Slab Work

Slab Work

On the face of it, like most any other stone, a geode looks humdrum—chipped, stained and otherwise roughed up by the elements. But crack a geode open and there’s a jamboree of crystals, a dazzling miniature cave sitting in the palm of your hand.

EleMar New England—the flagship of five EleMar outposts around the country—may be one of New Haven’s prettiest geodes. Its dull brick warehouse, beat-up driveway and barbed-wire fencing make it easy to disregard. But those who judge its core by its crust are passing up a real treasure.

Wholesaling large, rare stones located on the edge of Newhallville, the 35,000-square-foot warehouse, its air made slightly hazy by a behemoth wood-fired heater, holds hundreds of 90- to 130-inch slabs of marble, granite, quartzite, onyx, slate, soapstone and others lined up in long aisles. Between rough edges, most slabs are polished slicker than glass and cut flat as an ice rink. Some resemble satellite images of exotic shorelines. Others recall the marbled paper end pages of ancient books or the cosmic stews of the hyperspace scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Since the actual 2001, Carl and Barbara Harris have made a business buying and selling rare stones big-box home improvement stores don’t carry. “If Home Depot’s got it, I don’t want it,” Carl says. When he first began looking for stones to buy, he says he chose to avoid the more common iterations available at the time—Butterfly, Peacock, Ubatuba—and reached for the world’s more unusual offerings. A couple weeks ago, EleMar New England’s inventory held stones sourced from Vietnam, India, Brazil, Norway, Italy, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey—also, Virginia.

Nature’s done a fine job crafting these stones. Some could even stand alone as works of art. That, Barbara says, is what gave the couple the idea to open The Gallery at EleMar. First they hung slabs on the walls of a room off the side of the warehouse. Then, after Nature’s handiwork had gotten a turn, they decided to open their walls up to manmade works. On display at the time I visited were paintings, mandalas, metalwork and several pieces by local sculptor Gar Waterman.

But when you first walk into EleMar, before you get to either the gallery or the warehouse, you’ll have to pass through a space of Carl’s own design: a showroom resembling an Italian villa. Through the archway stands a model kitchen outfitted with Italian wine posters, an espresso bar and an Italian mosaic-decorated wood-fired oven—the kind Carl sells under the brand Tuscany Fire. Next to the kitchen is a room with an alcove for wine tasting, a backlit plate of onyx hanging overhead.

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“One of the things I don’t like is you go to a showroom and you see vignettes,” Carl says. About his own space, he says, “this is the real world,” meaning the kitchen and wine rooms are functional. They actually do what they look like they’re supposed to do, hosting pizza parties and wine tastings (just call up and ask for a quote) and brick-oven cooking classes (for both chefs and laypeople). Sometimes they’re also used to wine and dine large prospective clients for EleMar.

When I arrived, Carl had just finished giving a tour to two contractors looking to use his stone. At the center of a table sat a wedge of cheese from a 26kg wheel of parmigiano reggiano, which Carl bought whole in Italy. Next to it were slivers of prosciutto and porchetta, carved on an Italian-made flywheel meat slicer, and a cut of swordfish with capers and yellow grape tomatoes, all prepared by Carl himself in the showroom kitchen.

The decadent spread drew a surreal dissonance with the spools of barbed wire visible through the slits of a window shade. It seemed strange enough having a wine-tasting room, a brick-oven pizza parlor, an art gallery and a collection of exotic stone slabs all in one place, but it’s even less expected in long-depressed Newhallville.

Carl bought the property in the early 1980s, when Newhallville was “difficult at best,” he says. After the retreat of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, the once-rising working-class neighborhood lost income and residents, falling fast to crime and blight. The crack epidemic of the ’80s ravaged the area. Even before that, Carl was able to buy the warehouse cheap—“$3.85 per square foot,” he says.

These days, with the completion of the nearby Winchester Lofts, Yale’s migration in that direction and Newhallville’s inclusion in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company National Historic District, the property is undoubtedly worth considerably more than it once was. “Back then I was an idiot,” Carl jokes, “but if you hang around long enough, idiots become geniuses.”

EleMar New England
2 Gibbs St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Thurs 9am-4:30pm, Fri 9am-4pm, Sat 9am-1pm
(call ahead to schedule an appointment)
(203) 782-3544

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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