By Jill Warren Lucas
The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) When it comes to women in business Laura Grandlienard is solid as a rock! She is the owner of ROCKin’teriors, a Raleigh business that creates some of the most stunning natural stone and manufactured finishes found in construction in North Carolina. This is a second career for Grandlienard, 55, who found her calling while working for IBM and managing projects in South America, where much of the world’s finest stone is found.
The noise outside Laura Grandlienard’s office would irritate most people. But the sound of artisan craftsmen ripping rough stone into elegant surfaces strikes her as the perfect Zen-like hum.
“I love to look out and see the beauty of Mother Nature taking shape,” says the owner of ROCKin’teriors, a Raleigh business that creates some of the most stunning natural stone and manufactured finishes found in premium construction throughout Research Triangle.
“I marvel that these stones come from deep within mountains and provide such magical beauty in our lives,” she adds, leaning across a desk made from Exotic Calcutta Gold marble. “To me, it’s all about creating a haven with natural materials.”
Founded in Fuquay-Varina in 2008 but relocated to a 10,000-square-foot design and fabrication facility last year on Earth Day, ROCKin’teriors has created many such havens. One of the most distinctive, however, may be the least noticed.
ROCKin’teriors fabricated and installed the 26,000 square feet of Impala Black “flamed” granite that lines the walls of Terminal 2 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. It creates a serenely elegant backdrop for thousands of travelers who roll suitcases past it every day.
The job came at a time when Grandlienard was growing worried about how the recession would affect customers considering big-budget projects. The success of this undertaking, she says, with its many layers of rigorous quality control, inspired a persuasive word of mouth that firmly established her brand.
ROCKin’teriors has tackled many large projects, including the lavish Chancellor’s Residence at N.C. State University. Its elegant natural stone finishes have been viewed by thousands on Houzz, the popular interior design website and app.
Grandlienard’s work is well showcased in the sun-drenched kitchen, where lustrous black countertops shimmer between a vast expanse of white cabinets and stainless appliances.
In April, her work for Cary, N.C. homeowners Jill and Jeff Wilson was featured on the cover of Stone World, a glossy trade publication. A modest renovation concept became a whole-house overhaul, with the kitchen gutted for a jaw-dropping makeover anchored by a pair of seamless, 10-foot-long islands. To top them, Wilson chose nearly 2-inch-thick panels of Exotic Calacatta marble, which was mined expressly for the purpose. The pieces were so massive that cranes were needed to gingerly set them in place. Slimmer segments from a matching block were used for remaining countertops.
Three years later, Jill Wilson remains amazed by Grandlienard’s ability to translate her vision throughout the 8,627-square-foot house.
“I had no idea that I could ask for these type countertops and she’d find a source in Italy to bring it in for my job,” says Wilson, who recently called on Grandlienard to update her home’s last original bathroom in the basement. “She really understood what I wanted, and she has the expertise to turn what you describe into something even better than what you imagined.”
This is a second career for Grandlienard, 55, who found her calling while working for IBM and managing projects in South America, where much of the world’s finest stone is found. She found herself enchanted by the seemingly endless variations used in high-end commercial and residential spaces.
“I kept thinking, ‘Why don’t we see more of this in the U.S.?'” says Grandlienard, now a leader in a male-dominated industry.
“The answer is that not many businesses will make the commitment.”
Such premium options are not available at big box stores, where consumers can obtain discounted prices on commonly available items based on a chain’s ability to leverage volume buying. The draw at ROCKin’teriors is not bargains but exceptional finishes common only in high-end design magazines.
Like many of the artisan craftsmen who now work for her, Grandlienard got into the business by volunteering her time as an apprentice. She was soon recruited to take a part-time job with Carolina Marble and Granite, a once-thriving Raleigh business that closed during the recession. Frustrated customers started calling her at home, leading her to convert her dining room into an office.
She was convinced her service as a stone agent could grow into a full-service business, a move that included not only importing costly stone but also investing in Italian stone-cutting equipment. With help from a small business loan, she opened ROCKin’teriors without any signs or advertising.
Enthusiastic referrals soon brought jobs from Mario Williams, a No. 1 football draft pick from N.C. State, and from John Edmond of Durham, N.C.-based Cree. Currently, Chapel Hill, N.C. homeowners deliver the company’s top client base, though many of the projects recently in the shop were destined for a palatial home under construction in Cary. These include curved segments of honey-veined Calacatta Borghini that will become an elegant ripple of stairs, and blocks waiting to be carved into columns. It’s just a few of the features in a sweeping $180,000 job.
Grandlienard encourages customers with shallower pockets to consider ROCKin’teriors, too. They recently converted a remnant quantity of stone into an elegant vanity for about $500.
The showroom contains an astonishing selection of samples from more than 6,000 quarries around the globe. ROCKin’teriors also offers a selection of environmentally-friendly manufactured products, including ones that glisten with fragments of recycled glass.
Grandlienard’s keen eye enables her to look at a slab and envision a design that will maximize its inherent qualities. An example can be found in the company’s own ADA-compliant men’s room, where a thick cut of Exotic Onyx was scooped out to reveal a beautifully striated sink, into which a grate-style drain was installed. Thin bars of steel were inset across the vanity’s front and sides, safely reinforcing its weight while elegantly repeating the striped theme and producing practical towel bars.
Grandlienard uses a damp cloth to wipe dust from a block of rare ivory onyx to reveal dramatic streaks in sand-colored hues created by millennia of seismic forces. It will be installed as a focal point in a client home, and back lit so that every eye-popping fracture and sparkle will be evident.
“Can you tell? I love what I do,” she beams. “Really, it’s no different than hanging art in your home. Except here, the art is made by Mother Nature.”
Grandlienard often refers to stone as “she,” like a cultured woman who can inspire stimulating conversation. A particularly compelling example is a section of Agate Semi-Precious stone imported from Italy, which is composed of slivers of earth-tone geodes and the occasional fossil, in this case the tight curl of a nautilus. A similar piece in all-natural shades of green dazzles visitors in the showroom. At $700-800 per square foot, it should.
Stone with vivid tones are more rare and costly, Grandlienard says. One client was so impressed by the bold splashes of color in an oversized slab of Exotic Statuary Venato that she chose it for her kitchen island and designed the rest of the space around it.
The artisan craftsmen at ROCKin’teriors fabricate materials in a LEED-compliant facility that uses recycled water and nontoxic chemicals. Grandlienard is grateful that customers appreciate the green approach, as well as the creative touch and business savvy she brings to the table. But none of it would matter, she says, if not for the extraordinary ability of Mother Nature to turn tectonic chaos into such durable beauty.
“This is a business that survives on passion and inspiration,” she says. “Without her, we’d be nowhere.”