Well, Quartzite to be more precise, but “May the Quartzite be with You” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?
So anyway, remember way way back in our Kitchen Remodel Plan post when I blathered on about granite countertops? I mentioned that we’d definitely be getting granite for both the perimeter cabinets (probably Black Galaxy) and the island (something white and affordable from Home Depot). We were so adamant about granite because Handan spent a few too many late nights trolling through the dark underbelly of home improvement chat rooms and comment sections where she came across tale after blood-curdling tale of the horrors of quartzite and marble.
“They stain!” shrieked one about her quartzite.
“They scratch!” shouted another about his marble.
“They took MY BABY!” wailed another about…oh wait, that was a different site.
All these histrionic counter critics got my babes all in a tizzy about any rock besides granite. She flat-out refused to consider quartzite or marble (even though she grew up with marble counters in her native Turkey).
Now, if you’ll recall from my recent Kitchen Remodel Progress post, we had already gone and looked at slabs, and we found a gorgeous chunk of rock.
Unfortunately, it was marble.
Of course, I fell in love with it.
So when she wasn’t nearby, I explained our predicament to our slab salesman.
He told me that in Europe, people have a different view when it comes to marble countertops. They take the spills, scratches and stains as given and see them as life memories etched into the stone. They might look at a pale red ring left behind from a wine glass and reminisce about the good friends and good food that contributed to its creation.
But in America?
A stain like that would mean daggers-out and pistols-at-dawn as the seething homeowners sought retribution for the unspeakable crime. Stone countertops are a focal point of pride and place, and the merest blemish is grounds for hellfire to be called down upon the poor soul who committed the atrocity.
And though my babes comes from the land of “meh, whatever,” and though she came from a house stuffed with care-worn marble, she has adopted the American viewpoint that stone countertops are sacred and should look forever new.
But a miracle happened that day in the stone showroom. After looking at all the granite and seeing nothing that fit our original dream, and after our salesman explained to Handan what he had explained to me, she agreed that marble might be a good choice.
You see, she too fell in love with the slab above.
There was just one glitch.
Since that slab wasn’t part of Home Depot’s normal offerings (they use a subcontractor for their granite work – Stone Systems of Atlanta, and Stone Systems of Atlanta sources their stone from the company and warehouse in which Handan and I stood), we would have to pay more. We wouldn’t know how much more until Debbie, our awesome Home Depot designer, had a chance to run the numbers.
When Debbie informed us later that day that the marble slab would be almost $10,000, we immediately reverted to Handan’s pick for granite – a slab named White Spring.
As I mentioned in our last kitchen progress post, I wasn’t mad about it, but I was learning to love it. We also chose Black Galaxy for our perimeter counters, as expected.
Okay! The ball was rolling, and the next step was to have our cabinets measured for the granite. That took over a week, but on July 16th, our measuring guy from Stone Systems of Atlanta told us that we’d be having our counters installed in 10-12 days. It was a little longer than we were hoping, but oh well.
Eight days later on the 23rd, we received a text informing us that someone would be calling us by the 30th.
The 30th came and went.
On Friday, July 31st I called Stone Systems to see what was up.
I’d tried calling them before and had the same result. I tried a couple more times and then gave up and left a message.
To my surprise, I got a call back that afternoon.
The woman on the other end of the line informed me that we were on their schedule for an August 12th installation.
When I questioned why it was so far out, she told me that they were understaffed due to “two employees out with Covid.”
Look, I don’t want to downplay anyone’s suffering when it comes to this virus, but something just didn’t sit right with me about this.
Nevertheless, I hung up and told Handan about it.
It didn’t sit well with her either.
These delays were having an impact on our lives. More meals eaten out means more money spent. And let’s not get into life with practically no running water on the main floor (the tiny pedestal sink in the guest bath hardly counts)!
We called back and explained our situation, the timeline as originally conveyed and the fact that we were waiting to write an article on this kitchen.
We spoke to a different woman than the one I had previously spoken with. She was just as adamant that they couldn’t budge on that August 12th date. They were booked solid until then. Desperate to get at least something done sooner, we asked it we could at least get the Black Galaxy installed before the 12th. If we could get that, then San could carry on with his cabinet and stove installation.
The woman said that we could do that, but it would cost us an additional $200.
Wait a minute. Something wasn’t right here. If they were booked solid until the 12th, how could they do a partial trip?
Handan and I pressed the issue, but then the woman put us on hold so she could get her manager – the same woman I’d spoken to earlier.
My babes and I took turns speaking. We both had points to make.
But the customer service manager wouldn’t speak to both of us. She said she’ll only speak to one person.
She just shut us down like we were squabbling schoolchildren.
What kind of customer service is that?
I bowed out and let Handan take over. She was not happy, and when she’s not happy, her mind becomes laser-focused.
For the next 15 minutes, my babes questioned the customer service manager about our order and why it had been so delayed.
After hearing the Covid excuse a few more times, we managed to find out that the purchase order was delayed and that they don’t start counting any days until that purchase order comes across their desks.
But where were our slabs? Were they finished?
The answer Handan got back was that they were “in fabrication.”
Well, that’s pretty vague.
But no matter how many times she asked, that was the answer she got.
She ended the call with no resolution and a very bitter taste in her mouth.
If this was their idea of good customer service, what else did we have in store?
That night – Friday night – Handan searched the company on Google (something we should have thought of earlier) and found a 3.2/5 star rating. That right there would be enough to put us off of them. But then Handan started reading the comments.
It seems our delay was the norm for them.
People as far back as April complained that their installations were delayed because “two employees are out with Covid.”
What a convenient excuse for anyone needing an excuse.
Reading further back to comments left in a pre-Covid world, we discovered that others were getting the same delay treatment, just without the excuse attached.
What’s worse, after getting their delayed install date, many experienced further delays, as those dates got pushed further and further back.
We now had a really bad feeling about this company. Not only did we not trust that August 12 install day, but I was terrified that they would botch the job and ruin my kitchen. Fully half the comments told nightmarish stories of bungled installations. To their credit, others wrote glowing reviews of the installation. This leads me to believe that they have at least two install crews out there, and one or more are incompetent.
Handan and I decided to cancel our order with Stone Systems. Since they were Home Depot’s subcontractor, we first approached Debbie about it. She escalated it to one of the assistant managers, and we were told that we could cancel no problem, but if the stone had been cut already, we’d incur a 15% restocking fee. That would mean a penalty of about $750 to get out of this nightmare.
The assistant manager at Home Depot was a lovely young woman named Brittany, and she said she’d get a hold of Stone Systems to get to the bottom of our predicament.
Unfortunately, Stone Systems is closed on weekends, so we had to wait until Monday.
Monday came, and I heard nothing from Home Depot. I called late morning to see what was up and learned that Brittany was out sick that day.
There was too much money at stake here.
I couldn’t wait for Home Depot to get us out of this mess, so I picked up the phone and called Stone Systems myself.
I wasn’t expecting to get through.
And I didn’t.
But their phone system allows for several choices when first connecting – sales, logistics, scheduling, accounting, etc. I kept calling back and I worked my way through all of them without answer.
Then I started over.
At some point someone picked up.
I explained that we wanted to cancel, and then I asked if our slabs had been cut. Here’s the weird thing. At this point, I hadn’t given my name, but she knew exactly who I was and the slabs I was calling about.
She told me they were “in fabrication.”
I asked nicely if she wouldn’t mind checking to see exactly where in fabrication they were.
She said it was no problem at all and put me on hold.
Five minutes later, she returned and said they had not been cut and that she put through my cancel order. Whoever she was, she was a very nice and pleasant woman.
Handan and I whooped for joy and high-fived each other.
Now that we were freed from our obligation to Stone Systems of Atlanta, we immediately searched for another granite supplier. We got a great lead from a negative review of Stone Systems. One reviewer with a near-identical drama as ours chose AA Marble & Granite and had nothing but positive things to say.
Seemed like as good a place to start as any, so I searched them on Google and saw that they had a 4.6/5 star rating.
After a quick search through some other granite shops in the area, we settled on AA Marble & Granite.
Okay, from here on out, the story is much nicer.
We were able to get an appointment the very same day we called, so Handan and I hopped in the car and made the short journey to their showroom. Before heading out to look at some slabs, we first sat down with our contact Philip and went over some numbers. We’d be paying more than we would have through Home Depot, but I had a feeling that the quality would be much higher.
We headed outside to the big covered shed that housed the prime slabs, and I discovered that my feeling was correct.
But the same issue plagued us as before.
There just wasn’t any decent white granite.
In fact, we decided right away that we wanted marble. Unfortunately, because of Covid, too many Italian marble quarriers had either died or lost their jobs, and marble imports have plummeted. Philip’s marble stocks were pitiably low.
And Handan was still adamant against quartzite. She had read that it isn’t heat tolerant and that it etches easily with acid.
Now as an aside, I had relayed these fears to our salesman in the first stone place a month prior, and he told me that those two “facts” were incorrect. He said she might be confusing quartz with quartzite. Quartz is manmade, while quartzite is natural rock.
And again at AA Marble & Granite, Philip explained that quartzite holds up perfectly well to heat and is barely below granite when it comes to etching. Properly maintained, quartzite is as durable as granite.
So while Handan wasn’t looking, I slipped away and started ogling some sultry slabs of quartzite. We spent an hour in there going back and forth, but my eyes kept checking out one hell of a sexy slab on the outskirts of the covered shed.
I reached out to touch it.
Oooooh, it had a leather finish.
It looked like Jupiter, and I was in love.
When I finally drummed up enough courage to show Handan, her reaction was tepid at best.
But I argued that it was the single most beautiful slab in that entire stoneyard.
I argued that the colors would be perfect – blues and greens and even the reddish hues of the slab she had previously chosen.
It was called Terra Bianca, and it was my destiny.
Handan must have seen something in my sincerity and determination because she relented. She said I could have it.
And then she did the unthinkable.
She started questioning her choice of the Black Galaxy for the perimeter.
She knew that I was gaga about Blue Volga (and she loved it too), so she asked Philip to bring a small sample to place next to my Terra Bianca slab.
We all agreed that the Blue Volga looked better than the Black Galaxy next to the Terra Bianca.
“Yep!” she said. “We’ll get the Terra Bianca and the Blue Volga.” She turned to me. “Does that make you happy, my babes?”
I nearly welled up with tears. “Yes, my babes! I love you so much! Thank you!”
We went back to their offices, drew up the paperwork, paid 50% and set an appointment for measurement two days later.
Two guys came that Wednesday, but instead of a fancy laser-measuring system like the guy had from Stone Systems, our guys from AA built a template from thin pieces of wood that they hot-glued together.
This was old school!
I had set an appointment for the following Monday to go back to AA to lay the templates on my slabs and move them around to determine the best layout.
But Thursday morning, Philip called and said that I could come down that day.
This company was amazing! Not only did they communicate everything at every step, but we were getting things done ahead of time!
Since our island would be a little more than 12 feet long, we would need two slabs to make it. The pieces would be book-matched to give a continuous look.
Once I settled on the layout, we got on their schedule for installation on August 19th, two weeks later. Hey, it was a week past Stone System’s August 12th date, but we were now with a company we trusted and we had some rock that I was proud to own, so what’s another week’s wait?
August 19th came, and Handan and I were like kids on Christmas morning.
This was one of the most important components to my new kitchen, and we couldn’t wait to see how our counters were going to look!
I was excited, but I was also filled with apprehension. What if I was wrong with my choice? Handan had taken a huge leap of faith by letting me pick that slab, and she was more nervous than I was I think!
Our installers arrived. It was the same crew that measured and built the template.
They backed their old pickup into our driveway, and the slab-laden bed groaned under the weight.
The slabs on the left in the pic below are for someone else. Ours are on the right.
The guys started with the smaller pieces of Blue Volga.
It made an instant impact on the look!
I kept looking at our big slab on the back of their pickup. How much did that thing weigh? I did a quick calculation.
At least 750 pounds.
Jeezum crow! How were these two guys going to move such a huge slab into the house and up on the counter? I had been expecting a crew of 4 to 6 guys to maneuver such a rock.
But the crew seemed unfazed as they continued installing the Blue Volga.
It was a tight and perfect fit.
The moment of truth had come. All the small pieces were out, and all that remained was the Big Daddy slab.
They asked for my help.
“Of course!” I told them.
But they only wanted me to hold the wheeled cart while they maneuvered the slab off of the truck.
They inched it backward with supreme effort, but they hadn’t gotten it to the tipping point.
Handan came outside, and I looked at here with terrified eyes.
This was nearly half a ton of rock with only two guys to try to move if off of a pickup and onto a small wheeled cart.
After a few moments Handan came over. “Babes, do you want to help them?”
“Yes!” I said and jumped up on the truck.
Handan held the cart in place as two of us pushed and one pulled.
Inch by inch, we got that beast to the tipping point.
And let me tell you, when that slab’s full weight was resting on the opened tailgate, I was sure it was going to snap under the load.
But it held. They sure don’t build those trucks like that anymore! What a workhorse!
I’d love to show you pics of that process of getting the slab off the truck, but we were all too busy for pics!
Once on the cart, it was an easy enough matter to get it to the front door.
But first…this guy!
Handan and I exchanged nervous glances. How the hell were we going to get that mountain slice into the house and onto the little wheel?
Again, it took the combined strength of three of us while Handan laid on the ground, adjusting boards here and there and making sure we didn’t damage the slab or our home.
Don’t ask me how, but we managed to get it up the steps and onto the wheel. Once it was safely on the wheel, I stepped back to take a picture.
And here we are rolling it through the house.
And then I ran around to the kitchen…
Getting it up onto the cabinets was much easier than I imagined. We first leaned the slab against the base cabinets, and then we all lifted from the bottom and levered the slab into place.
Then the installers used brute force to cajole the beast into its final place.
Once the slabs were in place, the guys started leveling.
For those last few millimeters they used a nifty little contraption called a seam setter to make a perfect seam between the two slabs. It not only pulls the slabs together, but it adjusts their heights.
Once they had the seam perfectly level, they scraped it with a razor and then epoxied it.
At some point during loading or unloading, one of the edges chipped. I forgot to take a picture, but they were prepared for such things. They said not to worry – we’ll never know there was a chip there.
He was right! Once he sanded it down, you couldn’t tell there was ever a chip.
Next they drilled holes for the faucet and the air switch for the disposal.
I thought this would be dusty and messy work, but they drilled through that quartzite like butter and left no mess!
They used an angle grinder on the seam’s edge to make it perfectly smooth.
Though the rock had been sealed at the fabrication yard, they gave it another quick seal with 511 Seal & Enhance. We’ve since bought our own jug of this stuff and intend to use it every couple of months for the first couple of years. The more protected the stone is, the better it will resist staining and etching.
A job well done by the AA Marble & Granite crew!
My babes and I couldn’t believe it – we finally had our countertops! It had taken two months, but we were almost done! We had scheduled San to come back the next day to carry on with his work, and most importantly, to hook up the plumbing and get our water back!
He first installed the two cabinets that would flank the stove.
And then he hooked up the plumbing, re-installed the dishwasher and installed our new drawer microwave.
We have running water again.
The next day was tiling day. San hired a friend of his, a kind and soft-spoken Iranian architect name Tony who owns Atlanta Custom Finishes. Okay, okay, I know – there probably aren’t too many guys named Tony in Iran, and our Tony is no exception. His given name is Vadood, but he goes by Tony.
I understand why.
My wife is named Handan, and my son is Baris, and while one in fifty may pronounce Handan’s name correctly after reading it or hearing it, exactly zero percent get Baris’s name right. Sometimes it pays to adapt, especially when you own a business!
If we stayed in Vietnam I would have probably changed my name, and if we ever move to Turkey, I’ll probably have to pick a more suitable one for the local tongues, because lord knows neither country can pronounce “Greg!” In Vietnam, it usually came out like “Graayy” or “Grehs.” In Turkey it was more like, “G’rek” or “G’dek.”
So if Vadood wants to go by Tony here, I understand his reasoning. But I have to say, I think Vadood is an awesome name!
The guys working for Tony did a fantastic job with the tiling. We had the pleasure of meeting Manuel, an affable Mexican who’s been living in Georgia for over 30 years and Carlos, a quiet Salvadoran whose impeccable workmanship speaks for itself.
This tiling job was another one that Handan and I at first thought of doing ourselves.
I’m so glad we didn’t!
But I did watch and learn a bunch of tricks and techniques, so maybe next time..? 🙂
I love the laser level that gives both horizontal and vertical lines!
They first screwed a board into the wall to build off of. As you can see, the first course of tiles sits below the counter. Normally, they’d start right at the counter line, but because this house is totally unsquare, starting at the counterline on one side would end up either above or below the counter on the other side, depending on which way you go. To solve this, Carlos suggested that they start below the counterline. It would require them to make a custom cut for every tile above the counter on that first row, but they eye wouldn’t pick up the unsquareness as readily. When facing the stove the floor slopes downward from right to left and the ceiling slopes upward. I’d say I’m shocked at the level of incompetence involved in building this house, but really, nothing shocks me anymore in this country!
Working from the centerline outwards. I never would have thought of that!
Okay, I’m starting to be able to visualize my stove area!
One side done. On to the next area!
For the edge piece, Tony convinced us to go with the metal one shown below. We were skeptical, but once installed, we saw just how right he was.
Carlos worked his magic and cut all the tiles perfectly.
They finished the installation and left for the day. The next morning, they’d be back to apply the grout, and San would return to (almost) finish his part of the job.
They started by pulling out all of the spacers.
Then Carlos smeared on the grout. We picked Snow White to complement the tiles. It’s a shade darker than pure white. The guys are grouting in the background while San works on hanging some new lighting.
Washing the grout from the tile faces…
Applying the grout to the other side…
After Manuel and Carlos left, San stayed and carried on with his work. He installed lights over the island (that you’ll see in the reveal post), he removed the clunky old fluorescent rods and installed 4 LED ceiling lights that don’t require a can and can be set to any of 5 color temperatures.
San had to cut several more holes in the ceiling to run wire. We’ll be repairing and repainting those soon.
And that brings us to where we are today.
Oh, I almost forgot.
San, Handan and I installed my ZLINE range.
But we ran out of moulding, so I’m waiting for another delivery from Kraft Maid. So until then, no stove pics for you, madam! Heheheh, you’ll have to wait a little longer! I have to tell you though, it looks better than I ever could have imagined, and I really can’t wait for the reveal!
Until then, please enjoy a few more pics of our new quartzite island and Volga Blue granite perimeter counters!
Depending on your viewing angle, fiery blues explode from the Blue Volga granite. I could look at this stuff all day!
The tiles Handan picked look stunning. I can’t wait to show you this whole area. For now, this is all I can leak. 🙂
Here’s a better shot of the pot filler. I never dreamed of owning one of these!