Artful Interiors, Design

Gemstone Paves the Way for an Authentic Italian Experience


The Renaissance was born of the creativity, craftsmanship and heart of Italian master artists and artisans. Intertwined in the skills of these maestros was an undeniable ethos and energy, an invisible spirit that still walks with us today through the country’s cobblestone streets.

Bringing that Italian spirit and aesthetic of authenticity to the Luxury Home & Design Show inspires Jim Paquette, owner of British Columbia’s Gemstone Masonry & Landscape Supply. He is contributing his creativity and skill to the event in many ways, including building a 9,200-square-foot piazza inside the venue.

The show revives the Renaissance spirit and will transform Vancouver’s BC Place into an Italian piazza, each exhibitor with its own unique “shop.”

Bianca Fusco Zanatta, the show’s concept designer, chose the Italian piazza as a space to emulate for the show, because it is the perfect gathering place. It is a place to relax, to share ideas, to absorb the beauty of the surrounding architecture — a perfect place to celebrate design and the spirit of beauty in one’s daily life, which is central to the show’s mission.

Paquette worked with Fusco Zanatta to craft this beating heart at the center of the event. The show’s classical Italian theme is a perfect fit for Paquette, whose wife is from a small village in Italy. He has fond memories of the subtle elegance and mood of the culture, which he wants to bring to Vancouver.

“Some of the stuff that they show online is nothing compared to what these little villages really are. It’s amazing how people, to this day, live. It’s always been something that’s made me feel comfortable,” he says. “Even in my own home, we go more [towards] Italian culture. I was excited to give my creativity to the Italian cultural aspect of the piazza.”

Piazza dell'Anfiteatro in Lucca, in the Tuscany region of Italy. (Photo by Shutterstock)
Piazza dell’Anfiteatro in Lucca, in the Tuscany region of Italy. (Photo by Shutterstock)
Piazza San Carlo in Turin, Italy, illuminated by the rising sun. (Photo by Shutterstock)
Piazza San Carlo in Turin, Italy, illuminated by the rising sun. (Photo by Shutterstock)

Paquette says Italy’s buildings, monuments, and structures create an unmistakable atmosphere. “Italian architecture is amazing — it’s comforting, it’s family-oriented,” he says. On a recent trip to Italy, he says, “I took more pictures of the products, styles and architecture than I did of the wife and kids.”

The Roman pavers Paquette will lay for the piazza are so numerous, they will be transported from his supplier in Winnipeg to Vancouver on six B-trains. Although they’re new and manmade, they’re “tumbled and have that essence of time,” he says. They look very natural, mimicking the chiseled, fitted stones that make up Italian plaza and piazza streets.

“In Italy, with the stone, that’s what it is. It’s a raw-cut thing. Nothing is perfect, but when it’s put all together, it looks amazing,” he says. The natural look is important for creating the warmth and welcoming spirit you feel in Italy, he says.

Paquette imports his products from across North America to make sure his outdoor environments look and feel as good as Mother Nature herself.

“[Our outdoor living spaces are] inviting, comfortable, and can bring that taste of Italy home,” he says.

Paquette’s love for his work and penchant for throwing fun social gatherings will also kindle the spirit of Italy at the show.

“It’s a gathering place, a meeting place, a place that everyone would just go in the evening and let their kids play soccer, run wild and do their thing,” he says of piazzas. “We’re trying to recreate what Italy is all about in this piazza.”

To transport us to Renaissance Italy, Paquette will add majestic fountains, waterfalls, intimate lighting, small tables and benches, to invite patrons to sit, relax, and enjoy each other’s company. The piazza will also have kiosks selling coffee, gelato, and various Italian foods.

The Piazza Sordello in Mantua, Lombardy, Northern Italy. (Photo by Shutterstock)
The Piazza Sordello in Mantua, Lombardy, Northern Italy. (Photo by Shutterstock)

“We want to create an authentic space that people can appreciate, feel comfortable, and will talk to their friends about,” he says. “I think that as a creator, that’s what it’s all about — your love and passion for what you do. I love building things that people appreciate and are going to use.”

Paquette will build another piazza in addition to the central piazza. The so-called “Gemstone piazza” will feature all the innovations and creative design Paquette can bring to outdoor spaces.

Golden standards

Quality, craftsmanship, and creativity — the values that built the Renaissance — flow naturally through Paquette’s heart and fingertips.

Paquette has been an installer for 38 years, but he began to truly transform Vancouver’s luxury home market six years ago, when he founded Gemstone Masonry & Landscape Supply.

“I was just so tired of using the same products on every job,” he says. Paquette scoured the internet until he found the Roman pavers he’ll be bringing to the show, made by a company in Winnipeg called Barkman.

“They’re large-profile, different shapes and sizes — that’s what drew them to me originally,” he says. The fresh products, matched with their old-world appeal, have impressed many who have seen his work. Paquette says, “A lot of people just shake their head amazed and go, ‘Wow.’”

He quickly realized that the luxury homeowners and builders in Vancouver were as hungry as he was for change.

It was hard to be creative because the product choices were so limited, he says, but Barkman opened a new world of possibilities .

Paquette decided to found Gemstone Masonry & Landscape Supply and seek out other exceptional products. Similar to the way the Luxury Home & Design Show is curating and introducing the world’s best craftsmanship and products to Vancouverites, Paquette, too, has been a pioneer. Presently, Gemstone has introduced over 2,500 products to the city.

“Give me something unique, something different,” he says homeowners tell him. “A lot of people don’t care what it’s going to cost.”

That yearning for unique, rare, top-quality products has enabled Gemstone to open the biggest showroom in North America in its industry. The 4,000-square-foot boutique-style showroom sold Luxury Home & Design Show’s director, Wendy Guo, who was determined to have Paquette design the central piazza.

Inside the Gemstone showroom. (Photo courtesy of Gemstone Masonry & Landscape Supply)
Inside the Gemstone showroom. (Photo courtesy of Gemstone Masonry & Landscape Supply)

Gemstone’s showroom is framed with regal wall stones, its floor covered in pavers, and beautiful fireplaces and outdoor kitchens exude a warm, family home feeling, perfect for social gatherings.

Jim Paquette. (Photo courtesy of Jim Paquette)

“We have created waterfalls in our showroom with a retaining wall block,” he says. “[People] can’t believe that a retaining wall block can be used for something other than just a retaining wall. It could become a feature wall in your backyard. It can become an outdoor kitchen. It can become virtually anything that you can think of. That’s why these products have made such a difference in my ability to create outdoor living spaces that nobody else can.”

Paquette says he feels honoured to be a part of the Luxury Home & Design Show, an event he says is “made for me.” With Paquette’s authentic, pioneering spirit and outside-the-box thinking, it truly is.

He recalls how his wife reconnected with her childhood while they visited her hometown in Italy. Moved by the experience, he hopes the Luxury Home & Design Show can have a similar effect on all those connected to, or interested in, Italian culture.

Learn more about the Luxury Home & Design Show, which will be held at BC Place in Vancouver, June 21–24, 2018. 

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