“I feel like people have lost their heart when it comes to creating beautiful things,” said Jake Levy. “And I think people should go over the top more, try harder to do beautiful things.”
As an artist and design manager, Jake derives the greatest joy from creating original works of art, particularly art that has function and occupies a vital place in a person’s home.
In fact, Jake’s entire family feels this same way. For the last 90 years, the Levys have run , a stone artisan shop, located at 111 Spencer Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“My grandfather started it. He was the first Mason,” said Jake. “Then, my father started working at age seven, helping my grandpa. And now we do it. We haven’t been in the same place or held the same business, but we’ve been masons since 1923.”
Originally from Yemen, the Levys immigrated to Israel and then to Brooklyn, where their shop has existed for the past 27 years.
“We were here before the gentrification started, when the neighborhood was still fun, but it was also a lot more dangerous,” said Jake. “But as the neighborhood changed, we changed with it. We still serve a lot of local people who have lived here for a long time.”
From the outside, the shop looks like an enclosed lot, which takes up most of the block between Park and Myrtle Avenues. The entrance, at the corner of Spencer and Myrtle, opens up into a cemented clearing which houses an impressive array of 6’ x 10’ slats of colorful marbles, onyx and other stones. Their office and workshop are tucked away in the back of the lot.
You will notice their shop from an iron, umbrella-shaped sign sitting high above the shop’s entrance. The sign is distinctly old and beautiful all at once, a nostalgic relic crafted by their father, Abraham Levy, who passed away just five months ago.
Because masonry has lived in their family for three generations, the Levys tend to do a lot of their work in the old-fashioned, hands-on way: Very little is pre-fabricated; most of their work is completely customized.
“We don’t use big bridge saws or CNC’s, which computerize the designs,” said Jake’s mother, Fannie Levy. “We do the edges and rounds and route everything by hand with hand tools. That is very rare today.”
“Our prices are competitive, but you get a very special job,” Jake said. “For example, we reinforce all of our countertops with steel, a rare thing in masonry today. So if a house shifts or settles, it will still hold.”
International Stone Collections has completed installations for City Hall and the United Nation’s Plaza. It also has customized the homes of a number of notable celebrities, architects and interior designers, including U2, David Mann, Thom Felicia, Robert Verdi and Emeril Lagasse. Their work also has been featured in Architectural Digest for the past three years.
“But more than celebrities, we mainly work with business people, hedge fund bankers and investors, are the core of our clientele,” said Jake. “And then our local clients in the neighborhood, who are very important to us and whom we’ve known over the years.”
“Yes, we’re very careful about keeping things local; we buy from local people, we supply to local people; they really are the reason I love this business,” said Amy Levy, Jake’s sister.
Keeping things local may be a priority for the Levys, but their international connections also are widespread. Long-time relationships brokered by their father all around the world net them a regular stream of inventory brought in from small quarries in Africa, Brazil, Spain, Italy, India, Iraq and Iran.
Jake says their biggest-seller right now is the Victoria White, from Sierra Leone. Its popularity is due to its markings, durability and density. The stone comes in only twice a year.
“But it always looks different,” said Jake. “It’s extremely Wild Mountain. The stone will have a direction and then all of a sudden change its direction; it’s really exciting."
The shop also stocks the Vermont Danby. Otherwise, according to Jake, stones from the U.S. are very uncommon. They’ve discovered deposits in Minnesota, so currently, there’s a big push to try to get Minnesota stone, said Jake. And aside from natural stone, they also carry all of the popular synthetics, including Zodiac, Ice Stone, Cambria and Caesar stone.
“Still, a lot of our materials are locally stocked; we buy them from other businesses and we only bring in a few select pieces from overseas. It’s important for us to support locally and not just overseas.”
Amy shakes her head in agreement: “The locals have been very, very supportive of us. So we try to give it right back to them.”