Matching A Stone Tile Floor

The “ordinary” stone tile floor that greets visitors to Apple’s retail stores is actually enormously difficult to design, quarry, manufacture, deliver and maintain. The entire story of the stone flooring was told in an earlier IFO article, but there’s one more detail: grading the individual stones for color and tone matching.

A typical mall store uses nearly 400 tiles, each weighing about 55 pounds, or a total of about 22,000 pounds delivered by ship from Italy. The tiles are delivered in wooden crates that weight an average 1,600 pounds.

The stone for the tiles is quarried from a special, reserved area of the Il Casone property. The exclusivity is both to keep the style, color and tone of the stone from reaching other retailers, but more importantly to also ensure uniformity among the finished tiles.

Despite Mother Nature’s best efforts, however, the stones vary in color and tone, requiring each store’s batch to be carefully graded, and laid out to prevent a checkerboard effect that would be enormously distracting and aesthetically unacceptable. Even with a minor variation in tone among a set of tiles, the store flooring could look like this:

With no grading and random distribution, even tiles with very little difference in color and tone would create a checkboard appearance for an Apple store floor.

To prevent this, Il Casone masters carefully grade each tile for various characteristics, including color, tone and grain. They then laboriously match up tiles with exactly the same characteristics. Finally, they lay out the pattern for the store so that any variations are evenly distributed over the full width and length of the store:

In this example, the same differences in tone are used, but are now carefully located and laid out to distribute the variation across the full length and width of the store. Naturally, the final floor would not look as even as this computer-generated gradient.

In actuality, there is probably even more complexity to Il Casone’s grading technique. For example, they may put the darkest stones at the front of the store where there is more light, or perhaps “problem” tiles behind the Genius Bar.

Once the tiles are prepared, they are carefully numbered and crated to allow the store installation teams to quickly and carefully install them according to the grading. Aiding this task is a lay-out system based on “strata”: each front-to-back row is lettered (A to whatever), and each row left-to-right is numbered (1 to whatever). For example, G12 would indicate the seventh row from the left, and the 12th row from the front of the store.