Gender has nothing on the curation of powerful and unique mosaic designs

Back in 2017, TileLetter profiled Angie Halford Ré as part of that year’s Women in Tile feature. Three years later, we take a more in-depth look at her work, her artistry and her love for tile.  – Editor

Angie Halford Ré

Angie Halford Ré is the founder and owner of award-winning Unique Mosaics, LLC, a global and nationally-recognized custom mosaic tile artwork studio located in South Salt Lake, Utah. Her 22 years of experience in tile and design make her an industry leader and top consultant in the U.S. among other designers, tile contractors, builders, and architects. As one of the few women currently dominating the tile industry, her custom mosaic designs and installations are heavily regarded as some of the most demanding, intricate projects across the country.

Angie fell in love with tile and mosaics when she lived in North Carolina as a single parent of five children while freelancing in her spare time from her kitchen table. In 2017, once Angie’s small business started growing, she moved to Utah, turning her basement into a working studio. She has since moved her business to a commercial studio

“I love to start an idea with a blank slate and watch it become something incredible,” said Angie. “I love to create functional art using tile as a medium. It’s in my blood. I absolutely cherish every minute of each project I do.”

It takes a village 

“Bringing more than two decades of experience, I’ve realized how important it is to take every opportunity to learn and reach higher to accomplish what you set out to do,” she explained. “Although women in tile are in the minority, I don’t focus on that; it doesn’t have to be an issue. Respect others and respect yourself. Read, take courses when they are offered, go to conventions, join social media groups in the field and learn from others who you admire.” 

Throughout her tile and stone career, Angie has learned how vital it is to lean in on the community of other industry professionals around her. Angie’s creations are unprecedented due to her creative process and how she works directly with architects, contractors, designers and home or business owners one-on-one. She prefabricates her mosaics to be pre-mounted and grouted. She works with installers, who then only need to install either one piece or several sections for larger installations. Working to her clients’ specifications, Angie will often mount mosaics on mesh, mosaic tape or foam board, depending on what the situation calls for. Possessing installer experience herself, she understands what types of tile and setting materials to use and only uses high-quality materials to ensure that her work will stand the test of time. 

LATICRETE Fountain project with (l. to r.) Angie Halford Ré, Mark Christiansen of Tarkus Tile, Rod Katwyk of Rodkat Products, Luke and Amy Denny of Alpen Tile. 

“My projects are personal, which is why I need consistent, outperforming products and a team of industry professionals who will help me bring my vision to life,” said Angie. “LATICRETE has products for any situation and I trust them. Not only do I trust the products, but the people at LATICRETE have become my friends and support system over the years. I can go to many people at LATICRETE and get a quick and trusted response when I have a question or need recommendations.” 

 “SPECTRALOCK® 1 works especially well for my smaller projects because, as a pre-mix, I am able to close the lid back up tight and use it again later on a different project,” Angie said. “I am impressed with how well it spreads and once cured, it keeps the tiniest of tesserae locked in!”

Coincidentally, Angie has been recently working on a project for LATICRETE itself. Rod Katwyk of RodKat Products in Salt Lake City, Utah, commissioned Angie to create a LATICRETE logo mosaic for the company fountain. Designed to be the focal point behind a flow of water, she created the design using tiles of matching brand colors to imitate the LATICRETE logo. For grout, she used SPECTRALOCK® 1 in midnight black and installed 254 Platinum as her adhesive because of its excellent reputation for exterior and underwater applications. It also provides superior bond to concrete, which is ideal since parts of the tile and fountain will be in a wet environment.

Unique projects call for quality products

“The vertically displayed American flag was made from tile and installed in Cicone’s entryway using LATICRETE® 254 Platinum to install the pre-mounted sections,” Angie said. “The team also utilized PERMACOLOR® Select AnyColor™, which allows designers to color-match almost any color they can imagine, and added in a midnight black epoxy grout with silver SPECTRALOCK® DAZZLE™ to give it extra sparkle.”

“I use a great deal of LATICRETE® products in my work,” said Angie. “Most often, I use HYDRO BAN® Board, HYDRO BAN Cementitious Water-proofing Membrane, various LATICRETE thinsets such as 254 Platinum, 1500 Sanded Grout, SPECTRALOCK 1, as well as SPECTRALOCK DAZZLE™ when I want to give that extra ‘bling’ to one of my mosaics.” 

Using LATICRETE products for the vast majority of her jobs, Angie has successfully crafted masterful projects for an assortment of commercial and residential clients. One of the most important things for her is seeing her client excited about the end result, and that the installation went smoothly, which is why quality products are essential for her business. 

For example, Angie recently worked on a custom glass tile mural that would be installed in Sarasota, Fla. Joe Sprinkle of Sprinkle Tile & Stone LLC installed this mural after Angie built the mosaic to size and separated it into sections for easy shipping and installation. Knowing the installer needed setting products that would work well with 1/8” (3 mm) thick stained glass with tight joints throughout the wall mural, Angie specified that Sprinkle use LATICRETE Glass Tile Adhesive in combination with PERMACOLOR® Select NS Ground Base. As an ultra premium, polymer-fortified unsanded portland cement grout, it is designed specifically for highly-delicate surfaces, such as high-polish marble and soft glass. 

“After the installation, my team and Sprinkle Tile & Stone LLC were very impressed with both the ease of installation and the outcome of the overall design,” said Angie. 

One of Angie’s favorite projects to date was being able to create an American flag tile mural for Nick Cicone, a U.S. military veteran and avid patriot in Cleveland, Ohio. The Unique Mosaic team partnered with contractor Jimmy Gladney of Tile by Design to create and install a vertically-displayed American Flag, which would be installed in Cicone’s entryway. What made this project special to Angie was the fact that Cicone wanted the end product to be a surprise. Of course, Angie and her team didn’t disappoint. The U.S. military veteran was awestruck of his new American flag tile artwork and often calls the installer to let him know he’s “staring at it again.”

“For me, it’s not about gender, it’s about the finished product,” Angie said. “My clientele trusts me with their custom orders to ensure a long-lasting, productive relationship with every installation, paired with the highest quality mosaic products.”

The sky’s the limit 

“Life is too short to not love what you do for work,” Ré said. “Make your career in tile what you want it to be.”

Angie’s dedication to her career and company make her the go-to professional nationwide for historical restoration projects and renovations in many of the country’s historical districts and stringent architectural review committees. Her continuous ability to procure, design, create, and build custom mosaic tile artwork makes her an authority in the mosaic tile trade. Her quality and attention to detail remain unmatched and her experience rivals the largest manufacturers, giving her a competitive advantage in the tile installer community.

“Once women in tile start learning the basic skills,” she added, “they should continue to challenge themselves. By practicing and continually challenging yourself, you will be surprised by all you can accomplish with a little determination, courage, and a dash of creativity. The tile industry can be a very rewarding and stable career. Personally, I love my job and fought my way to have it full-time. Life is too short to not love what you do for work. Make your career in tile what you want it to be.”

Women in Tile 2020

Embracing challenge, creativity, and change while wielding empathy and experience – women’s recipe for success

In our world, there is always the opportunity to embrace diversity. One of the ways to do that is to recognize the strong contributions women make within our very own tile industry. 

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report on women in the workforce, referenced on the National Association of Women in Construction site , in 2018, approximately 1,106,919 women were employed in various occupation sectors of the construction industry and comprise 9.9% of the construction industry in the
United States. 

Women’s contributions encompass a range of roles, from marketing to design, to installation to management, to showroom staff, and much more. And the good news for women in construction is that while women in the U.S. generally earn 81.1% of what men earn, in construction occupations, women earn 99.1% of what men make. Only .9% to go to close the gender pay gap entirely!

As Katie Michael-Battaglia, Design Director for Nemo Tile+ Stone said in her profile below, “Any career that a woman can do is a great career for a woman to do.” In this, the 10th anniversary of the Women in Tile feature in TileLetter, we meet three women from various walks of our industry, and hone our appreciation of what women bring to the tile industry. This year’s lineup includes Katie Michael-Battaglia, Dawn Marie Suiter, co-owner of Strong Work Renovations, LLC, and NTCA’s own Michelle Chapman, who is celebrating her 20th year with NTCA in 2020. 

Dawn Marie Suiter
Strong Work Renovations, LLC

Lex (right) started helping on the job as a toddler; now she and her mom Dawn Suiter form the backbone of Strong Work Renovations, LLC.

The resulting remodeling boom after the 1994 Northridge earthquake set a series of events in motion for Dawn Marie Suiter to embark on a new career. Her path began with woodworking and finish carpentry and brought her to her current position as a remodeler who focuses on tilework, in business with her daughter.

Suiter fell in love with the physical and mental challenge of remodeling, the creativity it demanded and the freedom for her to be her own boss. Her daughter Lexington (Lex) was a toddler and practically cut her teeth on this work, and grew in skill level as she got older. When Suiter and Lex moved to a new Smoky Mountain fixer-upper, Lex continued to learn, and helped to build a tiny backyard farm.

Dawn and Lex Suiter finished the CTI test, but scores weren’t quite high enough to pass. They will try again after learning for another couple of years, since their “goal is to get better.”

“I taught her like my dad did, one project at a time, how to use all the tools,” Suiter said. “Some people would be horrified to have their 9-year old using a chop saw to cut board lengths for our new chicken coop, from measurements shouted across the yard, but it was just natural working alongside each other.”

Then, in Boulder, Colo., Suiter was doing tile work for a shoddy local remodeling contractor. She researched each job, read bags of mortar and grout, watched Sal DiBlasi videos, and learned that her boss was doing it wrong, every time. 

“One day he asked me to be his business manager, and instead, I quit working for him and formed Strong Work Renovations, LLC with Lex and Jake, my significant other,” Suiter said. “We got our contracting license and continued doing bathrooms using large-format tile, but this time with the right products,” and the rewards were instant.

Today, Strong Work Renovations specializes in large-format tile work and continues to grow, seeking out educational opportunities through NTCA, Schluter and other events. The company’s goal is “to keep getting better,” she said. 

Getting better, indeed – instead of cutting back business during COVID, Suiter decided to expand the business, preparing to build her first spec house on the way to becoming builders. “This adjustment to the flow of daily life has allowed us the time and space needed to make that happen,” she said.

Katie Michael-Battaglia
Nemo Tile + Stone

Katie Michael-Battaglia – Design Director for Nemo Tile + Stone. She is a Certified Interior Designer, NCIDQ Certificate holder, LEED AP, and IIDA Professional Member. Her work has been recognized by Solutia Ultron DOC, New York Council SARA Design Awards, and Interior Design Magazine. She has served as the IIDA NY’s Chapter President, as well as Vice President of Membership. She continues her affiliation as a member of the Leaders Breakfast Committee, Quilt Auction and Color Invasion. 

Katie Michael-Battaglia, Design Director for Nemo Tile + Stone, credits her success with the East Coast distributor to her solid background of 27 years as an interior designer. “As a professional interior designer, I have been specifying tile and stone for many years,” she said. 

Michael-Battaglia’s association with Nemo Tile + Stone began in New York City in 2002 when she worked on projects for Equinox Fitness, interacting with the Karlin family, specifically, Matt Karlin, A&D rep for Nemo Tile + Stone at the time. While designing commercial interiors for leading design firms, she helped design showrooms and products for Nemo Tile + Stone on her own time. In 2015, she became full time Design Director for the distributor. 

“I have always had an appreciation for tile and would design tile into many projects, so this was a natural and exciting transition for my career,” she said. Her design background allows her to “see how a product will be used, and have the vision to see it fully designed. This gives me the insight to know if a product of ours will be successful.” 

In addition to her design background, empathy and good listening skills empower her – and other women – with “a better sense of what customers are looking for,” she said. “She offers a “sense of empathy, as well as a greater degree of openness and intuition.”

She’s used this chaotic COVID time to change marketing strategies and get product in front of customers in a new way. “I stepped in and thought about what I would want to see as a designer,” she said, developing product and informative videos that allow “the user/designer to actually see what the product would look like with scale and texture. This is our way of bringing the product to the buyer without physically being there. This is exactly where my female empathetic nature comes in. I put myself in somebody else’s shoes and thought about what would make my life easier as a designer, without having access to a materials library or getting to a showroom.” 

Michelle Chapman 
National Tile Contractors Association

Michelle Chapman has worn many hats within the association, including membership recruitment and working the booth at the Coverings tradeshow.

If you’ve seen ANYTHING NTCA has produced, most likely Michelle Chapman has had a hand in it. She is the longest-employed member of the NTCA staff still actively on the payroll, and has a unique and comprehensive overview of how the association has grown in her 20 years at NTCA – which she celebrates on November 7th of this year!

While working at an insurance company, Chapman honed her skills when the company sought to produce its own marketing materials in house, and she learned Quark Xpress, a graphic design program. In 1995, a typesetter position opened up at Hederman Brothers Printing – Mississippi’s largest commercial printer – for someone with graphic design knowledge. Chapman clinched the job, continuing to add to her knowledge. NTCA – and its TileLetter magazine – became one of her projects, starting in 1996. 

NTCA staff from 2008 – top row (l. to r.) Gerald Sloan, Workshop Director, Bart Bettiga, Executive Director; Bob Brown, Membership Director; Joe Tarver, Executive Director Emeritus; Gigi Wall, Accounting; Michelle Chapman, Art Director; and Lesley Goddin, Editor. 

In February 2000, then-NTCA Executive Director Joe Tarver asked Chapman to freelance several issues of TileLetter due to ongoing health challenges of editor Myra Cardwell. In September of that year, Tarver asked Chapman to join NTCA full time as Production Manager/Assistant Editor and designer of TileLetter. “It was the best career decision I ever made,” she said. Chapman wore many hats – producing the magazine and collateral material, handling membership billing, as well as advertising sales and billing.

Eighteen months after Chapman joined NTCA, Bart Bettiga (r.) was hired. Staff has since grown from four to 16 employees.

Eighteen months after Chapman joined NTCA, Bart Bettiga was hired to take over for Joe Tarver. Since then, she’s watched the staff grow from four people to 16, and the magazine grow from 68 pages to over 100 plus pages, including special issues – at one point, publishing 17 issues a year.

When the workshop program got a revamp, there was a need for more direct mail pieces, and a new trailer design that sported sponsor logos. NTCA’s presence at trade shows and conventions blossomed – requiring a new booth design – and the NTCA Reference Manual morphed from a black and white publication in a three-ring binder to a 300+ page bound book full of color photos. All of this – and more – has fallen into Chapman’s purview. “Creatively, I’ve been a part of every single piece of all of this, and that’s pretty overwhelming to think about now.”

In 2013, Chapman redesigned the NTCA Reference Manual from a black and white publication in a three-ring binder to the 300+ page bound book it is today.
Working the Coverings booth in Orlando, Fla., (l. to r.) Mary Shaw-Olson, Advertising Sales; Michelle Chapman, Art Director; and Lesley Goddin, Editor.

In addition to her curiosity, work ethic, eye for design and quick-study skills, Chapman said, “I believe women, in general, bring value to any workplace because of their natural ability to value relationships. We create an atmosphere of teamwork and that contributes to cranking out a lot of work and getting the job done, no matter what that job is. I’m persuasive in sales but I’m also an empathetic and encouraging listener to my advertisers and colleagues. And I’ve created true, lifelong friendships with some of the most amazing people of this industry. When I was hired, Myra said to me, ‘The people of this industry are the best of the best and you’ll never meet more genuine and down-to-earth people than people in the tile business.’ How right she was.”

The future is bright for women in tile

Suiter said that tile is a good career choice for those graduating high school or even as a mid-life career choice. “Creativity, multi-tasking, organizational skills – all while managing stress – have become the toolkit many modern American women rely on to get through a day,” she said. “Tile work specifically is a great career because of the time flexibility – you can have a family, or explore other interests while keeping a flexible daily or monthly schedule. The money is good, the risks are not major ones and you’ll definitely stay in shape physically and mentally.”

“Any career that a woman can do is a great career for a woman to do,” Michael-Battaglia added. “All I demand is that I am treated with the same respect as everyone else… there are powerful women in the industry, and I think that more women can be a part of it in terms of leadership and technical roles.” 

“If you possess a good mix of creative, artistic and technical skills, then the tile industry is definitely an option,” Chapman said. “NTCA provides close to 100 courses that you can use to understand all the products, methods and standards that can be used in a successful tile installation and they can be accessed online 24/7. The tile industry can provide a good living for anyone, but as a woman pursuing a career in this industry, it also clears the path for other young girls and women to break from the traditional and show them they can truly be and do whatever fuels their passion.” 

NTCA names residential and commercial Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year

NTCA has selected the Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year in both residential and commercial categories, lauding tile setter craftpeople who reflect the best training and resulting skill, and qualities of leadership, positivity and continued striving for excellence.

The commercial winner is Ferid Hasic of Grazzini Brothers & Company, Eagan, Minn., nominated by Greg Grazzini, CEO and President. Leonardo “Leo” Reynaga of Visalia Ceramic Tile, Inc., nominated by Teresa Inglehart, Residential Operations Assistant, walks away with the residential honors. Both winners hailed from NTCA Five-Star contractor member companies. 

Rod Owen, C.C. Owen Co., Mike Micalizzi of Custom Building Products, and James Woelfel, consultant, scored the commercial entries. Jan Hohn of Hohn & Hohn, Inc., William White, ARDEX, and consultant Nyle Wadford judged the residential entries. 

Those submitting a nominee for consideration were required to supply a letter of nomination stating why they were nomimated, a resume that specified noteworthy achievements, examples of leadership and efforts to stay educated on products and methods important to the trade. In addition, each application had to include three to five projects, complete with photos and description of the candidate’s role in the projects. 

Judging criteria included the following factors: 

  • 15 years or more setting tile, and continuing to set tile as part of job today (Yes/No)
  • Technical correctness of tile installations – 25%
  • Craftsmanship/Artistry – 30%
  • Ability to resolve tile installation problems – 20%
  • Self-improvement/continuing education – 15%
  • Mentoring/leading others – 10%

The winners receive round-trip airfare for two to Coverings 2021, hotel accommodations for a three-night stay and will be recognized during NTCA Awards Night during the show. 

Nyle Wadford, a residential category judge, noted, “I am honored to be chosen to judge these entries. Viewing their work and their dedication to their craft was an uplifting experience. When this fast-paced world in which we live demands that it be done more rapidly with ‘get by’ quality, these entrants eschew that notion and proved their dedication to quality on each of the installations reviewed. It is both pleasing and humbling to know that there are still tile installers today that adhere to these practices. Congratulations to all the entrants. They’re all winners in my book!”

Let’s meet our winners!

Ferid Hasic, Grazzini Brothers & Company

Hasic grew up in Bosnia and learned the tile trade from a third generation tile setter in Germany. He and his family moved to the U.S. in January, 1998 and he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. His excellent training in Germany allowed him to skip additional training with the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) Local Union 1 Minnesota, demonstrate his skill and obtain his Tile Setter Journeyman card with the local. He also holds a Stone Mason Journeyman card. 

With levels of increasing responsibility from tile setter to foreman with Grazzini Brothers, he supervises up to 45 workers, while mentoring crew and overseeing projects. He makes it a point to set tile every day, becoming a role model for crew members. 

“If I show the people by my working hard, they will work hard,” Hasic said. “I take pride in my work and want to set a good example. I strive for no punch list on every job. It is important for the people to see that I put myself in their shoes – both my crew and the company. I want to do a good job, so the company gets more jobs. If the company prospers, I will prosper.” 

He keeps up with products and installation methods by using the NTCA University website, the TCNA Handbook and obtaining Union upgrades when offered. In his 21 years with Grazzini Brothers & Company, he has installed over 300 projects. 

“For the past 21 years, Ferid has worked for Grazzini Brothers & Company,” wrote Greg Grazzini in his nomination letter. “I have always been impressed by the exceptional quality of craftsmanship and service he provides to every job and to every client. Ferid displays the ability to adapt fast and efficiently to changing circumstances. He handles manpower with firmness, fairness, sets a good example and has a quiet demeanor that is respected by all his co-workers. His exceptional craftsmanship is continually requested by past clients.”

Hasic isn’t new to awards and accolades – Grazzini Brothers awarded him its own Tile Setter of the Year award in 2000, Foreman of the Year in 2007 and again in 2013. 

“Ferid is one of those people whose skill and dedication motivate those around him,” Grazzini added. “We are proud to have him as part of the Grazzini team and very proud to recognize his contribution to the tile industry with his nomination for the 2020 NTCA Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year Award.” 

Hasic said, “I have worked my whole life in this industry, and I feel it has paid off by winning this award.”

Leo Reynaga, Visalia Ceramic Tile, Inc.

As a young father who started working before even finishing high school, Reynaga came to Visalia Ceramic Tile with no experience, and learned his craft through training with owner Robert Martinho, discovering quickly that this career could provide a good living for his growing family. Inglehart said his go-getter attitude propelled him to success.

“Today, with over 24 years in the trade, Leo has become a top setter for commercial and residential applications,” Inglehart said, in her nomination letter. “It is rare to have one guy the best at projects requiring vast differences from small to large areas, simple to custom details – and he’s got it.” His positive attitude, product knowledge, continuing quest for education and experience and willingness to motivate and encourage others have distinguished him as a leader. Inglehart said he’s brought family members and friends into the trade, trained them and pushed them to excel – not only in installation skills but with chops to plan, set goals and develop a true love for the craft. He continues his own education and holds certifications that include safety citations, Certified Tile Installer and has attended classes and workshops by National Tile Contractors Association, Custom Building Products, and Crossville.

“Leo’s knowledge and application have been an immeasurable asset and he continues to be at top of his trade at every project regardless of residential, commercial or complexity,” Inglehart said. “He is a problem solver, a mentor, and a role model for the entire company.”

Reynaga said that receiving this award demonstrates that “no matter what age or time in your career you could always achieve. This award shows my family and coworkers that if you have dedication, hard work, and love for your craft you will succeed.”

He is proud of how far he has come in the industry. “Working for Visalia Ceramic Tile has taught me the key principles of having a hard working ethic and taking pride in what you do, which is something that I have passed down onto my coworkers and kids as well,” he said. 

Challenges from the work – or working with the homeowner – energize Reynaga. “I like the challenge of finding a solution that I can bring to the table that will benefit the outcome and finished product,” he said.

Proper construction of shower curbs


We have a project that we are looking at that has showers that will receive liners, mud and tile.  The curbs have been constructed out of pressure-treated 2″x4″s that will get wrapped with liner and wall board before tile is installed. Are pressure treated 2x4s acceptable to use in this application? I have read they are not but could not find anything on this in the TCNA guidelines.


Shower methods, in the TCNA Handbook under requirements for wood studs says they must be dry and well braced. The general requirements for wall bracing is found in ANSI A108.11, section 4.1 Wood Framing requirements. This section states all framing lumber should have a moisture content not in excess of 19%. Most pressure-treated lumber has moisture content ranges of 30% to 70%. In a tile assembly, pressure-treated wood as it starts to dry out has a tendency to twist and contort. The rigidity of the tile assembly cannot generally handle that type of movement and can fail.

In some areas, local building codes require pressure-treated lumber to be used when coming into contact with concrete. If this is the case, only the bottom 2×4 should be treated. Some of these codes may be under consideration for change.

Page 258 of the TCNA Handbook shows two industry-recognized construction details for shower curbs with a loose laid liner. One shows lathe and mortar over the liner, the other shows the use of a preformed curb. It is possible to use certain cementitious backer boards on the curb when constructing a pan with a surface-applied bonded waterproofing system.  TCNA Handbook methods B421 and B422 show use of an integrated bonding flange drain or a clamping drain and divot method. Both of these methods use surface-applied bonded waterproofing and a cement board covered curb could be considered with this type of system.  Some types of cementitious backer boards may be approved for this application, but first check with the respective manufacturer. 

NTCA Technical Team

Schluter Systems Opens Additional Distribution, Office, and Training Center in Dallas-Fort Worth

New building is over 500,000 square feet

Schluter-Systems opened a new distribution center, office and training facility in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas on September 1.  The 500,000 square foot center will carry the majority of Schluter’s 8,000 SKUs available in North America. This will significantly enhance service levels especially in the central and southern U.S. states. 

aerial shot of 500,000 sf Schluter warehouse in the Dallas-Fort Worth area
Schluter’s new DFW facility is more than 500,000 square feet

“The location of this warehouse, office and training center was chosen very strategically,” Schluter Systems NA President and CEO, Marco Ludwig announced. “We already have warehouses in Plattsburgh, NY and Reno, NV, so adding this third facility in the major hub of Dallas-Fort Worth will drastically improve our service levels and shipping times to our customers. We are proud and honored to be able to make this investment for our North American customers. In addition to further improving fast and reliable accessibility to Schluter products, this facility will act as another central, convenient, and attractive training location for our customers including both the architectural and installation communities.”

“We anticipate a very quick turnaround on all orders in this region, which will help Schluter products reach the end user much quicker,” stated Henry DeGooyer, Schluter Systems U.S. Senior Vice President of Sales.

“In fact, with this addition to our shipping hubs, we will be able to reach the majority of the country within 72 hours after receiving the purchase order,” Ludwig added.

exterior entrance shot of the new DFW site
This DFW facility is the global leader in implementing a completely new,
leading-edge warehouse management system

This DFW facility is the global leader in implementing a completely new, leading-edge warehouse management system. This new system will be used to optimize all warehouse and distribution processes, making the picking and packing procedures considerably more efficient.

Project Manager & Process Change Manager, Rebecca Packwood, worked closely with company leaders in North America and Germany to ensure the system can be integrated into all Schluter Systems operations. “While in the midst of this complex project we had to overcome many unusual challenges because of the rising pandemic,” Rebecca said. “We weren’t able to physically visit the site as much as we wanted, but despite the obstacles, our team adapted and successfully achieved all milestones. We started receiving inventory in May and expect to be at full capacity by October.”  

“We use our current and future Schluter Systems products as an integral part when it comes to innovative building installations,” Ludwig expressed.

As an example, Schluter Systems decided to install DITRA-HEAT-DUO membrane with a built-in thermal break over the concrete slab with over 15 miles of Schluter heating cables. This DITRA-HEAT system is over 25,000 square feet and managed by 140 thermostats and power modules and warms both the porcelain tile and LVT floors, making it presumably the largest project of electrical floor warming in the world.

“We want to make our warehouse staff, office employees and customers comfortable at this facility and enjoy the experience,” explained Ludwig.

“We can’t overstate the value of having another fixed training hub for our workshops. Installers appreciate the experience and increased level of knowledge they gain by attending our Schluter innovation workshops,” revealed Henry DeGooyer.

Schluter also invested in a cutting edge, energy efficient, lighting system that is highly adaptable to the ever changing business needs and floor space utilization.

“We are always focused on how we can make the tile installer’s job easier and that’s exactly what this project is all about,” Marco Ludwig said. “By improving our service levels and lead times to the market, we will make it even easier for the installer to access and use our Schluter products on a daily basis.”


AGC logo

Sixty percent of firms report future projects have been canceled or delayed, but 52 percent of firms struggle to find craft workers amid worker fears of COVID and unemployment supplement

The coronavirus has harmed the construction industry, prompting project delays and cancellations, layoffs and furloughs, yet it remains difficult for a majority of firms to find craft workers to hire, according to the results of a workforce survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America and Autodesk. The survey paints a picture of an industry in need of immediate recovery measures and longer-term workforce development support, association officials added.

“Few firms have survived unscathed from the pandemic amid widespread project delays and cancellations,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Ironically, even as the pandemic undermines demand for construction services, it is reinforcing conditions that have historically made it hard for many firms to find qualified craft workers to hire.”

Sixty percent of responding firms report having at least one future project postponed or canceled because of the coronavirus, while 33 percent report having projects that were already underway halted because of the pandemic. The share of firms reporting canceled projects has nearly doubled since the survey AGC conducted in June, when 32 percent of respondents reported cancellations.

The coronavirus has also undermined the sector’s productivity levels as firms across the country change the way they operate to protect workers and the public from the disease. Forty-four percent of responding firms report that it has taken longer to complete projects and 32 percent say it has cost more to complete ongoing projects because of the coronavirus. As a result, 40 percent report they have adopted new hardware or software to alleviate labor shortages they have experienced.

“The results of the AGC and Autodesk workforce study reveal that the construction industry is still grappling with the changes and consequences of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Allison Scott, director of construction thought leadership and customer marketing at Autodesk. “The long-term effects of the current crisis have yet to play out, and firms that double down on innovation efforts, whether an increased focus on lean construction, workforce training or technology that facilitates remote collaboration will be well poised for enduring resilience.”

The coronavirus has also negatively affected many firms’ confidence in future demand for projects. Only 42 percent of firms report their volume of business has returned to year-ago levels or is expected to do so in the next six months, compared to 52 percent who held this view in AGC’s June survey. Another 37 percent expect returning to normal levels of business will take more than six months, while the remainder don’t know.

While the pandemic has led to project delays and cancellations nationwide, contractor expectations of recovery do vary by region. Forty-five percent of respondents in the Northeast expect it will take more than six months for their firm’s volume of business to return to normal, compared to only 34 percent of respondents in the West, 35 percent in the South, and 41 percent in the Midwest.

There are also some differences by project type and revenue size. For instance, highway and transportation contractors report the greatest difficulty in filling hourly craft positions, with nearly three out of four (73 percent) reporting an unfilled craft position on June 30. About two-thirds (69 percent) of utility infrastructure and federal and heavy construction firms had unfilled craft positions then, along with 58 percent of building construction firms.

Small firms were less likely to have experienced cancellations of upcoming projects. Fifty-six percent of firms with revenues of $50 million or less report a project has been postponed or canceled, compared with 71 percent of mid-sized firms (revenue between $50.1 million and $500 million) and 69 percent of large firms (revenue exceeding $500 million).

Roughly a third of responding firms furloughed or terminated employees as a result of the pandemic and shutdowns ordered by government officials or project owners. Most of those firms have asked at least some laid-off workers to return to work. But 44 percent of firms that recalled employees report that some have refused to return, citing a preference for unemployment benefits, virus concerns, or family responsibilities, among other reasons.

The pandemic has also made it difficult for many firms to fill open positions, especially for hourly craft jobs. A majority (52 percent) of respondents report having a hard time filling some or all hourly craft positions, especially openings for laborers, carpenters and equipment operators. Sixty percent of firms had at least one unfilled hourly craft position as of June 30. In addition, 28 percent of respondents report difficulty filling salaried positions—in particular, project managers and supervisors.

In addition to turning to diverse technologies to alleviate labor shortages, 38 percent of firms report having increased base pay rates to attract and retain workers. In contrast, only 3 percent of firms have reduced pay, in spite of the downturn in business.

Construction firms also identified a series of measures that Washington officials could take to help the industry. Fifty-five percent of responding firms, for example, said they were looking to Congress to increase funding for all forms of public infrastructure and facilities. Fifty-three percent of firms want Congress and the Trump administration to enact liability reforms to shield companies who are protecting workers from the coronavirus from needless lawsuits. And 41 percent want Congress to address unemployment benefits that serve as artificial barriers to returning people to work.

Association officials unveiled new plans to encourage more people to pursue high-paying careers in construction to ease hiring challenges and find a way to attract recently unemployed people into the construction industry. Among other steps, the association is launching a new “Construction is Essential” campaign to highlight the many benefits of construction careers.

“There is a lot that Washington officials can do to help boost demand for construction projects and get more people back to work rebuilding the economy,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer, noting the association was pushing Congress and the administration to enact new recovery measures. “The challenge is that the coronavirus has put many contractors in the position of looking for work and workers at the same time.”

The association and Autodesk conducted the Workforce Survey between August 4 and 26. Over 2000 firms completed the survey from a broad cross-section of the construction industry, including union and open shop firms of all sizes. The 2020 Workforce Survey is the association’s eighth annual workforce-related survey.

Click here for survey materials including national, regional and state fact sheets, survey analysis and event remarks.

Stunning grotto project combines custom glass and ceramic mosaic with high-level installation expertise

Heritage Marble & Tile, Inc., wins CID Award for Residential Tile Installation

Only a rendering and preliminary plan of the Grotto were available at the pre-construction meeting.

This Corte Madera Pool Grotto project grabbed the Coverings Installation & Design (CID) Award for Residential Tile Installation back in April, announced during Coverings Connected virtual trade show. This homeowner’s dream project of a Moroccan-style pool grotto was brought to life through the expert installation of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Heritage Marble & Tile, Inc., in Mill Valley, Calif. 

Heritage Marble & Tile was brought onto the bidding process by landscape architect Todd Standley at Simmonds and Associates in San Anselmo, Calif., on the recommendation of tile supplier Ceramic Tile Design in San Rafael, Calif. Ceramic Tile Design provided the custom glass mosaic tile manufactured by Sicis and the handmade ceramic tile from Pratt and Larson that would form the project’s intricate design. The grotto, which has a circumference of 55 ft., would use approximately 500 sq. ft. of tile by the time the project was complete. 

A story pole was attached to the center point of the domed roof, with datum established that would guide the layout. 

Martin Brookes, owner of Heritage Marble & Tile, said that at the pre-construction meeting, the grotto structure had not yet been poured and only a rendering and preliminary plan were available. 

“Numerous pre-construction site visits took place to ensure that all parties were kept up to date about any issues or changes that arose during the project,” he said. “We projected that the project would be completed in 6-7 weeks.”

Brookes explained that the pool grotto shell had been formed with gunite, and did not meet substrate tolerances for both glass and ceramic tile installation. “To address this issue, we floated the walls, trued up the niches and arch, and used a laser level to create critical layout lines,” he said. “The center point of the domed roof was used to attach a story pole, and datum was established on which the layout would be dependent upon. The pool grotto’s structure required numerous hours of preparation to make the walls smooth enough to accept the Sicis glass mosaic tile. Once the walls were within tolerance, LATICRETE Hydro Ban Cementitious membrane was applied, which is specifically designed for pool applications.”

When Heritage Marble & Tile was ready to begin the tile installation, the project encountered several installation challenges:

  • The mosaic had been carefully drawn by the architect, who had instructed Sicis to cut the niches out during production, thus the tile installation had to accommodate the existing structure. 
  • The niches were not poured in the correct position and ranged from 2-3 inches off-center. 
  • The diameter at the bottom of the grotto was poured 2 inches larger than at the top. 

Brookes said, “To resolve these installation challenges required a cost analysis to determine whether to return the tile to Sicis in Italy to have it adjusted with about a three-month lead time, or make the adjustments on site with our team of qualified installers who held Certified Tile Installer (CTI) and Advanced Certification for Tile Installers (ACT) credentials. We chose to make the adjustments on site, and after much discussion with the architect came up with a game plan: the niches would have to be pieced in by hand and the circles in the mosaic pattern re-worked. This took time but was much faster than the other option of returning the tile to Italy.”

Niches had to be pieced in by hand by installer Gabriel Cortez and helper Ledesmo Calderon.

Brookes said installer Gabriel Cortez – with CTI and ACT credentials – along with helper Ledesmo Calderon took the lead on making these adjustments. “There are few installers I know have the ability and skill like Gabriel to perform this kind of install,” Brookes said. “His attention to detail and focus are exemplary. He is a true asset not only to Heritage Marble & Tile Inc., but to the whole tile community, producing artwork that will last for years to come.”

The Heritage crew began the tile installation by protecting the work area with a structure to maintain a stable ambient temperature. The Pratt and Larson ceramic tile stars on the ceiling and trim were set with LATICRETE Titanium thinset, chosen because of its superior bond strength and workability characteristics. The entire project was grouted with Litokol Starlike EVO epoxy grout that uses Zherorisk® technology – non-hazardous to the environment, non-toxic, non-corrosive and very low VOC. The black grout used on the ceiling contained golden flecks that accentuated the star effect. 

The resulting project took about 12 weeks from start to spectacular finish. “This was a technically challenging installation that tested the focus, detail, and stamina of the installer,” Brookes concluded. “The end result was a stunning pool grotto that exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

Pratt and Larson ceramic tile stars on the ceiling and trim were set with LATICRETE Titanium thinset and grouted with Litokol Starlike EVO epoxy grout. 
The finished stunning pool grotto took 12 weeks and exceeded all expectations. 

MAPEI’s total solutions for luxury living in Honolulu

The Park Lane Ala Moana is an ultra-luxurious, low-rise set of condominiums located in Honolulu, HI. Nestled on 7.3 acres, the multimillion-dollar complex houses seven buildings with 217 units ranging in size from 1,600 sq. ft. to more than 6,500 sq. ft. per condo. The upscale development features resort-style amenities that include oversized unit balconies, private pools and garages, a luxury spa, a wine room, entertainment facilities, a gym, a library, lounges for all owners and guests, a 300-piece private art collection, extensive tropical landscaping and much more.

Park Lane Ala Moana is a prime real-estate property located on the grounds of the Ala Moana Shopping Center, the largest retail complex in the state of Hawaii. Park Lane Ala Moana also presently houses the highest recorded price in Hawaii for a condominium, which sold for $23.5 million (USD). A condominium complex of Park Lane Ala Moana’s magnitude and elegance required detailed work, constant coordination, a dedicated team, and high-quality products during its construction. MAPEI was on hand to help achieve the project’s ultra-luxurious design.

MAPEI products on the jobsite

Over the course of two years, crews from installer A-American Custom Flooring and contractor Albert C. Kobayashi, Inc. worked together to install numerous MAPEI products in order to match the various substrates and specified installation needs. 

“This project included almost every type of installation you can think of,” said Stephen Pazienza, MAPEI’s coordinator on the project. “It was a completely new build. There was waterproofing and prep work. The crews worked on masonry and on concrete. They worked on the building facades and installed cladding. They installed ceramic and stone tiles, wooden flooring, resilient, and carpet.

“There was a total of 1,535,000 sq.ft. [142,606 m2] quoted for this project,” Pazienza said. “It ended up being 980,000 sq. ft. [91,045 m2] of tile, stone, pavers and cladding; 375,000 sq.ft. [34, 39 m2] of wood flooring; 175,000 sq.ft. [16,258 m2] of carpet; and 25,000 sq.ft. [2,323 m2] of resilient and rubber flooring.” 

Achieving zero-tolerance thresholds

During the period of building in Honolulu, many Honolulu architects and designers were specifying luxury high-rise projects that focused on “zero-tolerance” transitions for all finish work. This zero-tolerance-transition design scheme created challenges for interior and exterior walls and flooring, requiring that all transitions had no change of plane from material to material. Height transitions from tile, wood, carpet and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and amenities had to be benchmarked to the same specifics. Even if thresholds were used, the heights of all of the thresholds had to remain at zero transition. 

To ensure a high-quality appearance and truly flat floor, MAPEI’s self-leveling products became the major products for providing and adjusting height transitions.  Novoplan 1, Novoplan 2 Plus and Ultraplan 1 Plus underlayments were used for the bulk of the self-leveling work in conjunction with Primer L, Primer T and ECO Prim Grip. When needed, Planiprep SC skimcoating compound was used to skimcoat over the self-leveling materials for resilient- and wood-flooring installations.

Hawaii’s climate and the jobsite’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean meant that moisture mitigation was a must to ensure stability for the LEED-certified wood flooring, carpet and resilient-/rubber-flooring installation. 

Planiseal VS was the main moisture mitigation product for all areas of wood- and resilient-flooring installations; for bedroom carpeting, Primer WE was used as an approved moisture mitigator in order to save on costs. Mapecem Quickpatch was also applied and used as a pre-moisture floor patch. In addition, Mapelastic AquaDefense waterproofing membrane was used with Reinforcing Fabric for bathrooms, showers, kitchens, patios, spa facilities, landscaping and balconies.

Setting the stone

Granirapid and Kerabond T/Keralastic Systems mortars were used to install various types of natural stone on the vertical exterior facades, providing necessary bond strength and rapid setup in specific areas. For all terrace and retaining-wall installations, Mapelastic cementitious membrane was used to help create the large “Puka Lava” volcanic-stone look.

Ultraflex LFT became the “workhorse” mortar for all large-format tile and stone installations – both interior and exterior – that included bathrooms, showers, common areas, walkways, meeting rooms, dining rooms and recreation areas. Ultraflex LFT is a premium, non-slump, non-sag, large-format tile mortar with polymer, making it an ideal product for these installations. 

Other product installation included Ultracolor Plus FA, Keracolor S (sanded) and Keracolor U (unsanded) for grouting tile, and Mapesil T sealant for caulking and expansion joints. Mapecem 102 mortar was used to build exterior concrete ways and landings to fix depressions; Planitop X and Planitop XS repair mortars were used for structural repairs and Planicrete W setting compound was used to adhere limestone to elevator-cab doors. For the pool-deck installation, Ultraflex LFT and Keracolor S were used to set the pool coping. In addition, Adesilex P10 Mosaic & Glass Tile mortar was used to set glass-tile mosaics within the spa area. 

To complete the tile installations, crews cleaned the tile using UltraCare Epoxy Grout Haze Remover and UltraCare Heavy-Duty Stone, Tile & Grout Cleaner. They then sealed the tile with UltraCare Penetrating Stone, Tile & Grout Sealer, a natural-looking, water-based penetrating sealer for maximum protection against staining.

For wood-flooring installation, Ultrabond ECO 980, Ultrabond ECO 985 and Ultrabond ECO 995 adhesives were used, along with Ultrabond ECO 810 adhesive for carpet tile, Ultrabond ECO 360 adhesive for resilient flooring and Ultrabond ECO 711 adhesive for vinyl flooring in maintenance areas.

MAPEI’s quality, reputation and warranty standards have been used around the world, and are now part of Park Lane Ala Moana, one of the most unique and luxurious residences in Hawaii. MAPEI is proud to be a part of this living entity and historic development that stands at the gateway of famed Waikiki Beach.

The butterfly effect: Monarch migration mural by ALMA Summer Institute transforms convention center

Young apprentices create and install colorful handmade mosaics that inspire, celebrate and honor

ALMA Operations Director Margarita Paz-Pedro with the in-process mural and a butterfly. 

Back in 2015, TileLetter covered the Albuquerque ALMA (Apprenticeships for Leaders in Mosaic Arts) Summer Institute for the first time. It had been initially established in 1999 as part of the Mayor’s Art Institute, under Mayor Jim Baca. Housed at the Harwood Art Center from 2008-2015, it afforded young people aged 16-25 from high schools, college, and the community the opportunity to conceptualize, design, plan, hand-make and glaze tiles, and install them in various sites around town as part of a paid summer apprenticeship. 

Flash forward to 2020 – I revisited the ALMA ( program, which is now its own non-profit, operating out of a new studio. Back in 2015, the mural was installed on the exterior walls of the Albuquerque Convention Center. This year, the program returned to the Convention Center with a mural of migrating Monarch butterflies that weaves words and imagery into a graceful swirl of color, shapes, and meaning along the East wall. 

ALMA (which means “soul” in Spanish) is now operated by a handful of lead artists and three co-directors: Cassandra Reid (, Executive Director; Vanessa Alvarado (, Outreach Director; and Margarita Paz-Pedro (, Operations Director. Alvarado took the lead on this project with expert consultation by Reid; Paz-Pedro handled the installation. 

Paz-Pedro toured me through the jobsite one warm day in mid-July. She has a BFA in Ceramics from the University of Colorado at Boulder, holds a Masters in Art Education from UNM, teaches full-time high school art and ceramics at La Academia de Esperanza charter school in Albuquerque’s South Valley, and does her own tile mosaics and functional wheel-thrown pottery – all while helping to lead ALMA. Her love for tile was ignited by her grandfather – who, after retiring as an engineer – became a “tile fanatic,” Paz-Pedro said. “He bought scrap tile and mosaics, and tiled EVERYTHING in the house – walls, floors, garden – as a hobby.”

(l. to r.) Margarita Paz-Pedro, Tori Lucero and Atom Vigil work on the mural installation in July.

Paz-Pedro started making tile in college, pieces she could hang on the wall that incorporated motifs from her Native and Mexican roots. When a teacher discouraged her, she lost momentum for a while until she rediscovered tile designs from pottery in 2009 that coincided with her teaching, and then her ceramic work started taking off. Through her involvement with ALMA, she’s helped lead projects around Albuquerque and also in Las Cruces, N.M. 

Poetic inspiration

The process for this mural began in February and involved a series of workshops led by local poet Jessica Helen Lopez that allowed apprentices to explore and envision themes for the project. Almost 320 clay letters spell out the poem that was developed in the winter, and the words wind through the mural as a graphic element. In this time of COVID, all initial work in March, April, and May was done via Zoom and Google Docs.

Then came the process of making tile and glazing it. Hundreds of butterflies, flowers, and geometric pieces, as well as signature Monarchs, were made of a sculpture clay by New Mexico Clay, and layers of glazes by Coyote Glaze, Spectrum, Mayco, Laguna and Amaco applied. 

Apprentices adorned white stoneware butterflies with names of Native tribes.

Again, COVID necessitated the purchase of cleaning materials and masks, the latter of which turned out to not be as onerous as expected. “At first masks were itchy, but wearing them for 1.5 months, and installing, they are almost second nature,” said Atom Vigil, one of the apprentices working on the 2020 project. 

When it came time to install the mural, apprentices worked from
6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to avoid the summer heat, which can get intense in the high desert, even though the jobsite was protected by an overhang. 

Inspired by ceramics

The five apprentices that worked on this project come from a wide range of backgrounds, all of whom were returning from past year’s projects. TileLetter spoke with lead apprentices Tori Lucero, who is in her 6th summer with ALMA, and Vigil, who joined ALMA in 2018.

Lucero, 25, was recommended to this program by someone who knew of her passion for art. “I have a love for making ceramics,” she said. She dreams of starting her own business. “The installation is my favorite part,” she said. “It’s very calming. “

Vigil, 20, came to ALMA on the recommendation of his ceramics teacher. He is currently studying art education at the University of New Mexico, and his main art form is making functional ceramics. 

“This is a great summer job,” Vigil said. “I love working with glazes to get different colors.” He loves the installation as well. “It’s one thing to see it on paper, and it’s another to see it take shape.” Vigil enjoyed the chance to put a personal touch in past murals, with personally-designed tiles. 

In addition to Lucero and Vigil, apprentices Jacqueline De La Cruz, Jai Salazar, and Jacquelyn Helpa helped give life to this mural. Mosaics were installed with MAPEI Ultraflex LFT and grouted with C-Cure MP Sanded 924 grout. 

 (U.l. to r.) Vanessa Alvarado (Lead Artist), Tori Lucero (Lead Apprentice), Jai Salazar (Apprentice), Atom Vigil (Apprentice) and Jacquelyn Yepa (Apprentice). Members of the team not pictured are Jaqueline De La Cruz (Lead Apprentice), Margarita Paz-Pedro (Lead Artist) and Cassandra Reid (Lead Artist).

The “Migrating Souls of Wisdom” mural was completed on July 22. Inspired by the migration of Monarch butterflies from Canada through the U.S. to Mexico, it’s also symbolic of “transcending borders,” Paz-Pedro explained, honoring the four generations of butterflies that make the trip. Individual butterflies feature tiny letters that spell the names of Native tribes and four generations from the artists’ own families.

This design spreads from last year’s Healing into Harmony mural and incorporates the negative space of the concrete convention center wall as part of the design, versus the edge-to-edge murals the group has created in the past. It even incorporates curved tiles that follow the contours of the walls. 

In her book, The Language of Butterflies, New York Times bestselling author and science journalist Wendy Williams observes that, “the language of butterflies is the language of color.” That is truly the case with this ALMA mural, which uses colorful mosaics to convey a profound message of beauty and meaning – putting the “butterfly effect” into motion, with a single mural that can change lives of young apprentices, and those who stop to view and ponder this work when visiting downtown Albuquerque. 

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