Vestacast's products enhance the city skyline today and for the future
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle
Since 2007, the dedication of Tom Caruso (right) and Piotr Kaminski (left) continues to create architectural elements from basic shapes to highly ornate, replicating stonework that restoration contractors, architects and engineers can depend on to renew, refresh and preserve the beauty of the built environment.
Thomas (Tommy) Caruso, president and co-owner/co-founder of Vestacast with Piotr (Peter) Kaminski, vice president and co-owner/co-founder, closes all his emails with the quote attributed to the Greek philosopher. It’s his way of pledging unsurpassed quality to his customers. Of course, Aristotle lived over 2400 years ago, a time when speed may not have been as paramount and 5G wasn’t deemed the apex of expediency. Yet for Caruso and Kaminski the standards for excellence remain immutable. Says Caruso, “It’s what we do.” It’s what they’ve always done.
In 2007, the longtime co-workers and friends decided to pool their combined total of 50 plus years in the restoration industry to found Vestacast. Both brought family legacies to the mix: Caruso’s grandfather was a project manager for Safeway Scaffold in Long Island City, Kaminski’s grandfather and father ran a successful carpentry business in Poland.
Vestacast, which derives its name from a term related to stone fabrication in Italy, Caruso’s ancestral home, launched the business in a vacant 5000 square foot warehouse in Maspeth, Queens. The pair began by hiring two mold makers, five office workers and a comptroller for a total of eight employees plus the two owners. Vestacast now has 36 employees: a corps of highly skilled artisans and assistants in the shop, a laboratory technician and office staff. Since 2017, it resides in a 17,000 square foot building located nearby, though Caruso claims “we could still use more room.” There are seven departments: Drafting, Model Restoration, Color Matching Lab, Mold Fabrication/Carpentry, Casting, GFRC and, most importantly, Quality Control.
GROWING BY LEAPS AND BOUNDS
“We jumped right in!” Caruso explains. “We always offered a full range of products: brackets, planters, columns, copings, moldings, cornices, balusters, and much more.” One of the largest projects, circa 2008, was a residential building located at 2041 Holland Avenue in the Bronx that required reproducing 260 stones for an ornate parapet. Today Vestacast is working on a project almost tenfold larger, replicating 2300 stones for the New Yorker Hotel. On average, Vestacast produces 600 to 800 stones per project – a daunting number as new molds are required for approximately every 6 to 10 castings, depending on the original stone's shape and detail.
Over the years, the company has grown almost entirely through word-of-mouth with more and more restoration company project managers, supervisors, and masons as well as architect and engineer subcontractors glad to recommend Vestacast and testify to its excellent work.
“We’ve built ourselves through relationships, not marketing,” says Caruso.
“Our clients are our partners and more than that, our friends,” agrees Kaminski.
874 Broadway terra cota lion's head replacement. Replica stone fabricated in GFRC, as illustrated above.
REASSEMBLING, REPLICATING AND REPLACING THE FINEST STONEWORK
The stonework fabricated at Vestacast replicates the appearance of sandstone, limestone, slate, granite, marble or travertine in building exteriors, replacing stones that have deteriorated over time through weathering, movement – expansion and contraction - and other natural forces. Restoration contractors deliver carefully removed stone fragments from a building’s façade to the shop which are then painstakingly reassembled puzzle-like to exactly replicate the original shape and ornamentation of the piece to be reproduced. A mold is created from wood forms and other compounds.
THE IMPORTANCE OF RAW MATERIALS
Sourcing raw materials is an extremely complex and costly process. Crushed limestone, gravel, sand, fine gravel and specialty aggregates ordered from manufacturers nationwide and internationally are added to the highest grade of cement for the design mix. As the industry is moving towards increasing “green” standards nationwide, all cement products will soon be required to include 15% crushed limestone to make their product more sustainable.
2020 – A CERTIFIED MEMBER OF THE CAST STONE INSTITUTE
In 2020, Vestacast became a certified member of the Cast Stone Institute (CSI). CSI adheres to ASTM C1364 requirements, standards that are legally binding and have been adopted by the 2018 International Building Code. Furthermore, all CSI members must provide a 10-year Limited Product Warranty for the cast stone they supply. Although Vestcast needed to make a sizable investment of time, equipment and funds to meet the rigorous standards, in fact Vestacast has fabricated cast, not precast stone, since its inception.
Says Caruso, “We always produced the highest quality cast stone, but now we decided to go the extra mile through the testing and monitoring required.”
Precast stone has a lower psi (pounds per square inch) standard than cast stone. Cast stone cannot have bugholes or voids in the surface.
The tests for cast stone required for CSI submissions performed in Vestacast’s on-site laboratory by their certified lab technician are:
1. Air entrainment - This gauges the stone’s movement.
2. Compressive strength - Precast stone needs to withstand 5000 psi; cast stone must withstand 6500 psi meaning that it is a more durable product. The test is administered on 2” x 2” cubes to the point of breaking.
3. Water absorption – The stone is oven dried then placed in a water bath. After 28 days it is tested to ensure it has not increased by over 6%.
An additional test, freeze thaw, is conducted twice a year at an outside lab located in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Stone is tested for 300 cycles of freeze thaw and must show a cumulative weight loss no greater than 5%. The third-party lab also redoes the compression and absorption tests Vestacast has conducted in-house to confirm results. Additionally, Vestacast is required to submit a log to CSI on a bi-yearly basis recording tests conducted for every 500 cubic feet of product that works out to be weekly to meet Vestacast’s production volume. A CSI inspector comes unannounced each year to all members to conduct tests.
ADDING GFRC TO THE PRODUCT LINE – REPLICATING THE BEAUTY OF TERRA COTTA
In 2015, Vestacast added GFRC or Glass Reinforced Concrete to its line of products, a stone that replicates and replaces terra cotta elements on building exteriors. Terra cotta, a ceramic clay product that is baked, is the most fragile of all stones. GFRC stones have a smooth finish, are lightweight and composed of alkaline resistant fiber. They are hollow and ¾ to 1” thick. Terra cotta’s propensity to crack over time has made the stones a longtime safety concern for the construction industry due to the risk of fragments falling from buildings onto sidewalks and streets.
Vestacast’s decision to expand its line was in response to an industry need. There is a scarcity of terra cotta fabricators with only two or three remaining in the U.S. and Europe. The knowledge required to correctly blend aggregates into concrete to create long-lasting GFRC stones takes a comprehensive background in the field that is rare. GFRC now represents approximately 30% of Vestacast’s work.
Vestacast has an extensive library containing thousands of sample colors with formulas catalogued.
AN EXTENSIVE LIBRARY OF COLORS
With all cast stones and GFRC, pigmentation is a huge component of the finished product. Vestacast has an extensive library containing thousands of sample colors with formulas catalogued. Most stone fabricators can reproduce approximately 15 shades. Caruso explains that the firm’s huge palette is based on 13 formulas that are manipulated to create numerous options.
A strong supporter of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and The New York Landmarks Conservancy, Kaminski notes that Vestacast’s colors “Can match any landmark in NYC.”
Caruso adds, ““Our clients have a comfort level when working with us. They know they’ll get the right product.”
A few of Vestacast’s iconic projects are: The New Yorker Hotel, The Plaza Hotel, 760 Park Avenue, 220 Fifth Avenue, the Masonic Temple’s Grand Hall on West 23rd Street, and 535 Dean Street, Brooklyn, the former printing plant for the NY Daily News.
KUDOS FROM CUSTOMERS
Caruso and Kaminski are consistently responsive to their clients and quick to answer phone calls at any time. It’s part of their commitment.
Clients are also impressed by the cleanliness of the shop that remains scrupulously dust and contaminant free.
“Tom and Peter really have their act together. They run a tight ship,” says Skyline Restoration Senior Estimator Emeritus, Peter Oxenham.
Original sculpture (top) and a Vestacast replica (below) at the Croisic Building, in NYC.
Skyline Restoration first worked with Vestacast in 2010 on the MacIntyre Building which later received the Lucy G. Moses award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy. Other collaborative projects with Skyline include 520 Clinton Avenue, 215 East 71st Street, and 325 Washington Square. Caruso recalls one of the most challenging projects with Skyline at 874 Broadway a.k.a. the MacIntyre Building a year ago when Vestacast needed to simulate a six-foot-tall lion’s head and various ornate replacement stones from stones that were no longer on site.
“We worked from adjacent stone. There was tremendous interaction between project managers and supervisors. It turned out beautifully,” says Caruso. He notes too that Skyline has played a substantial role enabling the growth of Vestacast “along with the lifelong friendships and relationships we’ve built with their entire team.”
In the end, it’s the results that truly make the difference and will for generations to come.
Says Kaminski, “There’s a need in the industry for service that is quick and also won’t compromise on quality– we know this since we came from the industry. We devote our lives to this business. We’ve put our hearts into it. This is the only way to do it.”
Caruso concurs, adding that the achievement extends to all involved. He says, “seeing the finished projects after our clients remove the rigging and scaffolding from the façade of the buildings gives our entire team a sense of pride that we were able to take part in the preservation of so many historically important landmark buildings throughout the City.”
The exceptional work of Vestacast is the truest and most enduring reward not only for the team and its clients, but also for all who live in, work in, and visit the metropolitan area. 🀰