The Gold Standard in the Golden State Since 1987

Peter J. Marcucci

Special Contributor

Photos courtesy of Stone Creations

This $20,000,000 spec house in Atherton, California, features hand-carved stone panels above the entry and garage. Every keystone above the windows is a different design. Stone Creations also supplied the slate roof. When Bernard and Linda Renaud, Co-Owners of Stone Creations in Redwood City, California, moved from France to the U.S. in 1985, they were immediately struck by the limitless possibilities that the San Francisco Bay Area offered. 

A master carver hard at work. Bernard is putting the finishing touches on the formal limestone fireplace surround, Now proudly U.S. citizens, Bernard Renaud is a French-born 79-year-old self-taught artist, whose works have been featured in both Europe and North America. Adept in many mediums, Bernard is a self-driven, tireless worker constantly in pursuit of perfection. 

Formal limestone fireplace surround, shown installed. “We do bring in 2 cm slabs sometimes, but we are not your typical kitchen and bath countertop company,” said Linda Renaud. “We mostly bring in blocks of 4-5 different types of limestone. Occasionally we will bring in French marble, and marble from Carrara, Italy and Travertines from Peru on request.”Linda Renaud, an enthusiastic Briton, is an organized, practical, and sincere woman who brings an educated architectural equilibrium and a taste for straightforward problem-solving to the partnership. With a lifetime of training and nurturing dogs and horses, Linda, a people whisperer by nature, used to say that, “Horses were her profession and people her hobby.” 

Nowadays, that is reversed, but she is equally passionate about both. Working alongside Bernard for several years in France, Linda developed the bi-lingual skills that Bernard did not have the time to, and serves the company with her honed and proven client skills.

Bernard Renaud shaped, ground, and carved all fourteen sections on the easel set-up seen here. This elaborate piece was installed above the entrance of the French Château pictured above“Bernard was born in 1935,” explained Linda. “When he was five years old he was hospitalized in traction for a deformed hip. His parents lived far away and could only visit him once a month. So, his grandmother would visit him and bring him pencils and paper and he learned to draw. That was the beginning of his artistic prowess. His ability to draw and his inherent knowledge of architectural authenticity and scale have been immeasurably linked to our business success.” 

A bird’s eye view of a gala event in the Renaud’s renovated barn, complete with rustic beams, marble floor and paintings—lots of paintings. In later years, Bernard would buy and sell art as well as have his own art shows, and he tried to live exclusively on what he made from his paintings. During that time, he was friendly with an antique dealer who had old, reclaimed fireplaces that had pieces missing and needed repairs. He did those repairs and carved modern statuary, so regular visits to local quarries were also part of his schedule.  

An understated, elegant limestone fireplace adorns this upscale California residence. “Our part in the stone industry enables us to interact with interesting, high-functioning people and be respected for what we bring to the table,” explained Linda Renaud. “Clients are often CEOs, venture capitalists, sports figures etc., and are high maintenance and demanding. They bring out the best in us.”“Bernard had his own small stone business when we met,” continued Linda. “He lived and worked at a small farm in the vineyards of Province near Toulon, France. I was working at an equestrian center near Nice when we were introduced. I had only been in France for six weeks, and I didn’t speak French. I’m not sure what happened when we first met, but there was a lot of chemistry and a lot of rosé wine, too. 

French range hoods are also a specialty at Stone Creations. Made of limestone, this elegant hood adorns the cove/polished edge granite countertop of this upscale residence. It is in a word: Stunning.“Because I didn’t speak French, it took me about a year to have arguments with him because I didn’t understand what he was saying.

Luis, an employee of six years, is putting the finishing touches on this special order ten-foot French limestone sink. The bridge saw in the background was custom made over 20 years ago by Fernand Ravet. It is one of two bridge saws in use at at Stone Creation, and will cut up to twelve inches of limestone. It doubles as a great milling and profiling machine, as well.“When we moved in together, I brought a horse with me, and we built a stable behind the house. Bernard would leave early and return late, and I quickly learned that if I wanted to see the love of my life (Bernard), I would have to replace his assistant and join in with his stone work. At this point I had become his helper, and after working with horses for many years, I wasn’t afraid of doing hard work or getting dirty mixing cement and those kinds of things. 

Bernard and Linda, “The Dynamic Duo.” The sculpture in back is one of Bernard’s personal creative projects, and the big seascape is one of many paintings. A trove of prebuilt and antique stonework can also be found if sought. “We sometimes bring in antique stone pieces such as fireplaces and gate pillars, although, we don’t stock a lot of inventory,” noted Linda. “Some of our clients find and purchase stone pieces in Europe and ship them here. We then make them fit to whatever dimensions are needed to fit their room. What we do keep in stock are 150-year-old clay roof tiles from Europe. Finding them is like a treasure hunt.”“We’d drive off to the quarry together in an ancient rattletrap Citroen: a cross between a pick-up truck and a van, with worn tires and much rattling. With the weight of the stone we carried each time, we became very adept at changing a flat tire on the side of the auto route. With the jack bowed dangerously under the load, we could get the job done in just a few minutes. 

“Bernard being French, meals were never missed. We packed a gas stove and had hot meals followed by fresh brewed espresso wherever we traveled for work. Then, in 1983, we opened a store in France that was an old 17th century paper mill, and we would have art shows there. That business grew and we opened up another store, part art gallery, part stone craft.” 

By 1985, a businessman the couple knew came in and explained that he was investing in a stone company in California and explained that it would be a good idea to get somebody doing stonework that no one else was doing, such as carving three dimensional work. With Bernard and Linda now curious, he closed the deal by offering to bring them to the U.S. and pay for everything. 

“It was one of those things that if you don’t do it—you wonder about it the rest of your life,” explained Linda. “I’m a traveler anyway, and Bernard actually came with me to see if he would like it. I was very surprised, because the French don’t travel very much. They’re not like the British that go all over the world. 

“So, we flew to the U.S. in 1985 to have a look-see. When we returned to France, Bernard was so enthusiastic about everything, we just packed our suitcases and six-month-old daughter, and flew back across the Atlantic with the intention of returning home after two years.” 

But the company that brought them to California didn’t keep a lot of the promises they had made to the couple, and they quickly found themselves on their own. So they started their own stone carving company by scratch and began doing business under the name Stone Creations. 

Linda began visiting architects and designers with her Macintosh computer in one hand and young daughter in the other. “At that time it was not fashionable to bring your kids to work, but I didn’t have anyone I could leave her with. You should have seen the look on their faces when they saw us walk in, but she would just sit, and she was fine and didn’t disrupt anything. 

“Business began to grow, and two years became four—four years became six—and finally, ten. California became our home and is still today, almost three decades later, our true home.” 

Life and business was good in the couple’s new shop but not perfect. Bernard, in 1989, had fallen victim to an accident while receiving a large shipment of material. Severely crushed by stone shifting inside the container he was unloading, he almost died from internal injuries. What’s more, his right hand had been all but severed, with only tendons remaining attached at his wrist. 

According to Linda, doctors were amazed at how relatively quick Bernard regained function in his arm, and as soon as the steel scaffolding that criss-crossed his wrist and forearm was removed, he went back to work. 

Initially, he couldn’t maintain the grasp of his fingers around his chisel and kept dropping tools, but he kept at it. Nowadays, you wouldn’t notice his injury unless you knew to look for it. During his recovery and out of sheer necessity, Linda learned to draft scale drawings for clients. She also became adept at putting ideas on paper, even doing complex perspective drawings when needed. 

She doesn’t claim to be the artist that Bernard is, but she does produce many of the concept drawings that are handed off for production and now has decades of experience drafting bespoke stone details.

Ideally situated in a 10,000 square-foot building, Stone Creations is right next to Hwy 101—Silicon Valley’s main artery. Hand tools used in the company’s workshop are of the same type in use since early Roman times and are only available through one specialty store in Paris, said Linda. 

The workshop, however, is also equipped with lots of modern tools such as air and electric powered drills and chisels. Two large bridge saws, one of which can cut through twelve inch thick stone slabs, handle all cutting chores, and all water is recycled. “At the moment Stone Creations only has two employees and doesn’t do installations. The workshop is open four and a half days a week, and that work, to this day, is still hand-finished,” said Linda, noting that the company’s work and its clientele is somewhat eclectic.

“This is a fabulous area to do work. Our clients are venture capitalists, pro sports team owners and tech industry heavyweights. Close to twenty years ago we did work for Joe Montana (49er football quarterback) when he was still playing. Joe and his wife Jennifer were wonderful to work for, and they referred us to Dwight Clark, a pro football player turned TV announcer. Other notables include pro boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, John Sculley (ex-CEO of Apple), several current CEOs of worldwide companies and lots of admirable folks who don’t want to be identified.”  

Keeping the Gold Standard in a Contemporary Market

“There will always be a demand for more traditional work,” explained Linda, while underscoring the fact that during the downturn, medium and small clients had just disappeared, adding, “Clients are finally flowing back as home sales and the local economy have taken off with a vengeance.” 

Fortunately, she said, a nucleus of local high-end spec home builders and some very discerning custom clients kept Stone Creations ticking during the last few years. Wealthy homeowners took advantage of dropping home values and purchased adjacent properties to create entertaining spaces full of creature comforts. So for the last two years, Bernard and Linda, for the most part, have been producing the carved limestone facades of two dueling French-style chateaux, one of which was for a spec house. 

“We currently design and build neoclassical classical, contemporary, traditional, elegant, English, French, country French, and Tuscan. Also very popular for the last few years is what’s known as craftsman, a more American style. 

“We really care about the proportions and scale of the pieces that we make, and we offer advice and options to that end. We’re happy to collaborate with architects and designers who have their own vision, and we have the know-how to make it happen. 

“We have no outside sales person or formal retail showroom. Our carving atelier, or studio, is our showroom, and many clients come from referrals by architects, designers, or by word of mouth having seen our work at friends’ houses. 

“Consultations are complementary, and it’s a pleasure to go out to meet a client to learn more about what we should offer that will be a good fit. It’s a good way to avoid wasting time on a design direction that can’t be accommodated by the space, or the client’s budget relative to property value. Bang for buck issues can be clarified when going through the portfolio of options, which means realistic designs are then drawn up and proposed, and contracts then get signed. 

“We take great pride in the end result and have happy clients because of it. Our clientele are very cosmopolitan and well-traveled. The latest influx of young techie millionaires has seen fashions change to a sleeker, more modern style, perfectly rendered in monolithic angular stone sections. They are very interested in natural green resources and fall in love with the striations and inclusions that make natural limestone so unique. 

“Having a large inventory of monolithic slabs allows customers to visit and become familiar with the possible variations within the stone. They learn that these are not defects, but characteristics, and they embrace the particular stone-type that fits best within their life story. 

“We don’t do kitchens and baths. There are enough specialists in that market. We only work with thick chunks and carve curvaceous shapes with depths and reveals, mostly in limestone. Travertine or marble is also available upon request.”

The Future

Bernard is a master stone carver of long experience, and now that he is getting older, rather than hefting large pieces of stone, he mostly directs the production of custom stonework in the shop. He also continues to be involved in the design, planning and fine-tuning that gives each carved element his personal flair. 

As far as the future, the goal for the couple is to allow Bernard to retire, although retirement to him means working on an array of new creative projects and ideas. According to Linda, there are books being written and limited edition silver art jewelry being produced. 

His life’s philosophy has always been to put his best effort into everything he does but, unfortunately, his greatest fear is that he will run out of time to complete these projects. So in order to accomplish this retirement, Stone Creations is now for sale, complete with a healthy annual growth over the last three years, links to the best sources and clients and a longstanding reputation for quality and creativity. A joint venture is also a possibility, with Linda staying on as needed.    

“Partner or otherwise,” Linda said, “I’m only 55, and I’m not done. I love coming to work every day, and I have lots of ideas that I’ve been dying to develop. There’s a signature line of semi-custom mantels that I’d like to launch and distribute, as well as carrying a greater inventory of reclaimed antique pieces. 

“I enjoy the challenges of making a plan out of a design goal and the parameters of functionality and site conditions. It feels like Living Algebra and finding the X Factor.”

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