Join me for a tour of places few get to see. As part of my work designing and sourcing stone and tile products for Walker Zanger over the last 20 years, I have been fortunate enough to visit many fascinating and exotic places around the world. I’ve had the opportunity see many lands, to immerse myself in a variety of cultures, and witness firsthand the architecture and craftsmanship of these regions; it’s an enriching education, and has made me a better designer. After all, who can come away from the Tuscan hills or the Andes of Peru without a new sense of the world?
One real treat of these travels is that the artisans and businesspeople I visit often take me to local sights or restaurants that are off the beaten track: places they frequent and where they are on friendly terms with the proprietors. Thus I’m able to see many things that most tourists don’t; here, then, I’d like to share with you some beautiful things to see, experiences to ponder, and authentic places to eat and drink—all presented from the point of view of someone with an unabashedly rabid devotion to all things stone and tile!
The jewels of Tuscany. The first stop on our journey is Italy, a country seemingly carved from the very marble of its foundation, with its sun-drenched towns and cities, and its beautiful stone-clad buildings with intricately tiled courtyards.
In Northern Tuscany, the Apuan Alps rise almost directly out of the blue Mediterranean, towering over the towns of Carrara and Masa. High up in these peaks is where we source our Calacata, Carrara, and Statuary white marble. And it was in this region that I penned the following passage:
“Dark blue-black clouds hang overhead; water pools on the ground from a recent downpour. The setting sun slips under the clouds, illuminating a yard full of wet blocks of white marble, which shimmer like jewels.”
That’s one of my most vivid visual memories of Carrara, a place that nature blessed with the most famous marble in the world, a stone that has been sought after for thousands of years. These highly prized stones have been wrested from the earth since the days of ancient Rome. Valued for their crisp white backgrounds and grey, beige, and gold veins, these stones can be found in building, interiors and statuary around the world.
Over 2,000 years of tradition goes into quarrying and cutting every inch of these marble blocks and slabs. But, like precious gems, not every block hollowed from the earth is the finest grade. This is why we maintain an office in Carrara for the express purpose of selecting only the finest slabs and tiles to bear the Walker Zanger name. In fact, you can see the signature of Daniele Milani—third-generation stone expert and manager of our Italian office—on every bundle of white marble, signifying the finest quality available. A tour of the yards and quarries of Carrara with Daniele at the wheel—with his cigarette in one hand, while barking Italian into his ever-present mobile phone as he winds through the tiny streets or steep quarry roads—is a trip one never forgets!
A feast for the senses. But of course, this being Italy, it is never “all work and no play.” Every factory visit requires at least a pause in the office over a piping hot espresso (which you quickly learn to throw back like a shot of whiskey). If you are lucky enough to be up in the quarries at lunchtime, a visit to Colonnata, a village tucked into the mountains, offers the chance to eat at fine restaurants such as Vananzio and Mafalda. Cool off with samplings of the local wine varietals like white Vermentino as you enjoy local delicacies such as Lardo: cured strips of pork fat seasoned to perfection with rosemary and fresh basil. Traditionally, Lardo is cured for months in basins made of the local Carrara marble; it was a mainstay of workers in the quarries back in the days before machines did all the heavy lifting. If Lardo does not tempt you, ask for the Pasta Tritico, which is a plate of three different types of pasta, each one better than the next!
If this mini travelogue has whet your appetite for all things Italian, follow me this week as I revisit Italy to attend The International Exhibition of Ceramic Tile and Bathroom Furnishings, “CERSAIE” in Bologna and The International Trade Fair for Stone Design and Technology. “MARMOMAC” in Verona. I will be posting exciting new marble and stone designs straight from these exhibitions on Walker Zanger’s Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts.
In my next post we will continue our tour of Tuscany and Stone. Until next time, Ciao!
Fall has to be without a doubt, hands down, my favorite time of year. As Summer hangs on to all that she can, calling in her cousin “Indian Summer” to linger a bit longer, I can still detect through her heat the unmistakable scent of fall. Pristine blue skies, billowy white clouds, and crisp breezes will soon fill the air. Right around the corner will be all the colors of her season…orange, yellow, red, brown and the subtle shades in between. Pumpkins will grace front porches sharing space with the odd scarecrow, spider-web, and black cat. All efforts to treat or scare away the little goblins of Halloween. Chrysanthemums will pop up where bright summer annuals used to be and wreaths of autumn leaves will hang on front doors to greet the friends and family we are blessed to share our tables with on Thanksgiving.
It is truly a season as rich as the colors it wears.
[Photo credits: Pat McIntosh]
At some point in our childhood we all had one. Not very expensive, usually made out of cardboard or plastic and filled with bits of colored glass and prismatic mirrors, this simple toy brought endless hours of visual fantasy. I would spend hours turning it this way and that in awe of how it made my world look like such a magical place.
We’ve taken this concept and using the modern magic of the computer created a Walker Zanger digital Kaleidoscope. We like to think of it as a palette cleanser for the left-brain, something to sweep away the creative cobwebs as you browse through our web site designing your new and most inspiring project. Does it serve a greater purpose? No, probably not. But sometimes we all need a bit of fun to redirect our brain and continue on with our day. What better way than to relive a little piece of our childhood and create some inspirational magic at the same time.
Of course, you knew we had to have a go at it, so here are a few of our creations.