Stone’s stones are one of a kind
Robert Humphreys said he conceived his “screen name,” Robert Stone, while attending a Hollywood movie premiere with his daughter.
The late former owner of the St. Louis Rams, Georgia Frontiere, invited him to the event. The two became friends in Sedona, Ariz., where Humphreys handcrafted stonework the NFL team owner prized above all others.
Humphreys was probably a little out of place among the glittering Hollywood crowd. From his plaid, button-up work shirt to his dusty work boots, the artist, craftsman, stone mason, and businessman looks nothing like a movie mogul. The screen name he invented that night probably helped him blend in.
Fast forward to today.
Robert Stone is the name of Humphreys’ one-of-a-kind company situated in an industrial neighborhood between Fruita and Grand Junction.
Out in front of the office and warehouse where great stones are cut, a 10-foot-tall white block of marble stands as testament to the contribution Colorado made to the Lincoln Memorial. Part of a column at the entrance to the memorial was cut from the block, Humphreys said.
Where some saw scrap, Humphreys saw an important piece of history. The giant block from marble is just one of many amazing pieces stockpiled at his shop.
He has 25 years of experience in stone work, but Robert Stone ramped up a little more than five years ago. Humphreys said he constantly works the numbers in his head to stay on top of the business end of things. But even as he works the business angles, it is his artistic vision that keeps him fully engaged.
Before he crafts his functional works of art, he shows the stone to architects and homeowners who want to make a unique statement. He has a way of helping them see.
In different rock of many colors, Humphreys sees countertop pieces, showers, fireplaces, floors, doorways, sinks and walls, to name a few.
“I just put some granite in a $15 million jet,” he said.
Humphreys’ vision is bigger than the 25-ton boulders he cuts with the giant diamond-encrusted band saw that towers at one end of the warehouse where he and his 10 employees work.
“I’m a man in search of unusual materials and I’m trying to bring them to the industrial world,” he said.
Consider the rack of black-on-white, striped slabs that resemble the coat of a Siberian cat. Humphrey’s calls it Tiger Stripe.
“It’s a cross-breed,” he said. “It has calcite present but it has more silica. So it’s a silica-made marble.”
He found the rock after finally meeting the owner of a rock shop in Arizona that was never open when he stopped by. He visited the spot five times over five years and finally in the sixth year, he connected with the owner, who happened to have access to the unique stone.
“Nobody has this,” Humphreys said. “In fact, we’re banking on it.”
Like every good entrepreneur, he keeps his eyes and ears open for opportunity.
In Oklahoma, he found brown sandstone with swirling dark lines that looks more like aged hardwood than rock. He cuts stone in smaller-than-standard slabs and charges more per unit for the unique rock than what can be bought at Home Depot, but the smaller size makes a single slab seem more affordable to buyers.
More than a rock, clients get Humphreys’ creative eye, attention to detail and dedicated effort.
He takes risks other stone workers would not dare. His single-piece shower floors, for example, have beveled drains that other craftsman would never attempt.
His signature sandstone river sinks, with a textured leather-like finish, look as if they were cut whole from a riverbed, but the end result has actually been chiseled and formed to appear nature-made.
In addition to several contracts he maintains with various landowners that give him rights to quarry stone from their land, Humphreys also owns his own rock quarry near St. George, Utah.
He bought rights to take the stone after the previous quarry company was too slow in delivering product, frustrating the landowner.
If the stone he needs cannot be mined, Humphreys simply fabricates it. One slab in particular demonstrates the concept.
He purchased a log of petrified wood, sliced it into slabs, and joined the circles of ancient, mineralized wood together by a process known only to him. He then sprinkled shards of blue, red and green gemstones around the wafers of rockwood and in between the gaps. Treated with resin and milled, the slab looks entirely natural, like every other sheet of stone on the lot.
Tossing a bucket of water against the slab revealed a shimmering mosaic. How the very expensive piece will be cut has yet to be determined, but it was easy to see the wheels turning when he pondered the question.
Humphreys is obviously an artist, but also a self-made, strategic business thinker. For the most part, he taught himself the ways of business. He does not hold a college degree. He’s never worked for anyone but himself. He does the work he believes in and in his own way.
By eliminating the middle man, Humphreys developed what is known as a vertically integrated company. Robert Stone owns the raw material. It owns the means of removing it from the ground and working it. It owns the warehouse where the product can be wholesaled and the storefront where it can be retailed.
And yet, none of the company Humphreys created exists to make profit, he said. Money is secondary in the big scheme of things. Instead, it all exists to support and further his vision of functional beauty.
Yes, he charges more than many. His products and services aren’t for everyone. But if making a unique, personal statement about art, structure and the natural world is the goal, Humphreys said he can make it happen.