Stone masonry is one of the oldest crafts in history when humans began arranging rocks to create shelters in the Stone Age, 12,000 years ago. Today local stone masons Coulon Stone are celebrating 30 years of trading and to mark such a wonderful achievement Managing Director, Simon Coulon speaks about how his career as a Stone Mason began, some of his favourite natural stone projects and some of the reasons he believes this local business are still here today.
Simon started as an Apprentice Fixer in the early 1970s, one week after his 16th birthday. On his first day he found himself twelve floors up the side of a building dangling over the River Thames by Blackfriars Bridge. “It was a bit of a shock,” said Simon. It was his dad, Rafael Coulon’s stone masonry business and they were predominately cladding the side of big buildings in London.
After a few years Simon had saved enough money to travel the world. When he returned he bought a garage in Wendover, a £200 saw and took his first job as Coulon Stone, cutting granite for a building in the City. With no running water to run the saw Simon had to collect it from the nearby petrol station. The local newspaper caught wind of his work and published a piece titled “The Wendover Granite Grinder” and questioned whether a garage in a residential area was the best place to be cutting stone? It is after all a very noisy and very dusty business. Simon began looking for a more permanent place for Coulon Stone and found a spot on the Princes Risborough Industrial Estate. He had started a family at this point and didn’t want to spend so much time travelling in to London, so began focusing on local work, in particular stone surfaces in people’s homes and businesses, and this remains his focus today.
Twelve years later Coulon Stone moved to Stokenchurch where they’ve built a state-of-the-art factory and a beautiful showroom allowing customers to walk through their project ideas with expert advice from Coulon Stone staff. Simon and his team particularly enjoy projects which involve “more skill and craftsmanship, and less humping around of heavy rock,” said Simon. Recently they created a cantilevered staircase in Ibstone, and they enjoy working on bridges, for example Staines Bridge, where they replaced some granite balustrades. They also enjoy restoration projects. Last year they replaced the floor of Holy Trinity Church in Bledlow, and have even carried out restoration work to Windsor Castle’s Henry VIII Gate.
When asked what’s behind the success of Coulon Stone Simon said several things. He has always lived by a quote he heard from an Australian entrepreneur, “I’m a very lucky man. The harder I work, the luckier I am.” Simon explains he simply never gave up, despite several recessions, and a global pandemic, and continues to focus on the teams strengths and where their passion lies – working with natural stones. Over the last decade man-made stone has become a very popular material, particularly for kitchen worktops. Coulon Stone enjoy working with man-made stone and believe it works very well for busy households, however as skilled craftsmen Coulon Stone’s team feel huge amounts of pride working with natural stones like granite, marble, quartzite, slate, sandstone and limestone, like the ancient mason’s before them would have. Natural stones involve more skill and study before working on them because the geological nature of how they were created means they can have natural fault lines and markings which need to be found before cutting in to them. The team also love hand-carving beautiful shapes in to natural stones, for example in fireplaces and memorials.
Simon also reflects on the important role immigrants have played in the success of Coulon Stone, along with small businesses and skilled trades across the UK. Simon began his career working for his dad, a Spanish refugee, where his warmest memories from his apprenticeship are of the many Irish masons who taught him everything he knows. Today half the Coulon Stone team are from Europe and Simon speaks fondly of them, all of whom, including Factory Manager and mason Robert, and mason Stefan have worked for Coulon Stone for many years.
Coulon Stone feel passionate about stone masonry as a skilled and ancient craft and want to train the next generation of mason’s, so they are looking for an Apprentice Mason to join the team. They need to be hardworking, willing to learn and reliable. If you’re interested please contact Jo, Coulon Stone’s wonderful Office Manager, on firstname.lastname@example.org with a copy of your CV.
If you are thinking of adding a stone surface to your home and are interested in working with a local business with 30 years of experience please get in touch on 01494 484333, email@example.com or visit our website www.coulonstone.com. No project is too big or small. We are following all government guidelines regarding COVID and for the safety of staff and customers all visits to the showroom are by appointment only.