BY ATHENA MCKENZIE | PHOTOS BY KURT KNOCK
Quarried from the Earth’s surface, natural stone has been a go-to building material for millennia. It can be used to striking effect for a variety of projects, from flooring and countertops, to fireplaces, pools and sculptural elements.
Matrix Marble and Stone operates its own marble quarries right here on Vancouver Island. Originally Cowichan Terrazzo and Ceramic Tile, one of three companies started by the Zanatta family, Matrix Marble and Stone was founded in 1980. It was the first natural stone company on the Island, importing exotic stones from Italy and other international suppliers. Soon after, the company acquired specialized equipment and began operating its factory in Duncan. In 1990, the Zanattas opened Vancouver Island Marble Quarries and began quarrying the high-quality white, grey and black marbles unique to the Island.
“They’re what we call in the industry ‘boutique quarries,’ because we cut the blocks specifically a certain way,” says Ivo Zanatta, president and CEO of Matrix Marble and Stone. “We don’t just mine it and remove it as we go; we cut very specific marble corridors. We don’t just cut what’s there. We can turn the frame a little bit, just like you would do with Photoshop, to get a beautiful picture. We need to create beautiful pictures with the slabs.”
SPRUCE visited Zanatta at the Matrix Marble and Stone showroom in Duncan to learn more about natural stone and how it can be used in your next home project.
If a homeowner wants to incorporate natural stone into their project, what is their starting point?
When people come here, they generally have an interest in natural stone. Most of the time, they will bring us a drawing of their layout — for, let’s say, their kitchen. What we do is put a budget together. If they feel comfortable and it’s within their budget, they will come back and walk through all the inventory displayed in our yard. If they see something they like, they will take a sample. We have a whole library of samples. It’s not like a man-made stone, where you can pick from a chip. There is so much variation; you have to see it. That’s the best way for a project. Once they pick one, we tag it and it gets set aside.
How long before the next step?
That depends on the project. The homeowner will contact us when they’re ready for templating. We go to the project site and template it. Our manufacturing team cuts it, prepares it and gets it ready. Then our install team picks it up and installs it for a day or two or three — whatever it takes.
What are the common misconceptions around natural stone?
That it’s expensive. Some stones are very inexpensive. Of course, some of the Carrara marbles are very expensive. Prices can go from $25 a square foot up to $150. But that’s your classic Carrara. Veined marble is very expensive. It’s a classic and beautiful look that you’ll find all over the world. You’ll see it from 2,000 years ago — even in Cleopatra’s house.
What about the idea that it’s hard to care for?
It’s very easy to care for. There’s zero maintenance. The nice thing about natural stone is that it doesn’t burn, so you can put a hot pot on it and it won’t do a thing to it. Whereas engineered stones are manmade with resins. They’ll leave a mark. [Natural stone] is a great product. It’s hard to scratch, hard to damage. Just clean it with dish soap and water. Never use any chemicals, vinegar or abrasive cleaners on your natural stone, as it can etch.
Is that a permanent mark on natural stone?
An etch is a dull mark, like a burn, but it is not permanent and should disappear over time from daily use and cleaning. It can be immediately removed by refinishing or repolishing the stone’s surface.
Are there limitations to natural stone’s applications?
Thickness. It should never be less than three centimetres thick. We make custom countertops, marble bathrooms, flooring, wall cladding, fireplaces, pools and landscape products. Our specialized machines can make almost any creative request a possibility.
Tell me about the different marbles that you quarry on Vancouver Island.
There are four original colours and variations to choose from: Vancouver Island White Marble, Tlupana Blue-Grey Marble, Tlupana Deep Water Marble and Black Carmanah Marble. The grey and white marbles — and our new marble, which we call West Coast Wave — all come from Tahsis, a little village on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The black marble comes from our Lake Cowichan quarry, just past Honeymoon Bay. We’ve been working these quarries since the early ’90s. The marble blocks are processed here at our factory, with cutting, shaping and finishing depending on the application.