Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone

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By Knoll, Inc.
Discover the production process behind a Saarinen marble table top

This post was originally published on Knoll Inspiration in 2016.

Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone - Photo 1 of 13 - Original publicity photograph for Eero Saarinen's Pedestal Collection, 1958. Image from the Knoll Archive.

Original publicity photograph for Eero Saarinen's Pedestal Collection, 1958. Image from the Knoll Archive.

The best materials make for lasting designs. A marble table top speaks. It is smooth and alive to the touch. It is beautiful, subtle, luminous, lasting. As Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once said, "Each material has specific characteristics, which we must understand if we want to use it." This is the story of stone: the marble, granite, quartz and limestone that begin in the quarry and then become Knoll tables, desks and credenzas.

Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone - Photo 2 of 13 - Sample of Knoll Grade AA calacatta marble, 2013. Photograph by Knoll.

Sample of Knoll Grade AA calacatta marble, 2013. Photograph by Knoll.

The 1958 debut of Eero Saarinen's Pedestal Collection added marble to the company's material finishes. Prior to Saarinen's collection, Knoll designers were primarily experimenting with new, modern materials—e.g. steel, plywood and polyurethane—made malleable by advances in industrial technology. However, Saarinen, like Mies before him, aspired to find a balance between old and new. He succeeded by draping an unmistakably modernist design, his iconic Pedestal Collection, in one of the most ancient materials: marble.
Fifty years later, Knoll continues to offer an evolving array of gorgeous stones. Below is a behind-the-scenes look into the complex process of making one of our fine and unique marble tops for the ever-popular Saarinen Dining Table. 


Quarry

Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone - Photo 3 of 13 - Scenes from Knoll marble quarries in Italy. Photography by Knoll.

Scenes from Knoll marble quarries in Italy. Photography by Knoll.

Knoll uses only AA Grade marble, the highest classification in the Marble Institute of America's assessment of soundness. The soundness metric qualifies the visual appearance and aesthetics of marble, taking into consideration factors such as grain, veins, flaws and voids. Grade A marbles are classified as "marbles with uniform and favorable working qualities: containing few geological flaws or voids," while Grade AA certification is reserved for the crème de la crème.

Top: Carrara, Calacatta, Arabescatto, White Extra and Grey Marble
Bottom: Black Andes, Verdi Alpi, Empire Beige, Brown Emperador and Nero Marquina

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Following exacting quality assurance procedures, Knoll-selected purchasers go out to the quarries to evaluate marble before it starts on the journey toward becoming a Saarinen table top, selecting from only the top three to ten percent of what is available.


Factory

Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone - Photo 4 of 13 - Pedestal bases awaiting marble tops for assembly, 1963. Photograph from the Knoll Archive.

Pedestal bases awaiting marble tops for assembly, 1963. Photograph from the Knoll Archive.

After evaluation, each block of marble, weighing roughly twenty tons, is transported on a trolley and sent to the factory. There, depending on the rarity, blocks are cut into thin slabs (between two to three centimeters thick) using either a multi-blade or a mono-blade process, which takes up to eight hours.

Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone - Photo 5 of 13 - Marble slabs being acclimatized, prior to production, 2013. Photography by Knoll.

Marble slabs being acclimatized, prior to production, 2013. Photography by Knoll.

Once in the yard, the slabs are left to acclimatize for about three weeks before stones are further processed.

Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone - Photo 6 of 13 - Marble being evaluated and marked for cutting by stone masters using designer-approved templates, 2013. Photography by Knoll.

Marble being evaluated and marked for cutting by stone masters using designer-approved templates, 2013. Photography by Knoll.

Each slab is then surveyed, again, to ensure the harmony of the resulting top by a highly qualified stone master. The stone masons use designer-approved templates that represent the various shapes and sizes of the required tops. Here, the fainter line represents an apprentice’s initial assessment, while the black line corresponds with the master’s revised cut line, optimizing the highest quality portions of the slab.

Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone - Photo 7 of 13 - More pedestal bases awaiting marble tops for assembly, 1963. Photograph from the Knoll Archive.

More pedestal bases awaiting marble tops for assembly, 1963. Photograph from the Knoll Archive.

Throughout this process, Knoll associates adhere to strict standards as they survey the veining, pattern and allowable inclusions. These and other factors determine not only which marble slabs are selected, but also inform the cut.


Cutting

Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone - Photo 8 of 13 - Marble being water cooled and cut by polycrystalline diamond blades, 2013. Photography by Knoll.

Marble being water cooled and cut by polycrystalline diamond blades, 2013. Photography by Knoll.

After the marble cut has been both selected and approved, the shape of the top begins to assume a recognizable form. A rough cut is created using computerized, numerically controlled, water-cooled, polycrystalline diamond blades and cutters. If needed, a mesh is applied to the bottom surface of the top to provide additional support.

Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone - Photo 9 of 13 - Marble beginning the hand-finishing process, 2013. Photography by Knoll.

Marble beginning the hand-finishing process, 2013. Photography by Knoll.

Finishing

Skilled craftsmen then hand-finish the table edges, softening any imperfections. After being saturated with water during the manufacturing process, the pieces are sent to the drying room, so as to allow as much moisture as possible to evaporate before starting the finishing process. 

Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone - Photo 10 of 13 - Marble being sprayed and dried again to prepare for finishing, 2013. Photography by Knoll.

Marble being sprayed and dried again to prepare for finishing, 2013. Photography by Knoll.

The undersides of the tops are sprayed before being dried again in preparation for Knoll's signature maintenance-free finish. (The transparent polyester coating—polished or honed to a satin or matte finish—creates a durable, nonporous surface to prevent use-associated stains.)

Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone - Photo 11 of 13 - Marble tops being coated to ensure a lasting finish, 2013. Photography by Knoll.

Marble tops being coated to ensure a lasting finish, 2013. Photography by Knoll.

The tops are finished over a lengthy and fastidious process. Depending on the properties of the stone, the slab is coated multiple times to ensure an even, lasting finish.

Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone - Photo 12 of 13 - Finished marble tops being crated and prepared for shipment.

Finished marble tops being crated and prepared for shipment.

After several weeks of processing, the tops are finally ready to be shipped to our various locations around the globe.


To Your Home, or Office

Quarry to Table: A Story in Stone - Photo 13 of 13 - Arabescatto and White Extra-topped Saarinen Dining and Side Tables. Photograph by Ilan Rubin.

Arabescatto and White Extra-topped Saarinen Dining and Side Tables. Photograph by Ilan Rubin.

Knoll has been working with marble for over fifty years with a commitment to producing the highest quality furniture as intended by our designers. Whether it's a piece by Eero Saarinen, Florence Knoll or Marc Krusin, at every step of the process, highly trained craftsmen work together to create a single marble table top of incredible beauty.


More on Knoll Inspiration: Through a juxtaposition of architecture and furniture, discover Eero Saarinen's sculptural pursuits across disciplines.