Celebration of life and burial arrangements for beloved industry member Steve Rausch

Steve Rausch

There will be a Celebration of Life Service for beloved member of the tile industry, Steve Rausch of Norcross Ga., at Perimeter Church, 9500 Medlock Bridge Rd, Johns Creek, Ga., 30097 on Monday June 17 at 11:00am. This will be followed by a reception at the church. The following day, June 18, there will be a burial service at the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton at 9:00am. All are welcome who wish to attend.

Steven William Rausch, 67, passed away on June 8, 2019. Steve was born in Dayton, Ohio and graduated from Belmont High School in 1969, after which he joined the Army. He worked in sales and marketing development in the floor covering and ceramic tile industry for over 48 years.
He had been active in the Boy Scouts (including Wood Badge), Walk to Emmaus (where he served as a Lay Director) and Perimeter Church. He developed a love for flying and was an active member of the Silver Wings Fraternity. He also enjoyed boating, skiing and spending time with his family.
Steve is survived by his wife of 44 years, Christy; three children, Tim, Jill and Jen; and six grandchildren (Emma, Andy, Kaeden, Henry, Cooper and Lucy). The celebration of life on Monday, June 17 at Perimeter Church at 11:00 a.m. followed by a reception. Interment will take place on Tuesday, June 18 at Georgia National Cemetery, Canton, Ga., at 9:00 a.m.

Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from June 13 to June 14, 2019. More information will be added as it becomes available.

NTCA Five-Star friendships lay groundwork for business partnership

There are many benefits to being a contractor member of NTCA. If you are wondering what they are, take a look at the May TileLetter Benefits Box to see them all in one fell swoop.

There are additional paybacks to being one of the elite contractor members known as NTCA Five-Star Contractors. This group has a rigorous set of requirements to join, but enjoys special perks such as manufacturer discounts, special regional training opportunities and attendance at the annual NTCA Five-Star Summer meeting. At the summer meeting they are privy to top-notch speakers, presentations and demos on technical and business aspects of their business, and ample chance to network with fellow Five-Stars to share best practices. 

Dan Welch, Welch Tile & Marble

Sometimes, partnerships grow out of membership in this network of high-caliber contractors. A joint venture between Welch Tile & Marble Co., in Kent City, Mich., and Kemna Tile in Dallas, Texas, is one such partnership that owes its beginnings to a Five-Star connection. 

Working together

Dan Welch of Welch Tile & Marble and Barry Kemna of Kemna Tile worked together before they became NTCA Five-Star Contractor members, spurred by the need to diversify in light of the 2008 downturn. In the tradition of NTCA members helping each other, Welch Tile – at the time a labor-only company – received a hand from full-service contractor Kemna Tile, both of whom were NTCA board members at the time, about 2010. 

Barry Kemna,
Kemna Tile

“The relationship blossomed since we were sharing labor,” Welch said. “We took a lot of risks together. Now we are team building.” Before Kemna developed its own terrazzo team, there was a lot of terrazzo work across the country with clients Kemna had relationships with, and Welch was able to joint-venture with an experienced crew.

Over the years, Welch grew into a full-service company and in 2017, “sold more work than we could do,” Welch said. Kemna came to Welch’s aid on the Klondike Cheese plant project in Monroe, Wis., and terrazzo projects Travers City East Elementary and Mercy Hospital in Muskegon, Mich. “Roles go back and forth, based on workload,” Welch said. 

Working on projects like the Duke Cancer Center in Durham, N.C., Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, Idaho, Seton Medical in Killeen, Texas, the Federal Building in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and the Faena Forum Event Center in Miami spawned a learning friendship, in which each company learned how each others’ team operates. 

“In Miami, the project scope expanded,” Welch explained. “Welch shipped a terrazzo grinder down. It helped him to not have to put out $30,000 for a grinder, and it helped us get the job. We pool our labor forces, equipment and people,” he added, shipping equipment to or from Texas and Michigan where needed.

Kemna remarked, “We are both working on projects out of town, having the confidence to know Dan will send folks if we get behind. That gives us confidence to bid; we have another resource to call on for labor.”

At times, the company has pulled in other NTCA Five-Star Contractors to assist; for instance, Neuse Tile Service in Youngsville, N.C., did all the tile work on the Duke Cancer Center, and Collins Tile and Stone in Ashburn, Va., partnered on a D.C. project. 

The arrangement offers tremendous flexibility, offering both companies opportunities to take jobs they wouldn’t be able to complete on their own. Plus, they are pooling their expertise to make better business decisions, touching base once or twice a week. “Between the two of us, 150 people are at stake,” Kemna said. 

The Duke Cancer Center in Durham, N.C., was one of the first projects that Welch Tile & Marble and Kemna Tile partnered on. Not shown here is tilework installed on this project by another NTCA Five-Star Contractor: Neuse Tile Service.

The NTCA Five-Star connection

Amber Fox, NTCA Five-Star Program Director

The NTCA and caliber of the NTCA Five-Star Contractor community laid the groundwork for this relationship to blossom. “We come together at meetings as part of a bigger group, and there’s an opportunity to have growth,” said Amber Fox, NTCA Five-Star Contractor Program Director. “The NTCA Five-Star Program is the catalyst of bringing people together and providing opportunities.”

“NTCA Five-Star is an opportunity to start relationships so things can happen in the future,” Welch said. “If you are going to take on that big a risk, you need someone you can trust. Without NTCA or NTCA Five-Star – or both – we would never have gotten to that level to take on that risk.” Plus, Welch added, “If you enjoy each other, it makes it easier to do.”

“NTCA Five-Star has allowed us to make our businesses stronger,” Kemna added. 

At the upcoming NTCA Five-Star Summer Meeting July 16-19 in Montreal, Fox will offer non-competing contractors who are interested in exploring joint venture possibilities the opportunity to process issues together to open the door for reciprocal communication and relationship building. Depending on feedback, follow-up opportunities will be planned. 

“Due to relationship with Dan, it’s given more opportunity,” Kemna said, pointing out that the synergy between the two companies has provided a buffer against competition. 

“We are NTCA Five-Star contractors that do tile, but businesses have grown and incorporate other things,” Kemna added. “Carpet contractors started taking work away from us by being able to do carpet and adding tile. Now I see because we are doing terrazzo, polished concrete, stone panels, thin panels and tile, we are the biggest piece to put under contract. If we ONLY did tile, it would be easy for carpet guys to take it over.”

Welch said that his partnership with Kemna helps manage schedules and the fluctuations of the economy. “You surround yourself with people who have strengths where you are weak,” he said. “Change is inevitable – managing it is everything.” 


For more information on becoming a NTCA Five-Star Contractor, contact Amber Fox at 858-674-6908 or at [email protected].

There are advantages to learning a trade


“One of the things that I find distressing about life today is that people don’t really seem to enjoy their work anymore. When I was growing up on Walton’s Mountain, my father and my grandfather loved their work and they instilled a respect for work in each of us. But I recall one time when my brother Jason had to make a choice, a choice that was difficult for him, but even more difficult for my father.”

– John-Boy Walton, reading from his journal

The last few months, after a long day at work, I’ve been relaxing with TV. Not network TV, mind you, or cable or political commentary, but with a warm and wholesome television show that those who grew up in the ’70s will remember: The Waltons. This nine-season semi-autobiographical series created by Earl Hamner is about John and Olivia Walton in 1930-40s Virginia, making a living during the Depression and World War II, with seven children and Grandma and Grandpa Walton sharing their home. 

It just so happens that John Walton and his father Zebulon operate a sawmill on their property. This mill keeps them afloat during the Depression though money is tight. As the Depression draws to a close, the family expands the business into crafting fine furniture.

In an episode called “The Choice,” John Walton’s second oldest, Jason, must choose between accepting a scholarship to attend the conservatory and become a musician or learning the family’s trade. John, Sr., is scripted to usually be very accepting of his children’s decisions, such as supporting his eldest son John-Boy’s decision to attend college in pursuit of his passion of becoming a writer. But in this episode, he is staunch about the importance of Jason learning a trade to be able to eventually take care of a family and put food on the table as he’s been able to do even in this economic crunch. He makes a strong case for the necessity of learning a trade and how it is something you carry with you for the rest of your life. This very old show brought to mind the very contemporary reality that young people face today – what path will give you a good living? What career will support your future? What can’t be outsourced? And what will fill you with pride each day? Jason hedges his bets by choosing the conservatory – AND studying his family trade (It’s a television show, after all!). 

Another thing this show brings to mind is OSHA (not formed until 1971) and the incredible risks everyone working at the Depression-era mill takes. Though they wear heavy gloves to push trees through the saw to make lumber, there are no self-adjusting guards, no eye protection, no kickback protections. I cringe whenever I watch them, just waiting for disaster to strike. So far, by season five, no one has lost an eye or finger, but I’ll bet in real life, those in the lumber business back then had lots of accidents. I think of today’s brilliant advances in automated tile equipment, and eye and ear protection and the regulations, equipment refinements and improvements in setting-material formulas that help tile installers avoid the ravages of silicosis. (In a stroke of synchronicity, Will Geer, who plays Grandpa Zebulon Walton, narrated a short 1940 documentary called Men and Dust, about miners and silicosis!) Why not take advantage of safeguards available today to protect your hands, eyes, ears, and lungs? Replacements are VERY expensive – and not always possible.

What this meandering letter is about is this: the solid advantages afforded by a trade cannot be overlooked. This show illustrated the point by travelers who came through Walton’s Mountain who lost their white collar jobs when the Depression hit, but the Waltons were able to maintain a modest living by virtue of a trade. Now, anyone in the trade doesn’t need a 1970s TV show to tell them about the advantages of a trade, but it is a poignant reminder. 

God bless,
[email protected]

Tom Vaughn retires from NTCA Technical Committee

Vaughn served the committee as the longest-standing member, for over 30 years

Tom Vaughn, the longest standing member of the NTCA Technical Committee, serving for well over 30 years, has announced his retirement from the Committee, and attended his final Technical Committee meeting at TISE in Las Vegas this past January. 

“Tom Vaughn has been a valuable and productive member of the NTCA Technical Committee since its reactivation in 1985,” said NTCA Executive Director Emeritus Joe Tarver, a contemporary of Vaughn, who along with David Allen Company’s Bob Roberson was one of a group of about 10 individuals who worked to form the Technical Committee, which was responsible for the development of the NTCA Reference Manual.

“There is no way to evaluate his contributions not only to NTCA but to the entire industry,” Tarver continued. “Always there; first to volunteer; calmly and accurately providing information on a broad spectrum of subjects. Tom truly is a role model for what a Technical Committee member should strive for. It takes a special person to remain non-proprietary while pursuing solutions that will benefit the entire industry without regard for an individual or an individual entity. I never knew Tom to do anything other than that. Present and future members of all NTCA committees can’t go wrong by emulating the passion, commitment, dedication and concern for his proprietary concerns, NTCA and the total industry.”

NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga added, “Tom served on this committee for over 30 years, and was the longest standing active member. NTCA is sincerely in Tom’s debt.”

Some of Vaughn’s many articles and/or contributions include:

  • Latex-modified grouts
  • Cement grouting procedures
  • Inconsistent grout color
  • How to use water-cleanable epoxy grouts
  • Dealing with efflorescence
  • Considerations to reduce tile tenting
  • Exterior tiling and panelized exterior tile systems
  • Tiling over engineered wood systems
  • How to incorporate radiant heat into tile and stone installations
  • How to use self-leveling underlayment with tile and stone
  • Overview: Underlayments, trowelable and poured

Historic projects

Tom Vaughn circa 1985 as Technical Director, Building Products Division of H.B. Fuller Company.

In addition to his work on the NTCA Technical Committee, Vaughn had a pivotal role in his work as Technical Director, Building Products Division of the H.B. Fuller Company in the 1985 construction and tiling of the Baltimore Fort McHenry Tunnel, which according to Vaughn was the largest single project that the National Interstate and Defense system had built at the time. 

“With over 1.3 million sq. ft. of tile, it was also the largest project I had worked on at the time,” he said. “This project led me to being involved in coming up with a bonding system for the Holland Tunnel reconstruction in New York and the tallest panelized tile project in Seattle, Wa., called Watermark Tower. The building is 22 stories or about 276 feet high.”

Early beginnings

Vaughn got involved in the tile industry in 1973 and became a member of the Southern Tile, Terrazzo Marble Contractors Association (STTMCA – one of the previous monikers of NTCA) in about 1975. He recalled, “It wasn’t long before I met people like Joe Tarver, Paul Dinkel, Leigh Hightower, Brannon Murray, Bob Young and Virgil Smith. All of these people were interested in helping the industry grow and shared their technical expertise to all who would listen.

“Joe Tarver tried to harness as much technical power as he could to help spread the word to the tile and stone industry,” he added. “Soon, others like Butch Woelfel, Jess McIvain, Steve Young, Rich Deutsch, Bob Roberson, Harvey Powell, Gerry Zakim, as well as others joined the group.

“With a lot of work, the Technical Committee was well on its way creating and distributing information to the entire industry. Over the years, more members were added and the committee went from distributing a handful of documents to nearly 300 pages of information today. I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of this group for so many years. I continue to be amazed at how the tile industry has changed, but I’m so impressed with the technical expertise the committee currently processes.”

Vaughn also served on the NTCA Board of Directors as an Affiliate Distributor member in the early ’90s, representing Minnesota Tile Supply. Both NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga and Assistant Executive Director Jim Olson worked for him there in the late ’80s to mid ’90s. “I believe Tom was instrumental in helping me to become Executive Director at NTCA,” Bettiga added.

He called his involvement with NTCA back in the ’70s “one of the most rewarding decisions I made in my career. Not only did I learn a great deal over the year, I met many lifelong friends along the way.

“I’m glad to have been able to participate in the Technical Committee and watch the ceramic and stone industry grow immensely,” he said. “In the beginning, the industry was much simpler and one could have a pretty good understanding of nearly all the products and installation procedures. In fact, the tile Handbook only had about 16 pages of details.

“I’m grateful to those that helped me learn about our great industry and hope I was able to help others improve their understanding of installation methods and practices,” he said. “Looking back, I’m totally amazed at how many documents and papers have come from the group. The hours spent both in meetings and on our own time have help shaped the direction of how tile is being installed. With the number of really talented members the committee currently has, I’m confident the committee will continue to make significant contributions in the months and years ahead.”

The NTCA Technical Committee bids a fond farewell to Tom Vaughn in Las Vegas after its final meeting.

Coverings ’19 wrap up

Team reps Jason McDaniel (l.) and Brad Denny go head to head during the “Survey Says” game show in the Contractor Lounge.

Coverings ’19 – the 30th anniversary of the Global Tile & Stone Experience – was an astounding success this year for the industry, as well as for NTCA. The association was on the scene this year with new logistics: the Installation & Design Experience booth housed the IDE Lounge (always a hub of activity, networking, education, refreshments, and this year a “Survey Says” game show that was a smashing success), and three completed vignettes that demonstrated the synergy between local designers and qualified labor in the form of NTCA Five-Star Contractors working with tile and setting materials donated by sponsors.

(L to R.) NTCA’s Robb Roderick, Mark Heinlein and Randy Fleming, with an assist from NTCA Member Joseph Mattice of On The Level in Simpsonville, S.C .at just one of the many live demos at the show.

The booth also was a home base for CTEF and IMI, and the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), which provided an area that explains the tests that are commonly conducted within its highly respected Product Performance Testing Laboratory – showing how vital this information can be for product suitability and performance. 

Contractors flocked to the booth, and NTCA signed up 27 members at the show. NTCA also offered a full schedule of presentation on the Live Installation Demonstration Stage.

As the show unfolded with over 1,100 exhibitors and over nine miles of exhibit space, we posted on the National Tile Contractors Association and TileLetter Facebook pages as well as TileLetter.com, so check there for details. But here are a few of the highlights of the show to give you a flavor of the event.

A traditional second line parade heralded the announcement that Coverings ’20 will be held in New Orleans next year, April 20-23.

Next year, the event will take place April 20-23 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, La., so stay tuned for upcoming information!

Charity initiatives shine: Teams of volunteers from Coverings, NTCA, the press, MAPEI and Florida Tile assembled 1,600 hygiene kits to be distributed by Clean the World to area veterans in need. In addition, the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) and 21 of its members supported the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando through a whimsical and wonderful display of one-of -a-kind doghouses, accented by visits from adoptable pooches during the show. 

Volunteers from NTCA, Florida Tile and MAPEI assembled 1,600 hygiene kits in the Clean the World charity initiative.

Twenty-one TCNA members created one-of-a-kind doghouses on forms donated by wedi to support the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando.

NTCA members win CID Awards: Recognizing superior work in tile and stone, three CID Awards honored NTCA members. Pennacchio Tile, Inc. won the Commercial Stone Installation prize for Concord Plaza in Concord, Calif.; David Allen Company took home the Commercial Tile Installation for the Columbia Hotel in Washington, D.C., and Hawthorne Tile won the Installation Grand Prize for the Hinkley Project in Portland, Ore. 

NTCA Member Pennacchio Tile, Inc., Concord Plaza

David Allen Company, Columbia Hotel

Hawthorne Tile, the Hinkley Project

A trio of vignettes reflect design/installation synergy: Three stellar vignettes on display at the Installation & Design Experience were designed by locally based designers and architects working with NTCA Five-Star Contractors: designer Reginald Dunlap Interior Design and Welch Tile & Marble, using ESTIMA Ceramica products; Interstruct, Inc. and installer C.C. Owen Tile Company, Inc., using Crossville, Inc. products; and HHCP design and installer Nichols Tile & Terrazzo Co., Inc., using Ceramics of Italy products. NTCA Five-Star Contractor John Cox of Cox Tile served as the project manager.

The Hidden Oasis vignette, designed by Glenda Wright of HHCP and installed by Nichols Tile & Terrazzo Co. Inc.

Above Orange vignette designed by Maria Valbuena of Interstruct, Inc., and installed by C.C. Owen Tile Company, Inc.

Hotel Lobby vignette, designed by Reginald Dunlap Interior Design, and installed by Welch Tile & Marble.

NTCA members celebrated at Coverings Rock Stars Awards: NTCA members Paige Pomerene, P2 Customs; David Mastrangelo, The Tile Studio, Inc.; and Jacob Harris of Coastal Custom Tile & Design, LLC, were honored among the 12 winners named the best and brightest young talent in the tile and stone industry. 

NTCA members Paige Pomerene, Jacob Harris (far left) and David Mastrangelo (third from right) were among the 12 Coverings Rock Stars honored with a special luncheon at the show.

Schluter’s Dale Kempster was named NTCA 2019 Tile Person of the Year, the first Canadian to be honored with the award.

NTCA 2019 Tile Person of the Year: NTCA named Dale Kempster of Schluter Systems its 2019 Tile Person of the Year. This award recognizes a NTCA contractor, distributor or manufacturer member who has demonstrated a strong commitment to the tile industry and has supported the mission and goals of the NTCA. Kempster has served as a member of the NTCA Technical Committee for many years, has participated in two groundbreaking international labor summits, and was instrumental in the development of a Canadian version of the NTCA Reference Manual. He is also the first Canadian to be honored with award.

Joe A. Tarver Award – Tom Ade: Tom Ade, owner of Filling Marble and Tile in Egg Harbor City, N.J., was honored with this prestigious award that recognizes those who provide exemplary service to the industry. Ade is a long-time member of the NTCA, a former NTCA Regional Director and board member, and recipient of both NTCA’s Ring of Honor and Tile Person of the Year Awards. He also made the NTCA Tom Ade Ceramic Tile Scholarship program possible by bestowing a generous donation to the association earmarked to support children and grandchildren of NTCA members who wish to continue their education. Over the past four years, the program has given students over $150,000 in scholarship funds. 

Tom Ade (l.) receives the Joe A. Tarver Award from NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga at the NTCA Awards Night.

Tom Ade Ceramic Tile Scholarship Recipients Tara Wadford and Riley Sullivan

Tom Ade Ceramic Tile Scholarship Recipients: Since 2016, and due to a generous donation by 2019 Joe A. Tarver Award winner Tom Ade, NTCA has bestowed $5,000 scholarships on children and grandchildren of NTCA contractor members seeking higher education to pursue life goals. As part of the award, scholarship winners received an expense-paid trip to the trade show. This year, three winners were chosen out of 53 applicants. The winners were: 

Riley Sullivan, son of Dirk Sullivan and wife Gwen of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Hawthorne Tile in Portland, Oregon. Sullivan is an international baccalaureate diploma candidate. He plans to use his scholarship to further his studies, specifically focusing on ecosystem protection.

Tom Ade Ceramic Tile Scholarship Recipient Tyler Kleinsasser.

Tyler Kleinsasser, son of Roger Kleinsasser, owner of Tile Creations in Rapid City, S.D. After Kleinsasser graduates with a degree in Civil Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, he will be pursuing a Master’s degree in Construction Engineering and Management. 

Tara Wadford, daughter of Nyle and Teresa Wadford of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Neuse Tile Service in Youngsville, N.C. Wadford plans to enroll at Liberty University, majoring in nursing and minoring in Spanish, and aspires to become a physician’s assistant.

NTCA also awarded 10 other applicants $1,000 each. The additional scholarships were made possible through a sponsorship from LATICRETE International.

Northern California Tile and Stone Corp. won for Commercial Project of the Year during the NTCA Five-Star Project of the Year Awards. Seven other NTCA Five-Star contractors were honored for their outstanding achievements. NTCA Five-Star Program Director Amber Fox (l.) and Daltile’s John Cousins (far right) handed out the awards

NTCA Five-Star Contractor 2019 Project of the Year winners: This award recognizes NTCA Five-Star Contractor members for installation excellence in residential and commercial projects that include ceramic tile, natural stone, mosaics and/or glass tile. For the first time in the awards’ seven-year history, social media was used as part of judging criteria reflected in the “People’s Choice Award.” Five-Star Program Director Amber Fox said the People’s Choice Award wasn’t the only change this year. “This award is an opportunity to showcase craftsmanship, therefore we changed the judging criteria to increase the value of technical merit compared to last year.” Judges were Richard P. Goldberg, architect and president of PROCON Consulting Architects and tile industry consultant; Kent Klaser of Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants, Inc., and David M. Gobis, Ceramic Tile Industry Consultant, LLC. Awards were sponsored by Daltile. 

The NTCA Five-Star Contractor 2019 Project of the Year recipients are: 

  • People’s Choice: Grazzini Brothers for the Milwaukee Bucks New Arena Fiserv Forum
  • Residential Achievement of Excellence Award: Boatman and Magnani, Inc., for Modern Mid-Atlantic Oceanfront Residence
  • Residential Project of the Year: Hawthorne Tile for “His & Hers” Bathroom
  • Commercial Achievement of Excellence: Artcraft Granite, Marble & Tile Co., for Phoenician Women’s Spa
  • Commercial Achievement of Excellence Award: David Allen Company for the Columbia Hotel
  • Commercial Project of the Year: Northern California Tile and Stone Corp. for the Cache Creek Casino Resort Spa
  • Commercial Elite Achievement of Excellence: Rheinschmidt Tile & Marble for Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall
  • Commercial Elite Project of the Year: Superior Tile & Stone for the Palms Sky Villas in Las Vegas

NTCA Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year Award announced: This award, brand new for 2019, will honor a tile setter’s career, as well as artistry, technical soundness of installs and ability to correct problems. Open to NTCA member contractors and employees who have a 15-year minimum of setting tile, tile setters must be nominated by peers or those within the industry. The winner will be announced at Total Solutions Plus this fall in Nashville, Tenn. Deadline for nominations is June 28 – visit tile-assn.com/COY19 for details. 

CTDA Supplier of the Year: In a repeat performance from Coverings 18, The Ceramic Tile Distributors Association again recognized Crossville, Inc. as its Supplier of the Year. The award, which is voted on by CTDA’s members, recognizes domestic and international supplier(s) who provide the most value to its distributor members and the ceramic tile and stone industry. This is Crossville’s third time to receive the award.

Confindustria Ceramica North American Distributor Award: Confindustria Ceramica chose Montreal’s Ciot as its North American Distributor of the Year recipient. The award celebrates the close connection between Italian tile manufacturers and their valued North American partners. 

Large sizes reign at Coverings ’19

Technology enhances surfaces, realism

Though any good tile exhibition will present a range of product from the tiniest mosaic to sprawling slabs, Coverings ’19 was rife with products that ran 12 x 24 and larger. The new “standard” popular size is now 12 x 24 in fact, but we’re seeing a range of 24 x 48, 28 x 48 and larger formats coming into vogue. 

Digital printing techniques get more and more sophisticated, with “sinking ink” applications that allow the decoration to penetrate into crevices, veining, nooks and crannies, producing an even more authentic appearance. 

Following is a range of products that celebrate the new large sizes, slab product or setting materials that are necessary to create an installation as beautiful and durable as the products themselves. 

Cotto D’Este’s Kerlite Wonderwall

Cotto D’Este – The company’s 3.5mm Kerlite Wonderwall line offers digitally printed graphics on rectified porcelain that measures 39 x 39 up to 30 x 118 slabs. A range of graphics from flowers to forests to jungles (pictured) to gentle geometric designs and more are available. 

Milestone’s Onyx

Milestone’s Onyx comes in matte and polish in five colors and 12 x 24, 24 x 24 and 24 x 48 rectified color body porcelain. The High Definition Graphic imparts a sense of depth that is rare in matte products. With 40% recycled content, this Italian tile is made in the USA in Clarksville, Tenn. 

Vitromex’s Barque

Vitromex – Made of Vitromex’s red-body CeraCore+ ceramic body in a new 7 x 40 plank format, Barque gets its inspiration from the rough, weathered wooden planks of a ship (“barque” in Spanish). In Chestnut Brown and Ember Grey (pictured), the planks have a range of variation within the box for a highly natural effect. 

Vives Resort

Vives – The Resort collection features a wide range of nominal designs and patterns and sizes. The Nikoi series comes in nominal 48 x 48 and 8 x 48 rectified formats.

257 Titanium

LATICRETE – 257 Titanium is the ultimate, lightweight one-step, polymer fortified, thin-set mortar that is ideal for the installation of gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs (GPTP) as well as for interior and exterior installation of ceramic tile, porcelain tile, stone, quarry tile, pavers and brick. Plus, it is free from silica sand. 

Ariana Epoque

Ariana – Epoque in the Ariana brand offers stunning effects in six marble varieties and five sizes including 12 x 24, 24 x 24 and 24 x 48. All sizes come in natural finish and the two largest sizes also are available in lappato/honed. 

Marazzi Merona

Marazzi’s Merona features a new 8 x 40 plank format in four colors with Stepwise anti-slip technology. It’s shown with Basalto on the fireplace surround, which comes in large sizes up to 24 x 48. 

Rubi Slim Tile Cutting System

Rubi Tools – Manufactured in Barcelona, Spain, the Rubi Slim System offers a scoring rail, sturdy table and nippers for work with large-format tile and gauged porcelain tiles. It’s designed specially for porcelain tiles on the market of up to 9.84 ft by 3.94 ft and between about 1/8” and 3/8” thick.

The set consists of: three 43.30” aluminium guides, one scoring wheel with a Ø 7/8” tungsten carbide roller guide, two breaking pliers, two suction pads and a reinforced nylon carrying case.

American Olean Ideology

American Olean – Ideology, a new stone look-alike porcelain, comes in 24 x 48, 24 x 24, the ever-popular 12 x 24, 4 x 12 planks, herringbone accent and 24 x 24 black and white polished decorative accent. Shown is Carrera marble; it also comes in vein-cut Calacatta and Lasa.

Miracle Sealants’ Levolution

Miracle Sealants – Recently purchased by Rustoleum, Miracle Sealants’ Levolution lippage control system has a reusable cap that applies pressure to all four tiles that meet at a corner. The adaptable profile can be broken off and customized to the needs of the installer. 

Onice Malaga

Iris A stunning example of the power of large slabs was the Iris booth that featured 120 cm x 60 cm (nominal 48 x 24) Onice Malaga gauged porcelain tile panels in a mesmerizing display of cuts and angles. 

Leonardo Overcome

Leonardo – Overcome is a new 48 x 48 terrazzo-look full-body porcelain. It features a digital dry decorating technique. Available in 24 x 48, 24 x 24 and 12 x 24. 

Inalco Senda

Inalco – Senda, in the SLIMMKER line, features grey brushstrokes of color on a gentle stone-like relief texture porcelain tile. Delicate, versatile and with a magnetic appeal in 6mm thickness, sizes range from nominal 40 x 40, 40 x 99, 60 x 60 and 60 x 118.

Florida Tile Modtique

Florida Tile – Modtique
HDP color body rectified porcelain floor and wall tile comes in three colors in 8 x 48 planks and 12 x 24, 24, x 24 and 24 x 48 formats. This U.S.-made tile is inspired by European Antique stones in modern colors. 

Crossville Alaska

Crossville – Large-format Alaska has a matte terrazzo look with a shimmering fleck that adds interest and depth. The line has five versatile colors ranging from light to dark in 24 x 48, 24 x 24, and 12 x 24 field formats, with two mosaic options, bullnose and cove base trims. Alaska will be released later this year.

American Wonder Porcelain Avaro

American Wonder Porcelain – U.S- made Avaro porcelain planks come in 6 x 48 and 8 x 48 lengths in Dove Grey, Natural Beige and Dark Timber. The factory also offers Asher porcelain in matte and lappato in 8 x 48, 12 x 28, 12 x 24, and 24 x 48. Asher has Traction Enhance Technology which actually increases the DCOF when water is applied.

Avalon Flooring: flagship store grows to 15 locations in 60 years

Expansive offerings and emphasis on training contribute to success

Avalon Flooring (AvalonFlooring.com) was started by John Millar in 1958 with a single store in Avalon, NJ. It has since grown to 15 stores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania with 330+ employees. In 2018, Avalon Flooring became 100% ESOP (employee stock ownership plan). As an employee-owned company, with its corporate office located in Cherry Hill, N.J., it prides itself in providing professional service and an exceptional range of quality products for each of its customers.

Original store opened by John Millar in Avalon, N.J.

The original store opened by John Millar in Avalon, N.J.

Avalon Flooring services the retail, contractor, builder and commercial segments in both new construction and renovation projects. It offers a variety of flooring and window treatment options and installs all the products it sells. 

Robert Showers

Robert Showers,
Avalon Flooring

Avalon Flooring has been a member of NTCA for 14 years. “At Avalon Flooring, making sure our tile installations are done the correct way the first time is extremely important to us,” said Robert Showers, Director of Estimator Sales at Avalon’s Cherry Hill location, and a NTCA Regional Director.

Inside Avalon Flooring’s corporate offices.

Inside Avalon Flooring’s corporate offices.

“To help guarantee a successful process, we take the time to educate our subcontractors to better their installation performances to ensure positive customer satisfaction.” Avalon has been a huge supporter of the NTCA education program, often serving as host for the regional workshops and training programs and Certified Tile Installer (CTI) exams.

“Being a NTCA member helps our contractor sales teams provide helpful and proper installation information to their clients by citing the NTCA Reference Manual, which is a very beneficial tool,” Showers added. “It also opened up the opportunity to learn more about the CTEF certification program, and we were fortunate enough to have hosted a certification this past December.” 

Avalon Flooring corporate office

Avalon Flooring’s Cherry Hills corporate office today.

Currently Avalon has eight CTI subcontractors that handle part of the ceramic installations for Avalon Flooring. “We also just hosted a certification on December 1st, at our Cherry Hill location, where 11 out of our 13 participants passed and became certified CTI contractors!” Showers said. 

“Our goal at Avalon is to keep working on the growth of our expert installers, as well as creating the awareness of the fact that tile installation is a very skilled trade that’s more than worthy of being considered a full-time career.”

The company’s employee cantina.

The company’s employee cantina.

Avalon Flooring also takes pride in maintaining an active role in the communities where its customers and employees live, donating both time and money to charities and non-profit organizations in order to give back to the community and raise awareness for important causes. It’s also a good steward of the planet, taking seriously the responsibility to care for the environment, so it constantly strives to preserve natural resources and reduce its environmental impact. The company features high-quality, green flooring options in its showrooms and operates its own recycling program that successfully diverts approximately two million pounds of used carpet and pad per year from landfills throughout the region.

What keeps the company going, Showers said, is “The sense of accomplishment when you step back, and realize you are part of a great company that started with one man’s dream that now employs over 300 people.”

Avalon Flooring is 100% employee-owned, with more than 330 employees.

Avalon Flooring is 100% employee-owned, with more than 330 employees.

Perception vs. reality – the truth behind PBM flooring claims


ORLANDO, Fla. — At the Tile Council of North America’s (TCNA) Coverings press conference, held here last week, TCNA executive director Eric Astrachan shared information about current research into flooring made from plastic-based material (PBM). This included luxury vinyl tile (LVT), wood polymer composition (WMPC) flooring, stone polymer composite (SPC) flooring, clay polymer composite (CPC) flooring, and rigid core board (RCB) – the common denominator being plastic composition.

The study compared some of the popular beliefs about PBM flooring with the reality, as revealed in lab testing done in Clemson, S.C. The top beliefs of consumers about PBM flooring, derived from preliminary results from independent market research, include:

  • Belief of scratch resistance
  • Belief of wet area usage
  • Belief of durability, in general
  • Assumption of competitive pricing
  • Assumption of health and safety
  • Assumption of comparability to ceramic tile

As testing revealed, the perception and reality differ. Though many PBM floors claim to be “worry-proof,” “scratch-proof”, “life-proof” and “pet-proof” among other claims, virtually all warranties exclude scratching, indentation and pet damages, including, in some warranties, “loss of gloss/scratching,” “…damage caused by vacuum cleaner beater bar, indentation or damaged caused by spiked heeled shoes, improper rolling loads, caster wheels, chairs or other furniture without proper floor protectors and cuts from sharp objects,” and “scratches, indentation or reduction in gloss level is not considered wear.” In addition, manufacturers recommend the use of furniture pads, which are not depicted in advertising.

A predominant belief about PBM floors is that they are waterproof, and in fact are often advertised as such and encouraged for use in bathrooms, wet areas, and to combat spills and leaks. The study found, however, that warranties routinely exclude all water damage resulting from water passing through and around floor covering to the subfloor and other structural elements of the building.  The testing showed that, according to two international standardized tests for waterproofing, all the samples tested leaked through the seams to the subfloor below. What is ACTUALLY being warranted is that the plastic floor itself is unaffected by water. It does not take into consideration leaking through seams and damage to subfloors.

In addition, the study found that  90% of PBM floors tested supported the growth of mold, due to water leakage through seams into the subfloor, and the organic materials in the plastic provided nourishment for mold spores to grow. Mold spores in the seams can also be pushed into the breathable space which can contribute to respiratory and allergic effects.

PBM flooring is also believed to be slip resistant, though there is no standard for slip resistance testing in LVT flooring used by the resilient industry on wet surfaces. Using the ANSI standard A326.3 with a reference value of .42 DCOF, 16 samples – 82% — measured below .42 DCOF in all or some directions. Finally, the study tested hardness of plastic flooring relative to ceramic tile and other substances. PBM flooring rated #3 on the Mohs scale, just above talc and gypsum and equivalent to calcite, which is scrapeable with a copper coin. Ceramic tile, on the other hand, rates #7-#8, equivalent to quartz – which scratches window glass – and topaz, which scratches quartz.

Testing results shine a light on the differences between actual performance, advertised claims, and warranty exclusions by the PBM flooring industry.  For more information, contact TCNA at 864-646-8453.




Oregon installer fine-tunes his skills with certification


Brian Stephens, owner of Brian Stephens Tile, Inc.

Brian Stephens, owner of Brian Stephens Tile, Inc., in Bend, Ore., has been in the trade since 1993. Ten years after starting his own business in 2008, he decided to up his game by testing his skills with the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) exam. 

Stephens was intrigued by the exam after seeing so many mentions of it on social media groups, and by personal endorsements by existing CTIs. “When I met Jason McDaniel at the Wounded Warrior build, he personally talked to me about it and he continued to remind me about it!” Stephens said. “I convinced myself then that I should go for it. I wanted to prove to myself I still had what it takes to pass. I have already started talking to my employee about it and when he is ready he will take it.”

Stackstone fireplace

Stephens took the exam at the ARDEX facility in Stockton, Calif., on July 27, 2018. It was offered after a tile class Stephens had signed up to attend. “I loaded my tools including my old trusty Target saw (good luck charm) and drove eight hours south,” he said. 

Stephens didn’t leave his results to chance – he prepared well for it by reading the manual over and over and watching Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) Training Director Scott Carothers’ video. “That video was very informative for me,” he said. “It reassured me that I had the right game plan going into the test. Everyone should watch that video.”

Stephens felt the exam was very fair. “The book part and online test went pretty smoothly; a lot was common sense to me,” he said. The hands-on part was more challenging. “It looks easy, but the pressure can get to you before and during the test. I care so much about what I do that I worried about time, making mistakes and about the overall quality of my install. I had adrenaline and anxiety all at once and in the end, it made me mentally and physically exhausted.” 

European wet room with classic black and white mosaics

All the effort was worth it. He passed, as CTI #1486, and “hopes it will separate my company even more from some of the other tile contractors in my area,” he said. “It will show my dedication and continued passion for the trade.”

Stephens also learned that he still has the passion and the skills to be a competent installer.

“I learned that I’m now part of a bigger picture in this industry,” he added. “It makes you realize that no matter how good you are or where you are in your career, continuing education is important and necessary to stay on top of your game.”

In fact, he is convinced that certification is important for our industry. “Most installers I know have been taught mostly proper ways, but also included are some not so proper methods and installation techniques,” he said. “Certification is a way to fine tune your skills. continuing education in general helps with the constant changes in our industry. Tile work is more specific than it’s ever been, with so many different new tiles and setting materials.”

Wood-look porcelain and pebble scribe create a stunning shower

Stephens would be interested in the Advanced Certification for Tile Installer (ACT) exams as well when they are offered locally to his area. He encourages others to go for certification. 

“Whether you think it can help you in business or not, do it for yourself,” he said. “Do it for your own confidence. There are no negatives to taking the test; we push ourselves physically and mentally all the time, and this test is no different.”

Individually hand-made fish scale tiles

BEING a tile setter and encouraging others to enter the trade is a patriotic act

“Patriotism for me is when people put their ideas into the work. Your love for your country is only in your work.” – Sudhir Mishra

I don’t usually get on my soapbox about patriotism (unless you are a follower of mine on my personal Facebook account), but I am going to take this opportunity to tell you that BEING a tile setter and encouraging others to enter the trade is a patriotic act.

Why is that, you may ask? Because in this world of outsourcing, sending jobs overseas, prefab construction, pre-packaged food, and automation, there is a decreasing pool of employment opportunities that can’t be done by someone else, located somewhere else, likely earning a fraction of what the job is worth in U.S. dollars. Hands-on trades are some of the last bastions of craftworkers who need to be PRESENT, on the job, in person, with eyes, minds, and hands engaged with creating a beautiful, long-lasting, well-performing installation of ceramic or natural stone tile.

When you engage in your profession as a tile contractor, you are literally building the country, and contributing to the physical real estate of your region. You are interacting with real humans, face to face, not just online in email or social media. You represent a skill, a company, a profession – all of which are things to be proud of. Your job cannot be outsourced. There’s no way a machine can come in and assess the need for a flat, level floor, notice bond breakers that need to be removed on a substrate, select the right mortar and grout for the job and then install all the parts and pieces with artistry and excellence. Of course, you use machinery and tools on the jobsite, but they take your expertise and prowess to wield positive results.

Are you interested in helping the country grow? Then talk to younger generations about your trade. Share what knocks your socks off about it with them – what excites you, inspires you, what makes you stand back from your work with a sense of pride and satisfaction – as well as how it helps you put food on your table and attain a good living. Talk to your children, and their friends, or classes in local high schools or those in your faith community – ignite in them the excitement that in many cases, they can earn while they learn and have a skill that can never be taken from them. And they are NEEDED! One of the largest barriers to construction – of literally building the country – is the fact that there aren’t enough skilled craftspeople to do the work! You’re doing your part AS a tile setter – try to encourage or recruit at least three more installers into the field: one to replace you when you retire and two more to expand the trade. Bring interested youth to a NTCA workshop or other educational opportunity, and give them the chance to let the light go on as they start pondering the possibilities the trade offers (without incurring the crushing debt that college often does). 

If you value being heard, get involved in the industry, specifically NTCA, which is known as “The Voice of the Contractor.” Through NTCA, members are engaging with manufacturers and distributors as well as A&D professionals and general contractors to help elevate the profession, find solutions to on-the-job problems, refine setting materials and tools to make jobs easier and better performing, and share their knowledge so that sound specs are written from the get-go. You will have an impact; you will be actively working to make things better, not just in your trade but as a ripple effect to the country at large! Be proud of what you do and how you contribute to the wellbeing and strength of the nation! You are a patriot!

God bless,
[email protected]

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