Creativity and attention to detail characterizes Artisan Tile

Sometimes, good things can come from bad beginnings. By his own admission, Michael Moreno, the owner of Artisan Tile, was a “horrible helper” when he started out in 1987 in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he was employed for a husband/wife tile setting team. Eventually this couple went out on their own, hired Moreno, and over a period of 14 years, taught him everything he knows today. 

“I was still a bad helper,” he said. “I’m unsure if they felt sorry for me or if they saw something in me. I would like to think the latter. They were and still are an incredibly artistic team that started me from scratch.”

Michael Moreno, Artisan Tile owner (left), with his son, Michael Jr.,

Michael Moreno, Artisan Tile owner (left), with his son, Michael Jr., who recently moved and works for a tile company in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Moreno was 18 when he started working with them, and was their first employee, so he watched their outfit grow into a premier high-end company. In 2002, he left their employ, and started working for a one-man show out of Lompoc, Calif. But after two years, he was dissatisfied by the lack of learning anything.

“I was spinning my wheels, with no path forward,” he said. 

Though he never felt “good enough” to go out on his own, his two years with the Lompoc company made him feel that he was “going backwards. 

“That’s when getting my license ‘clicked’,” he explained. “It was like, 1+1=2. It was that simple and that jarring. It was like I woke up. This was unequivocally my path! Once that had entered my head there was no going back.”

Moreno got his license in 2005. “With no business sense, and a little skill, I put my head down and charged forward,” he said. “I’ve made all the common mistakes you can make when transitioning from being an employee to having employees. But I was learning and still moving forward hard.”

This 200-sq.-ft. project of round Saltillo was planned, and in great detail.

This 200-sq.-ft. project of round Saltillo was planned, and in great detail.

In 2008, he had six employees and spent most of his time on estimates. The recession was not kind to him, and his company fell apart. “But I did not give up, though it was one of the hardest personal struggles I’ve been through. I kept my license current and by 2010/11, I was back in the mix.” 

Today, he owns Artisan Tile in Lompoc, Calif., that gets 90% of its business – mostly residential – from referrals, without a website! Why? He stands out from the crowd due to his attention to detail and a certain artistic flair that stems from the artistry and precision he learned when working for the tile setter duo. 

“I was taught the trade by an artist couple, and their emphasis on meticulous details and creativity has stayed with me to this day,” he said. “I will always be far from perfect but the joy from that challenge of trying to be so strikes new on every single job I do. There are guidelines and proper methods, but there are few limits to the artistry of installation itself. I love to tile.”

This spontaneous, unplanned Saltillo corner sun was just fun to do, Moreno said.

This spontaneous, unplanned Saltillo corner sun was just fun to do, Moreno said.

Moreno has been a NTCA member for only a year, which he joined to bring himself up to date with proper installation methods and materials. Though he is still feeling out the ultimate benefits of the association for his business, he said he has “found great value in having access to a variety of tested methods, materials and professionals through the NTCA. What I do take away from it is knowledge and a community that wants to bring this age-old trade into the future with informed and educated installers.

“My greatest satisfaction is solving problems, and the finished product,” he concluded. “I thoroughly enjoy the challenges of the intricate and often monotonous details that make my work stand above my competition.”

This shower featured blue encaustic tile with 3”x 6” subway tile.

This shower featured blue encaustic tile with 3”x 6” subway tile.

This shower featured blue encaustic tile with 3”x 6” subway tile.

Coming to the 30th edition of Coverings

Coming soon to the Orange County Convention Center is the 30th edition of Coverings! That’s right, this year Coverings ’19 returns to Orlando bigger and better than ever. It’s your chance to prepare and take advantage of the astounding and abundant opportunities for education, inspiration and networking that make up the heart of the Coverings expo. 

To get ready and view an overview and floor plan of the show floor, schedule of events and Conference Session, awards and other aspects of the show, go to

This issue gives you a sampling of upcoming events planned by Coverings show owners – Ceramics of Italy, Tile of Spain, Tile Council of North America, the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association, and the National Tile Contractors Association. Take a look at highlighted educational sessions and demos pertinent to your visit as well as lists of exhibitors who have the products that you seek.

While you’re searching for products, read this issue’s Tech Talk section, which surveys tile contractors for the tools most important to their businesses. It might give you some ideas of items to search for at Coverings, to improve your comfort, production speed, precision or overall efficiency.

Installers weigh in again in our Business Tip, with information of how THEY navigate the Coverings show. If you’ve never attended – and even if you’re a regular – you can pick up some pointers about making the most of the experience and arranging your time to mine the show for inspiration gold! Becky Serbin’s NTCA University Update also gives you some tips for planning your conference strategy in Orlando.

Contractors, be sure to read the NTCA section and the list of demonstrations planned for the TCNA Installation Demonstration stage, including a visit to the new Installation & Design Experience. Every year NTCA works to develop a fuller, richer and more educational experience for its members and visiting contractors and installers at the show and this year is no exception, with education, demos, tours, installed vignettes illustrating the collaboration between designers and qualified labor, refreshments, networking opportunities and even the chance to win prizes all on the roster. Booth #3538 is your go-to location for all things installation, with a satellite NTCA desk in booth #3219 staffed with representatives to answer your questions about membership and the association.

I always enjoy feedback on the show and what you found valuable, so please drop me a line at [email protected] and share your thoughts! Looking forward to seeing you in Orlando!

God bless!

[email protected]

Creating a Coverings strategy to make the show work for you

By now, your Coverings planning should be in full swing. Do you have a strategy for navigating the thousands of square feet in the Orange County Convention Center, and seeing all the education sessions, demos, features and products you desire, while leaving time to attend parties and network with your peers? How do you do it? We asked several NTCA contractors about their approach to the show to help you go about creating a Coverings strategy of your own.

John Mourelatos of Mourelatos


John Mourelatos of Mourelatos Tile Pro in Tucson, Ariz., keeps it simple by making a beeline for classes and demos and other educational opportunities. “I like to talk to other contractors about technical and business topics, too,” he said. “I schedule my time around education.”

Josh Castelli of Christian Brothers Flooring


Josh Castelli of Christian Brothers Flooring in Lakeside, Calif., said he scours Coverings for “something that will make me or my company more efficient – a tool, software, or more information on fabrication, since I’m looking to grow into this. I’m considering the longevity of my career as my knees give out.”

Jason Jones of Jones Tile


Jason Jones of Jones Tile, Columbia, Ala., went to his first Coverings last year, with the intent of meeting “as many of the crazy characters I’ve met online in person.” He hopes that was only the first of many.

“Secondly, I enjoy soaking in the new tools and materials available to me,” Jones said. “It’s eye opening, especially to an installer such as myself, who lives in the boondocks.”  

His only strategy? Wearing comfortable shoes and wandering around meeting and talking with people. “Also, I enjoy getting free stuff,” he admitted. 

Jones, Brad Denny, Vice President/COO of Nichols Tile & Terrazzo Co. Inc


While meandering works well for Jones, Brad Denny, Vice President/COO of Nichols Tile & Terrazzo Co. Inc. in Joelton, Tenn., said, “having a plan is essential.” He recommended having an honest introspective look at your company while going through the list of sessions available to decide what to attend. 

But he admits that “having designated ‘wander’ time, usually later in the week, is strategic too and allows you to explore the fresh ideas you have had throughout the show.”

The Installation & Design Experience (last year it was the Installation Design Showcase), NTCA, and CTEF booths have always been draws for Denny. This year he’ll be even more keen on the showcase since his company will be installing a vignette in the Installation & Design Experience booth, paired with designer Glenda Wright of HHCP. 

He also likes to visit all of his tool vendors and their competitors to continue to cultivate relationships. “When time allows, I like to view the complexity of the vignettes and stay up on the latest trends in the manufacturers’ booths,” he said.

Bringing information to staff is a key part of the show experience. “We typically have a meeting before the show to plan out our show in advance,” he said. “Knowledge gained is relayed during regularly scheduled meetings after the show, as much of what we learn helps guide our direction.” 

Because the show is so huge, Denny makes use of the Coverings app. “But we also like to circle, note, and carry a paper copy of the schedule in our bags, he said. “The show floor IS enormous, so a roadmap and destination points are wise. Quick references and knowing where we are going in advance is a good time management tool.”

Strategies to see show features are essential, but one’s body can take a beating during the show. “Let’s face it, the nights can be as busy as the days, but getting as much sleep as possible, eating good meals, and taking rest stops as you need them helps make the show easy work!” he claimed. “It seems every day I need to stretch before getting out in the world, and days at the show are no different. I wear clothes and shoes I know will still feel good after all the miles logged during the day. In the past few years, I admit that a good massage has been helpful at the end of the show, and serves as a reward for the energy put in to better ourselves!”

Essential and must-have gear for tile installers

Tools in the tile trade are essential items to get your job done. We interviewed a few NTCA members to get their take on their favorite and must-have gear for tile installers.

“Tools for guys are like shoes for girls,” said Phil Green, NTCA member and owner of P.G.C. Construction, Remodeling and Design in Gilberts, Ill. They “don’t really NEED all that they have but just in case.” Green added, “This isn’t intended to be sexist because I know, especially in this (Tile Geeks) group, many girls like tools too, and I’ll bet some of the guys here also like shoes…LOL.”

Eibenstock wet/dry hand saw is great gear for John Parulis.

John Parulis, of Contractors Tile in San Rafael, Calif., takes it down to the basics, when he says his most important tool is his glasses! In addition to that, Parulis names his must-have list, which includes the obvious 10” tile saw. His other faves are an Eibenstock wet/dry hand saw and cutting table for 48” long material. Orange Aluminum 8’ long tee for layout guide and straight edge work, variable speed grinder, 8” power grip vacuum pumps for large-format tile, Montolit Perfetto CPF 250 razor sharp precision blades, and Dewalt laser layout tool are also on his list.

ProKnees, style 0714, are favored tools for Eric Simon.

There are tools to use with tile and there are tools that safeguard your body. Eric Simon, Simon & Simon Tilemasters LLC, said ProKnee knee pads are the best thing since sliced bread (or tile, in his case). He’s used them for at least 25 years, usually the 0714 style, and said they are “very highly recommended” to any trade on their knees. 

Ken Ballin of Skyro Floors, West Creek, N.J., agrees with the ProKnees, and also names a good snap cutter (Sigma and Montolit are favorites) and a nice set of levels, preferably Stabila R-Beams, as his favorites. 

He also said a good source for diamond tools – and not just blades – is invaluable. “There are tons of great diamond tools for shaping, grinding, and cutting that don’t

Ken Ballin prizes a nice set of levels, preferably Stabila R-Beams.

go on your wet saw,” he said, adding, “I’m a big fan of,, and mainly because Steve, Mark, and Nick there are so supportive of our Facebook groups Tile Love 2.0 and Flooring Installers of America. They all contributed to my annual Christmas contest for those two groups and I really try to recommend them to everyone who asks me for my sources.”

Mike Morley of Mike’s Quality Carpentry, McHenry, Ill., uses Spin Doctor Tile Spacers from RTC to eliminate lippage. “They are great,” he said. “The spacer

Eliminating lippage with the RTC Spin Doctor Tile Spacers is the way to go for Mike Morley.

is one-time use and they are $10.00 for 100. You can use the spinners over and over. My guys love them.”

Jason Jones, of Jones Tile in Columbia, Ala., has a whole list of essentials, remarking, “Essential tools? How much time have you got?” Here goes: 

  1. Stanley FatMax 25’ tape.
  2. Pencil (usually free ones I glom off reps )
  3. Knee pads: I prefer the leather kind with buckles.
  4. A good snap cutter (I’ve got a shiny Montolit 29” I’ve had for a couple of months that
    I love).
  5. Grinder (with proper blade and technique, you can get away with not using a wet saw often if you choose).
  6. My Dewalt wet saw (I use it often anyways despite what I said in point 5).
  7. Mixing drill and paddle. I’m using an el cheapo Harbor Freight drill lately and it works juuust fine.
  8. One can never have too many buckets.
  9. Margin and notched trowel. I use a euro notch more often than not anymore. Flat trowels for pans (along with a wood float for packing).

    A good grout float and an ARDEX sponge gets the job done for Jason Jones.

  10. Lippage clips make my life easier despite what the “old school” naysayers may preach.  I like LevTec and MLT.
  11. Cordless drill/driver for whatever you have.
  12. Oscillating saw for door jambs and other needs.
  13. A rubbing stone for the rough edges.
  14. Good grout float and sponge (ARDEX sponge)
  15. Did I say buckets? Yeah?  Buckets again!

Brad Denny of Nichols Tile & Terrazzo Co., Inc., in Joelton, Tenn., exclaimed, “If anyone else doesn’t say it, I must! From the beginning as a laborer to the end of their career, the margin trowel has been the most useful and versatile tile tool in my tool arsenal. It can clean, butter, pack, mark, scrape, cut, chip, prise, hammer, mix, scoop, and catch…all things a tile laborer, finisher, apprentice, installer, and craftsperson might need to do. I prefer having a sharp 5” x 2” for more delicate needs or tighter places and duller 6” x 2” for more robust needs or longer reach. Marshalltown Dura Soft handles have been my choice for several years. 

A Lufkin X46 Folding Rule with a 6” slide out helps Brad Denny on his jobs in a myriad of ways.

“The other tool I will always have is a Lufkin X46 Folding Rule with 6” slide out,” he added. “My grandfather taught me to always have one, and I still keep the same model on me when out on the job site and in my truck. A tape measure is great for most things, but features that set a folding rule apart are having an instant ridged ‘story pole’ that can be very helpful on wall layouts, and using the precision squared brass end to mark cuts more accurately. It has a reversed measurement on the other side, and the very clever 6” slide allows the user to dial in tight measurements between two planes and evaluate how parallel they are to one another.”

The Montolit P3 series Masterpiuma manual tile cutter is a versatile tool for Jeremy Waldorf.

For Jeremy Waldorf of Legacy Floors in Howell, Mich., Montolit is his #1 tool brand and prized tool is the P3 series Masterpiuma manual tile cutter. Waldorf started out as a “wet-saw guy” and logged millions of steps running up and down stairs on each job, even to make simple cuts. But some of his friends used snappers and grinders and rarely used their wet saws. 

“This idea was VERY attractive to me, so I bought a Kobalt 24” snapper from Lowe’s,” he said. “I used that thing for a while, but it had its limitations and I found them rather quickly. I finally decided to do what I thought I’d never do- pay more for a manual cutter than my wet saw. I bought my first Montolit P393 36” slide cutter.” His initial experience with it was horrifying, resulting only in “terrible cuts. Tiles were breaking off midway, shattering, and just frustrating me greatly,” he said. He lamented and regretted his decision, but some wise words from those on the Tile Geeks Facebook group helped him get up and running. “After a little fine tuning and a lot of practice, I was making 1/2” rips of the side of a 36” textured porcelain plank- over and over again,” he explained. “It felt amazing, especially to a wet saw guy.” 

Not long after, he competed in the Global Tile Posse snap cutter speed challenge and won a P363 25” Masterpiuma cutter. “These two cutters have changed my tile game more than any other tools I’ve owned,” he said. “Now I only use a wet saw on about 20% of my jobs, when I have a complex shower or other specialized details. However, that’s changing the more I use Montolit tools. The shaping blades and core bits for grinders allow me to do things I haven’t been able to in years past.” Waldorf said it’s turned into a kind of “game” for him to test limits of the cutter, and he has found that Montolit brand tools and the Masterpiuma cutters in particular far exceed his expectations and are “game changers.” In fact, he recently removed excess material from the back of bullnose with the STL blade to make it flush with the mosaic he was installing. “My client was impressed, and so was I,” Waldorf said. “It was very cool to be able to make it all work in that way. With options like these, there’s never been a better time to be a tile setter.”

TRENDS you’ll see in 2019

We’ve been publishing this TRENDS issue of Tileletter for half a decade now, with the intent of giving you a leg up on the new year in terms of trends, style, sales patterns and new products that you will see at Coverings this year in Orlando, Fla., April 9-12, and beyond.

This year we add a bit of a twist – this issue focuses solely on the aesthetics of surfaces and colors and how designers benefit from working with qualified labor in challenging tile installations (See our TECH issue in the fall for the latest and greatest in setting materials, accessories, equipment and sundries). Take a look at our A&D story to learn why Glenda Wright of HHCP – one of the vignette designers in Coverings’ Installation & Design Experience this year – chooses to work with skilled labor and how that benefits her clients and projects. And Chris Walker has some important perspectives about qualified labor in this issue’s President Letter.

We delve into the broad cultural and historic influences on style and color with product designers Shelly Halbert and Laura Grilli of Dal-Tile Corporation, and take a journey through the world of tile trends with Joe Lundgren, who travels the country – and the globe – to stay abreast of cutting-edge technologies and fresh new aesthetics when it comes to tile. Natural Stone Institute has provided us with an overview of stone designs, trends and uses for baths and kitchens. And we present the hottest new looks in tile from Italy, Spain and Turkey to bring an international flair to our offerings. 

Contributing editor Lou Iannoco has culled together data from suppliers and distributors to bring you a report of what looks are selling in different regions of the country. He’s also compiled a product listing of new tile and stone offerings, many of which will be on display at Coverings. 

Kicking the whole thing off is a welcome from industry Ambassador Alena Capra, who walks you through a few of the changes you’ll see in the Installation & Design Experience and highlighted features you won’t want to miss on the show floor. 

We hope this issue whets your appetite for seeing the real deal in person on the show floor come early April in Orlando. There’s nothing quite like strolling through miles of stunning tile and stone exhibits (wear your comfy shoes!) and partaking of the many educational opportunities the show offers. A few inspiring days at Coverings will fire up your creativity and expand your palette of color and design options for upcoming projects. Don’t miss it. Find out more at

God bless,
[email protected]

Installation & Design Experience designer offers show perspective

Designer Glenda Wright shares her thoughts on her vignette, trends, and qualified labor

We caught up with Installation & Design Experience designer Glenda Wright to preview her vignette, get her thoughts on tile and stone trends, and hear why she thinks qualified labor is important.

This year, the Installation & Design Showcase has a new incarnation. As part of the overarching Installation & Design Experience, each of three vignettes will pair a designer with a NTCA Five-Star Contractor to bring the design to life, with fully-completed vignettes ready for viewing once the show opens. 

Glenda Wright

Glenda Wright

One of the designers is Wright, Associate AIA, Associate CASE Manager II for Helman Hurley Charvat Peacock/Architects, Inc. (HHCP), an architectural company based in Orlando, with a world-class international reputation characterized by its passion for creating outstanding guest experiences. 

Wright is partnering with NTCA Five-Star Contractor Brad Denny of Nichols Tile & Terrazzo Company, Inc., on the vignette, titled “Hidden Oasis.” Ceramics of Italy will supply the tile and MAPEI will supply the installation materials. 

The Polite Pig Restaurant

HHCP designed The Polite Pig Restaurant, one of the new restaurants in Disney Springs at Disney World in Orlando. The interiors were done by Anna Schmidt Interior Design.

“My vignette demonstrates that tile is a durable, water-resistant and low-maintenance finish that lends itself perfectly to the creation of an exterior space where one can relax and rewind while enjoying the soothing sounds of a water wall,” Wright explained. “When correctly specified and installed, tile provides beauty, ambience and value, making it an ideal finish.”

Wright also gave us a designer view into upcoming trends for 2019.

“In 2019, one of the strongest trends in tile and stone will continue to be large-format tile in a variety of sizes and thicknesses,” Wright explained. “Advancements in digital technology will continue to provide new and much-loved stone and wood looks, as well as bold patterns and graphics. Blues, terra cotta, and greige are color trends that are welcomed in both modern and traditional environments.”

Wright noted that, “three-dimensional tile and playful, bold, and traditional graphics are emerging trends that can provide interest and personality to tile installations.”

The trend towards larger and thicker tiles has paved the way for fantastic new opportunities for tile, Wright said. “The increase in sizes and thicknesses of tile has allowed for new applications in kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities, tables, and outdoor kitchens,” she noted. “Geometric shapes, bold graphics, and colors are great ways to bring personal style and interest to spaces. When installed correctly, tile and stone offer durability and water resistance, as well as beautiful aesthetics and easy maintenance.”

endering of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions

Rendering of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) headquarters in Orlando, Fla., currently under construction, designed by HHCP.

Qualified labor

One of the purposes of the Installation & Design Experience is to champion the partnerships that result when pairing visionary designers and qualified installers, who have obtained industry-recognized credentials, be they Certified Tile Installers, ACT certified installers, Trowel of Excellence Installers or NTCA Five-Star Contractors, which require certification for entry into an elite group of craftspeople. 

Wright’s firm seeks out qualified installers, explaining that they “offer consistent quality installations and an overall understanding of the product’s characteristics and the details that contribute to a coherent design and installation. Below is a paragraph on installer qualifications from our specifications.”

Working closely with the qualified tile /stone contractor helps to ensure success on projects and satisfaction for clients. Wright said, “They understand the nuances of tile installation and they have a greater awareness and understanding of the details that contribute to a complete quality design and installation.”

To buttress her knowledge of tile products and their installation, Wright takes the extra step of seeking industry information. “I have attended manufacturer factory tours with StonePeak, Schluter, and Crossville Inc., and regularly attend lunch-and-learn presentations,” she said.

Come to the Installation & Design Experience at Coverings booth #3538 to see Wright’s vignette, as well as vignettes by two other designer NTCA Five-Star Contractor teams. These include: Reginald Dunlap of Reginald Dunlap Interior Design, working with Welch Tile & Marble, with tile supplied by Estima, and installation materials by LATICRETE; and Ryan Young, AIA/NCARB/LEED AP working with C.C. Owen Tile Company, Inc., with tile supplied by Crossville, Inc., and setting materials by ARDEX. For more information on Coverings or to register, visit


The Wyndham Rio Mar

The Wyndham Rio Mar – Puerto Rico project is located in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.  The picture is of the Lobby Bar.  Designed by HHCP, Baskerville did the interiors.

About HHCP

Helman Hurley Charvat Peacock/Architects, Inc. (HHCP) is an architectural company based in the USA with a world-class international reputation characterized by its passion for creating outstanding guest experiences. An innovator in architecture since 1975, HHCP delivers award-winning, imaginative designs and exceptional services for clients around the world. With a talented staff of architects, urban and regional planners, managers, project coordinators and support personnel based in Orlando, Florida, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Beijing, China, HHCP offers clients a unique depth of expertise through its diverse practice areas. Clients benefit from the sharing of international trends and ideas across HHCP’s diverse practice areas, including planning/mixed-use, hospitality, themed entertainment, residential, retirement resorts, health care facilities, government/civic, and higher education.

 In addition, HHCP is one of the few firms in the United States that has a division focusing on construction litigation. HHCP’s Construction Analysis Support & Evaluation (CASE) Division completes its architectural and planning practice. CASE specializes in supporting attorneys, owners, design professionals and contractors in dispute resolution efforts on non-HHCP projects. The lessons learned from this work have allowed HHCP to provide even better service to its clients.

NTCA prepares for Training Experience, National Tile Day

“Bourne concentrated on rest and mobility. From somewhere in his forgotten past he understood that recovery depended upon both and he applied rigid discipline to both.”
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Though 2019 got started last month, the impact of some programs and events aren’t really being felt until now. Hopefully by the time you receive this magazine, you will be either at TISE or have recently returned, armed with new industry contacts, and inspired by new product ideas and information gleaned from conference sessions to power you through ’til Coverings!

NTCA has a new configuration of training opportunities for 2019. Over 100 free NTCA Workshops will still be coming to a location near you for three evening hours of camaraderie, good eats, industry information on standards and avoiding failures while offering hands-on demonstrations of new materials and methods. But in 2019, NTCA will visit select cities for a week-long “NTCA Training Experience” that combines a traditional NTCA Workshop open and free to all interested industry professionals, a free regional training event available to NTCA members and their employees, and a free open round table discussion for NTCA members to allow sharing of ideas, challenges, business tips, problem solving tips and more. For details, see Bart Bettiga’s story in our Training & Education section. Short of bringing education to your living room (which actually is what the online NTCA University enables us to do!), NTCA is pushing even harder to be sure there is accessible, free training to more areas of the country than ever before. Take advantage of it!

And if you have an opinion, or would like to read those of others, visit our new NTCA Forum, a blog that we just rolled out in January. We’ll post articles and information and invite you to share your thoughts.

February hosts National Tile Day on the 23rd. In honor of that, Avia Haynes has penned a story about how the Why Tile initiative is such an important one and how you can tie into it in your business. Be sure to visit TileLetter on Facebook on February 23, to witness the beauty and installation excellence that National Tile Day is designed to celebrate. 

If you’ve been a tile setter for any length of time (or even if you just sit at your desk all day like me), you may be prone to health issues affecting your back. A discussion on the Tile Geeks Facebook group took place about this very topic at the end of December, and members of that group have graciously agreed to share their experiences, tips and comments with the larger TileLetter audience in case their experiences might help a fellow tile setter. 

Our Tech Talk article features essential wisdom about installing tile in wood frame structures. This is a story you don’t want to miss, especially if you are located on the East Coast where wood-frame homes are common.

Finally, take a gander at our Coverings preview that will give you a taste of what is to come April 9-12 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. There are some changes to this year’s offerings that will set the stage for exciting opportunities to learn, connect and be inspired! Hope to see you there!

God bless,
[email protected] 

Occupational hazards: dealing with back issues

At the end of December, tile setter Dan Chamberlain of Kelowna, B.C., a member of the Facebook social media group Tile Geeks, posed this question: 

“GETTING FRUSTRATED!!!! How many of you guys are working with a bulged disk in your back? What are you finding helps?? I’ve been using two 18” needle nose pliers to put on socks and underwear since August.”

This grabbed my attention immediately, since I’ve had a personal encounter with “severely narrowed” L5 and L6 vertebrae immediately after Coverings 2018. Six weeks of physical therapy that evolved into a daily yoga practice and dropping over 20 lbs. have worked to keep my back mostly pain free (and kept me out of the surgeon’s office). So I was interested in the flurry of over 60 responses that ensued to Dan’s question.

Clearly, back problems are something many tile setters deal with on a frequent basis, and there is a wide range of various responses and remedies from surgery to prayer – that tile setters are employing – some resulting in great improvement and some that don’t make much difference.

Note of caution: this article is not meant to prescribe medical treatment, only to provide some ideas and insights to follow up with your doctor or healthcare professional.  

Back surgery

Some tile setters, like John Graichen, Nicholasville, Ky., and Brock Cooper, of Tulsa, Okla., have had back surgery to “shave down” or fuse vertebrae, which resulted in a lot of relief. Cooper had surgery in his 20s, which lasted well for 25 years and had to repeat it in 2015. “Find a physical therapist and look up on YouTube ways to correct a bulging disc,” he said. “Surgery is the last resort; you will hurt if you don’t find other means after.”

Jack Hamilton, who now works sales for ARDEX Americas in Arizona, responded that “My surgeon told me if a bulging disc doesn’t heal on its own within two weeks it’s not going to. I fought a bulging and crushed disc for 10 months. Feel your pain bro. Get an MRI and see if you can get it fixed.”

But surgery isn’t the end-all and be-all solution for some. David Swim of Swim Bros. Building and Remodeling in Ashland, Ky., has three bulging discs, plus the aftermath of a two disc-bone fusion in his neck from ’08. “The surgery helped for a couple years but things started going bad again,” he said. Swim toughs it out to avoid pain meds. “If it gets terrible, I use ice and heat in the evenings on and off and a brace during the days,” he explained. 

Though Michael Coombs of Kennmarr Enterprises Ltd., Thornnill, Ontario and Nothing But Bathrooms in Newmarket, Ontario, has intermittent pain from one herniated and one bulging disc, he uses stretching and medication to control it. “My doctor is recommending the surgery,” he said. “But I’ve heard horror stories of guys doing much worse a year or two after the surgery. So, trying to avoid it at all costs.” 

Massage and chiropractic

Many setters swear by massage and chiropractic for relief. “Massage works wonders for me,” said Matt Byars, Tiling Solutions, LLC of Gaffney, S.C., “The best thing I’ve done is learn that when it flares up, to take it easy for a couple of days.”

Craig Griffin, of Griffin Tile & Stone, Griffin Const. Group and an independent Florida tile setter, started as a tile helper in 1980, and has had “way too many years of body abuse.” He sees a chiropractor twice a week. Another tile setter steps up his chiropractic visits in the acute phase until healing starts to happen, even going for daily visits for several months.

Oliver Ledbetter of Little Tile Guy, LLC in Hickory, N.C., plans on “chiro” every Friday afternoon, then a hot shower and ice before bed. “I don’t have a bulging disc but am in recovery from a slipping one,” he explained. 

One tile setter advised, “Look into medical massage. If you have an X-ray to guide from, it would be helpful. Medical massage will break your muscle memory and help you re align yourself.”

Michael Denis, owner/installer at Denis Tiling Co., in Warwick, R.I., advised, “You should be seeing a physical therapist or chiropractor. Until then stay hydrated and see if someone can pull on your legs while laying on your back for 15-30 seconds at a time. It won’t provide a killer stretch, but may provide some relief.”

Supplements, hydration and anti-inflammatory foods

Paul Joseph of Precision Plus Home Remodelers, Inc., in Port Washington, N.Y., is the not-so-proud owner of six herniated discs, but he credits a combination of supplements with keeping him pain free for 10 years. His potion? Twice a day doses of magnesium 64 mg, 720 mg turmeric, and four Wobenzym N® pills daily. He also uses a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine to help alleviate spasms. 

In addition to supplements, Pablo Marticorena, of Pablo Tile Installer in Chippewa Falls, Wis., advises drinking water – and lots of it – to help with back issues. There’s a strong case for staying hydrated. My own physical therapist explained that layers of muscle and fascia slide over each other when you move. Keeping your body hydrated allows them to glide easily, but if you’re dehydrated, they “stick” and can cause pain. 

Justin Howell of Fantasy Tile in Glen Burnie, Md., got his back issues under control by sleeping with a pillow under his legs and sleeping on his back. “I stretched about 10 times a day,” he said. “Once I finally figured out where the pain was coming from, I got the MRI and did a chiropractic treatment. I have realized hydration and a gluten-free diet helps with doing a foam roller at home three times a day. Inflammatory foods are brutal.”

From MW Rouzer LLC in Sussex, N.J., Stephanie Rouzer’s tile setter husband had success with a chiropractor and anti-inflammatory eating. “It’s kept him off drugs and out of surgery,” she added.  

Inversion table, decompression

Hanging upside – and other forms of decompression and traction – offers relief for many. Michael Edward Baczynski of Deluxe Improvements in Avilla, Ind., and Jack Stallings of Imperial Tile and Marble, Inc., in Phoenix, Ariz., find inversion tables helpful for taking the pressure off the vertebrae. 

Keith Heniss of Total Design Tile & Flooring, Inc., in Olathe, Kan., admitted he’s dealt with two bulging disks for almost 15 years. “The best thing I can do is stretch in morning – real stretching – and then an inversion table right before bed.”

Lena Anderson of Pine Bluff, Ark., said, “I got one a couple years ago. Old tired and worn out: five minutes on it and I feel like a new person!”

Dave Collins, owner of Collins Remodeling in Butler, Pa., said, “My chiropractor just told me my back is 10 to 15 years older than I am: arthritis and degenerative disks. I have found if I use my inversion table regularly it helps.”

TENS machine

Like Paul Joseph, Brad Bressler, Bressler Tile and Stone, Austin, Tex., relies on the TENS machine to alleviate pain. Anderson said, “It will be the best $30 you ever spend. I have crawled out of my van some days and then put thing on and the pain just goes away.”

Drew Finch of A&D Tile in Columbiana, Ohio also used a TENS machine in conjunction with three weeks of physical therapy and massage to heal from a back issue. 

Stretching, exercise

In addition to chiropractic, Chris Wittenbrink of Keystone Kitchens, Inc., in Woodinville, Wash., practices specialized exercises and sometimes takes time off work. Ric Satterlee of Dynamic Interiors, LLC in Anchorage, Alaska, recommended strengthening core muscles and taking vitamins for joints. “A lot of back pain can be caused from weak core muscles and over time do damage,” he said. “When my back hurts I wear a brace until pain is completely gone.”

Neal Holden of Riverside Construction, LLC in Yakima, Wash., has issues with his L3 and L4 vertebrae, but fights it with water for hydration, going to the gym three times a week with a focus on the core muscles, and chiropractor visits until they dwindle to only a weekly tune up. 

Kenny David Gonzalez of Phoenix International Consulting, INC, Long Beach, Calif., recommends buying the book, The Gift of Injury. “It shows you good exercises to help dramatically,” he said.

A back brace helps Elizabeth Yaldua of Elite Flooring and More in Bentonville, Ark., deal with bulging discs at L3, L4 and L5. She advises keeping shoulders in line with one’s hips, sleeping on a pallet on the floor, and “when you’re not hurting, do squats.”


Steroid/epidural injections seem to work wonders for some sufferers. Brad Bressler said, “I got a steroid injection a couple of years ago that was a lifesaver. I also visit a chiropractor every four weeks for a ride on the decompression table and a tune up. I don’t see myself doing tile much longer if I want to avoid surgery.”

Prednisone worked for Gordon Webber of Webber Masonry and Tile in Antrim, N.H., and John Page V, owner of Timeless Tile & Surface Restoration, Newland, N.C., said he gets steroid shots every other year to address sciatic pain. Al DeNorcia of Holmdel, N.J., has three herniated discs and gets epidural injections every two years. “It’s been working for years now, and in my opinion, it’s safer than back surgery.”

Some setters use Percocet for severe pain, and have had some success with medical marijuana or CBD oil, sometimes in combination with yoga and stretching. 


Daniel J. Picard of Picard and Sons Tile in West Warwick, R.I., and his uncle Gary Picard of Picard Tile in Fairhaven, Mass., both advocate prayer. Daniel said, “Prayer brother. I’m 35 and had both my hips replaced and I’m in pain every day. So I live on prayer and ibuprofen.”

As a final word, Nick Aldama of Veneziano Tile & Stone in Santa Rosa, Calif., advises some preventative medicine: invest in good helpers. “I have two bulged discs pinching two nerves that run from my back to my toes. It shoots into my knees, as well as early onset degenerative disc disease from L5 to S1. I’m only 34.” Aldama also suffered from a collapsed lung twice last July and a 10mm kidney stone. “I wake up in pain every day and push through,” he said. “They tried to give me pain meds but I can’t work on them. My dad taught me tile at a young age, but I had to give it a break for a while.”

And Jon Donmoyer, owner of JD Tile in Annville, Pa., who’s dealing with knee issues and scoping surgery to remedy it, is taking the long view. “Get help – you have to think of the rest of your life. When your body is talking – listen. Your health should come first.”

Dan Chamberlain was wowed by all the responses to his query. “I didn’t think that there would be so many going through the same issues,” he said. “I have already been doing the massage therapy, chiropractor and a little acupuncture.” He admitted he already drinks a lot of water, and will look into the supplements mentioned.

New offerings come to Coverings

Every year Coverings gets bigger and better and offers more inspiration, education and opportunity for those in the tile industry. In addition to the massive free educational program, there are products, installation demonstrations, and events to attend. Here’s a brief rundown of the event that will take place at the Orange County Convention Center – be on the lookout for the Coverings issue of TileLetter coming to your mailbox in March for more information:

  • Art Tile Courtyard – Tile Council of North American Pavilion – Come by and see an amazing array of imaginative dog houses, tiled to perfection by TCNA member companies, and some perky pooches to pet as well. 
  • Coverings Connect – Relax, charge personal devices, and network in the Coverings Connect Lounge; enjoy 15-minute “Byte” sessions that address growth through social media and online channels. Coverings Connect is located right on the show floor.
  • Coverings Installation & Design (CID) Awards – celebrate outstanding achievements in the design and installation of tile & stone in both residential and commercial projects. Attend the CID Awards Reception on Wednesday, April 10.
  • Coverings Rock Stars – Emerging Leaders – This program recognizes and engages the best and brightest young talent in the tile and stone industry.
  • Live Installation Demonstration Stage – One of the most popular features at Coverings, these live “how-to” classes offer attendees an up-close look at how top contracting pros handle a variety of challenging tile installations. Attendees will see exactly how to install a wide variety of new products and learn techniques to make tile & stone installation more successful.
  • Online Pre-Event Planner – Attendees can now create a personalized event planner for Coverings 2019 using their registration confirmation. In the planner, attendees can favorite exhibitors and products and build and education and events schedule ahead of time. 
  • Mobile App – Info on Coverings is as close as your fingertips with this app. For 2019, it will once again include an online new product showcase and a way to coordinate meetings through your profile. 
  • New Product Showcase: Don’t miss the New Product Showcase, available on the Coverings website and mobile app. Discover the new products and trends exhibitors are bringing to Coverings 2019. Mark favorites and visit those booths on the show floor.
  • SFA & the Stone Zone – The Stone Fabricators Alliance presents demonstrations and sessions for fabricators and installers as well as products designed by fabricators FOR fabricators. 
  • Quickfire sessions – These 15-minute sessions that give quick insights into the highlights of the Why Tile campaign take place right on the show floor in the Coverings Connect lounge. 

Updated for 2019 Installation & Design Experience 

Coverings has expanded The Installation & Design Experience with more demonstrations, cutting-edge vignettes, and interactive learning features. This space will also serve as a networking hub on the show floor for those interested in installation best practices as well as a chance to view specially designed vignettes showcasing the synergy between great design and installation.

NTCA highlights

There are several highlights for contractors in the educational program as well. The Installation & Design Experience area will include the NTCA Contractors Lounge – a place to learn, network, grab a snack and take part in educational games, contests and drawings. Learn more about NTCA and its role in the industry, and about the CTEF and ACT tests. In addition, consider some of these features, geared towards the contractor community.

  •  Installation Track Seminars – This seminar series focuses on topics important to contractors. Two of note are: 

º 15 Year Cycle Analysis, featuring Ryan Fasan, Design and Technical Consultant, who will discuss the lifecycles of flooring products and why ceramic tile comes out light years ahead of the competition. Thursday, April 11, 8:00 am – 9:00 am

º Transparency Trilogy Part III: Artistry and Creativity: A Timeless Component of Tile and Stone Installations. The session will take a close look at unique individuals who possess the passion, drive, discipline and skills necessary to install, train, and supervise projects that require the craftsmanship to create lasting masterpieces. Thursday, April 11, 9:30 am – 11:00 a.m. 

  • NTCA booth tours – There are a LOT of installation and setting material exhibitors at Coverings, so how to see them all? Sign up for a NTCA booth tour, and visit at least 10 exhibitors in one hour on a well-paced informative tour. 
  • NTCA Awards night – Join NTCA for its annual Awards Night on Thursday, April 11 at 5:30 p.m. Being announced this year is the brand new “Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year” member award that will be unveiled at Coverings, and the winner determined before Total Solution Plus. 

MSI introduces Oxide at TISE West, booths 4526 and 4625

gray tile

MSI is  kicking off 2019 sharing its passion for all things inspired. The Oxide collection is just one of the new porcelain collections  that will be on display at Surfaces/TISE West booths #4525 and 4625, as well as on-trend geometric tiles, more than two dozen fresh Q Quartz colors.

The Oxide Collection comes in 12″ x 24″ formats. Impressively durable and easy to care for, this porcelain tile is the perfect choice for residential and light commercial floors, but it also makes a unique style statement on backsplash, walls, and countertops.

Oxide Magnetite features an artistic mix of  gorgeous gray hues and a slight metallic-look finish that adds interest to any room. It offers a subtle oxidized look and cool neutral colors.

gray tile

Oxide Magnetite












Oxide Iron features an intriguing mix of grey and cocoa brown hues and a gorgeous matte metallic-look finish that adds interest to any room.  With its noticeable oxidized look and warm colors, Oxide Iron gives your space instant character.

metallic look dark tile

Oxide Iron















Oxide Blanc features a delicate mix of white hues and a gorgeous matte metallic-look finish that adds interest to any room. With its understated oxidized look and fresh neutral color, Oxide Blanc gives your space an instant pick-me-up.

light neutral tile in room scene

Oxide Blanc

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