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June 2010
Rocking Charlotte
By Heather Head

     A visit to Charlotte’s Charles Luck Stone Center’s studio is more than a shopping expedition: It’s an experience.

     If the staff knows you are coming, expect a gracious concierge to greet you by name the moment you step into the airy stone-clad vestibule. You’ll be offered a beverage in the marble-topped hospitality areas while you admire the thickness of the countertop, the stylish yet timeless design of the marble sink, or the luminous stone tiles hanging artfully upon the wall.

     Says Ashley Quick, studio manager, the sense of experience in the space is no accident. The one-year-old design studio was created with the goal of turning Charlotte, and the Charles Luck Stone Center, into a world-class destination for fashionable homeowners, designers, builders and architects.

     Considering that customers arrive from all over the Southeast, including as far south as Orlando, to visit the Charles Luck studio (often followed by a trip to High Point for furniture), it seems that the company has succeeded.

     Visitors are encouraged to bring ideas and creativity to Charles Luck with them. Browse stone samples mounted on giant swinging racks, put your hands on blocks of dimensional stone in every color and texture imaginable. Feel inspired by quotes about stones and mountains from Michelangelo and William Blake etched upon the wall. Stand in awe before walls of sandstone blasted from the side of a mountain, dynamite channels still intact.   Breathe deeply the fresh air of the display gardens while you investigate the many uses of stone in the walkways and columns. Even the bathroom elicits coos of appreciation for the warm golden marble mounted in complementary patterns upon the wall, and the swirling orange and white marble designs upon the floor.

     Recovering from the awe inspired by the artful incorporation of stone and wood into every detail of the space, a visitor can relax and enjoy the outstanding care offered by Charles Luck’s professionals.

     Plug a laptop into one of the studio’s charrette tables and discuss your images displayed on the integrated television screen. Bring your fabric swatches, wood samples, sketches, and imagination and participate as Charles Luck’s consultants translate your dreams into tangible possibilities.

     When you leave, after an hour or five hours or three days, carry with you a pretty fabric tote containing 2.5 inch square samples of marble and stone to examine in greater detail, to carry into the flooring and fabric studios, or to place against walls and furniture to better judge its effect.

     Also, take with you a new understanding and appreciation for the beauty, versatility, and limitless design possibilities of stone.

 

Laying the Foundation

     In its current incarnation, the Charles Luck Stone Center is barely two years old in Charlotte. But the parent company Luck Stone Corporation has been around for 87 years, and in Charlotte for 12.

     In 1923, Charles S. Luck Jr. opened a quarry outside Richmond, Va. Since that time (it was originally called Sunnyside Granite Company), the company has remained in family hands through three generations and is now privately held by Charles Luck IV.

     Beginning in the 1930s with modern manufacturing facilities and early adoption of electric machines, the company has always been forward-thinking and innovative. Currently, Luck Stone is recognized as a leader in environmental stewardship and plant safety. The Charlotte contractor yard boasts a six-year 100% accident-free status, and the company has won numerous environmental awards. From preserving resources to reclaiming land in an environmentally sensitive manner, the company consistently out-performs environmental regulatory requirements.

     Charles Luck Stone Center has always led the market in customer service as well. Whether it’s a cup of coffee or a ground-up architectural design, the staff at Charles Luck is ready. But it hasn’t always been easy. For its first 11 years in Charlotte, the center did business on a 5-acre campus with an approximately 1,500-square-foot facility.

     Mason Morton, operations manager, remembers: “We had seven people working in a space the size of our new conference room. While visiting to discuss a home improvement project, you might be in the room with an architect who needed to make selections by lunchtime, and a contractor trying to order a pallet of bluestone.”

     Recognizing that they needed more space in order to meet their ideals for customer service, the company began soliciting ideas and feedback from the community. They formed focus groups to find out what customers wanted from the Charles Luck experience. “What people kept telling us is that they wanted to know more about stone,” says Morton. In addition to space, they wanted education and inspiration.

 

A Monument to Design

     Located on 10 acres in Pineville, and encompassing a total of approximately 9,000 square feet of indoor space, the studio and contractor yard represent the company’s answer to customer desires. By multiplying indoor square footage by six, and separating contractor areas from design areas, the company solved the most basic space problem.

     The 3,500-square-foot studio and attached 2,000-square-foot gardens artfully incorporate an entire range of stone types, finishes, and applications.

     Boulders in their most raw form ornament the property’s most visible corner. Behind them, an exterior stone wall extends inward, jutting into the vestibule of the studio. This wall is formed of basic sandstone finished only enough to make the blocks fit neatly together—but with rough edges and dynamite channels still visible.

     On the other end of the spectrum are high-end display pieces fashioned from tiger’s eye, obsidian, rose quartz, jade, and other gorgeous, colorful stones. Hanging on the wall of the coffee room, these tiles are formed from semi-precious stone sliced into sections, fitted together by artisans, and polished until they gleam almost with their own light.

     Throughout the studio and gardens, stone is thoughtfully incorporated to display its many useful and aesthetic properties. The hospitality suite sink, designed and built in-house, is formed of thick white marble polished with two different methods to give a subtle variation and at the same time show off the difference between finishes.

     There are floors of travertine, walls of obsidian, even floor mosaics incorporating small stones and gold leaf. A limestone fireplace is formed from only six pieces of stone. And as a testament to the genius of Charles Luck designers, the wild variety of stone and finish and applications somehow manage to come together to create a space that feels airy, timeless, and inviting.

     Although the effect is breathtakingly gorgeous, the new facility also serves its function for education and inspiration. Against one wall of the design area is a set of shelves holding blocks of dimensional stone.   Representing dozens of types of stone and finish, the display gives visitors an opportunity to see what options are available for sculptural purposes such as fireplaces, sinks or dimensional art. On the same wall, divided by use—whether for outdoors, indoors, floors, or patios—are giant swinging racks displaying stone tiles in an astonishing array of varieties.

     Outdoors, the demonstration garden is segmented and each segment shows off different types of stone for patio walkways, walls and columns. Looking past the gardens, it’s possible to see row upon row of stone—boulders, pallets of flagstone, pallets of marble—across from several large bays full of gravel, crushed stone and decorative pebbles.

     But you don’t have to walk across the hot gravel drive to see what a pallet of your chosen stone will look like, because Charles Luck designers have thoughtfully arranged to have a pallet of each type of stone available in a viewing area just outside the gardens.

     Perhaps even more importantly, the design studio staff is highly knowledgeable, trained, and eager to assist. Whether you have questions about particular pieces of stone, or you need the assistance of a professional architect or designer, Charles Luck has you covered.

     For contractors and those who already know what they want and are ready for fulfillment, there’s the contractor’s yard. Past the rows of stone and bays of gravel, a 5,000-square-foot building houses project management and fulfillment staff, a more laid-back space where architects and contractors can quickly have their selections made and orders filled.

     On one side of the building is a warehouse for storing weather-sensitive materials, and on the other side is a giant weight scale for loads of stone.

 

A Jewel in the Queen City’s Crown

     Though it has a presence throughout the mid-Atlantic and Southeast, Charles Luck is committed to the Charlotte market. This studio is one of only three Charles Luck flagship locations, and is a pleasure to see even from the street. Moreover, by creating a compelling destination, Charles Luck has brought revenue and tourism to Charlotte from all over the Southeast. Additionally, they maintain active membership in many Charlotte civic organizations, business coalitions and design organizations.

     Asked why Charles Luck is here, and why they care about contributing to the community, their answer is simple: They love Charlotte. Quick Explains: “We believe in the design community in Charlotte. Charlotte is a great place, with designers who are influencing design throughout the entire nation. In addition, it’s a great place to travel—we have Hickory furniture mart, coastal communities, and mountain communities all within a couple hours’ drive.”

     Adds Morton: “As we move toward our goal of fulfilling our potential as a nationally respected brand in the architecture and design community, we feel Charlotte is a key component. And because it’s a hub for a major airline, it’s a great location for sourcing materials from around the world.”

     And they do source material from around the world. “If you want it,” says Quick, “We can find it and bring it to  you.”

     But that doesn’t mean everything comes from far away. In fact, part of their environmental commitment involves sourcing many materials from nearby quarries, and this area is rich in that respect. Morton likes to tell a story about going to Italy in search of new and exotic materials, and finding a stone that they use in many of their countertops: Virginia Mist granite, sourced in Virginia.

     Which just goes to show you that sometimes, the best things in life can be found in your own backyard. And thanks to the Charles Luck Stone Center, that is certainly true for Charlotte denizens seeking an interesting and unique, a “rock solid” design experience.

Heather Head is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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