Man of stone

‘There’s nowhere better in the world to live than Gizzy’

‘There’s nowhere better in the world to live than Gizzy’

Steve Weti with a piece of hinuera stone ready to be carved outside his home in Kaiti. Behind him is a Buddha that he sculpted from lava stone. He built his house of granite . . . of course.
Steve working with a massive 1500 x 1500 slab of marble at a Gold Coast residence.
The Genesis Energy building in Wellington where Steve installed the 600 x 300 rectangles of black granite on the exterior walls.
Steve installed all the stone work at the Supreme Court in Wellington, including this plaque, and was present when Prince William opened the building.
Another of Steve’s Australian projects is the Redbank Plains shopping centre in Queensland where he designed and installed a massive 10 sq metre marble artwork which is the centrepiece of the shopping mall floor.
Cobblestones laid by Steve in a centuries old French pattern, in a courtyard at a private residence in Wanaka.

WHEN I boarded the plane to Gisborne, I was looking forward to a quiet snooze. I was tired and the last thing on my mind was chatting to the passenger beside me.

However, that all changed when a beaming Steve Weti sat down beside me.

He radiated such warmth, we immediately struck up a conversation which continued even after we had landed and beyond.

Steve was excited to be on his way home to Gizzy from Queensland where he works as a stonemason. As we chatted, it dawned on me that I was in the presence of a highly-accomplished artisan.

Among his many large-scale projects is the marble and granite work at a certain high-profile property in Paritai Drive, Auckland, owned by the infamous Mark Hotchin, and the vast expanse of flooring (2000sq m) at the $500 million Grand Central Shopping Centre in Toowoomba, Queensland.

I also discovered there was something of the artist-philosopher behind the man with the big grin.

Born in Gore, Southland, Steve left school at 17 to take up a tiling job in Auckland with the largest tiling company in New Zealand at the time.

“To begin with, it was just a job but I soon discovered it appealed to me because it combined creativity and physical strength, and indoor/outdoor work,” says Steve.

The first project he worked on was the Herne Bay apartment complex built in 1988 when Auckland began to sprout high-rise buildings.

“The company brought in four experienced English tradesmen to teach us Kiwis how to tile. I worked with them for the next four years and learned a lot — not just about tiling but also about life and the big, wide world out there.”

At 21 when he set off overseas “to find himself,” he had all the contacts he needed to travel, work and live for the next three or four years.

“When I left New Zealand, I was the typical young, self-absorbed Kiwi male with tunnel vision. But travel gave me the ability to think beyond myself. I found a love for humanity, an understanding of the world and just how precious New Zealand really is,” he says.

“Through stretching myself outside my comfort zone and testing my own abilities, I learned how to analyse situations and read the vibes which kept me out of harm’s way.”

When Steve returned to New Zealand at the age of 25, he established his own tiling business in Auckland. There he met his Gizzy-borne wife-to-be and in 2001, the couple settled in Gisborne, a place he had never heard of before but soon grew to love.

“The tiling industry is quite small in New Zealand so word gets around the network pretty fast about who’s good and who’s not,” says Steve.

So on the strength of his high-quality workmanship, in 2009 he was offered a job in Wellington which launched his career as a stonemason.

Working as part of a small team for a master stonemason, over the next four years, Steve laid the stone and marble in the Supreme Court in Wellington, the Rock (Wellington’s International Airport), the relocated National Library where the Treaty of Waitangi is now housed and the Asteron Centre.

It was a steep learning curve for him.

“I regarded myself as pretty good at tiling but working with stone was a very different proposition due to its size and weight, and the absolute precision and accuracy needed to cut the material.”

He fell in love with stone as a medium because of its beauty and longevity.

“It survives for thousands of years and just gets better with age.”

Steve’s growing reputation on large-scale projects in Wellington secured him his next job, the stonework for Auckland’s most expensive private residence — the sprawling mansion being built in Auckland’s Paritai Drive for Mark Hotchin, who was the director of Hanover Finance at the time.

“The job involved laying 1000sq m of stone including two swiming pools and a courtyard the size of two football fields,” says Steve.

“The house itself was entirely clad in 1200 x 900 x 13mm stone slabs imported from South Africa.

“It was way, way over the top but the sheer scope of the project and the quantity of stone got my heart racing. In hindsight, had I known where Hotchin’s money had come from and the misery he caused for so many people, I would have refused the job on principle,” says Steve.

“Every weekend, the building site was vandalised — probably by people seeking revenge on Hotchin.”

However, working on such a large-scale, high-profile private residence with 250 skilled tradesmen and interior designers on site paid dividends for Steve, allowing him to further hone his craft and build his credentials.

“In a huge operation like that, if you don’t measure up, you are out. You are solely judged on your workmanship.”

The house cost $43m to build and was ultimately sold in 2013 to a Chinese businessman for $39m.

The Paritai Drive project led to a job in Christchurch for the Glassons’ family . . . and a brush with death.

“I was up a ladder working with some huge slabs of stone when the 6.3 earthquake struck on February 22, 2011.

“I remember skyping my wife to show her the work I was doing minutes before the quake hit at 12.51pm.

“The Glassons’ house was high on a hill in Sumner and I saw the whole city disappear in a cloud of dust. It was terrifying.

“The house I was working on collapsed with my vehicle in the basement so I walked for five hours to where I was staying. The place was already red-zoned, so then I walked all the way to the airport and got the first flight home to Gizzy — still wearing the clothes I went to work in that morning.

“Walking through Christchurch that day was surreal, like a scene from Independence Day. There were distraught people, cars down huge cracks in the road and liquefaction everywhere.

“Following on from that experience, I contemplated changing jobs, but after a break I eventually went back to work. I still feel a bit anxious on high-rise building sites though.”

Steve has also worked on some landmark Gisborne properties, including Cindy and Larry Prosor’s house overlooking Wainui.

“The Prosors wanted an earthy look so the bathrooms and exterior cladding are all in stone and the kitchen is granite.

“Cindy, a life coach, told me later I got the job because I had an abundance of positive energy. We had long talks at the kitchen table and she taught me some valuable life skills about how to handle challenging situations. She reinforced a lot of my thinking and philosophies on life.”

For the last three years, Steve has been commuting across the Tasman to work. He spends two months in Australia and then has a month off in Gisborne with his family.

“My time at home is precious but I’m physically worn out when I first get back and it takes me a good week to recover,” he says.

“When I’m in Gisborne, I love the simple things in life — hanging out with my family, riding a bike, swimming in the sea, hunting and gathering food.”

A man whose income depends on his physical strength and fitness, he’s also an avid gym man.

Looking ahead, Steve, 47, is aiming to spend another 12 months in Australia and then reside in Gisborne permanently.

He has three months work left to do on the giant Grand Central Toowoomba project and is also involved in restoring properties devastated by the recent Queensland floods.

While in Australia, along with his level 4 stonemasonry and floor and wall tiling qualification, he wants to add one more ticket to his CV which will enable him to accreditate others in the trade.

And he’d like to attend the Commonwealth Games next year.

Working in Australia is a means to an end, he says.

“I’m working over there to earn money to achieve my goal of being able to come home and set up a small, niche business here in Gisborne.

“I’m aiming for simplicity of life, not material things. Money doesn’t drive me. For me, this place, Gisborne, is my wealth and my time here is like gold. There’s nowhere better in the world to live than here.”

He’d like to build a house out of stone, with earthy colours and textures, set in the country overlooking the sea, single level, sitting snug to the land, open plan, low maintenance, the inside interacting with the outside.

“Actually, my existing house is not unlike that,” he says with a laugh.

“I see myself as an artist rather than a tradesman, transforming a plain canvas like a wall or a floor into an artform. The creative side of my work, the art, is the most important thing to me.”

As the plane touched down, I asked Steve for his business card thinking he might make a good story for the Weekender.

“Stephen Weti — Marbleous Stone Specialist,” it read . . . which seemed to sum him up nicely.

The moral of the story is, always talk to the person next to you on a plane — you never know what treasure you will find.

WHEN I boarded the plane to Gisborne, I was looking forward to a quiet snooze. I was tired and the last thing on my mind was chatting to the passenger beside me.

However, that all changed when a beaming Steve Weti sat down beside me.

He radiated such warmth, we immediately struck up a conversation which continued even after we had landed and beyond.

Steve was excited to be on his way home to Gizzy from Queensland where he works as a stonemason. As we chatted, it dawned on me that I was in the presence of a highly-accomplished artisan.

Among his many large-scale projects is the marble and granite work at a certain high-profile property in Paritai Drive, Auckland, owned by the infamous Mark Hotchin, and the vast expanse of flooring (2000sq m) at the $500 million Grand Central Shopping Centre in Toowoomba, Queensland.

I also discovered there was something of the artist-philosopher behind the man with the big grin.

Born in Gore, Southland, Steve left school at 17 to take up a tiling job in Auckland with the largest tiling company in New Zealand at the time.

“To begin with, it was just a job but I soon discovered it appealed to me because it combined creativity and physical strength, and indoor/outdoor work,” says Steve.

The first project he worked on was the Herne Bay apartment complex built in 1988 when Auckland began to sprout high-rise buildings.

“The company brought in four experienced English tradesmen to teach us Kiwis how to tile. I worked with them for the next four years and learned a lot — not just about tiling but also about life and the big, wide world out there.”

At 21 when he set off overseas “to find himself,” he had all the contacts he needed to travel, work and live for the next three or four years.

“When I left New Zealand, I was the typical young, self-absorbed Kiwi male with tunnel vision. But travel gave me the ability to think beyond myself. I found a love for humanity, an understanding of the world and just how precious New Zealand really is,” he says.

“Through stretching myself outside my comfort zone and testing my own abilities, I learned how to analyse situations and read the vibes which kept me out of harm’s way.”

When Steve returned to New Zealand at the age of 25, he established his own tiling business in Auckland. There he met his Gizzy-borne wife-to-be and in 2001, the couple settled in Gisborne, a place he had never heard of before but soon grew to love.

“The tiling industry is quite small in New Zealand so word gets around the network pretty fast about who’s good and who’s not,” says Steve.

So on the strength of his high-quality workmanship, in 2009 he was offered a job in Wellington which launched his career as a stonemason.

Working as part of a small team for a master stonemason, over the next four years, Steve laid the stone and marble in the Supreme Court in Wellington, the Rock (Wellington’s International Airport), the relocated National Library where the Treaty of Waitangi is now housed and the Asteron Centre.

It was a steep learning curve for him.

“I regarded myself as pretty good at tiling but working with stone was a very different proposition due to its size and weight, and the absolute precision and accuracy needed to cut the material.”

He fell in love with stone as a medium because of its beauty and longevity.

“It survives for thousands of years and just gets better with age.”

Steve’s growing reputation on large-scale projects in Wellington secured him his next job, the stonework for Auckland’s most expensive private residence — the sprawling mansion being built in Auckland’s Paritai Drive for Mark Hotchin, who was the director of Hanover Finance at the time.

“The job involved laying 1000sq m of stone including two swiming pools and a courtyard the size of two football fields,” says Steve.

“The house itself was entirely clad in 1200 x 900 x 13mm stone slabs imported from South Africa.

“It was way, way over the top but the sheer scope of the project and the quantity of stone got my heart racing. In hindsight, had I known where Hotchin’s money had come from and the misery he caused for so many people, I would have refused the job on principle,” says Steve.

“Every weekend, the building site was vandalised — probably by people seeking revenge on Hotchin.”

However, working on such a large-scale, high-profile private residence with 250 skilled tradesmen and interior designers on site paid dividends for Steve, allowing him to further hone his craft and build his credentials.

“In a huge operation like that, if you don’t measure up, you are out. You are solely judged on your workmanship.”

The house cost $43m to build and was ultimately sold in 2013 to a Chinese businessman for $39m.

The Paritai Drive project led to a job in Christchurch for the Glassons’ family . . . and a brush with death.

“I was up a ladder working with some huge slabs of stone when the 6.3 earthquake struck on February 22, 2011.

“I remember skyping my wife to show her the work I was doing minutes before the quake hit at 12.51pm.

“The Glassons’ house was high on a hill in Sumner and I saw the whole city disappear in a cloud of dust. It was terrifying.

“The house I was working on collapsed with my vehicle in the basement so I walked for five hours to where I was staying. The place was already red-zoned, so then I walked all the way to the airport and got the first flight home to Gizzy — still wearing the clothes I went to work in that morning.

“Walking through Christchurch that day was surreal, like a scene from Independence Day. There were distraught people, cars down huge cracks in the road and liquefaction everywhere.

“Following on from that experience, I contemplated changing jobs, but after a break I eventually went back to work. I still feel a bit anxious on high-rise building sites though.”

Steve has also worked on some landmark Gisborne properties, including Cindy and Larry Prosor’s house overlooking Wainui.

“The Prosors wanted an earthy look so the bathrooms and exterior cladding are all in stone and the kitchen is granite.

“Cindy, a life coach, told me later I got the job because I had an abundance of positive energy. We had long talks at the kitchen table and she taught me some valuable life skills about how to handle challenging situations. She reinforced a lot of my thinking and philosophies on life.”

For the last three years, Steve has been commuting across the Tasman to work. He spends two months in Australia and then has a month off in Gisborne with his family.

“My time at home is precious but I’m physically worn out when I first get back and it takes me a good week to recover,” he says.

“When I’m in Gisborne, I love the simple things in life — hanging out with my family, riding a bike, swimming in the sea, hunting and gathering food.”

A man whose income depends on his physical strength and fitness, he’s also an avid gym man.

Looking ahead, Steve, 47, is aiming to spend another 12 months in Australia and then reside in Gisborne permanently.

He has three months work left to do on the giant Grand Central Toowoomba project and is also involved in restoring properties devastated by the recent Queensland floods.

While in Australia, along with his level 4 stonemasonry and floor and wall tiling qualification, he wants to add one more ticket to his CV which will enable him to accreditate others in the trade.

And he’d like to attend the Commonwealth Games next year.

Working in Australia is a means to an end, he says.

“I’m working over there to earn money to achieve my goal of being able to come home and set up a small, niche business here in Gisborne.

“I’m aiming for simplicity of life, not material things. Money doesn’t drive me. For me, this place, Gisborne, is my wealth and my time here is like gold. There’s nowhere better in the world to live than here.”

He’d like to build a house out of stone, with earthy colours and textures, set in the country overlooking the sea, single level, sitting snug to the land, open plan, low maintenance, the inside interacting with the outside.

“Actually, my existing house is not unlike that,” he says with a laugh.

“I see myself as an artist rather than a tradesman, transforming a plain canvas like a wall or a floor into an artform. The creative side of my work, the art, is the most important thing to me.”

As the plane touched down, I asked Steve for his business card thinking he might make a good story for the Weekender.

“Stephen Weti — Marbleous Stone Specialist,” it read . . . which seemed to sum him up nicely.

The moral of the story is, always talk to the person next to you on a plane — you never know what treasure you will find.

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