as looking at that beautiful picture, I’m wondering if I lived there would I be happier about just looking at this beautiful kitchen or would I be happiest when I’m making a sandwich and sitting down and eating it? Does one of those light you up more than the other at this point in time, actually using your new counters or just admiring them?
Steven: The function is the most important part. The way that that is so large now and the way it functions is so much better than what I had. Just in the way you move from the sink, turn around there’s the counter. The way the counter goes all the way down to where the refrigerator is now. I got groceries yesterday, a lot of groceries, first time I’ve done that in this new kitchen and it was so amazing to be able to lay out the groceries. Okay, that’s for the refrigerator, that’s for the pantry, that goes back to the bathrooms. It was like I had all this space and it was function. But you know what, if you’re going to have function, why not have it look good?
Steven: Because when you have people over and there’s sitting at that counter, I want them to think that it looks pretty cool. And when you have the pendant lights hanging over that granite, man, it picks up the color. There’re a lot of quarts in this granite that’s really amazing looking.
Patrick: Yeah. It’s absolutely beautiful. So now I want to dive into the actual details and how you are aware of. I know you’re working with a contractor and it only took three weeks but were you aware of the first time someone came to your home to deal with countertops before they actually installed them. Do you remember them coming and measuring or anything like that?
Steven: The fabricator and I first talked on the phone and I had a plan of the kitchen. So the very first thing I did was I emailed him my plan because I wanted to get his idea about the layout and all that. And then he came to the house to look at. They were just starting to lay in the cabinets. They didn’t have all of them laid in and he came over to the house to look at it all to get an idea, get a feel for house laid out. Then he came back again once all the base cabinets were in and he measured everything and actually that day he put all the plywood underlayment and that gave him what he needed to do to fabricate it. And that was on a Thursday and they installed the granite on a Tuesday.
Patrick: Cool. So when he came to measure it you said he built the underlayment. Was that something then he took away like that was the measurement or did he use some sort of machine to do like a laser measurement or something? Do you remember or you weren’t paying attention?
Steven: I was at work that day. I just know that he told me what he was going to do and that he was going to be there. He’s going to make all the plywood surfaces. He already had the template for the sink cut out. I bought the sink like when I first moved into the house and it was sitting in the garage but I did have that. So he had all the information plus he was in contact with the contractor the whole time. So I’m sure that if there were any questions he had about measurements he probably talked to the contractor.
Patrick: Got it. But what’s nice from your perspective it was just, it’s between them, it’s a black box that just was taken care of and you didn’t have to worry about it.
Steven: Right. But I actually was involved in where the seam would go. There had to be seam because basically there’s an L-shape where on one part there’s the sink and the other part is a small L-shape before it goes to the range. And I knew that had to be a seam somewhere in that corner but I knew how long my slabs were and it wasn’t long enough to do all the way to the corner. So I talked to him on the phone. I said, “Here’s where you’ve got to put the seam.” He said, “That’s exactly where I was planning to put it.”
Patrick: Cool. So that was easy.
Steven: And he did it flawlessly. He did a great job on the seam. You can barely notice it.
Patrick: That’s nice. That’s really important. It makes a big difference. So the contractor is handling all the gory details. One day you came home and there were counters and you hadn’t seen them that morning and then there they were. Is that how that went?
Patrick: Was that the very last part of the kitchen or were there other things that had to be done after that? Was that the last day?
Steven: I would say that was probably – that went in on Tuesday, the last day was Friday. So they were in on Tuesday but after that I did not do backsplashes in that granite. I did it different. I did this glass mosaic tile for the backsplash. So they had to have that granite in and then the next day they came back out, start working on the tiling. And then after the tiling there were still some other work. The last day was all about just putting all the appliances in.
Steven: And then after they were done I put all the handles on and did some painting and stuff like that.
Patrick: Okay. Cool. And then after it was all done, was there a point where the contractor came over and just went through everything and said, “Are we done?” That kind of a last satisfaction kind of experience?
Steven: Yeah. That day on a Friday they finished up around 2 o’clock. I was here all day kind of watching them and biting my nails as they put everything in place because we were really a little bit nervous about the range because the granite actually came a little bit passed the edge of the cabinet and it made for a much tighter fit but it did fit. It’s a 16th of an inch on either side of the range. But they got it in. So once all the appliances got in, we tested everything, made sure everything was functioning and yeah, that was it.
Steven: There was one thing that was damaged which was the range hood vent cover that goes all the way to the ceiling, that came damaged so that’s on order. So that’s the only thing that’s not actually done in the kitchen.
Patrick: Okay. So again yours sounds pretty successful but was there anything you would change about the overall experience? Anything you’d change about working with the countertop company or was it just pretty good?
Steven: I wouldn’t change anything. I think that when I talked… The thing about a contractor or your fabricator is communicate. Don’t be afraid to say exactly what’s on your mind because even my contractor said I’ve never worked with somebody that really knows what they want because it actually makes it so much easier when you do your research and you as the consumer know exactly what you want, it helps them out. And they don’t make mistakes and they don’t put something in and then you’re standing there saying, “I don’t think it was going to look like that or I don’t like it like that.” You’ve got to be committed to these decisions right from the get go and tell the contractor and your fabricator exactly what you want. If you don’t know you better have a designer or somebody to help you.
Patrick: Right. Right.
Steven: I’m an artist so I’ve done I don’t know many houses. I’ve remodeled so many houses. I’m an artist so I have an artist’s eye with that and I don’t have anybody do my designing for me. I do my own. I’m probably not the typical consumer so if somebody doesn’t know what they want they better hire someone to help them figure it out.
Patrick: And at a minimum recognize that they can’t read your mind. So as you said, communication is inherently two way. You can’t just blame it on the contractor and fabricator if they didn’t do what you want and you never told them.
Steven: And they’re not insulted by asking them questions. They like the fact that you know what’s going on. I asked them every day, “What are we working on today? Do you have any questions? And here’s a list.” I would give them a list of specific items that I know are kind of details that might fall through the cracks to keep in mind. And it just kept going everything very quickly because there is no question what was supposed to be done.
Steven: I mean that’s why it took only three weeks.
Patrick: Yeah. So I almost forgot one thing, cost. And not specifically, but where was cost in your priorities? Like were you very price conscious or were you more concerned about quality or was it a balance? And again, on the whole remodel and obviously thinking about the countertops, how did you balance cost and other factors in your mind?
Steven: Initially I had what I felt was a realistic budget in mind. I had this number in mind, this is my budget, this is what I hope to achieve. I think it matters too if you think you’re going to be in that house for a very long time or that’s your retirement house or whatever, just go for it. If you go cheap you’re going to hate it in a couple of years and you’re going to wish you hadn’t and maybe you’ll even replace it and waste money. If you’re going to do it, do it. I had a very specific goal in mind for my budget which I went over only a little bit but when it came to the counters I probably went a little bit over-budget with that than what I expected but I don’t care because it came out so good. It’s so unique that I think if ever I sell this house, I’m not planning on it, but if ever I sell it that kitchen is going to be a big selling point.
Patrick: And do you think you could get your money back if you put the house on the market today?
Steven: Today, well, that’s on the kitchen maybe but the whole house as a whole whether it would appraise enough to cover everything I’ve put into the house, I don’t know. But I’m close to it.
Patrick: Yeah. And as you said, that attitude of you’re going to live there you might as well, if you’re going to do it, do it.
Steven: Yeah. I’m planning to live here for a long time so I do it once and do it right.
Patrick: Right. One last thing, do you remember the name of your countertop fabricator? I want to see if they’re one of our customers.
Steven: Yes. Sotero Rodarte.
Steven: Rodarte. Sotero Rodarte. He has like some business called the Home Builder. He actually does cabinets too, which they had talked to me about having him do the cabinets but I wanted a very specific cabinet that matched all the other cabinets in the house, so I wanted to stay with that. But he did a great job.
Patrick: Yeah. If they’re a customer I can’t find them that quickly. So that’s interesting too. So you didn’t have exactly stock cabinets then. Did you have to have a specialist or was it just hard to find some specific…
Steven: I actually went through Lowe’s.
Patrick: No way.
Steven: I went through Lowe’s but they have Schuler Cabinets. So you have to basically sit down with them and go on the computer and lay out your whole kitchen but you have to come in there with exact measurements. You know, wall to wall, wall to window, everything. It has to be very, very exact. You can have them come out and measure for you. I didn’t feel I needed it.
Patrick: And it was just for the cabinets or for the whole kitchen?
Steven: That’s just cabinets. All they did was order the cabinets and there were cabinets they did in the bathrooms. I’m really, really happy with the cabinets and the cabinets in the kitchen came out fantastic. And they were perfect, the order was absolutely perfect. There were no issues, nothing came wrong. And I’ve used Lowe’s for cabinets for a couple of other houses and never had a problem.
Patrick: Again, interesting. Looking at your picture right now, your kitchen looks absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for spending time talking to us. Do you have any parting thoughts for people in the countertop industry? Any advice or things as a customer that you want to make sure people know?
Steven: One thing and it’s something that I’ve learned on this. I went to a granite place and walked around and they basically give you a piece of paper with all the names on it and you checkmarked things that you like and then they have to check stock. And there was these two slabs that I really, really – I mean they just caught my eye and I kept trying to find something different that I liked better and I didn’t. So I decided on those and they were available. The thing is I would recommend that when you go to pick up slabs, take your fabricator with you. See if they’ll meet there with you because one of my slabs there was a crack on part of – it didn’t affect the kitchen. It’s not in the kitchen, it was on the leftovers but I didn’t notice it. And Sotero had mentioned he would have gone with me so that he could have actually examined the slabs to make sure there were no cracks or other problems with the slab. If I had done anything over again I probably would have taken him with me because that leftover, what’s leftover he says we can do something else with it but because of the crack we’re going to have to be careful of what we do with that.
Patrick: Exactly. Interesting.
Steven: So yeah, take your fabricator with you when you pick out your slabs but don’t just go to any home improvement store and say, “Oh, I’ll take that.” All slabs are different. If you don’t care what it looks like, the sample they have in the store may be very different coloring than what you are actually going to get. So pick out your slabs.
Patrick: Very nice. Well, I appreciate that very much.
Patrick: And our mutual friend, Francesco, the producer of the show. If there’s ever anything I can do for you I’m here to help, so let me know.
Steven: Okay. Great.
Patrick: Thank you so much, Steven.
Steven: Thank you.
Patrick: Take care. Bye.
Patrick: Thanks for listening to StoneTalk, the podcast for countertop fabricators. If you liked this episode, be sure to visit stonetalk.org or subscribe to StoneTalk in iTunes for more. Visit the StoneTalk Show Facebook page to join in the conversation and follow @StoneTalkShow on Twitter. StoneTalk is brought to you by Moraware, makers of JobTracker scheduling software and CounterGo estimating software for countertop fabricators. I’m your host, Patrick Foley. And I look forward to spending time with you again on the next episode of StoneTalk.