Recently, universal marble & granite teamed up with designer Andy Bennington on a complete remodel of an Ocean Club home in Isle of Palms. The clients needed 178 square feet of stone, and they wanted everything to feel fresh, light and contemporary. The builder, Maintain Inc., sent their customer with Bennington to Universal Marble’s expansive warehouse and showroom to choose from more than 130 in-stock materials, including quartz, quartzite, dolomite, granite and marble.
Universal has a near-cult following in the Lowcountry, much of it having to do with owner Greg Hoffman and his aunt Kay. They are known for their expertise and sincerity, but they’re also known for enjoying a challenge. Hoffman gets excited when a massive kitchen island with mitered edges has to be craned in or a client wants a hard-to-find piece of stone. “I’m like a dog with a bone,” he says. The shop also enjoys an enthusiastic customer base because it functions like a small custom shop, even though it regularly undertakes elaborate whole-house projects. “We pride ourselves on high quality,” Hoffman says. Not only that, but you’ll get the same attention for a small custom shower bench that you will if you’re ordering a few hundred square feet of stone. The Hoffmans’ kindness and determination have earned the business a Charleston’s Choice Award every year for the last five, and they’ve just earned their 111th five-star Google rating.
For this project, Kay helped Bennington and the clients narrow down their choices. For the kitchen countertops and island, they chose Everest Pearl quartzite with a waterfall edge on both sides. “The countertops had a long run,” Hoffman says. “We closely matched all the veining and then used a Seam Phantom so it looks like one continuous piece of stone. A Seam Phantom is an innovative tool, and it’s the only one in the Charleston area. It routs out 80% of the material at the joined edges to create a pocket so more epoxy can be applied to create a great long-term bond. As a final step, it finely polishes the top and side a quarter-inch at a slight angle, so you get extremely tight seams. It takes about 45 minutes per seam, but it’s worth it for the end result.”
In the primary bath, the clients chose Icy White honed, a gray and white dolomite stone without polish. The clients spotted a small piece of Madagascar quartzite in the warehouse and chose it for the powder room beneath a copper sink. “It’s a small powder room, but it sure does make a splash,” Bennington says.
Gray and white Shadow Storm Taupe dolomite, a cross between marble and granite, was the perfect choice for the guest bathroom and the laundry room, where the clients opted for a honed finish. They chose a Fantasy Brown stone with a leathered finish in the front bath. “A leathered finish has a little bit of a ripple on the surface, so it has texture,” Hoffman explains.
The home has an upstairs guest suite with a small kitchen, where guests can make drinks and coffee. Here, the clients selected Winter Storm, another gray and white stone with a leathered finish.
With so much stone, it’s easy to imagine homeowners spending a significant amount of time and expense resealing their counters every year. “With all these natural stones, especially the whites and grays, our customers are concerned about how to protect them. Last year we became the second Stone Tech dealer in the Charleston area,” Hoffman says. Stone Tech is a three-step sealing process developed by Dupont that eliminates the need to seal the stone every year and comes with a 15- to 25-year warranty.
At the end of the Ocean Club project, everyone came away happy. “The clients are thrilled,” Bennington says. “They loved working with Greg and Kay because they’re so personable. If you give them an idea, they’re going to make it happen. Some stone houses will just sell you whatever. Working with Universal Marble makes a difference to designers because they truly care.”
Robin Howard is a freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.