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   BIG SKY, Mont. – Stan and Randy Schlueter really, really like slate.
   The Schlueters – Austin, Texas, residents who completed a stunning 7,950 ft² home late last year near the south-central Montana resort community of Big Sky  – incorporate a wide range of different slates in five of the residence’s bathrooms, as well as utilizing it in more than 2,500 ft² of flooring.
   And, while Randy Schlueter says she simply decided to go with what she liked, “I’ve been very pleased with it.”
   Finding words to describe the project isn’t easy. Although the Schlueters’ main residence is in Austin, calling the structure simply a vacation home doesn’t do it justice.
   “It’s really a home we want to leave to our kids and grandkids,” says Randy Schlueter. “We have four kids, so we ended up doing four bedrooms – actually five, counting ours.”
   Plus, she says she’s been enjoying the home so much she’s spending several weeks there at a time.
   In much the same way, the word “cabin,” doesn’t exactly apply. Although Dürfeld Log and Timber of Williams Lake, B.C., built the home using massive western red cedar logs from the Pacific Northwest, it hardly compares with the rough-hewn structures thrown up by the pioneers.
   Schlueter explains that she and her husband had spent years talking about building such a home, so when it came time to do the actual work the couple had an architect translate their ideas onto paper and turn it over to Dürfeld.
   “They take the plans and actually build the log portions in Canada, then take the whole thing apart and bring it down on 18-wheelers,” she explains. “They had a crew of five or six guys there for a couple weeks that put it together and put in the windows. They come back later with the logs for the roofline.”
   Once the log portion of the building is in place, the owner is responsible for finishing the project. In this case the Schlueters contracted with DHS Construction, a Big Sky-based contractor. That firm, in turn, put the couple in touch with Bozeman, Mont.-based Montana Tile and Stone.
   Although the scope of such a job might be a challenge for some stone and tile suppliers, Montana Tile owner Wills is more than up to the task. Before moving to Montana he spent a decade in Aspen, Colo., as a designer.
   “We’re a very different facility in that we’re design-based,” he says. “Everyone here is a seasoned designer and has an understanding of how you use stone and use tile.”
   Nor is Wills strictly working the supply end. Along with owning Montana Tile and Stone – which he describes as being a trade-only supplier – he’s also a partner in Montana Tile and Stone Fabricators, which occupies the adjoining space.
   When Schlueter put herself in Wills’ hands, she had already been considering design options with some Austin companies. However, she only saw one item – a ceramic tile with a mountain scene – that caught her eye during preliminary shopping. It ended up in the master bath, and Schlueter says she appreciated Wills ability to obtain it for her at a lower cost.
   Both Wills and Schlueter agree the widespread use of slate in the home came about once Wills and the couple sat down and began looking at the plans.
   “At that point, it was just to get a feeling for the project and to give them some design ideas,” says Wills. “I thought the slate would make a nice marriage with the Dürfeld Log Home because the logs are enormous, and it takes a proper stone put in in a very skilled fashion so the logs wouldn’t be overbearing.”
   For her part, Schlueter says she’s always been a fan of Southwestern tile, and the slate reminded her of that.
   “I was just trying to find what appealed to me, and it happened to be the slate,” she says. “Once I started with slate, I felt I was on a roll, so I kept using it. There’s very little in the house except our bathroom that isn’t slate.”
   What Wills proposed to the Schlueters was PetraSlate, a signature line of natural-slate products from Broomfield, Colo.-based Source Products Group.
   Mark Wennstedt, owner and president of Source Products, explains that company started by creating roofing materials in 1989. However, early on, his wife – who has a background in interior design – recognized slate’s potential for interior uses such as floors and showers.
   “What we do with our flooring division is focus on natural slate, as well as travertine, sandstone and quartzite from all over the world,” Wennstedt says. “We import stone from Brazil, China, India and South Africa, as well as buying here in the United States.”
   With such a wide range of stone sources, PetraSlate offers buyers a range of colors, textures and versatility. Consequently, the company offers some 27 different colors.
   “We also have a product division of our company called ‘New Dimensions’ that takes artwork and etches it in the stone,” says Wennstedt. “We have a catalog that shows more than 200 stock pieces of art that we do, but we can also do just about any type of artwork the customer wants.”
   Wills says his initial design work for the Schlueters took about two months. The wide range of colors and sizes ultimately allowed for a melding of stones with the same substantial nature, but in a variety of shades to eliminate a boring, monochromatic look.
   To do the on-site work, Wills recommended Jerome Ebarb, a Belgrade, Mont.-based independent installer. Ebarb spent almost five months installing the approximately 5,000 ft² of slate ultimately used in the project. Working at an elevation of approximately 8,500 feet, Ebarb says one of the toughest parts of the job was bucking so much material through the home.
   “I could carry only about five pieces of that 16” X 16” tile at a time,” he says. “I had my wife do some of it, but we ended up with something like eight pallets.”
   In terms of sheer size, perhaps the most impressive expanse of slate is the approximately 2,500 ft² of African Blaze field tiles used in the home’s great room and kitchen. Although mainly utilized for flooring, the tile – in custom-cut shapes – is also employed for the kick wall under the eating bar and the backsplash for the granite kitchen counters.
   “I floated everything on a mud base,” says Ebarb. “I ran chicken wire up the wall for the backsplash and did a heavy backsplash detail so it finished out about 1¼” wide. I was able to take the slate and cap everything and did a nice profile.”
   Schlueter says that floor was a particular concern of hers because she agreed on the African Blaze after seeing a single piece of it in Wills’ shop.
   “I had to trust him a lot that I would like it and I do; I just love it,” she says. “I’m always looking at that floor because it’s so beautiful and the colors are just mesmerizing.”
   The bathrooms feature different themes, and make corresponding use of different slates and different New Dimensions decorations.  For instance, two make use of Indian-Multi field tiles, but one employs fly-fishing tiles, while another has a running horses border in the shower. Still another utilizes Buff slate tiles and a fourth features Jardine de Rosa field tiles and an ancient Indian style design cut in the tiles.
   Even where the stone might otherwise appear to be the same, Schlueter says Ebarb’s ability to work with custom shapes makes each section of the job unique.
   “For instance, in one, the slate is cut to have a brick look” she says. “The floor in one of the showers looks like it’s crumbled rock, but it’s really slate that’s been broken in small pieces and put back together, so it looks completely different. Even where the slate is the same, it looks different and is used differently.”
   Ebarb agrees that one of the nice things about slate is its ability to be shaped.
   “I like working with it because it’s so versatile,” he says. “You can shape it in a profile and it goes great with glass tile or use it for accents, too. You can shape it to just about any shape you want for a shower base or special feature.”
   From his perspective, Ebarb says the hardest part of the installation might have been on the home’s main staircase, and not just because the Schlueters had moved in by the time he was ready to do the work.
   “There was just so much cutting involved,” he says. “There was also the expectation that I would finish some details instead of wrapping them with wood. I had to trim corners out with the slate to make it looked finished and that was tough.”
   On the other hand, he says he really benefited from the Schlueters’ decision to bring in a cleaning crew, which allowed someone else to do the mopping before he applied a penetrating seal and a topcoat to the project.
   Ebarb says from his perspective, the job was a wonderful one to be involved with, and the Schlueters’ selection of slate is a real positive for the overall look of their new home.
   “It fits the cabin,” he says. “It looks so natural, but it has all the different colors – especially the African Blaze. The slate just gives color to the place and makes it beautiful.”
   As the designer, Montana Tile’s Wills says while the different colors of the slate go a long way toward making the stone work within that particular setting, it’s also important that Ebarb worked primarily with 16” X 16” tiles.
   “The logs are absolutely enormous, and you can’t have enormous logs and then itty bitty stones,” he says. “The same is true with the colors. You have to have stone that carries enough color that you’re not overwhelmed by the logs. You need balance.”
   Schlueter says she couldn’t be more thrilled. From a practical standpoint, the slate has been very low maintenance.
   “I love it when I walk in and it’s just been mopped because it looks like brand new,” she says. “Not only doesn’t it show dirt very much, but it’s held up really well so far.
    “It ties in really well,” she concludes. “It looks beautiful with the logs. I just love it.”

Client: Stan and Randy Schlueter, Austin, Texas, and Big Sky, Mont.
Log Builder: Dürfeld Log and Timber, Williams Lake, B.C.
General Contractor: DHS Construction, Big Sky, Mont.
Stone Subcontractor/Designer: Montana Tile and Stone, Bozeman, Mont.
Stone Supplier: Source Products Group Inc., Broomfield, Colo.
Stone Installer: Jerome Ebarb Installation, Belgrade, Mont.

This article first appeared in the December 2003 print edition of Stone Business. ©2003 Western Business Media Inc.