The Female Factor: Tile Industry Women in the Spotlight

According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010 saw 807,853 women employed in the construction trades – 8.9% of 9,077,000 total employees. Reflecting the trend in construction jobs overall, that’s down from 2009 figures, which showed 921,690 women in construction, about 9.5% of the total. In the last five years, the percentage of women in construction peaked in 2008 at 9.7% (1,064,447 actual female workers); but the highest number of women employed in construction was in 2006, at 1,127,904, when women made up 9.6% of the 11,749,000 U.S. construction and extraction workers.

Statistics show that the percentage of female carpet, floor and tile installers and finishers hover at about 2.3% of total construction workers, with a high of 2.4% in 2006. Women are most strongly represented as first-line supervisors/managers of construction trades and extraction workers, making up between 2.6% in 2006 and 3.7% in 2010 of total employees.

Most of women in the tile industry profiled in this story hail from marketing and communications, publishing, public relations, media or sales backgrounds and have parlayed their expertise into the tile industry in differing capacities.

Making inroads

Some women have come from a business background, such as Dal-Tile’s senior marketing manager Lori Kirk-Rolley. With a degree in business and an MBA she was attracted by the history of tile plus its fashion connection, the diversity of marketing to architects, designers, builders, and homeowners – and the pedigree of Dal-Tile itself. “Dal-Tile is seen as a design, innovation and sales leader in the tile category, and that made the opportunity even more exciting,” she said.

In college, Crossville’s marketing director Laurie Lyza worked for a family-owned paint and floor covering company as she studied journalism and public relations, with an emphasis on communications and public speaking. She grew up near Crossville and jumped at the chance to work in marketing for this ground-breaking company. Crossville – which has a long history of women in key positions including Mary Yocum and Linda Hennelly – supported Lyza in completing her MBA in marketing, helping to empower her to work with budgets and balance sheets and help Crossville evaluate how initiatives and launches impact the bottom line.

In 1999, Stephanie Samulski, project manager for Tile Council of North America (TCNA), traded in her publishing job for a BAC apprenticeship in Detroit. The training still informs her work today. For eight years she worked on commercial jobs, learning about installation products and systems. This experience helps her field TCNA technical calls and work with labor. Besides her work on installation-based standards and issues, she’s written the manual for the CTEF installer certification program and helped to develop the hands-on test and the overall program, as well as help it grow. She also invested her skills and time into revamping the 2011 TCNA Handbook. “My publishing experience and tile experience combined makes all these kinds of projects the ideal way for me to stay in tile as a career,” she said.

Paige Wadford Smith’s family has been in tile contracting since 1964, where she worked over summers. Her professional background is public relations and marketing, and she brought those skills to Neuse Tile Service in 1995 as initial short-term office help for brother Nyle Wadford: now she’s Neuse’s vice president. “With the current economic downturn, I’ve been able to use my background in marketing and communications to build on our well-established reputation and ramp up our promotional activities fairly quickly and without a great deal of additional cost.”

Likewise, Chris Woefel signed on recently with the third-generation familyowned tile contracting company where hubby James is a principal. She brings her experience as television news anchor, radio reporter, video producer, public information officer, editor, flight attendant, project manager, marketing director and communication strategist to play for Artcraft Granite, Marble & Tile Co., where she serves as marketing director.

As excellent as the NTCA Five-Star Contractor is at tile and stone installation, James realized “our forte is not figuring out what we need to do to communicate with our customers.” Watching Chris’ success with promoting and supporting other businesses inspired him to bring her onboard.

Chris Woelfel added, “Sure there are people who assume I’m here just because I’m married to the vice president, but I laugh and tell them that he (James) is the one who knows he got a bargain. There are plenty of challenges unique to women in business – no matter what the industry – but I have found that navigating through them and coming out in one piece is possible when you have trusted advisors. For me that’s meant some peers – both women and men – and quite a few good books.”

Chris’ camerawoman skills have also benefited NTCA, since she shot video of the Installation Design Showcase while at Coverings 2011 in Las Vegas earlier this year.
Patti Fasan was the first female recipient of the Joe A. Tarver Cornerstone Award from NTCA earlier this year (see TileLetter Coverings 2011 issue, page 74 for background). She’s a passionate spokesperson and educator about tile today through her business Professional Attention to Tile Installation ( and the work she’s done as a consultant for Tile of Spain. She started out 28 years ago in the industry with a distributorship as an architectural rep and became captivated when tasked with replicating a marble zodiac floor. She was empowered by the year-long Ceramic Tile Institute of America course, funded by a Canadian government grant for non-traditional industries for women. “You can’t sell and design with [tile] unless you have installed it… you have a lot more credibility once you know what the installer has to go through to make the design work,” she said. “The installer is the tailor of the industry: I can make the pattern and pick out the ‘fabric’ but unless it can be installed, it won’t work.” What she learned, and her practical, hands-on experience is the basis of what she does today.

The female factor

Many of our featured females point to the innate communication skills of women and the way they can resonate with the female homeowner or decision maker, who drives the majority of tile selection. This comes into play in designing displays, or presenting information without overwhelming.

“In a sense, I represent our primary target audience, and that gives me an advantage in ensuring that our marketing messaging is crafted just the right way,” Kirk-Rolley said.

Smith recognizes the benefits that diversity brings to a company. “Having both men and women involved in any company makes for better decision making and understanding,” she said.

Heavy lifting

Some women struggle with weighty challenges entering the tile industry – literally. “Well, tile is heavy, for one thing!” Lyza said. “There have been times when we’ve been setting up for events and putting displays in place when I’ve joked that my next job will be at a pillow company. Seriously, though, I’ve never felt I couldn’t accomplish anything the men in the industry could, just because I happen to be a woman.” That acceptance is a prevailing sentiment, though Fasan noted that when dealing with European industries, it’s more unique for women to be in the field. Otherwise, a woman’s competence at “heavy lifting” in the range of tile industry roles speaks for itself.

“People figure out pretty quickly if you know your stuff or not, whether you’re male or female,” Samulski said. “I just do my job and eventually they figure it out.” It’s rare that she encounters “people who still feel the tile industry belongs to men and don’t want women involved regardless of their credibility,” and is grateful for the all the women who have made inroads in the industry in the last 10-20 years (she references the book We’ll Call You if We Need You that documents women breaking into the construction trades).

A system or network of support serves women in the industry as well as it serves men. “Ours is a challenging industry in many ways, and you’ll need to surround yourself with a supportive network of friends and industry peers who will share your passion and longterm goals,” Smith said.

Lyza concluded, “The industry organizations do a great job of reaching out to women and giving them a place at the table. I serve on several industry committees and when I look around the room during meetings, women are certainly well represented. Even more importantly, we are listened to when we speak and our opinions are valued.”

Accent, Decorative and Handmade Tile

For millennia, cultures have been fir- ing clay at high temperatures and using glazes to create smooth, colorful sur- faces. In the most notable examples of early ceramic tile use that are still visible today – monumental sites such as the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain; the towers of the mountain village of Teruel (at left); and religious sites that span the globe – ceramics are not only used as a surface material but blanket entire walls. These large-scale installations appear in stunning displays of geometric shapes and tessellating pattern: long-standing testaments to the intricate craftsmanship and elaborate detail of these bygone eras. The use of ceramic tile as an accent or decorative piece remains today, adopting modern-day technology, practices and trends to be as stunning as ever.

Hand vs. machine

While much of the handmade tile craft has been replaced by modern assembly line production, there is still a need for the look of handmade tile. Many companies maintain handmade or close-to-handmade operations to fulfill this need.

Tile of Spain-branded manufacturer Ceramica Elias, founded in 1837, offers handmade terra cotta for an extremely rustic look as well as more modern extruded tile, with clean, straight lines. For those who need a handmade look but have limited time, resources or need large quantities, Elias offers their “aged” series of extruded tile that is tumbled to give it worn, textured surface and edges.

As environmental responsibility has increased the popularity of adaptive reuse, some companies are finding a revenue stream in producing ceramic tile that will seamlessly fit within the historic context of the building. For example, when restoration was needed for the Alhambra Palace, a World Heritage Site, companies like Elias and Ceramica Decorativa created tile that flawlessly imitated 500-700 year old tile by using the same manufacturing processes and the same raw material.

Accenting the space

Following modern day trends and applications, ceramic tiles continue to be powerful tools at the service of creativity and design. Aside from technical benefits such as easy maintenance, hygiene and durability, technological advancements in glazing and digital printing allow a multiplicity of shape, color, texture and finish providing unlimited design possibilities.

The old-fashioned view of ceramic as a simple, eminently functional product to be used only in very specific rooms such as kitchens and baths has lost ground as the material has become rich in resources encouraging creativity and exploration on the aesthetic front. With this changing school of thought and the technological capabilities to turn inspiration to reality, designers can work with ceramic under the guise of leather, metallic, wood and textiles.

With this range of possibilities available, designers can create dramatic spaces in all rooms of the home or striking, memorable hotel, museum and office spaces.

Graphic material

Decorative tile does not need to rely solely on abstract pattern. Digital printing technology melds photo- graphic arts and realistic images with the medium of ceramic. Designers can create large or small-scale accent pieces as they would with large wall murals. Now high traffic areas like floors or restaurant walls gain the durability and easy maintenance of tile.

Tile of Spain-branded manufacturer Peronda has reached new heights in whimsy when it comes to its latest offerings. With clouds on the floor and Hollywood glamour gracing the wall, these digital images bring real life elements to a space in unexpected ways.

Designer Andie Day saw just this possibility when she visited the booths of companies like Peronda and Ceracasa at Cevisama, Spain’s international ceramic trade fair held annually in Valencia, Spain. Upon her return to her prominent Boston interior design firm, Andie Day, LLC, she realized her office kitchen backsplash was screaming for a digital print. She worked closely with Tile of Spain and Ceracasa to transform a vintage magazine image into a high resolution digital image which Ceracasa then transferred to the surface of a porcelain tile. The result is an eye-catching focal point that projects Day’s personality, her company logo and her flair for color and boldness.

More mosaic

Early decorative tile was naturally in the form of mosaic – small pieces fitting together to form a pattern or image. Mosaic continues to be a popular and dramatic format used to stand out from or accent a field tile. Modern mosaics go beyond standard 1”x1” square blue and white tiles that you might see in a pool surround. Today’s mosaics are available in rectilinear shapes or in penny rounds and in materials like stone, glass, metal, porcelain or various combinations creating even greater visual diversity. Companies like Tile of Spain-branded manufacturer Onix broke with tradition by introducing new tile sizes such as 1,2×1,2 cm, 2,5×5, 5×5 cm and 2,3×2,3 cm and 2×2 cm considerably increasing the choice of creative solutions for the design of unique atmospheres.

While mosaic tile continues to grow in popularity for its shimmering, jewel- like appearance, it can create additional cost in terms of labor. Smaller pieces mean more lines to grout and therefore more time. Some companies are creating time and cost-effective solutions while still achieving the look of mosaic. Tile of Spain-branded manufacturer Saloni’s Crom Series offers a 7.9”x15.7” accent tile which uses digital printing capabilities to accomplish the look of glass mosaic but is actually a large format white body tile.

The Spanish CeramicTile Manufacturer’s Association (ASCER) is the private organization whose primary objective is to support Spain’s ceramic tile manufacturers and the industry as a whole by stewarding and promoting the Tile of Spain brand worldwide. A strong global leader, the ceramic tile industry of Spain comprises 220 manufacturers concentrated primarily in the province of Castellón. For more about tile produced in Spain, contact Tile of Spain Center at the Trade Commission of Spain, 2655 Le Jeune Road, Suite 1114, Coral Gables, FL 33134. Call 305-446-4387 or visit

Unique Ceramic Tile Applications 

Schluter’s Systems’ new regional distribution center in Reno, Nevada demonstrates innovative uses of ceramic tile to support energy efficiency, comfort and utility

By Sean Gerolimatos, technical services manager, Schlüter Systems L.P.

Schluter Systems’ North American subsidiary was founded in 1986, with US and Canadian offices located in Plattsburgh, N.Y. and Montreal, Québec, respectively. To improve service to customers in the western United States and Canada, Schlüter Systems began construction of a regional distribution center (RDC) in Reno, Nevada in February 2011. Like previous construction projects, Schlüter Systems placed a strong emphasis on energy efficiency, comfort and utility, enabled in large part through the extensive use of ceramic tile.

Radiant-heated floors
Similar to the U.S. and Canadian headquarters [TileLetter, September 2010], a hydronic system of radiant heated and radiant-cooled floors and geothermal heat pumps both warm and cool the RDC offices and training center.

Geothermal heat pumps transfer energy to and from the earth and the building via the water in the hydronic system, turning the earth into a heat source during winter and a heat sink during summer. Because the temperature of the earth is warmer than the outside air in the winter and cooler than the outside air in the summer, this is an ultra-efficient process. RDC office floors incorporate a modular screed system and ceramic tile covering, which combine to reduce the water temperatures necessary to heat the building and in turn maximize efficiency of the heat pumps.

Radiant-heated walls
The warehouse plans initially called for combustion heaters, but these plans changed after a conversation between Schlüter Systems North America president Reinhard Plank and company founder Werner Schlüter. The European Union has placed increased focus on public and private building renovations as part of a 2007 initiative to achieve 20% savings in energy use by 2020. Based on its experience with geothermal hydronic radiant-heated floors, Schlüter Systems Germany has been investigating radiant-heated walls. Mr. Schlüter suggested a system in the RDC warehouse to gain practical experience with this process in renovations.

The foundation for this radiant-heated wall is an extruded polystyrene-foam tile backer board/building panel, with an overall 3″ foam thickness to provide sufficient insulation (total R-Value of approximately 8.0), achieved by using two layers of the foam board.

First, a layer of 1″ thick board was spot-bonded to the existing masonry walls using dabs of mortar, which allowed the installers to ensure flat, plumb and square surfaces for setting tile. Next, a layer of 2″-thick board, with grooves spaced at 6″ on-center to hold the hydronic tubes was installed with the grooves facing out, using thinset mortar in a full-spread application. The grooves were produced using a plywood template and a common router with 3/4″ U-shaped bit and vacuum attachment. All 400 of the 24-1/2″x96″ boards were prepared in three days with virtually no mess or complications.

Once the two layers of foam boards were installed, the plumber inserted the hydronic tubing and performed a pressure test to check for leaks. After the successful tubing test, the tile setters applied the tile covering using the thinbed method. Tile edges were finished using a rounded profile at the top and ends of the walls, and a cove-shaped profile at the floor-to-wall transition. The result was a lightweight, easy-to install wall system that offers improved insulation and heating efficiency.

In total, the 8′-high walls span 775′, covering an area of 6,200 square feet.

The walls are expected to support approximately 50% of the heating load in the warehouse with the other 50% coming from a solar wall and supplemental heaters if required.

In addition, since the overall capacity of the geothermal system (and therefore the number of wells) was determined by the summer cooling load, the radiant walls will use heat that would otherwise have been stored in a water tower to balance the system. Thus, the “excess” energy will be put to practical use and improve the comfort of the warehouse personnel during the winter. For example, incorporating a radiant-heating system will minimize the heat loss caused by opening bay doors to load and unload trucks.

Lavatory countertops and sinks
Given their design flexibility and hygienic properties, ceramic tiles represent the ideal covering material for lavatory countertops.

As a veneer, tile needs a dimensionally stable surface for installation – one that is flat, level, plumb and square. Typical building materials often do not fit the bill, even with underlayments and membranes.

In the RDC, lavatory countertops and sinks are constructed entirely from the same foam boards used in the radiant-heated walls described above. Vertical supports were formed by laminating two layers of 2″-thick panels and adhering them to the floor. The decks consist of single 2″-thick panels with additional reinforcement coming from stainless steel U-profiles at front and back. Next, 5″-wide sections of 2″-thick board were adhered to the decks adjacent to the back walls to provide a flat surface above the sink basins for mounting the faucets.

Sink basins were formed in three steps. First, 1-1/2″-tall sections of board were adhered to the perimeters of the decks. Next, the undersides of 1/2″-thick boards were scored with diagonal relief cuts through the facers. The boards were attached to the perimeter supports and bent along the relief cuts to slope toward the faucet supports. Finally, linear drains with integrated bonding flanges were set into the basins and connected to the waste lines.
Throughout the process of building the countertops and sink basins, the vertical surfaces were plumbed, the horizontal surfaces were made level, and all corners were made square, providing an ideal surface to set the tile and trim profiles and achieve a successful installation.

The unique applications of ceramic tile in Schlüter Systems’ regional distribution center in Reno, Nevada serve as examples of how ceramic tiles can function as more than just coverings; they can become integral components of overall building systems to provide improved energy efficiency, comfort and utility.

Sean Gerolimatos is the technical director for Schlüter Systems L.P. and has been with the company since 2003. He has served as a member of the TCNA Handbook Membrane Subcommittee, written articles for trade publications, and presented seminars at tile industry events, including Qualicer and Surfaces. His academic background is in civil engineering, earning a Bachelor of Science from Clarkson University and a Master of Science from Cornell University.

Ask The Experts, Sept 2011

I am a consumer in Oregon currently going through a complete bathroom remodel. We are currently at a standstill with our contractor due to tiling issues; I am hoping someone can help me to make sure I understand code and tiling processes correctly.

We are using a general contractor. The entire bathroom was gutted, new plumbing, electrical and total new tile on floors and walls; everything new. We have a contract and he is to do all the tiling.

My understanding is that the tile should be completed, meaning: all tile, grouting, cleaning of grout and sealant should be finished before anything is installed in the bathroom. The contractor has not finished grouting where the walls and floors meet and has not done any cleaning and sealing of tiles. But he has gone ahead and installed the vanity as well as toilet and shower fixtures. We are concerned that since he has installed these items without finishing the grout and sealing of the grout, any water that gets behind the shower fixtures and the vanity can cause damage.

We believe he needs to take out the vanity and the plumbing/shower fixtures that have grout running behind and under them for the tile to be completely sealed. He says he is not going to do it. If he had finished all tiling work before installing these items we’d have no problem.

I am hoping this note can help ease your mind. Yes, grouting and cleaning any grout residue from the tile surfaces should be completed before installing fixtures. Where the wall tile meets the floor tile, or where tile meets a tub, should NOT be grouted. This area needs to be filled with a flexible sealant (like silicone caulk) to allow for the slight but certain move- ment that will be occurring at those changes in plane.

Sealers are typically misunderstood by consumers. You understand correctly that tile and grout are not waterproof. But the waterproof- ing (or moisture barrier) is actually designed into the substrate, or the system used BENEATH the tilework. Even if the system were not tiled, the waterproofing would not allow water to damage your structure. The best sealers are the ones that allow moisture or vapor transmission, or breathability. Sealers are not (and should not) be a waterproofing or moisture barrier. Sealers are NOT required in any tile installation, and at best should be looked at as an add- on product that allows the migration of smaller water molecules, but stops the larger dirt and oil molecules from getting a firm grip onto the surface, allowing greater ease of cleaning. Therefore, sealing is good if using a quality sealer, but not required.
To your question about the toilet and vanity being installed before the sealer, I hope the previous explanation lets you understand that since the areas beneath these permanent fixtures are protected, and never will need cleaning, there is not really any need to seal the tile and grout where they reside.

Michael K. Whistler
NTCA Workshop Presenter/Technical Consultant