There and back again, part 5: Antolini

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams. -Willy Wonka

In the worldwide stone industry, there’s one company that’s the undisputed leader in the production, innovation, design and promotion of stone. One company to rule them all…


Antolini’s headquarters are in Verona, or more accurately Sega di Cavaion, though they also have a massive operation in Brazil as well as owning quarries across the globe. This labyrinth of nested buildings in Verona is the Wonka Land of our industry. The general public isn’t allowed, and even veterans of the trade will tell you it takes more than good looks and a smile to gain access. But unlike Willy’s factory, there are no Oompa Loompas running amok here, only Italy’s most seasoned stone workers, designers and innovators. They’ve just completed another renovation of their facility, and are inviting a select group to attend its grand opening tonight in Verona. And I have a golden ticket.

This is actually my second visit here, both times courtesy of the International Man of Influence, Ron Hannah. The facilities here are difficult to accurately describe. Serious production and proprietary machinery is everywhere, but there are two areas that are, for a lack of a better term, mind-blowing.

The first is the Semi-precious gallery.

A museum-like stone warehouse displaying hundreds of slabs of petrified wood, amethyst, fossils, and many other semi-precious minerals. Aisles of zen-like white pebbles pave the way to these unbelievable materials, some of which have gold flakes or Swarovski crystals embedded into them, with each slab costing as much as an average years salary. Yes, you read that correctly: “each” and “years”. I was told by a spokesperson of the company that one Arab Sheik bought 150 of these for his new home recently. This is not a showroom that caters to the “one percent.” Move the decimal once to the left, and that would be about right.

Controlled remotely on the fly by a smart phone, certain slabs can be lighted in a variety of ways, including backlit for the translucent materials, with the gallery’s ingenious lighting system. No detail of this immaculate gallery is overlooked, from the priceless art collection of raw minerals aligning the walls, to the Champagne being served in the back. Oops, no Champagne, Prosecco. My bad.

You can view these types of materials that we installed locally in the Davenport Hotel Tower, on each side of the lobby fireplace. (Graphic feldspar with ammonite fossils.)

The other “must see” area is the Lifestyle gallery.

OK, how to explain this… Well, imagine a hallway with a dozen or so closed mirrored doors. You are escorted to the first door which magically lifts open (by iPhone) to reveal a room (a kitchen, office, bathroom, etc.) that is exquisitely designed using stone in beautiful and unexpected ways. The furniture, accessories and lighting are as “high end” as you can imagine, and then some. Basically, take one of the best designers in the world, in this case Alessandro La Spada, give him an unlimited budget, dare him to blow said budget to create uniquely designed settings of the highest quality imaginable. This is the Lifestyle gallery, which is updated occasionally as trends and tastes change. (Photos 1 and 2 from Antolini)

As one door closes, another rises, revealing a new setting that is more elegant and over the top than the last.

One curious feature of the gallery is that you must walk directly through the noisy production factory to get to the rooms, right through the sludge, dust and hard labor associated with the trade. According to the firm, this intentional design feature is to remind the world’s leading architects, designers, and elite clients who access this space, to respect and appreciate just how difficult the stone business really is, then how beautifully it can be transformed. Genius.

Tonights festivities are no surprise. We are greeted with fire dancers, DJ’s and acrobats flying around on the overhead cranes (an OSHA nightmare back home), mentalists, close-up card magicians (that guy was amazing), and a troop of Cirque du Soleil performers roaming around creating havoc.

Year after year, the Antolini family constantly raises the bar for quality and innovation, but unlike Willy Wonka, you won’t find Mr. Antolini in a funny top hat and crazy purple suit.

He has a few better designers at his disposal.

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