The Mountain Top team consists of (left to right) Whitney Powell, Natalie Morse, Kelly Brannon, Thomas Cook, Robert Colpitts and Paul Rasmussen.
The shop fabricates solid surface countertops in house, with a three to five day turn around from template to install.
Mountain Tops has been hand-fabricating tops for 12 years using panel and table saws coupled with hand-held routers and dust-collecting sanders. When the time is right, Rasmussen would like to be able to add “machined with CNC technology” to his shop’s reputation.
• The shop isn’t limited to tops as shown here with this custom fireplace surround.
•The shop’s signature solid surface chair sits in the showroom when not on display at a home show.
•Mountain Tops is able to utilize waterjet technology at other shops to create stunning inlays like the one pictured here.
•This bathroom inlay utilizes not only the top, backsplash and tub surround — it can also be seen in the edge treatment, simple to do with a stack edge.
The showroom features samples from all of the shop’s product lines, including samples of the quartz surfacing products which are fabricated out of Seattle.
Paul Rasmussen, owner of Mountain Tops Ltd., a fabrication shop specializing in solid surface and quartz countertops, grew up in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin working at a furniture factory in Oshkosh before taking his skills up north — far north.
The Anchorage Daily News, Oct. 12, reported on the economy of Alaska compared to the contiguous 48 states to the south. While the state is not completely isolated from the nation-wide economic crisis, statistics show an advantage for residents. For example, Alaska is in its 21st consecutive year of statewide job growth, and while the housing economy isn’t immune to the growing foreclosure rates, its numbers are considerably lower than other states. Anchorage city finances are looking good, too, with a $200 million investment savings account for emergencies, according to the Daily News.
That’s good news for Rasmussen, who moved to Anchorage in 1984 and bought his own countertop shop, Mountain Tops Ltd., in 1996. On moving to Alaska, Rasmussen said, “I came up to visit a friend. I had always wanted to visit Alaska, and I just decided to stay. I was only 23 years old then, and I wasn’t married, so it was easy to pack up and move.”
Rasmussen worked around Anchorage building furniture and cabinets, like he had done since high school, and after getting certified in Los Angeles, even worked with some Corian solid surface by DuPont. In 1992, he stopped working in other people’s shops and began fabricating cabinets and furniture — and any other business that came along — out of his garage before a local countertop shop, Mountain Tops, went up for sale.
Out of his garage, Rasmussen was working primarily with custom cabinetry. When he purchased Mountain Tops and reopened its doors in March of 1996, he was a full-time countertop guy.
“I wanted to stick with just countertops,” explained Rasmussen. “I paid attention to the market and how the process worked up here. We work with a lot of dealers and I didn’t want to compete with my buyers by building cabinets. I wanted to stick with countertops — plus, cabinets are a lot of work.”
THE COUNTERTOP GUY
At that time, 95 percent of the shop’s business was Corian solid surface. “That was before the other solid surface manufacturers were getting big,” said Rasmussen. Now the business is approximately 75 percent solid surface fabricating and 25 percent quartz surfacing, which was added to the offering list in 2005, averaging 30 to 35 projects per month.
“We don’t actually fabricate the quartz here,” explained Rasmussen, who is anticipating bringing quartz in house in the near future. “Right now, we work with a couple of shops in Seattle. We send down the drawings, they fabricate it and ship it up, and we install it.”
While the big machines for quartz aren’t available at Mountain Tops quite yet, they have plenty of hand tools for working with the harder quartz surface materials and can fine tune a top for installation once it comes up from Seattle, including minor profiles, though the shops in Seattle offer a number of high quality profiles for the tops.
Aside from the quartz fabrication, Mountain Tops handles all other aspects of the business in house. “I personally do 95 percent of all the templating,” said Rasmussen, who is very hands-on with the shop, also taking on the responsibilities of keeping the books in order.
There are two people in the office who take care of all the bidding, ordering, etc. In the shop, building the tops and doing the install work and more, are four employees. “A couple guys do the installs, but when they’re not installing, they’re in the shop fabricating, so they jump back and forth,” added Rasmussen, with the goal in the shop being to cross-train the employees to know all aspects of fabricating, rather than only being able to do backsplash or sand. “Some employees are more specialized, like the main installer, but he can go make backsplash if he needs to. I try to have everyone know enough of everything.”
When it comes to the shop’s fabrication process, Rasmussen has a simple process that’s worked for 12 years, with few upgrades needed. At the purchase of the shop, Rasmussen upgraded his cutting process to include a panel saw and over the years has replaced aged equipment. With 80-plus years of experience (55 of those between Rasmussen and his foreman, Kelly Brannon), the shop’s been fabricating tops and other design projects in solid surface with the aid of a panel saw, table saw, routers, sanders and a thermoforming oven.
The timeline for an average solid surface countertop, from template to install, is three to five business days with up to three projects in varying stages in the shop at one time, and the quartz surfacing is about three weeks from template to install because it needs to be shipped up from Seattle.
In an average solid surface job, the materials are ordered from the drawings before the job is templated. This enables a quick turnover time on tops. “We get the material up here and then we call the customer to template, come back and get it into the shop,” Rasmussen explained.
During the solid surface fabricating, the main fabrication is one big space near the panel saw, so when the sheets are cut they don’t have to be carried far. After the initial fabrication, the tops get moved to a separate station to glue up the stack edge. If a backsplash is ordered, there’s another station for that process, because of the long narrow pieces of material involved. After the fabrication is complete, the installation is scheduled and the tops are installed.
The quartz process is a little different. “I template everything with cardboard,” said Rasmussen. “For the quartz, we bring the template back here, lay it out, draw it up in a CAD file and e-mail it down to Seattle and they ship it up. The turn around time is a little longer, but the end product comes out good, because the customers are getting what they want instead of us ordering blanks and trying to do it with the little bit of tooling we have.”
Rasmussen has considered investing in digital templating, but without the CNC machines in the shop, it’s hard to justify the cost. “For the solid surface, we need the physical templates to do the job,” he said. “I’d have to make the template for the shop from the electronic file and that seems a little backwards. I can template an average kitchen in less than an hour with cardboard, so it’s not a big labor savings either.”
CHOICES, CHOICES, CHOICES
The shop tries to stick to fabricating just a few lines of solid surface and quartz materials, but will occasionally work with another material at the customer’s request. The current brands of surfacing that Mountain Tops offers includes: DuPont Corian, LG HI-MACS, Staron, Avonite, Wilsonart, Mystera, Meganite and Formica solid surface; and on the quartz side includes DuPont Zodiaq, Cambria, CaesarStone and LG Viatera.
“We try and limit what we have to offer because there is only so much that you can keep track of with all the different colors and the other choices,” explained Rasmussen. “Some brands have their recycled lines. If somebody’s looking for a green product, we show them the colors that are available and they pick it from those.”
When it comes to options in solid surface, the most popular upsell comes in edge profiles. “We have a basic standard group of edge profiles and then we have upgrades into more ogees and fancier things if someone wants more than just a plain old flat edge,” said Rasmussen. “For the solid surface, we have nine different profiles that we’ve standardized here. I used to do whatever anyone wanted, but it’s hard to sell off of that kind of palette with dealers and it was hard to be specific to what people wanted. We decided to bring it down to a group of nine. If somebody really wants something different, we can still do that. We can modify the options, too, but most people can find something they like out of nine options.”
Another upsell utilizes the shop’s thermoforming oven, which can handle up to 8 ft. of material. “It’s not as popular as the edge treatments, but we’ve made shower pans and things like that,” explained Rasmussen. “We have a sink in our showroom that flows from the countertop right down into the sink and back out.”