The owners retained me to coordinate all of the activities related to the installation of the stone on the house, in the house, and throughout the terraces and gardens. This was a challenging and exciting opportunity to work on a large home in the United States inspired by the Bastides of southern France. Many years ago, in the late 1970’s, I undertook several projects in Provence, in the South of France. It was an experience that transformed my life, and taught me much about the art of working in stone. Because, during those years in France, the work I was doing involved additions and renovations to "match existing" portions of eighteenth-century buildings, I traveled often throughout the south and met many dealers in antiques and antique building materials. When I returned to the United States I maintained my contacts with these dealers and eventually started a business importing country French and Spanish antique building materials for use in my projects here. Since then I have continued to travel in France and Spain every year, if not to buy antiques, then to appreciate the architecture, culture, and countryside, and to refresh my eye. While much of the work I have done over my life has been within a local Virginia vernacular tradition using native materials, after my years in France I always hoped I would one day build on a large scale in the Mediterranean tradition here in the United States. Several years ago my friend and well known Charlottesville architect, John Rhett, was working in the office Francois Goffinet had at that time in Charlottesville. John had been working on a project with extensive stonework throughout the landscape program. He kindly introduced me to the owner’s representative, John Sugden, and we eventually agreed to terms for the work.
It had always been the owners’ dream to build a house in the southern French style incorporating materials from France. They approached Juan Pablo Molyneux, the New York based designer, about drawing a house for them. Several years later construction began guided by the architectural drawings of the house executed by Jerry Harpole, an architect based in Washington DC, who had done several previous projects for the owners and members of their family. Harpole’s team collaborated with Molyneux and eventually produced the final construction documents for the house, while Goffinet’s office contributed the design and drawings for the landscape program, including all the terraces, staircases and garden features. The final interior decoration was designed and installed by Marybeth Waterman of Steve Chase Associates.
My role in all of this was to advise the owners on stone issues generally; coordinate and oversee the delivery of twenty five containers of stone from France for the exterior walls, interior staircase, trim, and floors; coordinate the activities of the stone cutter and helpers furnished by the French quarry for installation; organize and direct the additional labor crew hired locally; purchase all related materials, including custom fabricated stainless steel fastening devices; schedule and supervise all related trades; coordinate and supervise construction and dismantling of scaffold and cold weather scaffold enclosure; and to actively participate daily in the physical installation of the work as it went along.
A most important aspect of my work was the constant translation necessary between the English speaking owners and construction management company and the French speaking stone quarry owner, fabricator, transporters, engineers, and on-site artisans, and the Spanish speaking labor crew. The translation included not only the day-to-day on-site requirements to keep the work moving smoothly, but also complicated and difficult negotiations of contracts and change orders between the owners and the French suppliers. When the work on the exterior of the house was substantially completed, I organized an antique furniture buying trip in France for the owners. I went on ahead of them to preview the market and prepare recommendations, I traveled with them during the buying trip, and I remained later to organize the transport and delivery. This provided them an opportunity to select for themselves major antique furniture pieces and accessories. Because I was already on a monthly retainer, there was no need to pay additionally for my services and the owners were free to negotiate directly with the dealers to secure the best price without any hidden mark-up or "commission." Needless to say the savings were substantial, particularly for several of the more important pieces.
When we returned, I began the landscape program, this time without any French speakers on the crew and using over two hundred tons of American limestone from Ohio. There was substantially more surface of stonework in the landscape program than on the house itself. When we discovered that large slabs of this Ohio limestone were available, we redesigned the garden staircases to be fabricated on-site from solid blocks of this material. Over thirty tons of slab material 6 inches thick was cut and fitted on site for these staircases and paved areas. Some of the individual pieces installed weighed over a ton. While the landscape work progressed, I continued to coordinate the French crew’s activities as they moved into the interior work on the main staircase, trim and floors. Inside I also personally installed the seventeenth-century limestone fireplace in the family room, the eighteenth-century marble fireplace in the living room, the nineteenth-century marble console in the dining room, and the twentieth-century marble fireplace in the study, as well as other new custom marble features. All of these pieces required substantial repair or modification, which was done on-site. I personally performed the finish work on the stone and ceramic floors. My work on the project began September 1, 1997 and was completed in September 1999. The gallery images below will give you some idea about the work and finished product. A letter of reference from the owners is available upon inquiry.
Gallery of Images:
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Treasure hunting North Side Sep. 1997 John Sugden, July 1997
Work in progress The French Connection My faithful tractor
Studio Wall Forecourt Terrace Wall
The garden terrace and staircase
Lower Garden steps
West Garden Steps
Paving at the Wine Cellar
Living rm Family Dining Entrance Hall moving day
Main Staircase, Antonio's Masterpiece