Selecting Carrara Marble—in Carrara, Italy

For most of us, choosing stone for a design project involves driving to the local stone-supply warehouse. There, you walk down aisles lined with giant slabs and select one (or more) with the color and veining you like best.

For bigger projects, with solid stone elements one will go instead to the quarry to choose blocks of stone for things like columns, fireplace mantels, or a self-supporting staircase. In this country, whether we’re sourcing Indiana limestone or North Carolina granite, the quarry trips usually have us gazing into holes dug in fairly level ground.

But for the first time this year, BVA principal Ankie Barnes was instead looking upward into the Apuan Alps in Northern Italy, near the town of Carrara whose eponymous marble is its most famous export.

The mountains, he says, “are steep, fairly ordinary-looking, black-and-brown weathered rock with trees on them, overlooking the Mediterranean. But those mountains just happened to be filled with white marble.”

Ankie found himself standing among the same peaks where Michelangelo sourced the marble for his David and the Pieta; where the Romans came for the marble that became the Pantheon; and where Thomas Jefferson turned for his Rotunda at the University of Virginia. (This region, which has achieved near-mythical status, was the subject of a fascinating story in the New York Times Magazine last year.)

Ankie traveled to Italy with a project team that included the stone supplier; the stone fabricator and installer; and the interior designer to inspect and approve blocks of marble. They took tile samples already approved by the design team “so we could literally hold them against these huge blocks to match for color and clarity,” Ankie says.

The blocks they secured for the project will be cut into a variety of slabs and other shapes to be fabricated for the job, he explains. With everything being cut from the same piece of the mountain, he says, “It’s the best way to know exactly what you’re getting and that it all matches seamlessly.”

The stone experts in Carrara will now take over and cut each piece according to the design team’s plans, using everything from giant gang saws that rise two stories high to articulating band saws fitted with diamonds. “Italy is still the best place in the world for the marble handling and fabrication,” Ankie says.

 

In about three months, he’ll return to see all the pieces arranged in a “dry fit” on a bed of sand before approving the final joinery. A month after that, the completed elements are expected to arrive Stateside by ship.

For an exacting client, the final result will be well worth this early intervention into the storied Carrara marble’s slow and meticulous journey from mountain to site.