NATURAL BEAUTY

BY BARRY WALDMAN | PHOTOGRAPHY BY HOLGER OBENAUS

Imagine the intricate, swirling patterns of nature found in seashells, sea glass and oyster shells. Now imagine that these objects had been saved from a landfill and fashioned into gorgeous, sturdy and durable countertops, bathroom vanities, wall cladding, shower walls or even fireplaces. Picture in your mind what a fine piece of earth-friendly art that would be!

Next, imagine that your new engineered quartz surface, while bursting with color and implied texture beneath its smooth finish, is environmentally safe, nonporous and resistant to scratches, stains, heat, and everyday wear and tear (unlike marble, granite or other engineered surfaces). Suppose you could cut out the middleman and have this glimmering all-American product installed by the very people who design, manufacture and cut it.

You might go to the ends of the earth for a gem such as this. But you need only take the scenic 90-minute drive down to the Vetrostone USA manufacturing facility in Yemassee, South Carolina.

Vetrostone USA manufactures one-of-a-kind quartz surfaces composed, by weight, of 60 percent repurposed materials and 40 percent natural resources —all strengthened with a binding agent that contains no toxic chemicals. Vetrostone’s guiding principles are to employ technological innovation and create sustainable products that reduce waste and meet the strictest green standards for building materials. Even the factory minimizes material waste, for example, by recycling its water to increase overall product and manufacturing efficiency—and save the planet.

Vetrostone USA quartz surfaces convey the natural history of our corner of the world. Shells are revealed in all their bygone bivalve glory, while the glass recalls the heat and pressure that formed the earth. It’s all manufactured into the largest slabs in the industry, which means fewer seams in your countertop. And although Vetrostone USA is a wholesaler that sells its products to fabricators across the nation, the company offers turnkey services—sales, cutting and installing—direct to consumers in South Carolina.

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If you think the story of Vetrostone USA, with its distinctive product and environmental stewardship, is inspiring, consider the all-American tale of its founder. It starts with Eugene Farrugia, an immigrant from the Mediterranean island of Malta, who arrived in New York at age 19 with only $500, a pair of pajamas and a dream. By 23 he had produced a family and a business—a conventional marble and granite company that he moved to rural Yemassee 18 years later.

You might say Vetrostone was divinely inspired in 2000. Farrugia was tinkering with green products and recycled materials when a priest in Hilton Head asked him to build two altars by Christmas, just two months away. Without the time to order slabs from Europe, Farrugia convinced the archbishop to use the Vetrostone USA creations we know today. Two months later, the priest offered his Christmas homily from eco-friendly altars and a product line was born.

“Since we’re living in a coastal area, people like wonderful, magical things in their countertops and other surfaces, so we include these things from the sea,” says Farrugia. “We found companies that were throwing glass in the garbage, so we picked it up and recycled it for use in countertops. We asked restaurants for the oyster shells they were throwing into the dump. We disinfect them using the latest technology and combine them into the quartz to make it magnificent.”

Installed Vetrostone is dramatic, created with the help of architects and interior decorators. With its splashy designs that feature uncrushed shells, the material is often the centerpiece of the room in which it’s installed. Adding Vetrostone, for example, to a kitchen counter or bathroom vanity instantly transforms a drab space into a conversation piece.

Farrugia never expected to spark a green revolution in stone surfaces. When he first proposed his idea, he says, “people looked at me like I had two heads.” Eighteen years later, Vetrostone USA has spawned imitators but no duplicators, because the binder recipe that keeps the oyster shells and sea glass together is as secret as the formula for Coca-Cola!

Barry Waldman is principal of Big Fly Communications, a PR/marketing firm for nonprofits and small businesses.