WINDSOR -- Though it has found demand for stone slab countertops in new homes nil, a Santa Rosa-based fabricator and installer has been cutting a comfortable niche in the home remodeling market and is building a shop four times as large in Windsor to keep up with the work.

[caption id="attachment_58579" align="alignright" width="320" caption="North Coast Tile & Stone's new Windsor fabrication shop (credit: North Coast Tile & Stone)"][/caption]

North Coast Tile & Stone Inc. (nctile.com, 707-586-2064) in late June signed a lease with Shiloh Oaks Co. for nearly 12,000 square feet of former Standard Structures space at 5900 Pruitt Ave., Suite 170. Amid rapidly falling sales with the dramatic slowdown in new-home building since 2006, Standard Structures sold its truss and joist business nearly a year ago to Idaho-based RedBuilt, which now operates in just a portion of the site.

The slab fabricator plans to expand from a 3,000-square-foot shop in south Santa Rosa by the end of August. The company picked the Windsor site because it's only 13 minutes north of the design showroom, has more yard space to store slabs -- now numbering 250 in 110 color variations -- and the Caletti family who ran Standard Structures and now manage the property accommodated needs such as moving and adding building entrances and improving the look of the decades-old structure, according to Tom Bodell, co-owner of the 40-employee North Coast Tile.

Another co-owner, Greg Cassel, helped start the fabrication shop and runs it. 

[caption id="attachment_58580" align="alignleft" width="386" caption="From left: Lead installer Matt Eaton puts in a kitchen backsplash; Design showroom manager Michele Linbarger and co-owner and sales manager Martha Bodell; Zack Alter plans slab cuts for the CNC machine in the current shop. (credit all photos: North Coast Tile & Stone)"][/caption]

The larger shop will allow the technicians more room to operate and the existing swing shift to work during the day. More employees and equipment will have to await higher sales, which are running 10 percent above those of the previous year, according to Mr. Bodell. But margins are thin, as most buyers are looking for bottom-of-the-market deals, he said.

"We're really leery about doing anything at this point the way the economy is," Mr. Bodell said. "It is hard to read what is going on. All the machinery in our shop has been paid for for the last five years."

The company has been operating 10-person day and five-person swing shifts plus three two-person installation crews to keep up with projects, according to Mr. Bodell. Installations are numbering 10 to 15 kitchens a week these days. Three-quarters of that work is remodeling.

More capacity for work will also allow the company to market fabrication and installation to designers, retailers and slab dealers that don't have such services in-house or through partners, Mr. Bodell said.

The North Coast Tile & Stone design showroom will remain in the 5,500-square-foot building at 3854 Santa Rosa Ave. Santa Rosa-based Warner Custom Homes, a showroom partner and general contractor on more extensive remodeling projects, plans to expand his display of cabinetry options to more than 100 examples of door woods, finishes and hardware.

"It works well for selling granite too because you can put the wood next to the slab to compare color," Sean Warner said.

North Coast Tile and Warner Custom Homes also are setting up an example remodeling display in Asien's Appliance, a Santa Rosa store that's also a showroom partner.

While custom home construction is picking up around the Bay Area, particularly on the Peninsula, 85 percent of Warner Custom Homes' work is remodeling, according to Mr. Warner.

"It used to be that people would find a beautiful piece of property and put a dream house on it, but you don't see a lot of that right now," he said.

The company has managed to keep 15 to 20 projects going at a time by having most of the specialty tradespeople -- 17 on staff and 12 part-time -- to finish jobs more quickly and rotating three crews around the region to avoid commute burnout. The company has its own plumbers, electricians, carpenters, wallboard installers and tapers.

Another revenue stream Mr. Warner  has added is a home seismic-retrofit business called Bolt Down the Bay Area (boltdownthebayarea.com, 707-579-3288), which has two crews working on two homes a week. The builder has garnered referrals from its listing on Federal Emergency Management Agency and Association of Bay Area Governments websites for such work, as the two agencies plan to expand the Southern California program to Northern California this year.

California Earthquake Authority is seeking federal funds to cover 15 percent of the job costs -- typically ranging from $2 to $3 per square feet of dwelling space for a single- or two-story home -- and some insurance companies offer discounts for retrofits done according to government-advocated Planset A pre-engineered method for keeping homes from being shoved off their foundations during a quake.

Preston Smith and Barry Palma of Cornish & Carey Commercial Newmark Knight Frank brokered North Coast Tile & Stone's Windsor lease with Shiloh Oaks Co.