Who knew it would be quite so hard to find custom fabricated marble?

Last week we filled you in on our search for that seemingly elusive bathroom tile that was just right. During his pretentious rambling, Alex also alluded to our ongoing search effort for marble and the difficulties we had been having identifying a source.

  • Step 1: Mined from Earth
  • Step 2: Eh?
  • Step 3: Bathroom

We were rather hung up on Step 2.

This whole adventure started several years ago when I saw a vintage five drawer and two door buffet at an antique store in nearby Del Ray, a neighborhood of Alexandria. Well, it really started a few seconds later when I said, "Alex, do you think you can make this into a vanity?"

His answer didn't matter all that much, I knew it was the look I wanted for the base, and at $400, it was the bargain I wanted too.

With that, Alex began the assessment process. The buffet looked good overall, but we'd need to make significant alterations before it was bathroom ready. After all, my ultimate goal was to replace the existing wooden top with a double sink Carrara marble top.

As Alex began the process for altering the buffet to not only accommodate the two sinks, but to also withstand and properly support the added weight of the fragile stone, I started a lengthy search for the stone that would eventually grace the top of the completed cabinet.

To say this search was extensive is like saying Indiana Jones ran into a snake or two in Raiders of the Lost Ark. My search was exhaustive and exhausting, and I lost hope at several times throughout.

When I launched the effort I assumed I'd be able to contact a couple stone shops, get a few remnant pieces, ask for a quick quote (to which they'd respond "oh, no charge, it's free, take our marble"), and have all of the marble we'd need for the bathroom. My focus was on the vanity, sure, but we'd also need marble for the shower curb, shower bench, shower niche shelves, and threshold to the room. In all we'd need eight pieces of marble, well, nine including the vanity backsplash.

As it turns out, our tiny little job of eight pieces of marble is nothing compared to the repeat business of a contractor who brings granite order after granite order to a stone shop, so it was hard to compete. I drafted email after email and made numerous phone calls to the various northern Virginia stone stores with our exact measurements, thicknesses, finishes, edges, etc, all in the hopes of simply getting an estimate back. Unfortunately, it seems most of my emails or calls must have gotten filed away in their "super important folder" and they simply forgot to reply. That has to be the reason, right?

It is worth noting that we didn't use the old line of "So we have this DIY blog..." when trying to contact difficult to reach people. Inflated sense of blogger worth is an epidemic of sorts, and the last thing we want is to get attention because we might write something negative about the company. That does little good in giving source referrals or honest opinion of the experience you might have when working with them.

At this point I started just wandering into any random stone store that I saw and pestering them with my questions and a little hand scribbled diagram of the marble we'd need. 

Ignore the thickness notes, they're wrong.

"Do you do small custom orders? Do you have remnants? Can I see them? Can I wander around the back of your store and just stare at all of the slabs? Can I have an estimate? Can I wander more and try to bargain you down?"

After quite a bit of effort the dam finally broke when I eventually received a quote from one of the local suppliers. However, that quote came in about $2,700 for stone, measuring, fabrication, delivery, and install.

At this point I was discouraged, to say the least. That was not the price I was looking for. I wanted to hear something that started with a "one" and was in the lower version of that number. This two plus number was foreign to my ears. They could have been speaking a thousand year old dead language because it simply made no sense to me. I thanked them for the workup and continued my search.

Over the next few weeks I was able to acquire several more quotes, but each was still in that mystical $2600 plus range. After talking with our friend who had Cararra marble installed in their former home's lovely kitchen seen below, I had a plan.

It seems their marble source was from somewhere in the Chantilly, Virginia area. Perhaps we were receiving the dreaded "beltway markup" that comes from suppliers in the typically more expensive areas, and if we trekked west a bit we could find what we were looking for.

Armed with a bit of info, we headed out to Chantilly to pick up the tile we ordered, and in a stroke of extreme serendipity, when we pulled into the Architectural Ceramics parking lot, we saw a large sign hung on a building across the parking lot. It suggested the availability of marble with its no nonsense name, "The Stone Studio."

Since we don't live in Colorado, this could likely mean just one thing.

Their showroom was a complete mess, as they're in the middle of a full renovation, but we didn't need to see granite and quartz installs all over the place. We came for one thing. We came for Carrara at a good price!

Though it was pouring out, we could see the potential in the pieces. Dark gray and water logged, I could clearly envision the potential in the stone and how it would work perfectly for our room.

We met with Albert, the shop's manager and owner, and showed him our crude drawing of marble piece measurements. He gabbed his calculator and his fingers started flying. During the process he asked us several questions about thickness, finish, edge detail, and anything else he'd need.

After Albert completed the calculations he grabbed his pen, wrote a number on a piece of paper, and turned it around so we could see it.

It said, $1,250.

We thought, "OMG, only $1,250!?!?!?!!!!"

Surely that was just the price for the stone and fabrication, we asked what it included. Well, I should say, I asked what it included. Alex and his notoriously bad poker face didn't stand a chance.

Albert responded with those very magical words, "Everything...measurements, fabrication, delivery, install. Just give us your sink when Yosef comes out to measure and we'll be all set."

What music to my ears! Not only had we found a place to make what we need for less than half of what we were quoted at the next lowest priced place, but they were going the extra mile to both ensure accurate measurements, and bring all of the marble to our house to ensure no breakage. How wonderful?

Fast forward about nine days and the guys from The Stone Studio showed up bright and early on Labor Day morning. They had been scheduled to deliver the previous Friday, then delayed until Saturday, and ultimately Labor Day Monday. We were accommodating of the delay, well, Alex was accommodating, as he tends to be the more even tempered of the two of us. But really what's two more days when I've been waiting nearly five years for this?

The two installers, Uni and Batu, set up shop on the sidewalk in front of our house and jumped to work on the vanity top.

Before I knew it dust was flying and I was being asked questions that required me to make major decisions in what seemed to be a split second. Most specifically, "The faucet installs on the sinks, do you want them to be in a straight line or curved with the line of the sink cutout?"

I thought, "Wait, what is this decision I have to make? I wasn't aware I'd need to be making major decisions. I haven't taken the necessary time to research all of my options! Quick, where's the laptop, I need to Pinterest like it's my job!"

I had Alex "stall" for a few seconds while I did some digging. And by "stall," Alex must have thought I meant "stand in the hall like a doofus and don't do anything else," because that's what he did. Feeling flustered at the need to make a snap decision I sucked it up and went with my gut, "Drill the holes in a straight line, please."

I felt it was a more traditional look that would simply look more appropriate in our bathroom.

The dust started flying again, turning our front sidewalk into a mid-summer snow storm. Our plants were blanketed with the thin white film, and my soul was covered with the gentle sense of fulfillment that only comes with the completion of certain home projects.

The installers finished up the work, carried the countertop upstairs, and popped it in place on the top of the waiting vanity (without drawers or doors).

It required a little bit of adjustment and finagling, but they got it in place and it was looking great. 


Next they brought the large backsplash up and put it in place for size. At this point I realized that the backsplash was still polished marble, but we had everything else made as honed marble. I, as is typical with my fragile psyche, went from zero to freakout in about half a second. Actually, that's a lie, I was near my comfortable meltdown point almost from the time the guys arrived, but I was holding it together purely out of sheer excitement that our vanity might be just that much closer to complete in a matter of minutes. But this little misstep, well, it gave me the gentle push I needed to nearly send me careening over the edge.

I pointed out the issue and they said "Oh? It should be honed? Okay, no problem."

They removed the backsplash, took it outside for about five minutes to do what was necessary. This gave Alex and me enough time to frantically measure to ensure the whole vanity was exactly centered on the two wall sconces. It may have taken us at least three moves to the right, followed by two to the left, and then one to the right to get it perfect, but we were undeterred.

By the time they came back upstairs with a perfectly matching honed backsplash for the vanity, it was in the perfect place and ready for install. 

We still have quite a bit of work to do before this aspect of the project is totally complete, but can I tell you just how wonderful and vindicated I felt when we placed the faucet for fit? 

I'd have to say that my choice of "straight" was the right one for us.

During the process, Alex asked the installers "How do you plan on affixing the rest of the marble in place? Thinset?" 

The prior day Alex expressed to me a bit of concern regarding the possibility the installers might use...gasp...pre-mixed thinset. I wouldn't have cared one bit either way, but Alex feels it is simply inappropriate to use the pre-mixed thinset at any point, now and forever. I'll take his word for it.

So when the installers said "We'll just place it with silicone," I thought Alex's head might actually explode...ruining our beautiful bathroom. (Are you picking up on the subtle cues that we're one misstep away from a psych ward over this project??) But he gathered himself together, calmed his head, stifled his baboon ear, and simply said, "Oh, okay, that's fine for the vanity, but please leave the other pieces without installing, I'll take care of those items."

Well fine, there went our install. But I'm glad Alex was around to steer the direction of the ship and ensure that ship will surely be secure and waterproof. It did mean we'd need to do quite a bit of the work for the install ourselves, but we'd be able to sleep at night, so there's that.

When all was said and done, the guys cleaned up their tools and we were left with the lovely remnants of a summer snow.

And the gleaming and beautiful results of a custom fabricated and bargain basement priced marble countertop and backsplash for our vanity. 

We'll fill you in on the ultimate install of the other pieces of marble in a later post, but since that required pretty significant effort of our own -- and we couldn't bask in the glow of hired pros while we whispered in the corner about how awesome the whole process was going -- we should spare you the additional post length today.

So what do you think? Well worth the work, wait, and worry? Based on the cost of just the vanity, the marble, and the fabrication, our total vanity cost will end up in the $800-$900 range (plus the cost of the hardware). I'd say we were successful in obtaining a very unique, significantly solid, and very pleasing vanity that will work wonderfully in our bathroom. And even though the drawers and doors are still missing, the faucets aren't even installed, and we have yet to brush our teeth while standing in front of it, I still can't stop staring at that beautiful marble.

Comments 11


9/5/2014 at 10:57 AM

Looks great! I'm shocked at the prices they quoted you, and the difficulty you guys had. I just did my kitchen counter for about the price of your 8 pieces (it's a VERY small kitchen), and everyone I talked to included measurements, fab and installation. Maybe it's a location thing like you said. That being said, I live in Boston, and only went a short distance out to the stone shop. Huh.

9/5/2014 at 11:15 AM

you guys! it looks so beautiful! it's almost like you have a master bathroom again!

9/5/2014 at 11:18 AM

It looks great. I had a similar run-around for marble, but for our kitchen. I ultimately gave up, but glad you prevailed. Also, kudos on your position on not playing the blogger card with vendors!

9/5/2014 at 12:58 PM

Looks great! Definitely worth the wait-- this makes me want to redo my bathroom!

Franki Parde
9/5/2014 at 1:11 PM

LOVE IT! We ended up in Baltimore to get a "good price" on ours. Nice find!! franki

9/5/2014 at 2:29 PM

Brilliant! I love your story -- it's especially satisfying to land on the right vendor after such a long and frustrating search. I'll have to tuck that name away for future use...

9/5/2014 at 2:40 PM

Gorgeous! Well worth the wait. You will be grinning every morning with delight when you walk into the bathroom. Yep, I went with a local installer for my kitchen and the price was high but I wanted to support an Old Town business. Next time, I’ll shop around too. If you don’t use silicone what will you use?

9/5/2014 at 5:39 PM

I didn't laugh at poor Alex's baboon ear, but there may have been a smile;)
The room will be so beautiful, so its all worth it. You should bask in the success for awhile, but then I'd love to see what a difference it makes to the basement, having the bath etc removed.
I'm going to be in your neck of the woods for a few days in @ 6 weeks, all because of your blog and how beautiful and intriguing you make it look. I'm very excited to see your part of the world as its my first trip to the USA.

9/5/2014 at 11:37 PM

Your bathroom is going to be beautiful! I love the style of the buffet, especially the arched door panels (arches are an architectural feature in our home, so I try to incorporate them in other areas). We're planning to convert a French dresser into a vanity, with a bargain vintage oval brass sink set in a black granite top. We visited a local stone shop (where we could've bought used marble taken from the Vatican!) but haven't gotten price quotes yet. We'll also have another piece of stone cut for an antique washstand, but will order faux marble solid surface countertops for our guest rooms' vanities, because I'm afraid porous stone wouldn't stand up to accidents. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

9/8/2014 at 12:48 PM

Yay for getting a good deal! The bathroom is looking amazing. Oh, and yeah, about more details on step 2, lol: http://avionod.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/and-then-a-miracle-happens/

9/9/2014 at 11:06 AM

Goodness, tile AND stone in one trip - you hit the DYI goldmine LOL.

It looks great. Congratulations.

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