Timeless natural stone showcases luxury retail with a full system from CUSTOM

Westfield Valley Fair is the highest sales volume shopping center in California – the state with the most space dedicated to retail. Over the course of three years, $1.1B was spent to renovate this property in the heart of Silicon Valley, and expand the mall from 1.5M to 2.2M total square feet. Already a highly popular tourist attraction, the upscale center added 150 new stores with a focus on luxury brands. This extensive enhancement included installing 360,000 sq. ft. of natural stone, porcelain and glass tile with a full system from Custom Building Products. 

The objective for Valley Fair was “contemporary yet timeless,” which is the very essence of designing with natural stone. Over 240,000 sq. ft. of limestone, marble and sandstone were imported from Italian and Tunisian quarries in 90 full-sized shipping containers. Most of the stone was fabricated into honed 24” equilateral triangles and laid out in solid color, full-diamond and diamond bleed-out patterns that add tremendous sophistication to the site. 

Northern California Tile and Stone (NCTS), an NTCA Five-Star Contractor based in Sacramento, Calif., performed the work on both the renovation and expansion phases of the project. Performing demolition work, preparing the surface and setting pavers while the center remained open for business required tightly coordinated night work. To meet the aggressive schedule and minimize the impact on shoppers, a high-performance, rapid-setting system of tile installation products was chosen. 

Surface preparation

After removing existing tile, the slab was lightly shot-blasted to ICRI Concrete Surface Profile 3. This opened up the concrete to provide a clean surface for bonding an underlayment to bring the floor within tolerances for large-format stone tile. The low-prep CustomTech® flooring preparation products selected for the project do not always require this step, but given the age and condition of the slab, shot blasting was recommended to ensure the best bond to the substrate. TechPrime™ A Advanced Acrylic Primer was diluted 3:1 with three parts water and applied with a soft-bristle push broom to help drive the mixture into the substrate. This highly versatile primer and sealer can be used to prepare both porous and non-porous substrates for leveling. 

TechLevel 150 Self-Leveling Underlayment was pumped throughout the project to achieve a truly flat floor.

A smoothing tool is used to take TechLevel 150 Self-Leveling Underlayment to a feather edge at low spots in the slab.

After the primer dried, TechLevel™ 150 Premium Calcium Aluminate Based Self-Leveling Underlayment was poured to an average depth of 1/4”. High flow TechLevel 150 was pumped over the extensive concourses but also barrel mixed in the smaller areas as the prep work drew to a close. This super-fluid leveler can be batch mixed or inline mixed to scale for jobs of all sizes and the leveling work was self-performed by installers from NCTS. With a compressive strength greater than 4300 psi, TechLevel 150 is suitable for most projects and can be poured up to 1.5” per lift while resisting cracking. 

“We had great feedback from installers that had used other leveling products,” offered Erik Johnson, Project Superintendent with NCTS. “TechLevel 150 was a big factor in the successful outcome of the whole project. The tolerances were tighter, and we were not fighting substrate differences or seeing lippage.” 

To protect the natural stone on the mall’s busy concourses, RedGard® Waterproofing and Crack Prevention Membrane was specified throughout the project. RedGard controls in-plane crack transmission up to 1/8” in tile and stone floors and exceeds the requirements of ANSI A118.12 for crack isolation. This ready-to-use elastomeric membrane was primarily applied with an airless spray rig due to the immense size of the shopping center. A thickness of 40 wet mils of RedGard was achieved with two coats and subjected to quality control inspections with digital calipers. RedGard was also used in the new and renovated restrooms to provide waterproofing protection exceeding ANSI A118.10.  

Tile installation 

Both the renovated and new areas of the mall were set with 24” marble and limestone triangle pavers as well as 18” sandstone. All of the large-format stone on floors was set with Complete Contact-LFT Premium Rapid Setting Large Format Tile Mortar. This polymer-modified full contact mortar is especially designed for installing large and heavy materials on floors where it can eliminate back buttering with improved mortar transfer. Complete Contact is quite fluid to help wet out the back of the tile, yet holds ridges to support large pavers and the deeper notch trowels needed to install them. Crucial to fast-track renovations like Valley Fair, tile can be grouted in two hours and light foot traffic can be allowed in as little as four hours. High-performance Complete Contact-LFT also exceeds ANSI A118.15F for demanding, heavy duty applications like the mall. 

Complete Contact-LFT Mortar allowed installers to meet the minimum 95% coverage required for natural stone.

Directional troweling and SuperiorBilt Premium Notch trowels helped prevent voids beneath the tile.

The NCTS installers on the project employed back buttering and then lifted each tile to ensure the 95% minimum mortar coverage rate needed with natural stone. They used SuperiorBilt® Premium Notch trowels that are designed to promote ridge collapse and mortar transfer. Crew members were impressed by the strength of the SuperiorBilt margin trowel’s weld points, which held up over months of lifting the heavy, fully embedded stone.

“We had a quality end product and a minimal punch list because of good coverage with the right product, the right trowels and proper technique,” said Eric Witcher, General Manager of NCTS. “This was huge!”

Installing both glass mosaics and 12” x 24” porcelain tile on walls called for a versatile, high-performance, polymer-modified mortar. ProLite® Premium Large Format Tile Mortar was specified for both of these hard-to-bond-to materials in vertical assemblies that were installed in restrooms and accent areas off the main concourses. ProLite offers high bond strength in a lightweight formula with excellent handling characteristics. 40% lighter than traditional mortars, ProLite will not sag on walls or slump on floors, and exceeds ANSI A118.15TE for thixotropic performance and extended open time for adjustment.  

“We love ProLite!,” said Witcher. “It is so versatile – just a great product.” 


Nearly all the tile on the project was grouted with Prism® Ultimate Performance Cement Grout.  Prism’s calcium aluminate-based formula delivers consistent color without mottling or shading and it will not contribute to efflorescence. Recycled content and fine aggregate sand provide a smooth consistency that is easy to clean as well as 30% lighter than other grouts. With high early strength and dense, stain-resistant joints, Prism was the perfect choice for Valley Fair’s rapid-setting requirements.  

Prism Ultimate Performance Grout was installed on walls as well as high-traffic floors in all concourses.

“I have used a lot of grout in my lifetime and Prism is awesome stuff!” offered Johnson. “We had great production rates because it is so easy to use and the rich color was completely consistent throughout.”  

“We had no issues due to traffic,” added Witcher. “Any other product would have been damaged; I was shocked to see how well it held up.” 

Soft movement joints at perimeters and intervals in the field were placed and filled with permanently flexible sealant per TCNA Detail EJ171.

Prior to grouting, the honed – and therefore more porous – natural stone pavers were sealed with Aqua Mix® Sealer’s Choice® Gold. Sealer’s Choice is a premium, natural look, water-based penetrating sealer that provides maximum stain protection while allowing moisture vapor transmission. After curing, the Prism cement grout was also sealed. For added chemical resistance due to cleaning regimens, restroom floors were grouted with CEG™-Lite 100% Solids Commercial Epoxy Grout. 

TCNA guidelines were carefully adhered to throughout the project, including Detail EJ171. In accordance with EJ171, movement joints were placed every 20 feet on ground and every 12 feet on suspended slabs. Soft joints were included at all perimeters and changes of plane, with additional accommodation made for tile exposed to sunlight. Joints were filled with Commercial 100% Silicone Sealant, which remains permanently flexible to protect tile and grout in the assembly from expected movement. “The silicone was an excellent color match to the grout,” said Johnson. “It is hard to see the movement joints – just as it should be.”

24” equilateral triangles of marble and limestone were set in full diamond and diamond bleed patterns.

With a full system of surface preparation, tile-setting, grout and care products from CUSTOM, Westfield Valley Fair qualified for a 20-year installation warranty. 

“Custom’s technical rep invested a lot of time with our general contractor and our architect, and they utilized all of their assets and resources to help wherever needed,” said Witcher. 

“I’ve worked with Custom for 30 years,” added Johnson. “They show support and advocacy from beginning to end on every project.”

Six different natural stones featuring Italian marble were used to create the signature atrium mosaics.

Westfield Valley Fair is the perfect luxury showcase for designing with natural stone.

Tile Applications are “Grout-Ready” in just 4 Hours with Bostik’s BAM™

Introduced to the market during Total Solutions Plus was Bostik’s new, fiber-reinforced, RapidCure Mortar for large and heavy tile mortar.

Introducing BAM, Bostik’s latest high-performance, fiber-reinforced tile mortar. Formulated with RapidCure™ Technology, BAM™ offers maximum performance for installations of large and heavy tile, glass tile, mosaics, quarry, porcelain, ceramic, most natural stone tiles, and even gauged porcelain tile / panels.

Most notably, its RapidCure Technology allows for a consistent cure resulting in tile being ready for grouting in just 4 hours. Additionally, BAMdelivers exceptional bond strength that exceeds ANSI 118.15 requirements.

Ideal for use over various sheet membranes, BAM can also be used over properly prepared concrete; cement backer boards; masonry; concrete block; mortar beds; cement terrazzo; structurally sound exterior grade plywood (interior / dry use only); existing, well-bonded vinyl composite tile (VCT); existing tiles; cutback adhesive residue (dry only) and various anti-fracture and waterproofing membranes.

According to Adam Abell, Bostik’s Market Manager, Tile & Stone Installation Systems, “As our industry advances, the ‘need for speed’ becomes more and more of a reality. BAM not only cures rapidly, it may be installed on top of a wide variety of substates. Installations with BAM make it possible for tile contractors to confidently leave the jobsite on or even before scheduled completion times… and get right over to their next project. Floors can be ‘traffic-ready’ in record time.”

TEC products spell success for gauged porcelain panel installation at Kent State University

Tips for a stellar GPTP installation

Gauged porcelain tile panels (GPTP) continue to grow in popularity. They provide a sleek, modern look that appeals to designers, architects and owners. For tile contractors, these projects can be a great way to grow business. However, experienced GPTP installers have learned to carefully consider all aspects of the installation to complete the project successfully. 

Panel handling

Special rail and suction cup system for safe GPTP handling.

Panels qualify as GPTP if they are 3.5 – 6.5 mm thick (1/8”-1/4”), with tile sizes reaching up to 1.5M x 3M (5’ x 10’). Because of their size, contractors usually add manpower to the job. A minimum of two people are required for handling the panels – with many contractors scheduling three people – an important consideration for accurate bids. 

Additionally, panel delivery and movement must be carefully planned out. Consider the exact route the panels will travel to get to the installation site and plan for any challenges such as unloading, building entry, tight hallways, stairwells or elevators. If panels are not immediately being installed, secure an on-site storage area large enough to accommodate the panels safely. 

Recently, Ryan Carpet of Austintown, Ohio, faced the challenge of managing 1M x 3M (3.3’ x 9.8’) Laminam® panels for the remodel of the women’s, men’s and universal restrooms in the Kent Student Center at Kent State University. The beautiful blue gauged porcelain panel tiles had to be transported carefully through the Student Center to the three restroom areas. With a tight summer timetable, multiple trades working in tandem and a relatively small project space, Carpet made sure to do the additional planning needed for the movement and cutting of the GPTP. Frames with suction cups designed for these types of panels made it easier to handle them safely. Carpet had sufficient manpower at the site, so that at least two team members were available for lifting and supporting the panels. 

Proper transport of GPTP requires at least two people.

Proper transport of GPTP requires at least two people.

Use the right tools

Special trowel designed for GPTP.

Special trowel designed for GPTP.

GPTP projects cannot be done without a number of special tools. In addition to the frames/suction cups mentioned earlier, forks and extended forks are needed. GPTP come in oversized crates, so extended forks that are a minimum of 84” are required for proper unloading. Additionally, a large heavy-duty table is critical to support the entire panel for application of the mortar. Special trowels are designed for use with GPTPs that encourage mortar ridge collapse without shifting the tile back and forth to collapse the ridges. A square notch trowel would require the panel to be shifted back and forth, which is almost impossible with tile this large. 

Surface prep and substrate needs 

For any GPTP project, contractors must review the strict requirements for wall, ceiling and floor substrates set by the IRC (residential) and IBC (commercial). Ansi.org offers complete information, but here are some tips for a successful installation: 

  1. GPTP can never be bonded to a wood-frame surface. Wood-based panels expand and contract with changes in moisture content, which causes an unstable environment for the panels. 
  2. Substrates must be clean, dry, flat bondable surfaces and conform with IRC/IBC standards, or local building codes. They must also be free of all contaminants such as sealers, cleaning or curing compounds, coatings, oil and loose surface material. Extremely flat substrate surfaces are a necessity due to the large size and thinness of the panels. To avoid failures, see manufacturer instructions for exact requirements and prepare the substrate accordingly.
  3. GPTPs can be direct bonded to the following wall and ceiling backing board and panel types: cementitious backer unit, fiber-cement backer board, glass mat water-resistant gypsum backer board, fiber-reinforced gypsum panel and gypsum board/drywall (dry areas only). 
  4. GPTPs for floors can be direct bonded to clean, sound, dimensionally stable concrete or cured bonded and unbonded mortar beds.*
Troweling from center of GPTP parallel to short side

Troweling from center of GPTP parallel to short side.

Installation products and techniques 

GPTP in Kent State University men’s restroom.

The popularity of these panels has brought about next-generation mortars. These mortars combine great handling properties with better slip and slump capabilities, along with long open time, long bucket life, and faster set times. Both thixotropic and pseudoplastic mortars work for GPTP depending on the project needs. Not all A118.15 mortars are designed for large-format tile like GPTP, and installers should ensure the suitability of the mortar for the application. TEC® Ultimate 6 Plus Mortar is ideal for GPTP installations because it significantly increases the coverage achieved and has exceptional non-sag/non-slump characteristics for wall and floor applications. It has an extended open time and pot life, and superior transfer capabilities.

GPTP entrance to remodeled Kent State University men’s restroom.

For installing GPTP, the recommended method is to trowel parallel to the shortest tile edge, on the substrate. Remember to keep the lines on the substrate as straight as possible. On the GPTP, mortar must be troweled on the back of the tile. Mortar ridges should be parallel to the shortest edge. Trowel from the middle of the shortest edge outward and repeat on the other side. This should form a straight line dam down the middle of the tile where the trowel ridges from each side meet.

For floor applications the tile must then be lifted using a rack and installed over the troweled substrate. Then, to embed the tile in the mortar, installers should walk down the center of the longest edge before returning to the center of the tile and shuffling towards the shortest edge, being sure to take small steps to squeeze out air. Repeat this shuffle from middle to edge until the entire tile is embedded. For more detail, see ANSI A108.19.

For the Kent Student Center restroom remodel, Ryan Carpet chose TEC Ultimate 6 Plus Mortar because of its ease-of-use and performance. Steve Eickelman, Sales Manager, commented, “My team really likes how creamy Ultimate 6 Plus is for troweling, and yet holds its shape just right for setting gauged panels. They really appreciate having enough time to get full coverage and make adjustments. And, being able to grout just six hours after installation saves us time.” 

Newly remodeled Kent State University women’s restroom with GPTP.

Newly remodeled Kent State University women’s restroom with GPTP.

Eickelman went on to explain that Carpet starts every tile project at Kent State University with TEC HydraFlex™ Waterproofing and Crack Isolation Membrane to protect the installations. Since the restrooms had not been updated in many years, the substrates were in poor condition and nearly all had to be replaced. Carpet made sure all of the older walls were smooth and flat. The surfaces were then ready for the Laminam installation. The team built their own large table to make it easier to apply the mortar to the nearly 10’ panels. 

The job was finished with TEC Power Grout® for its stain proof,** strong, color consistent joints – a smart choice for the high traffic restrooms.

GPTP installations require extra attention to process and detail but are worth the effort for the business building opportunities they can bring. Tile contractors can enjoy the benefits of this tile trend by staying on top of the latest installation tips and techniques through reading industry communications and attending trainings. 

*Mortar bed must conform to mortar bed requirements in ANSI A108.1B. Under normal job conditions, a minimum of 20 hours cure at 70°F (21°C) is adequate, but longer mortar bed cures up to 10 days are desirable

**Power Grout® is stain proof to most common water-based stains when cleaned immediately. The prolonged exposure of any stain will increase the likelihood of permanent staining or discoloration of grout surface.

State-of-the-art technology, innovations highlight product characteristics in mortars and grouts

Mortars have evolved greatly over recent years, in order to keep pace with harder-to-bond porcelain tiles, larger-format tiles, as well as to support slim tiles, 

Arthur Mintie

As Arthur Mintie, Senior Technical Advisor for LATICRETE, noted, saving time and money on the jobsite have become increasingly important as the industry pushes to offer more advanced products to meet construction needs for fast-track projects while incorporating lightweight and dust-free features. “New mortars being developed are creating ways to shorten the entire lead time of residential and commercial tile installations,” he said.

“Other mortar product developments focus on designing new products that meet or exceed regulatory requirements,” he continued, “and are equipped with supporting Health Product Declarations (HPDs), Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and UL GREENGUARD® Certifications.”

Tom Carroll

One of the most significant advancements for large-format tile and stone is the development of large-and-heavy-tile (LHT) mortars (formerly known as medium-bed mortars). “When tile mortars cure, they are inclined to shrink because the displacement of water causes the mortar to retract and either pull away from the tile causing uneven coverage and hollow spots or physically pull the tile down while it hardens, causing lippage,” said Tom Carroll, Senior Product Manager for Merkrete. “Newly formulated LHT mortars are designed to control the amount of shrinking that occurs during the curing process, allowing the tile to stay in position.

“These LHT mortars are formulated with non-slump to withstand movement of larger and heavier weighted tile during installation,” he added. “They also contain increased grab and non-sag/slip for vertical installations. The continued education and awareness of LHT mortars are assisting installers to make these a more common part of the installation.”

The evolution of grout

As the foundation or framing of your tile product, grout utilizes the element of design with color, style, shine and pizzazz, depending, of course, on what grout you choose to work with.

Grout continues to feature an extensive color palette, but much about its delivery and selection of color has become different over the years, from ready-to-use products that can be resealed and stored for future use, to stainproof grout, to newer dispersible-pigment products that can reduce inventory space needed in the warehouse, to grouts that incorporate metallic pigments or glass beads to enhance glass or decorative tiles. Color choices continue to grow, some coordinating with other finishing or paint suppliers or grouped into families to make color selection easier.

Advances in grout technology continue to emerge and understanding the performance characteristics and limitations of each type of grout is important, noted Merkrete’s Carroll. “Most grouts are produced to meet the requirements of a particular ANSI standard, but there are additional requirements demanded by installers or end-users. Contractors typically want grout products that have enough working time, spreads easily, completely fills joints, dry quickly, and are easy to clean. They do not want call-backs to clean grout haze and seal joints.”

Pre-mixed grout has helped drive the construction industry forward by helping installers do their jobs more effectively, noted Mintie. “In addition to time savings thanks to a faster preparation, pre-mixed grout helps to simplify the installation process by eliminating the guesswork. Installers no longer need to worry about meeting the exact amount of water necessary to achieve the desired consistency, like they would with traditional grout.”

Pre-mixed grout can also be less expensive when used for smaller jobs because these products can usually be purchased in small quantities. “Any left over grout can be saved and then used on other projects,” Mintie said, ”significantly reducing waste. Some pre-mixed grouts already contain materials like latex or urethane, which can help improve adhesion and eliminates the need for sealing.”

David Mowery

In the Portland cement grout category, more and more installers are electing to upgrade their grout selection to a rapid setting, CAC-Calcium Aluminate Cement, which offers higher performance specifications and typically adheres to ANSI A 118.7, noted David Mowery, MAPEI’s Business Manager for Color Products and UltraCare. 

“Traditional Portland cement grouts typically only achieve ANSI A 118.6 specification,” Mowery said. “Given the trend to larger-format tile and gap widths typically in the 3/8” range, less grout is being required per square foot,” he added. “This allows the contractor/installer to justify the higher price given the higher-performance characteristics. With the higher-performance grouts, the contractor/installer will gain more performance features such as no efflorescence, enhanced color consistency, rapid setting for earlier foot traffic, and no sealing required.”

Another category of grout is showing major growth as well, noted Mowery. “The use of ready-to-use (RTU) grouts is moving out of the DIY arena and into the commercial contractor/installer channel. This is being driven by improvement in overall performance in this grout category. RTU grout chemistry includes acrylics, urethanes, and hybrid versions. 

“When cost is a consideration – and it always is – the product cost for RTU grouts vs. traditional cement grouts are higher,” he continued. “Yet, when you factor in the reduction in labor time for installation, ‘no sealing’ required, no callbacks, no efflorescence, color consistency and the chemical- and stain-resistance provided by an epoxy, RTU grouts are a bargain.”

Merkrete’s Carroll agreed, adding, “Since the trend to larger format tile and smaller joint widths is growing, less grout is required for each installation. This allows the contractor to justify using a higher-priced, higher-performing grout because the square foot cost is negligible.”

Mortar Products

1 ARDEX Americas

Ardex X 90 Outdoor mortar is designed to offer maximum weatherproof protection against the harshest elements for outdoor tile and stone installations. Featuring a new weatherproofing technology, the rapid-set, flexible tile and stone mortar is formulated to deliver full protection against harsh weather conditions, and maximum levels of efflorescence resistance for exterior tile and stone installations. It sustains the highest levels of freeze/thaw resistance, tested at 150+ freeze/thaw cycles – seven times greater than ANSI 118.15 standard requirement of 20 cycles. It also features solid rapid-setting properties, at temperatures as low as 40°F. ardexamericas.com

2 Bostik

Bosti-Set™ from Bostik is a one-component, non-sag, easy-to-trowel adhesive that is specifically formulated for the installation of thin gauged porcelain tile panels (GPTP) on interior, vertical surfaces or counter tops. Utilizing Bostik’s Tenirex™ Polymer Technology, a proprietary formulation found only in Bosti-Set™, provides the adhesive with an instant grab and holding power, enabling panels to be set on walls and repositioned for up to 30 minutes with no slip or sag – with only a single coat. Easy to clean off tiles, Bosti-Set holds thin porcelain tiles as large as 1/4” x 5’ x 10’ (6mm x 1.5m x 3m). Once cured, Bosti-Set’s bond provides both durability and sound abatement. bostik.com

3 Custom Building Products

The company’s ProLite® Premium Large Format Tile Mortar is formulated for large-format tile, but works equally well with glass, natural stone or gauged porcelain panels, making it suited for most any project. Designed for non-slump to support the weight of large-and-heavy tile, ProLite offers high bond strength and will not sag or slip in vertical installations. ProLite exceeds ANSI A118.15TE, and is available in a rapid-setting formula. Designed to be 40% lighter than most mortars, it is easy to handle for installers and contributes to LEED.


Quick Cure Mortar Bed by Laticrete is a pre-mixed, polymer-fortified, thick-bed mortar that allows for foot traffic and walkability as soon as 30 minutes after application, due to its rapid-setting formula. It’s suitable for both interior and exterior applications, wet or dry applications, bonded and non-bonded thick bed mortar applications, shower systems and concrete repairs. Quick Cure Mortar Bed is eco-friendly, emitting low VOCs, and is a component of the LATICRETE® Lifetime System Warranty providing peace of mind for trouble-free installations. laticrete.com


The installation of large-format tile requires that the setting mortar wets out the back of the porcelain tile or stone as well as the substrate to produce superior bond strengths and deformability to accommodate a higher degree of expansion and contraction resulting from larger tile sizes. The company’s Thixo Technology LHT mortars are designed to meet these large-and-heavy-tile installation requirements with products that perform multiple functions. Thixotropic formulations allow MAPEI’s Ultraflor™ Plus, Ultraflex™ LFT™ and Ultraflex LHT to be used as both standard thin-set mortars and large-and-heavy-tile mortars with non-slump performance. mapei.com

6 Merkrete Systems

Merkrete offers large-and-heavy-tile (LHT) setting solutions for both walls and floors, supporting the development of larger size tiles and planks that emulate wood or natural stone. 855 XXL and 856 XLF LHT mortars are solutions for this trend. 855 XXL has unique properties and can be used as a thinset or a LHT setting adhesive for installing large-format, ceramic, porcelain and irregular thickness stone. 856 XLF has exceptional fluid properties that make it an ideal adhesive for installing standard to ultra-thin, extra-large tile and stone over a variety of substrates including tile-over-tile applications without the need of back buttering the tile. merkrete.com

7 TEC Specialty Products

TEC® Ultimate 6 Plus is a high-performance, polymer-modified, full-coverage mortar with a unique combination of features that allow grouting and return to service in six hours while providing an extended open time and pot life. Ultimate 6 Plus significantly reduces the need for back buttering and has exceptional non-sag/non-slump characteristics for wall and floor applications. It is ideal for GPTP/ slabs, LHT and thin-set applications and offers 50-lbs. of coverage in a 40-lb. bag. Ultimate 6 Plus is approved for use under and over uncoupling membranes and extruded waterproof boards. tecspecialty.com


Ashley Andrews

Ashley Andrews
MacTown Tile Company
Macon, Ga.

As a tile contractor, I am always looking for the best setting materials for the task at hand. For me, mortar is the most important of those materials. In search of the best products I try as many as I can, and there are a lot to choose from.

Like most tile contractors I have my workhorse mortar that I use for many applications but there are situations that arise that a specific mortar is the best choice. When dealing with glass tile I prefer a mortar formulated for glass that I know will cure properly. If I have a large-and-heavy tile on a vertical surface I prefer a mortar with thixotropic properties to help hold the weight of the tile. If I’m working outdoors in an unpredictable environment, I go for a mortar that is rapid setting and can withstand a driving rain after a short amount of time, and that has excellent workability in varying temperatures. There are mortars specifically designed to handle any installation scenario.

Today’s mortars are so predictable in their performance that manufacturers are giving great warranties on them. The only thing an installer has to do is to use the right mortar for the job and to mix it according to the instructions. Often times when I hear contractors complaining about products not working as advertised I ask them if they followed the instructions and the answer I usually get is that they “eyeballed it.” Put the guesswork away, get out the measuring bucket and set the timer and the product will perform as expected.

As for the future of thin-set mortars, I hope to see more silica-free products readily available on the market. For too long we have been lax about the effects of silica in our industry and many contractors have paid for it with their health. It’s time we as an industry get with the program and start working smarter.

Photo courtesy of MacTown Tile Company.

Grout Products

1 Bostik

Bostik’s Hydroment® Vivid™ is a rapid-curing, high-performance cement grout featuring proprietary HyDrix™ and Color Suspension™ technologies. HyDrix allows Bostik to control the timing and formation of both the chemical and physical matrices of Hydroment Vivid™ grout during the curing process. Color Suspension offers ease of installation because it forms a protective matrix around the pigment itself, keeping it evenly suspended during application and clean-up. The grout floats across the tile surface and remains easy to tool, which ultimately produces a color-consistent grout joint. Hydroment Vivid exceeds the requirements of ANSI 118.7 and contains Bostik’s Blockade® Antimicrobial Protection. bostik.com 

2 Custom Building Products

Custom’s Fusion Pro® Single Component® Grout is formulated to combine ease of use with stain resistance and color consistency in one product. Its new formula is designed to be easier to spread and clean – plus it can be used in wet areas. Fusion Pro is also guaranteed to be stain-proof and color perfect. The grout is ready to use from the bucket with no mixing or waste, and creates tile and stone grout joints ranging from 1/16” up to 1/2”. Fusion Pro is applied and cleaned immediately, with no wait for slaking or setting up, saving time on each project. custombuildingproducts.com


The company’s SpectraLock® PRO Premium Translucent Grout is a patented epoxy grout that offers customers an opaque color that diffuses light for a vibrant finish. Offering non-sag performance, stain resistance and color uniformity for an even finish without any blotchiness or shading, SpectraLock PRO is designed for residential and commercial use on interior or exterior ceramic tile, glass tile and stone applications, and is well suited for regrouting swimming pools, fountains and other wet areas. laticrete.com 


MAPEI Flexcolor® 3D and MAPEI Flexcolor® CQ are professional-grade, ready-to-use (RTU) specialty grouts for commercial and residential installations with porcelain, ceramic and natural-stone tiles. MAPEI Flexcolor 3D (pictured) is translucent with an iridescent-effect finish in 10 designer colors with luminous characteristics that reflect and refract light. This allows the grout to transition in color to complement the tile color. MAPEI Flexcolor CQ is formulated with the latest innovation in quartz aggregate, ensuring color consistency, ease of cleanability and improved workability helping to prevent water-based stains by providing water repellency to the grout surface. mapei.com 

5 Merkrete Systems

ProGrout is a premium-grade, fast-setting, color-consistent, efflorescence-free, high-performing polymer-modified cement grout formulated for all types of tile and dimensional stone for both walls and floors in residential and commercial projects. Designed with the contractor in mind, ProGrout is easy to mix, apply and clean and offers excellent stain resistance and color consistency. It is suitable for joints 1/16” to 1/2” (1.5 mm – 12 mm) wide on floors or walls, eliminating the need for different grout products. ProGrout comes in 21 colors and exceeds ANSI A118.7. merkrete.com

6 TEC Specialty Products

The company’s Power Grout® has a formulation that is stain proof (to most common water-based stains, when cleaned immediately. The prolonged exposure of any stain will increase the likelihood of permanent staining or discoloration of grout surface), and provides strong, color- consistent joints free of efflorescence that are resistant to shrinking and cracking. It is fast setting, open to traffic in four hours and will work for joints 1/16” – 1/2” wide. Power Grout is designed to provide high performance in virtually any environment, including high traffic and wet conditions, and in residential and commercial applications. tecspecialty.com

Beautifying New York City one mosaic panel at a time

In the greater New York area, more than eight million people use the subways, commuter trains and buses of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) each day to navigate the busy city. 

The founders of the New York City subway believed that every design element in the system should show respect to its customers and enhance the experience. Continuing that tradition during a massive rebuilding of the system, MTA launched an Arts & Design division in the 1980s. This division oversees the selection of artists and installations that are permanently installed throughout the MTA system, “creating a first-rate museum filled with more than 300 works by world famous, mid-career and emerging artists,” and connecting commuters with people, sites and surrounding neighborhoods.  

As part of major renovations to nine stations along the Sea Beach Line (N) in Brooklyn, artists were selected to create permanent artwork for inclusion in the station renovations. The nine stations under construction were originally opened in 1915, and the now-completed capital construction included improvements to each station’s platforms, overpasses, stairways, canopies and columns, in addition to permanent artwork.  

For the 86th Street station, artist Karen Margolis created “Cerebration,” a glass mosaic artwork that connects people and place by transcribing destinations of the surrounding area into the mosaic work.

Four of the artists selected for the Sea Beach Line projects – Sally Gil, Karen Margolis, Eamon Ore-Giron and Emilio Perez – selected Mosaicos Venecianos De México, a member of TCNA Mexico, to translate their designs into smalti (enamel glass mosaics). The pieces were fabricated with LATICRETE® products and shipped to New York for their installation along the platforms at MTA New York City Transit Authority’s 86th Street, Avenue U, 18th Avenue and Bay Parkway stations.

“Given the architectural requirements of these stations, we pre-mounted and grouted the designs on aluminum panels using products from LATICRETE, a prestigious brand leader in installation systems that we knew were tested and guaranteed for high-performance and ideal for exterior applications,” said Malena Perdomo of Mosaicos Venecianos De México.

Margolis used local area maps in her mosaic panels design to represent the thought patterns of daily commuters.

High-traffic and extreme temperature challenges

High-traffic installation: Just like New York City, the MTA stations never sleep. Even though the company pre-mounted and grouted the artwork on aluminum panels ready for mounting to each station’s platform walls, the installations needed to be done quickly to minimize interruption to MTA customers. 

Extreme temperatures: New York City can range in temperatures from -15 degrees Fahrenheit (-26 Celsius) to upwards of 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius), so it was important that the installation products chosen would be able to thrive in extreme climates to resist fractures and possible humidity issues.  

A LATICRETE solution 

Artists Karen Margolis and Sally Gil focused their artwork on pieces that reflect the local landscape. At the Avenue U station, artist Sally Gil’s work was recreated in a series of 14 mosaic panels titled “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky.” Each of the pieces she created reflects the surrounding Gravesend neighborhood. For the 86th Street station, artist Karen Margolis created “Cerebration,” a glass mosaic artwork that similarly connects people and place by transcribing destinations of the surrounding area into the mosaic work. 

Gil’s work commissioned by MTA Arts & Design and recreated by Mosaicos Venecianos De México is displayed prominently and permanently at its respective station. Gil’s work was adhered to fourteen mosaic panels with LATAPOXY® 300 Adhesive, a chemical-resistant epoxy adhesive.

Artist Eamon Ore-Giron created an expansive mosaic project entitled “People’s Instinctive Travels: Homage to The Tribe” that was based on six, original oil-on-linen paintings that were translated into 24 glass mosaic panels at the Bay Parkway station.

At the 18th Avenue station, artist Emilio Perez’s work was made into 22 abstract mosaic murals called “Fluxus/Rhythmus.” In an email conversation with Cuban Art News, Perez credited this installation as the first of his works to be translated into mosaic panels. 

“It was important for the mosaic to reflect the variations of color in a brushstroke to create the sense of movement,” said Perez. “What I discovered is that the process used for making the different color glass creates variations of tone much like a brushstroke. This made for a seamless transition of materials.”

Each of the art installations was adhered to aluminum panels with LATAPOXY® 300 Adhesive, a chemical-resistant epoxy adhesive that is easily spread and tenaciously bonds to challenging substrate types. With this adhesive, the mosaic panels stayed perfectly in place while on their excursion to New York, as well as during the fast installations that took place once onsite at the stations.

SPECTRALOCK® PRO Grout, a patented, high-performance epoxy grout, was used to finish off the pieces. SPECTRALOCK PRO Grout is designed for use on glass tile applications and is great for exterior installations like those at the stations. This product also offers superb color uniformity, durability and stain resistance that will stand the test of time. Additionally, the grout is crack resistant and ideal for installation in areas with a wide range in temperatures – perfect for outdoors. 

Close-up of one of Gil’s Avenue U station mosaic panels, featuring the Masjid Al-Iman Islamic Center to the right.

Each of the products used received UL GREENGUARD Gold Certifications for low chemical emissions for sustainable building and Health Product Declaration (HPD). This open standard provides complete, transparent disclosure of the potential chemicals of concern by analyzing and comparing all product raw materials to authoritative chemical hazard lists from around the world.


“Mosaicos Venecianos De México is a talented fabricator that brought the artists’ work alive,” said LATICRETE Strategic Innovation Manager Samantha Rothberg. “More than eight million people will get the privilege to enjoy the mosaic panel designs daily and LATICRETE products helped make that possible.” 

The work of Sally Gil, Karen Margolis, Eamon Ore-Giron and Emilio Perez, commissioned by MTA Arts & Design and recreated by Mosaicos Venecianos De México is displayed prominently and permanently at their respective stations. 

Ore-Giron’s expansive mosaic project, “People’s Instinctive Travels: Homage to The Tribe,” visualizes the world as abstract forms and shapes and their interplay as a reflection of the ways in which people of different communities interact.

Women in tile 2019

Humility, homework, determination, and documentation lead to success for women in the industry

According to a March 2019 story on Construction Dive (https://bit.ly/2HhWLkN), women comprise approximately 9.9% of construction jobs, including administrative, office and executive positions, but only 3.4% of construction field positions. Women are on the rise as construction managers with numbers growing from 5.9% in 2003 to 7.7% in 2018. 

In our tile industry, women are seen at every level, from administrators and owners to tile setters and representatives for tile-related suppliers. This month, we take a look at three extraordinary women in our industry and explore how they have carved out a niche for their own careers and contributed to the good of the industry as a whole: Shannon Huffstickler, Schluter Systems; Heidi Cronin, CTEF; and Janet Kozey, Stuart Tile Company.

Shannon Huffstickler

Shannon Huffstickler
The Tile Girl/Schluter Systems

Shannon Huffstickler has made a name for herself in the tile industry over the last 20 years, from her days of doing hands-on labor for her dad’s tile installation business, to her work as Territory Manager for Schluter after 13 years of running The Tile Girl business, to a recent upgrade as Schluter Liaison to the Social Media Community, grounded in her love of being part of online communities and helping people in any way she can. 

The opportunity to leave her tile setting business and join Schluter felt like the right thing to do for the right reasons.

Working for her dad, she discovered her enthusiasm for being on a jobsite, “where both my head and my hands could be fully engaged and challenged.” In 2012, she was initially reluctant to walk away from her business and make the leap from tile setting to being a rep when her beloved Schluter rep Dan Wagner let her know about an opportunity. For Huffstickler, it was an opportunity that “just felt like the right thing to do for the right reasons.” Her rep position – and her territory – changed this past spring to Liaison to the Social Media Community, where she meets the demand for fast, reliable access through social media to information about Schluter products. Now her territory encompasses the internet and face-to-face meetings with customers.  

A raft of skills and talents set the stage for her career path – “Late nights on the John Bridge Forum, reading hand-me-down TileLetters, trips to the classes available at Coverings, being mentored by a successful builder-friend about time management, knowing my value/pricing and scheduling, and good old-fashioned, on-the-job training with my dad and uncle,” she said. Having a degree in English/writing also has come in handy to “convey technical knowledge in a way that’s understandable to people from any background or skill/experience level.” 

Huffstickler’s territory encompasses the internet and face-to-face meetings with customers.

Huffstickler credits her work ethic with her success. “Because I’ve always worked hard and done my homework, it’s been relatively easy to dispel anyone’s questioning of my credibility,” she said. “I never had a chip on my shoulder or was too quick to respond to anyone’s doubt in my abilities in any way other than to let my work or my knowledge prove itself valuable. I just show up, do good work and let those in the peanut gallery sort themselves out.”  Some preconceptions about keeping a neater jobsite or being a more sympathetic listener as a woman did work in her favor as a tile setter. And at Schluter, the perception that Huffstickler will be “helpful and nurturing” makes it easier for customers – especially men – to reach out when there’s a gap in “their knowledge base.” 

Her advice for women considering a tile career? “Don’t get distracted by people who try to make your gender into a big deal,” she said. “Be about the work. Do your homework, learn your lessons, take your lumps and stay humble. Just keep showing up and doing your honest best at whatever role you’re in – and if things get tough, reach out to someone who’s been there before you and ask for help; we’re out here.”

Tile projects from Huffstickler’s Tile Girl days.

Heidi Cronin

Heidi Cronin
CTEF Industry Liaison and Promotions Director

Heidi Cronin entered the tile industry 26 years ago, working from the ground up in the family business of distributing tile and setting material. She’s also installed tile but said, “Did I do it well? NO! I started making ceramic tile sample boards after crashing the car when I was 15 to pay off the debt. I have worked every aspect of a company: customer service, warehouse, purchasing, sales, accounting, truck driver and management in numerous areas.”

Part of her education has been her involvement in industry associations. “I surrounded myself with people who know more than me,” she said. “I listen, learn, and let them mentor me.”

Cronin takes the wheel at the Cronin Company.

While she acknowledged that “flooring and tile have been a male-dominated field, in reality we women are the consumers you are selling to.” So, speaking the same language and being a woman is a plus. “I know what influences us, I see and pay attention to surroundings, I ask questions. I don’t sugar coat anything. I am blunt and to the point.”

She recognized that “women will always have to prove themselves. Growing up in male-dominated industry and as the boss’s daughter, there has been a constant proving of self. Can we be respected? Of course! But if we push for change or challenge a male counterpart we are considered irrational, unapproachable and too emotional.” Sadly, she noted that for women, “it is easier to influence change if you make it look as if it is someone else’s idea.” And yet, she said, “The definition of insanity by Albert Einstein says it all: ‘Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’ Life and technology are moving at an excessive rate; better keep up or you will be left behind.”

Cronin speaking about the Certified Tile Installer credential and CTEF at a gauged porcelain panel training in Portland, Ore.

Many mentors and friends in the industry provided valuable input and support when Cronin faced challenges. “You learn who those people are in good times and bad,” she said. “In this industry there is plenty of support no matter where you look.”

Cronin encourages women to pursue a career in tile, half-joking that a “thick skin” is an essential quality for working in this industry. “Tile is timeless,” she said. “It has been around for thousands of years. I am amazed at how advanced technology has become, whether it is manufacturing tile or advancements in setting materials. The knowledge needed to properly prep and install these advancements is huge. I support anyone going into the trade. Qualified labor is what will keep the industry strong.”

She added, You can do whatever you set your mind to; nothing anyone states can take away your ability, determination and worth.”

Karen Kozey

Janet Kozey
Stuart Tile Company

Janet Kozey, owner of Macomb, Mich.-based Stuart Tile Company, credits organization, professionalism, and listening – to the customer and one’s inner voice – among the essentials to succeed in this world of tile. That combination of skills has served her well since 1975 when she quit her job to go into the tile business with her husband. 

She got her start being precise and organized in her dad’s business. All eight children were trained from the age of four how to speak on the phone professionally. “My dad was kind of an army sergeant with all of us. Mom was ill. So we were very organized, had to get things done.” These skills translated well into her tile business, especially when it comes to collections. 

Palace of Auburn Hills – home to the Detroit Pistons.

“My main suppliers told me if I ever retire, they want to hire me to be a collector,” she said. “I do my homework way ahead: look and see who the architect is, the principals and the owners of the project. I don’t take some jobs if principals, etc. had a bad reputation or had problems in the past.” She also relies on a “gut feeling” she gets about the jobs, sometimes a “weird or bad feeling” she’s learned to listen to about a contract that helps her avoid trouble. And her excellent long term memory is an asset, too – recently she recalled the address of a troublesome builder her company did business with years ago. They started up again with a new name, but the same address. 

Custom bathroom.

She advised being personable and a good listener – even to topics unrelated to the job – to build a rapport with customers. If action is needed collecting money, she said, it’s “sugar across the telephone – all sweet” – until she takes legal action once the invoice goes unpaid 35 days. This includes having her supplier put a lien on the building. Within three to four days, she gets a response. 

Kozey said dedication and sacrifice are key, too, sometimes forgoing vacations because you need to be there for the work. Equally important is keeping up with technology and training. “My guys went through training with Laminam panels,” she said, resulting in the smooth running of subsequent jobs. “We are a finish trade – the type of tile company that wants perfection,” she said. “You’ve got to know your math, pay attention and listen.” 

Kozey copiously documents EVERYTHING and is keeping a journal for son Philip to refer to 15-20 years down the road. She feels documentation is the foundation for troubleshooting, so this journal is a way to pass on wisdom to the next generation. 

Pool project for Lifetime Fitness.

Getting support from other women is important too. Years ago she was a member of Women in Construction and met with about 30 women monthly to exchange ideas. 

In the beginning of her time with Stuart Tile Company, she said she “got a lot of disrespect. People didn’t want to talk to me – they wanted to talk to my husband; like I was a dummy, because I was a girl,” she said. But that has changed, especially in the last five to seven years, where being a woman works to her advantage. “We got jobs in the past due to being woman owned,” she explained. 

As for women interested in a tile career, Kozey cautions, “You can be great at design and color – but you have to be organized, and serious. If you give it 110%, you’ll still be around in years to come.” 

Daltile Launches Beautiful Nature-Inspired ONE Quartz Surfaces Line Extensions

New quartz slabs offer stunning visuals in an array of white marble looks, earth-inspired colors, and gorgeous contemporary stone designs

Daltile is pleased to launch four new designs into its ONE Quartz Surfaces Nature Series assortment.  This quartz slab series offers beautiful nature-inspired stone designs for countertops and walls, while providing the low-maintenance benefits and durability for which Daltile’s ONE Quartz Surfaces are known.  The latest unveiling features the ultimate in fashion-based designs.

“Quartz continues to be one of the hottest countertop choices for homeowners,” said Roy Viana, director of natural stone and slab for Dal-Tile Corporation, parent company of the Daltile brand.  “With quartz, consumers get the beauty of Natural Stone in a strong, durable, hygienic product that requires little-to-no maintenance and stands up to the demanding conditions of daily life.”

“Daltile’s new Nature Series line extensions offer the height of luxurious fashion-forward style and feature sophisticated design, movement, color, veining, and nuanced shading for highly realistic marble looks in today’s hottest colors,” added Viana.  “Two of our new products offer ‘classic’ marble designs, while the other two provide unique ‘contemporary’ marble looks.”

Daltile Jasmine White

Jasmine White & Kodiak – “Classic” Marble Designs

Jasmine White

“People are still in love with classic, white marbles,” said Viana.  “Our new Jasmine White is a smooth marble design, inspired by classic white Carrara Gioia Italian Marble.  Carrara Gioia is known for its cool white background and thinner, shorter veins.  Jasmine White quartz slabs provide the beauty and elegance of classic marble in a durable, low-maintenance material, giving designers and homeowners the ability to feature the beauty of white marble in areas that would not be conducive to using real marble.”


Daltile Kodiak

“The design of our new Kodiak is a little softer than Jasmine White,” said Viana.  “Kodiak offers a warmer white background with soft veins that are not as distinctive.  This design works well for classic traditional as well as contemporary settings.  Many consumers and designers are moving to what I call ‘modern contemporary’, mixing classic marble within spaces that overall feature a contemporary aesthetic.  Kodiak works well in this setting, adding a splash of a classic touch.” 

Alpine Winter & Aspen Grey – “Contemporary” Marble Looks

Daltile Alpine WInter

“Both of these new quartz slabs feature designs that are ‘contemporary take-offs’ of classic marbles,” said Viana. “Both designs are within the marble family as far as movement goes, but the technology that produces quartz allows us to mix in a lot of different colors and shades; do some tone-on-tone; and mix pigments and aggregates to create really unique marble looks that you don’t usually find in Mother Nature.”

“Alpine Winter presents a larger crystal grain marble visual while Aspen Grey emulates a more fine-grained marble with movement and very fine crystals,” Viana added. 

For More Info

For additional information on the ONE Quartz Surfaces Nature Series, visit daltile.com. 

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