The Rock Beat: With Marble on a Roll, Maintenance Snowballs

(Featured in Chicago Lerner – By Brian Edwards)

A flip through Mike Pavilon’s appointment calendar for December seems to indicate that business is rock solid these days for his Sungloss Marble Maintenance Co.

“People want to put on their best appearance for the holidays, so we get a lot of residential jobs up until the end of the year,” says Pavilon, president of the Chicago company, which provides marble care services for commercial buildings and a growing number of homes.

There was a time when banks and houses of worship had a corner on the marble market, and outside of Fred and Wilma Flintstone, the average homeowner didn’t have much to do with marble or granite until the time came to carve his or her headstone.

Times have changed. Pavilon credits an “international explosion” in the marble industry, thanks largely to more advanced cutting and shaping technology, which has allowed countries such as Mexico, China, Spain and even the Soviet Union to better quarry and export the stone.

Over the last five years, marble sales have increased 400 percent, according to the Marble Institute of America, and the U.S. Department of Commerce reports use of all types of hard stone increased 2,000 percent in the last decade, with home use contributing mightily to that figure, says Pavilon.

Stumbling Upon It

Not that Pavilon always intended residential marble maintenance to be the core of his business. He got started in marble maintenance six years ago after noticing that much of the stone in downtown commercial buildings was less than lustrous. Pavilon, who was distributing cleaning chemicals and maintenance supplies at the time, quickly researched the marble business and hooked up with a West German supplier who sold him exclusive Midwestern rights to a process called Sunglossing.

Shortly afterward, Pavilon began finding marble maintenance jobs with a handful of downtown hotels and buildings, as well as other jobs, like the magnificent restoration of the Chicago Theater and a similar project at the Fox Theater in Detroit. Soon, executives and property managers in some of the buildings he was working in were asking Pavilon to shine their personal marble collections.

“We never aimed at the residential sector. It was an overflow from the commercial work,” he says, noting that residential marble, granite and terrazzo maintenance now makes up about 60 percent of Sungloss’ business.

Charges range from $1 to $2.50 per square foot for marble care, which might range from a simple cleaning and sealing to a full restoration with wet grinding, polishing and poulticing, a method used to draw deep stains out of the marble’s pores.

The Right Technique for Marble Cleaning

Either Pavilon or Eric Bower, vice president of Sungloss, go to a location to scout out the job, measure the area and “check for land mines.” The crew then consults on multiple techniques to be used because, according to Bower, “caring for the stones is as individual as the type of marble itself.”

Many of the problems Pavilon and his Sungloss crew encounter are simply a matter of the wrong stone having been selected for particular usage. Some marbles are more porous and softer than others, which makes them easy quarry for stains and scratching. Some strains, like the Carrera White used on the Amoco Building’s exterior, have high mineral contents that cause them to rust.

“Nail polish, shampoo, even water can etch a marble vanity top, and orange juice and other [liquids] with high acid content can be especially hassling with a kitchen countertop,” says Pavilon, noting that architects and designers have gotten much smarter about picking the right type of stone for different applications, often pushing the more resilient granite, which can cost two to three times as much as marble, as an alternative. Even so, problems often arise after installation.

“If you talk to the average consumer about woodwork, they’d tell you it needs to be sealed before you can use it,” Bower says. “With stone, they figure once it’s installed, the job’s done. Well, the job isn’t done until a professional comes in, cleans it, and seals it.”

Conversely, many do-it-yourselfers mistakenly treat marble like wood, and apply things like furniture polish or flax soap to the porous stone surface.

Where Marble Cleaning Is Concerned, ‘Let It Breathe’

“You can’t use an oil-based or film-creating substance on marble and expect it to remain stain-free and in good condition,” Pavilon says. “You’ve got to pick something neutral in pH that will allow the marble to breathe. Otherwise, you’re trapping vapors in the pores and you’re more likely to get browning, yellowing or staining.”

Pavilon recommends regular maintenance to keep marble at its shiny finest. Entry foyers need to be cleaned and sealed every 12 to 18 months, depending on traffic; marble bathrooms need annual cleaning because of the moisture and harsh liquids they come into contact with.

“Marble is a royalty stone, and you get people with an attitude that it should be kept that way,” he says. “There are enough people out there who want to make their marble look perfect, so they’re obsessive if there’s even a little etch mark.”

Stay tuned for more tips and future care ideas! If you like what you read today, please email us for a complimentary Marble Care Educational Booklet from the Marble Institute Of America!