BY LAURA GOLDSTEIN
If the thought of decorating with minerals and gemstones evokes the scene from Superman in which Marlon Brando as Jor-El, re-arranges the universe from his crystal and kryptonite digs, fear not. The near future is more discerning.
High-end designer, Beverly Hills based Kelly Wearstler, has taken inspiration from the ancient Egyptions and re-popularized the use of precious stones and agates by embedding them into her Super Luxe Home Collection of bejeweled mirrors, frames and boxes. Although Wearstler’s over-the-top use of malachite in Miami’s Viceroy Hotel lobby may not make everyone green with envy, she has certainly elevated what was once scoffed at for being New Age geological tchotchkes, to a serious decor trend.
This look doesn’t come cheaply, however. And, the trend walks a fine line between gaudy chic and fine art.
“People walk in and gasp,” says Karen Lipsett-Kidd, who owns and runs Crystalworks Gallery in Vancouver with her mother and sister. “It’s awe-inspiring to see huge pieces of sliced amethyst, petrified wood and fossils that are millions of years old. They show the beauty of nature in an age where almost everything can be altered and deemed impermanent,” she says.
Lipsett-Kidd began rock-hounding as a child with her sister Andrea, Mom, Susan and her late father, Morley, on the East coast of Connecticut. Then, after they moved to Canada in 1972, on trips to the Gaspe Peninsula and Newfoundland. “Camping trips in our VW bus to Arkansas where there are so many mica mines, made us into die-hard adventurers,” laughs mother, Susan. Karen always had a great eye for finding pieces. It would have been beyond my wildest expectations or dreams in 1967 that our family outings would evolve into the Crystalworks Gallery. ”
“My Mom and I had many incredible adventures together in the first couple of years and we serendipitously met many of the people we are still doing business with today!
One can’t help feeling like an overwhelmed kid in an adult candy store peering into 500 –lb twin Amethyst geodes; serious bling that proves no jewelry designer can compete with Mother Nature.
Crystalworks collaborates with collectors from all over the world. Their museum-quality gemstones and minerals are bought as sculpture for lobbies, foyers and alcoves; as tabletops or converted into light-based crystal sculptures. Fossils from Australia can be embedded into fireplace surrounds or as kitchen tiles.
A tiny leaf fossil tile from 50 million years ago sells for $50 and ammonites (coiled-shaped shell fossils from 400 million years ago) most commonly seen mounted on a pedestal as coffee table sculptures, can sell for several thousand. Large sculptural pieces command hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Since the stock market crash, prices have skyrocketed – people see these pieces as functional art and a place to invest their money,” explains Lipsett-Kidd. “We shipped an incredible piece of river jade weighing half a ton, to a client in Malaysia who had it installed in his penthouse garden on the top of a building.
For those of us who prefer the ‘less is more’ approach to decorating with minerals, Gemstone Tile LLC offers an alternative but no less opulent.
You might say that Albertans, husband and wife, Danny and Carolyn VanCleave, struck gold when they answered an advertisement in 2012 to buy a tile business affiliated with the largest and most prolific open turquoise mine in the world, located in Kingman, Arizona. They moved there shortly thereafter and opened Gemstone Tiles LLC.
“We call it ‘jewelry for the home,’” enthuses co-owner, Carolyn VanCleave of their exquisite hand-made tiles custom-cut by her husband, a silversmith for over 25 years.
The turquoise is sorted at Cobaugh Processing at Kingman Mine, the first company in the world to use turquoise for commercial building materials.
VanCleave hand-slabs the turquoise in water using diamond blades to cut the pieces- an extremely labour intensive procedure before it’s fitted into tiles. With almost 500 variations of blue-green turquoise, applications are endless. Used to create floors or mosaic inlays, they resemble Mediterranean antiquities recently unearthed.
Prices per square foot range from $745 to $1095 for Ithaca Peak Turquoise, a stunning natural combination of cobalt blue with a black matrix, sparkly pyrites and quartz crystals, infused with copper. With their mandate to use only natural colour enhancements, Mohave Purple Turquoise gets its vibrant colour from the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, indigenous to the Mohave Desert surrounding the mine. Coveted for kitchen counters, backsplashes and bathroom showers, turquoise tiles imbue a luxurious modernity that subtly whispers affluence.
VanCleave has also inserted veins of real gold and silver into the turquoise tiles upon request. That’s something he hopes will be particularly popular when they debut their collections at the Middle East Stone Show that takes place at the Dubai World Trade Center in May, 2015.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery when it comes to Mirage’s new Jewels + Privilege Collection of 20 Wallcoverings. As one of the world’s leading design and manufacturers of porcelain tiles, the Italian company’s use of HD photography enables the homeowner to indulge in onyx, amethyst, quartz and labradorite at a cost less than the real thing, but still not inexpensive.
Using the latest computer technology, thin 3 X 6 –ft porcelain stoneware slabs are printed with magnified slices and facets of minerals and gemstones in luscious colours, then sealed by hand in a shiny, non-yellowing resin. Each slab retails for about $4,000.
The line has just arrived in Canadian showrooms this month and is available at Julian Tile in Vancouver (Western Canada distributor) and Centura Tile in Toronto and Montreal.
Says Vancouver interior designer, Ami McKay of Pure Design Inc., who is using gemstone tile slabs in an update of two bathrooms in the iconic Arthur Erickson designed, Suki’s Hair Salon on Granville Street: “I love the trend towards embracing natural minerals and gemstones in an unexpected way. It’s so colourful, glamorous, clean and contemporary. But you really have to have a fearless client who doesn’t mind being showy. Or just use it sparingly to make a big impact.”
There is a hypnotic component; a spiritual sensuality to this trend that almost seems programed into our DNA – begun as children collecting small stones and shells at the beach to bring home and display. One never tires of looking at minerals and gemstones. Perhaps the New-Agers were right all along.