One-to-One with Crossville Inc.

Mark Shannon and Noah Chitty

Crossville Incorporated is a leading manufacturer of porcelain ceramic tile located in the heart of Tennessee. In recent years, it has expanded its operations by acquiring and opening strategic distribution locations, to support markets where traditional distribution channels were not their best option.

Crossville has a proven track record of producing quality tile and supports the industry in numerous ways. As active members of the NTCA, CTDA and TCNA, among others, Crossville leaders work closely with association staffs and volunteers in standards development and in promoting and developing training, education and certification programs. 

As a proud sponsor of the NTCA Five-Star Contractor Program, Crossville worked closely with director Amber Fox to reach out to our members during the COVID-19 pandemic to initiate best practices discussions on a number of topics. Mark Shannon is the Executive Vice President of Sales for Crossville, and recently was named Chairman of the Board for the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF). Noah Chitty is the Director of Technical Services and was recently appointed as Chairman of the ISO TC-189 Committee, the international development body for global standards related to ceramic tile and affiliated materials. 

I was able to sit down with these two dynamic leaders to gain some insight on many issues. The first bank of questions is directed to Mark Shannon, followed by questions for Noah Chitty. 

The coronavirus pandemic has radically impacted all of our lives. How has it affected Crossville as it relates to effectively communicating and interfacing with your customers? What steps have you taken to reach out to them and have there been any positives you can take out of this challenging situation?

Mark Shannon

Mark Shannon: COVID-19 has challenged us all on every level, first and foremost, in keeping our people and their families safe while ensuring the enterprise continues to move forward. We have adopted a very vigorous digital platform for our sales team, one that is filled with new content that targets key stakeholders in the construction pipeline: architects, designers, contractors, and our distributors. We are all becoming experts on Zoom and Webex. This content is being delivered in a regular cadence that respects the customers’ work-from-home challenges. 

We are also reaching out through our Technical Services Team to provide training on industry updates on standards, the TCNA Handbook for installation, and CEUs. Our team has been reaching out to contractors, particularly residential and commercial NTCA Five-Star contractors – to check in and stay in touch. These calls are to see if there are opportunities where the pandemic has impacted their business, and if there are industry best practices we can share such as sourcing PPE and PPP challenges. The good that is coming out of this is the opportunity to connect with our friends who we do not get to see due to the travel restrictions, and letting us all continue to show support for the industry and people we all love.

The recent news that the Department of Commerce has affirmed a final ruling on anti dumping and countervailing subsidies related to Chinese imports to the U.S., is creating an opportunity for manufacturers to take advantage of the tariffs and duties on these products and replace the gap left by them. What is Crossville doing to take advantage of this opportunity?

Mark Shannon: The recent rulings by the Commerce Department and the ITC have created a window of opportunity. There are projects that the domestic manufacturers can supply to fill the gap. More importantly, the decisions were fairly clear that damage had been done to the coalition partners. There will be other offshore supply chains that will also step in to fill some of the voids, but not all.

We are focusing on our customers to offer solutions that support the domestic customer base with inventory and manufacturing flexibility to meet these needs.

More than ever before, consumers, designers and specifiers will look to products that are environmentally friendly and easy to clean and sanitize. How will Crossville market this and do you have products available or in development that can meet this need?

Mark Shannon: We are currently working on our messaging for porcelain tile from the durability and ease-of-maintenance perspective. We all know porcelain tile is impervious and easy to clean. The inherent properties of the product in a well-installed system make for a perfect surface due to the ability to withstand any necessary cleaning and sanitizing materials or methods. This product offers cleaning solutions that other surfacing products do not. There are a number of products that we make with our Cross-Sheen surface – which imparts a subtle glow that enhances the color of the tile and allows graffiti, stains and scuff marks to be easily wiped off the surface – that go above and beyond when it comes to maintenance. 

As the newly-appointed Chairman of the ISO Committee, what are your plans moving forward to lead an international group of volunteers in a collaborative process, especially as it is now affected by challenges related to travel with the COVID-19 situation? How do you plan on working through this, and what are your next steps?

Noah Chitty

Noah Chitty: Well, I was just getting my feet wet when COVID first started to spread. The meeting in Berlin in November 2019 was my first as Chairman. Of course, I would have preferred to figure out how to be a good leader in a non-pandemic time, but that matters little now. So far, we have moved our end-of-July meeting in Indonesia to December and we are just waiting to see if that will be possible; we hope so.

One of our biggest hurdles seems to be that we have too many projects that get started, but then there is a struggle to get them completed. The ISO timelines are pretty strict. So, I hope to be able to add some additional focus to the working groups and really concentrate on the most important things and get them done before adding new priorities to the list. Also, if necessary for the near future, we may need to figure out how to do this virtually. It will be tough to get representatives from 30 or so countries together virtually at the same time, both from a technology and time zone standpoint. For now, there are countries still struggling and we don’t intend to put anything additional on their plate, but hopefully as we get into summer we can start to move things ahead.

What are the main objectives or goals you have established that you feel ISO can accomplish in the next year and beyond as it relates to tile manufacturing standards?  How does installation factor into this, if at all?

Noah Chitty: We have 11 working groups that span a broad array of issues related to the tile industry. From COF, membranes, large thin panels, to sustainability and more – we have much going on. I would hope this next year we move the ball on the thin panel information; I would like to see that progress. But, all of the working groups have active projects, so things will have to be accomplished or they will have to make the case to the committee as to why they deserve a new time clock.

For manufacturing standards, the ISO and our ANSI A137.1 are pretty well harmonized, so we are continuing that effort of harmonization and also looking to see if there is any interest in moving more towards ISO for any of this work.

There is an installation working group, WG6. So far they have produced two technical reports and are now working on one about mechanically-fastened exterior tile work. Traditionally, due to the wide range of construction practices around the world, ISO has not had a huge push on the installation standard front. I’d like to explore this more and see if there are in fact some opportunities where we could collaborate as a committee.      

Crossville has been at the forefront of leadership when it comes to the development of training and education programs for their products. How do you see this evolving in today’s environment and what are you doing to plan for this?

Noah Chitty: This is still a main focus for our team and we don’t plan to let it become less of a priority. But what the future brings is still something to be seen. We are holding – for now – the belief that hands-on training can’t be replaced by videos and virtual meetings. But we are talking about it regularly, and I have spoken with our setting-material manufacturer partners. We are all trying to figure it out with as much of a crystal ball as we can right now. We very much hope the NTCA programs will continue eventually. Our plan for porcelain panel training is to continue to work with NTCA and our setting-material partners to further these training initiatives. We are also trying to figure out how we can bring new-found use of virtual technologies to create things we have not done before, and can bring value to our customers and the industry.

Merkrete ensures style and sustainability in historic Washington, D.C. hotel

Riggs Washington DC, a brand-new independent hotel from Lore Group in the capital’s thriving Penn Quarter neighborhood, opened on February 6, 2020 with fanfare, only to have to temporarily dim its lights six weeks later, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Riggs, the first U.S. property from the international hospitality company behind renowned hotels Sea Containers London and Pulitzer Amsterdam, is located on the downtown corner of 9th and F Street in a historic building once home to Riggs National Bank, known as the “Bank of Presidents.”

In conceptualizing and designing the property, Lore Group invoked the spirit of the former bank while preserving and restoring much of the property’s original design features to reimagine the storied building for the modern traveler. The 181-room property features nostalgic gestures to the building’s rich past, drawing on the parallels between the activities that take place in banks and at hotels to offer something personal and unexpected around every corner.

Style and functionality come together

Upon entering Riggs, guests are welcomed into the building’s original barrel-vaulted lobby where the hotel’s expansive ceilings are adorned with
impressive and elaborate coffers.

Upon entering Riggs, guests are welcomed into the building’s original barrel-vaulted lobby where the hotel’s expansive ceilings are adorned with impressive and elaborate coffers. A medallion of Juno Moneta, the Goddess of Money, presides over the room, while original features have been given a new lease of life and the grandeur of the building embraced to create a welcoming and inspired hotel that is deeply rooted in D.C. and its impressive history.

In the rooms and suites, guests will find the minibar and safe hidden within a design aesthetic that mirrors a traditional steel safe, with a brass plaque of Juno Moneta on the front. Terracotta orange painted walls complement a striking headboard and wall covering pattern and the bathrooms feature a classic navy palette, Italian Carrara marble, chrome hardware and amenities.

As Washington, D.C., becomes even more revered for its flourishing food and drink scene, Riggs brings something unexpected to the current offering. The hotel’s restaurant Café Riggs is an all-occasion affair inspired by the grand brasseries of Europe, with a modern and reimagined approach that focuses on sustainable products. The bright and airy space features a variety of custom furniture pieces, artworks, and mirrors nestled amongst the building’s original architectural features, including historic Corinthian columns, expansive ceilings, and classically inspired stonework.

Riggs offers a multitude of meetings and event spaces suitable for everything from intimate private dining to grand weddings and parties on the rooftop. The crown of the building is Rooftop at Riggs, a 2,500-sq.-ft. space with panoramic views over the city and an impressive roof enclosure complete with a 1,500-sq.-ft. terrace. The largest of the meetings and event spaces, Rooftop at Riggs can accommodate 200 seated and up to 250 for a reception.

Working with waterproofing

Bathrooms feature a classic navy palette, Italian Carrara marble, chrome hardware and amenities.

When ProFast Commercial Flooring, LLC was approached by Whiting-Turner General Contractors to supply the cost-efficient, high-end materials they wanted from around the world, ProFast President Kevin Killian knew they’d need a trusted and top-quality waterproofing system to ensure a job well done. Upon reviewing the scope of the project, all answers pointed definitively to Merkrete, the leader in waterproofing, crack-isolation and underlayment technology. The expertly-chosen stone tiles grace the hotel’s grand lobby floors, every guest bathroom on the shower walls, shower floors, shower curbs, stone base, stone flooring and stone backsplash, along with throughout the restaurant and bar floors, interior and exterior fireplaces and public bathrooms. To prevent any leaking in such highly-utilized areas, Merkrete’s trusted system won them the contract.

ProFast Commercial Flooring, LLC is an elite NTCA Five-Star Contractor and has been in business since 1998. It has a dedicated, knowledgeable and professional staff both in the office and field to provide the best-installed product in the commercial flooring business. ProFast covers a wide range of flooring from ceramic tile, porcelain tile, marble, granite and limestone to any special-order material throughout the world.

A versatile solution seals the deal

Café Riggs is an all-occasion affair inspired by the grand brasseries of Europe, with a modern and re-imagined approach that focuses on sustainable products.

When it comes to the critical waterproofing under tile in the stone-clad bathrooms, guest and public, Merkrete’s HydroGuard SP1 waterproofing membrane was the perfect match and only solution. Durable and long lasting, this membrane system is fast drying, promising zero leaks or cracks, even with high amounts of traffic.

Because of the size of the showers in the guest bathrooms, Killian needed a versatile product that could address several specific needs at the same time: a pre-mixed product that could be used to form the shower pans while also repairing imperfections in the floors. Merkrete’s Sales Representative on the job, John McIntyre, said he immediately knew that Merkrete’s “Underlay-C was the perfect product for these requirements. Its versatility allows you to build up to 3/4” thickness and practically spread out to a feather edge. You don’t usually get that in a single product.”

Merkrete proved the perfect match for a specific challenge again considering the strength of the mortar it called for. “We used very large stone panels, which require a mortar with a super-high bondability that can handle the sheer weight of the panels,” said Killian. Merkrete 820 Merlite is a one-step polymer-modified lightweight setting adhesive for installing extra-large porcelain, ceramic tile and natural stone for both floors and walls, and can be used as thin or medium bed setting adhesive for stone. Merkrete proved it could hold its weight. 

In addition to the waterproofing membrane system the hotel required, Merkrete was the trusted source in providing high-performance, sustainable grout in the lobby and bar floors. “Our Pro Epoxy grout is a 100% solids epoxy compound developed for sanitary applications,” said Merkrete Sales Rep, Greg Meiklejohn. “It can be used for setting and grouting porcelain, ceramic and quarry tile, pavers, mosaics on horizontal and vertical surfaces. It produces a high-strength mortar that is stain resistant, impermeable, and shock resistant.”

As with most projects, one of the challenges in this project involved the fast-track timeline, so it was critical that Killian chose a company who would be able to get the products delivered and the job completed on time. “Fortunately for this project’s requirements, we have plants and distribution centers all over the country, so our turnaround time and ability to get our products there quickly were no problem,” said Meiklejohn.

With the Riggs Hotel having just recently celebrated its grand opening, guests flooded in to experience the fine culinary offerings and embrace the historical setting and incredible architecture Riggs has to offer. Located in the heart of downtown D.C., Riggs is ideally situated opposite the National Portrait Gallery and within walking distance of many of the capital’s must-see attractions including The White House, Capitol Hill, the National Mall and Memorial Park. Having been rejuvenated over the last two decades, Penn Quarter is having a moment, offering a host of innovative restaurants and bars. In the years to come, more renovations may take place, but thanks to ProFast Commercial Flooring, LLC and Merkrete, you can be sure the stone tiles will be standing strong.

Marble moisture discoloration: don’t blame the stone!

Carrara marble moisture discoloration on shower floors is a common problem that has been experienced by many professional tile and stone installers in the U.S. Cases when white or light-colored stone gets random, blotchy-looking dark spots are often posted and discussed at social media groups and online forums. The lack of technical information on cause and prevention of the above-mentioned problem seems to result in a rapidly-growing rejection of white marble as a finish suitable for wet areas. Stone is often blamed for its “poor quality,” “inappropriate mineral composition” and, thus, its inability to provide predictable results when it is installed on shower floors.

Such opinion is often based on the fact that light-colored marble is subject to moisture discoloration not only in cases when a tile and stone mechanic does obvious installation mistakes such as failure to provide proper pre-slope and/or final slope to drain, clogged weep holes, or not fully collapsed mortar ridges, but also in situations when the installer strictly follows the above-mentioned requirements.

This provides a controversy in the light of the fact that white marbles have been successfully used for wet room applications – for example in Europe – for a long time.

Ten Carrara shower modules were tested, with help and support from many industry professionals. Results showed that most of the problems with light-colored marble arise due to inappropriate installation methods/techniques that often result from the insufficiency of the technical information on this subject.

The research has helped to determine two main methods that, if properly followed, will provide great results for white marble at shower floors.

Method #1: traditional dry pack mortar bed shower pan

Before the surge of the discussed problem in late 2000s, marble was mostly installed in shower floors with a traditional water-in water-out system. A dry-packed mortar bed, consisting of one part Portland cement to four to five parts sand, not compacted too tightly and not finished too smoothly, provides a subsurface of connected and very high porosity allowing water to quickly be “taken away” from the underside of marble mosaic. If stone is bonded to substrate with a basic thin-set mortar (preferably unmodified due to its higher porosity), grouted with a simple grout, has no adhered fiberglass mesh reinforcement (an impervious coating on the back of stone also known as “resin backing”) and is not treated with an impregnating/penetrating sealer, the water absorption, migration and evaporation should not face extra complications. The above-mentioned shower system will provide exactly what it was designed for – a proper water evacuation, both topically and internally. 

Method #2: bonded waterproof membrane shower pan with epoxy adhesive and grout

According to our reasonable testing, the bonded waterproof membrane method also provides great predictable results with translucent stone like marble when it is properly installed with a suitable epoxy adhesive, epoxy grout, and very permeable (breathable) impregnating sealer. While the “dry pack” system enables great drainage and internal water evacuation, the second method provides marble with a highly hydrophobic/water-repellent subsurface, almost waterproof grout joints, and a reduced-to-minimum presence of moisture inside its pores, which enables relatively quick topical water evacuation, evaporation of moisture, and drying of the stone.

The problem with bonded membrane pan systems installed with modified mortar and grout

Integrated bonding flange drains create a little dam around the drain opening; not what you want in your marble tile shower installation. 

It is important to understand that the reduced porosity of modified mortars and many modern “stain-resistant” grouts – as well as the design of integrated bonding flange drains (that creates a little dam around the drain opening) within a bonded waterproof membrane system – not to mention the application of penetrating/impregnating sealers – do not contribute to proper internal water evacuation and evaporation. Water still penetrates the stone mosaics, whether sealed or unsealed, either as liquid or gas/vapor and moisture gets trapped below and/or inside stone. 

Saturation of the anchoring fleece in the top layer of a waterproof sheet membrane or dampening of the cementitious coating of a foam pan only reinforces the moisture discoloration. The close distance from the waterproof membrane to the stone on shower floor with a thin layer of mortar – that is much less porous than dry pack sand – does not allow water to be “taken away” from the underside of stone. If the shower is used somewhat moderately, marble and its subsurface do not get really saturated and can dry relatively quickly. However, if the shower is used “heavily” (for example, by a few people in a row), the chances of stone/mortar/membrane saturation are much higher, causing a gradual moisture entrapment within the shower floor assembly installed with the topical waterproofing method.

All the bonded membrane Carrara modules were constructed with full mortar coverage and 2% slope to drain and only one – installed with the “epoxy” method – has shown incredibly quick drying time (from two to three hours to return to the original light color). Other modules, whether sealed or unsealed, have all shown some sort of moisture discoloration that would not fully go away for days.

Trapped moisture under the translucent glass tile installed over a bonded membrane pan.

Again, the reason for such discoloration is the inability of a bonded membrane system to “hide” moisture entrapment under translucent stone when it is installed with materials that still absorb moisture and are not as highly water-repellent as epoxy. 

This conclusion is indirectly supported by the following remarkably interesting statements found in the TCNA Handbook in regards to translucent glass tile installation: “Bonding translucent glass tiles directly to membranes or other impervious surfaces is not recommended because any moisture trapped between the tile and membrane would be visible. Membranes should be placed behind or below the tile setting substrate where translucent glass tile will be installed” (TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation 2019, page 7)

The research on the subject continues. Next step will be testing eight new Carrara marble modules installed with different products within the two above-mentioned methods (“dry pack” and “epoxy”).

Downward trajectory moderates for architecture billings

WASHINGTON – June 24, 2020 – Demand for design services in May saw few signs of rebounding following a record drop in billings the month prior, according to a new report today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA). 

AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) score for May was 32.0 compared to 29.5 in April, but still represents a significant decrease in services provided by U.S. architecture firms (any number below 50 indicates a decrease in billings). In May, the decline in new project inquiries and design contract scores moderated from April, posting scores of 38.0 and 33.1, respectively.

“A large portion of the design and construction industry remains mired in steep cutbacks as many businesses and organizations are still trying to figure out what actions make sense in this uncertain economic environment,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD. “There are growing signs of activity beginning to pick up in some areas, but others are seeing a pause as pandemic concerns continue to grow.”

Key ABI figures for May include:
• Regional averages: West (36.0); South (30.6); Midwest (29.7); Northeast (25.1)
• Sector index breakdown: institutional (35.7); multi-family residential (34.8); mixed practice (28.5); commercial/industrial (24.8)
• Project inquiries index: 38.0
• Design contracts index: 33.1
The regional and sector categories are calculated as a three-month moving average, whereas the national index, design contracts and inquiries are monthly numbers.

For more information, visit http://www.JosephLundgrenConsulting.co or contact [email protected]

How to Manage and Motivate Telecommuting Workers

7 Leadership tools to inspire and supervise a remote and local team

Globally, over 70% of professionals work remotely at least one day a week according to International Workplace Group, IWG. In the US, 40% of all workers toil away from the organization’s sites some of the time on a regular basis, an increase of 173% since 2005 (Global Workplace Analytics). The current coronavirus contagion concerns have significantly increased this statistic. How do you keep your widespread team collaborating, motivated and productive? Having managed business in 120 countries at the same time, I’ve learned much about how to lead, collaborate, and coordinate with a diverse and remote team.

The tools and skills needed to lead a combined local and remote team productively and happily are easily and economically accessible now. The technological tools have significantly improved since I first started managing workers in different locations and time zones, but the most important factor is still the same — you as the leader.

Ultimately people work for their manager and then secondly for the organization. If you establish clear goals, treat people equitably, ethically and have a meaningful product/service, your team will be more likely be effective, motivated and loyal. Below are 7 tools that have proven to be useful in managing a mixed local and remote team.

1. Establish clear goals. Share the project, division and company’s goals in clear and consistent ways. The entire team need to know what the targets are. They should have an understanding of why the goals are important and how they relate to organization’s mission and purpose. Equally consequential is sharing how how they and their work fit in the goals and mission.

2. Maintain regular virtual face to face communication. There is no substitute for face to face meetings. Schedule electronic individual and team meetings where the participants can see and interact with each other. The members have to feel that they are part of a team. Virtual face to face meetings provides the nonverbal cues that more fully express what words often leave out. The bonus of visual meetings is that they minimize the multi-tasking and reduced attention that may occur in a non-visual event.

3. Develop mentors/mentorship relationships. A powerful way to strengthen cross connections, knowledge and accountability is to develop a mentorship program for workers. Everyone can benefit from a mentoring program. The mentees learn, are inspired by people who have gone before them, and feel seen. Mentors also learn from teaching/mentoring, they are rewarded by being able to share their experience and wisdom, and gain insight into the perspective of the newer entrants into the business.

4. Share information and files. A crucial aspect of any organization, especially one in which some members are not able to gather relevant information in person, is to communicate well. Maintain an online system of sharing of files, updates, news and any tweaks in strategy. There are many private and public virtual networks that a company can use to ensure that every member has access to the information they need to accomplish their tasks well and feel engaged.

5. Respect each other’s time. When time zones and different schedules are involved, it is easy to forget that some team members may have other commitments when you are working, like sleeping. Plan meetings and call times to minimize disruptions. Send out a clear agenda in advance and request each member come to the meetings prepared so that the meetings are time and productively effective.

6. Copy relevant parties only. Virtual teams grow easily with a number of people being copied on matters that may not concern them. Include parties involved in the specific project and leave off people who are not working on the aspects being discussed. Otherwise the mass of electronic communication reduces the effectiveness of the messages and buries people in unneeded mail.

7. Show them that you care. Everyone wants to feel that they have a purpose and are valued. How you communicate, listen and follow through with your team sets the stage for how they feel about their work, the team, the company, themselves and of course you, as their manager/leader. Have regular touch base sessions with each team member; acknowledge their accomplishments, coach them on how they may improve, and share your higher perspective about the project(s) and organization. Pay attention. Be real, honest and human. When people work remotely, they need human connection and one to one communication to feel involved and to know how they are performing.

Working remotely is a rapidly growing trend. As a leader it’s your privilege and responsibility to guide and manage your team so that they are performing to their potential, and to feel fully engaged so that you and your team are happily aligned and creating the best functioning organization for today and the future. Happy telecommuting!

CUSTOM quality and tile craftsmanship showcased with five-foot porcelain planks

CUSTOM products are the icing on the cake at Porto’s Bakery and Café in LA

Porto’s Bakery and Café is a Los Angeles institution with a devoted following among food lovers of all backgrounds. Over 25,000 square feet of tile was installed in the eatery’s expansion to Buena Park. 

Porto’s Bakery and Café is a Los Angeles institution with a devoted following among food lovers of all backgrounds. In 2016, Porto’s took the number one spot on “Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S.” for their decadently delicious and visually stunning food. Despite the acclaim, the Porto family wanted to grow business slowly to maintain their standard of quality. When they finally decided to expand to Buena Park, in nearby Orange County, CUSTOM products were chosen to install 25,000 square feet of tile. 

The work was executed by Custom Pro Tile and Stone of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., contractors specializing in high-end natural stone installations. The company has been in the industry for over 20 years and has used CUSTOM products during the entire time. This installation materials tradition includes the company’s meticulous tile work at the Porto’s location in West Covina, Calif. 

“We have used Custom Building Products for many years,” said Marco Emmert, Vice President of Custom Pro. “They are reliable, consistent, give great performance and the warranty that the company offers is the best in the market.”

A warm welcome is offered by the old world wood-look planks, deli-style mosaics and sunshine streaming through the windows.
The biggest challenge on the project was literally the 10”x59” porcelain planks that were set in striking herringbone and starburst patterns.

Hardworking tile assemblies

With a total of four service counters and lines of patrons often lining up all the way out the doors and down the block, the floor at Porto’s Bakery and Café needed hard-working, great looking flooring assemblies. A lot of the restaurant’s personality comes from the extensive use of tile large and small. The entire space is ultimately designed to showcase all of the artistically crafted food on display in the bakery. A warm welcome is offered by the old world wood-look planks, deli-style mosaics and sunshine streaming through the windows.

The biggest challenge on the project was literally the 10” x 59” porcelain planks that were set in striking herringbone and starburst patterns. This over-sized tile was set throughout the public spaces as well as the company’s offices and employee facilities on the second floor and even on the stairs. 

The initial layout took a couple of days to trace chalk lines and take levels. Fortunately, the concrete slab at the site was finished to perfection and did not require additional leveling to meet the flatness standard for large-format tile. Cutting the planks for all of the different configurations was intricate work and had to be done on a wet saw. Of course, setting such large tiles takes more time and skill than an equal square footage of smaller tiles. Exacting planning and very experienced installers allowed the tile contractors to deliver a flat, robust tiled surface.

CUSTOM’s VersaBond LFT Professional Large Format Tile Mortar was the product of choice to set the 5’ planks. 

Custom Pro’s partner in setting the 5’ planks was VersaBond®– LFT Professional Large Format Tile Mortar. VersaBond LFT is polymer-modified and designed for use with large-format and heavy porcelain, ceramic and natural stone tiles. With a non-slumping formula to help eliminate lippage, this mortar can be applied up to 3/4” thick on horizontal applications and exceeds ANSI A118.4 and A118.11.

“Ever since VersaBond LFT came out on the market, we have used it on a lot of our projects,” offered Emmert. “It is a great mortar for the large-format tiles, non-slumping and dense.”

In addition to using a mortar designed for bigger materials like the planks, installers employed the large-format tile setting methods shown in the well-known NTCA “Trowel & Error” training video. These techniques include keying a burn coat into the substrate, combing mortar in straight lines across the short side of the tile and back buttering. Once the tile is bedded, it is moved back and forth across the ridges to collapse them and release air, which can otherwise create voids and eventually cracks in the tile. View the video here: https://www.custombuildingproducts.com/reference-library/videos/trowel-and-error.aspx

A variety of both traditional and modern tile was installed on walls throughout the restaurant and also in the back of the house. These included quarry tile in the kitchen and glazed ceramics and porcelains of various sizes. ProLite® Premium Large Format Tile Mortar was used for these materials due to its outstanding performance on walls. ProLite offers a high bond strength and thixotropic performance to prevent sagging on vertical installations. 

Both traditional and modern tile was installed on walls throughout the restaurant and also in the back of the house, including quarry tile in the kitchen and glazed ceramics and porcelains of various sizes.

A side of grout

To meet the varying service conditions at the site, a total of four different CUSTOM grouts was employed. Most of the floor and wall tiles, from the highly textured wood-look planks to the deli-style mosaic mats, were grouted with PolyBlend® and Prism®. According to CUSTOM, polymer-modified PolyBlend is America’s Number One grout, and comes in sanded and non-sanded options, producing hard, dense joints that resist cracking and wear for extended durability. 

Prism Ultimate Performance Cement Grout is a calcium aluminate-based product that offers consistent color without mottling or shading and will not effloresce. Formulated with recycled content and fine aggregate sand, lightweight Prism delivers premium handling qualities and sets up rapidly for fast-track projects like hospitality and food service. 

Most of the floor and wall tiles, from the highly textured wood-look planks to the deli-style mosaic mats, were grouted with PolyBlend® and Prism®.
The glazed white tiles on kitchen walls were grouted with matching and contrasting Fusion Pro® Single Component® Grout.

“Prism was chosen primarily because of its color uniformity,” said Emmert. “We are substituting with or staying with Prism every chance we get.”

The glazed white tiles on kitchen walls were grouted with matching and contrasting Fusion Pro® Single Component® Grout. Fusion Pro is guaranteed stain proof and color perfect and helps to maintain a spick-and-span look where patrons can view bakers and decorators at their work. 

CEG®-Lite 100% Solids Commercial Epoxy Grout was used for quarry tiles on the kitchen floors where a high degree of chemical resistance was required.

CEG®-Lite 100% Solids Commercial Epoxy Grout was used for quarry tiles on the kitchen floors where a high degree of chemical resistance was required. 

ProLite, Prism and CEG-Lite are all Build Green® products featuring CustomLite® Technology, meet GreenGuard® Gold requirements and contribute to LEED certification. 

The Porto’s story

This popular family-owned restaurant features traditional, homemade-style Cuban pastries, breakfasts, sandwiches and treats. The recipes originated with Rosa Porto in her own kitchen, and moved to the first shop in 1965. Today they ship nationwide to bake at home. 

Porto’s now has five locations in the Los Angeles metro area, including Buena Park down the street from the world famous Knott’s Berry Farm theme park. They are still rated by customers at 4.7 out of 5 on Yelp. 

Ron Nash, LATICRETE International

In the One-to-One column, NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga interviews industry leaders about pertinent topics.

Ron Nash, LATICRETE International Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing North America

One thing that I have learned the hard way over the years is not just to expect change, but to prepare for it and embrace it. Suffice to say, no one could have prepared for the events that have taken place in this country and our world in the past several months. The impact of COVID-19 is being felt by everyone in all areas of the world.

The tile industry is no different, and it is difficult to try to deal with everything associated with the vast changes happening in our personal and professional lives. Tile contractors are faced with trying to navigate the impact the crisis is having on their businesses, trying to finish and complete projects in a safe and healthy manner, and protecting their families at home. 

When times get challenging, leaders rise to the occasion. In my opinion, Ron Nash, LATICRETE International Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing North America, is an example of a leader who is embracing the changes around us, and reaching out to communicate and share with contractors around the country. Ron is an active and consistent presence on social media, and despite the challenges he faces leading a large installation materials company and raising a family, he always seems to have time to answer questions from tile contractors, and often initiates and engages them in thought-provoking conversations. For this reason, I chose Ron as our One-to-One interview this month. 

The coronavirus pandemic caught all of us off guard with the short and long term impact it is having on our world. What steps have you and your team taken to support the tile industry through this very difficult time, and how are you positioning yourselves to be prepared for the opportunities that will be open to you once we begin to regain a sense of normalcy?

In this time of uncertainty, it’s essential to communicate via multiple channels. 

To join forces and keep us all informed about what other tile industry businesses are doing amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, I initiated a Facebook group where tile industry experts can share/discuss their business operating status and monitor the impact of the ever-changing public information. This group – named Tile Industry COVID-19 Response-Impact – is an open channel for those in the tile/stone installation industry to share real and timely information, look for support, ask business-related questions, or simply talk about current issues with no political focus.  

In response to the situation, the LATICRETE team immediately accelerated a digital transformation effort, which originated in 2019 company-wide. We are now fully operational, working remotely all over the world. This effort quickly moved hundreds of people out of offices and manufacturing facilities. We simultaneously started a strict set of protocols regarding sanitation and social distancing, weeks before state and local governments issued guidelines. And our leadership team formed a COVID-19 taskforce focused on sharing information and monitoring the health of the business and team members. 

These efforts have been extremely effective, as I am pleased to report that all LATICRETE team members are currently safe and virus-free, and our facilities are still producing and delivering much-needed materials to essential projects worldwide.

How has LATICRETE used social media as a way to market its products and create brand awareness in the installer community?

We’ve taken our social media to another level with the support of the entire LATICRETE team.

One of the significant challenges going from a highly-collaborative team environment to one in quarantine, is the loss of interpersonal communication. It’s a difficult situation for everyone and an extra-challenging one for sales professionals who thrive on interaction. 

To help our team remain engaged and feel productive, we’ve initiated all possibilities for them to continue teaching. Our sales reps thrive on supporting customers and teaching them how to be successful. To date, we’ve conducted many “live” events across all platforms of social media training with several hundred architects and contractors streaming seminars and demonstrations. 

There’s been an unprecedented spike in training at LATICRETE University in the last few weeks.

In 2017, we built an online education platform (LATICRETE University), which offers an entire library of free industry-related courses covering an incredible variety of topics relating to LATICRETE products and industry knowledge. We’ve witnessed an unprecedented spike in training over the last few weeks, with our users taking several thousand courses. And the number continues to climb. 

We are happy to see our friends use this time to train and sharpen their skillset because we have a good feeling we’ll all be swamped in Q3 and Q4.

LATICRETE is much more than a manufacturer of grouts and mortars. Tell us a little about the strategic approach the company has taken the past several years in acquisitions and partnerships that have enabled you to position yourselves for growth and expansion.

LATICRETE has always enjoyed forward-thinking and innovation. Several years ago, we began looking at “near-neighbor” construction categories. We were particularly interested in businesses that held technologies that could improve our manufacturing prowess, open up new markets, and expand our reach with the contractors, owners, and architects we already serve. 

Today we are active in several new channels with many new customer types servicing masonry, coatings, concrete remediation, surface care, as well as tile and stone. This effort expanded our capabilities immensely, touching every part of our business. 

What types of investments have you made in research and development, and how has it paid off? Please highlight a few of your new product introductions for 2020. 

In recent years we have more than doubled our research and development capabilities worldwide.

In 2019 alone, we launched seven new products across multiple categories expanding our self-leveling, moisture vapor barriers, shower systems, sound control, and tile adhesives offerings. 

We are focused on new platforms that are healthier, lighter, and easier to transport and inventory. At the same time, we are continuing our long-standing mission of reducing waste and being even more environmentally friendly. 

These efforts have already produced many marquis new products. 

This year, LATICRETE launched an innovative “modular adhesive” called LATICRETE SELECT-BOND™, which allows contractors to inventory one LHT adhesive base that is jobsite “tuneable” to meet various challenges.

In 2020 we’ve launched an innovative “modular adhesive” called LATICRETE SELECT-BOND™, which allows contractors to inventory one LHT adhesive base that is jobsite “tuneable” to meet various challenges. This system leverages the “Performance Pack” technology similar to our PERMACOLOR® Select grout system. With performance packs, the tile installer can add ANSI A118.15 shock-resistance, speed up his job with a “rapid pack” or make it non-sag for when the installation goes vertical. It is also compatible with all of our PERMACOLOR® Select Color Kits, so it can also be tinted to match any one of our stock 40 colors. We see a bright future for this system. 

Nash also praised SpectraLOCK 1. Though it’s only been on the market for a few weeks, Nash said it’s been receiving stellar customer reviews.

With all this innovation, it’s easy to overlook other category-leading products like SpectraLOCK 1, which we feel is the best single-component grout on the market. We’ve only had it on the market for a few weeks, and the customer reviews are nothing short of stellar. 

We intend to extend our lead in the industry by providing the best new product innovations. 

How has LATICRETE supported industry efforts to address glaring needs such as a shortage of tile installers, the need for basic, intermediate and advanced training, and certification?

LATICRETE has long recognized the efforts of the NTCA and CTEF in helping secure the future of our industry. We believe in their missions. 

Lack of skilled labor is a big problem, and in my opinion, everyone who profits from this industry will need to step up and support their efforts.

To us, the word “certification” is important, and not something to look at as purely a marketing opportunity. We invest heavily in training installers to properly use our products, but we believe that nationally-recognized industry certifications are essential and different from the training events we conduct. That’s one reason we’ve avoided the word “certification” and have opted to issue completion certificates for programs like our “Profit Through Knowledge” (PTK), International Passport to Success, and LATICRETE Live training events as well as LATICRETE University courses.

We physically train thousands of contractors every year, and now we are making investments in more digital tools to help augment and scale all of our training efforts. On social platforms like the Facebook group “LATICRETE’s InsideTrack,” we are forging new connections with the end users to promote our industry organizations. 

All of these programs promote industry certifications and will continue to recognize the efforts of the trainers and friends who are in the field doing this tough and important work.

Glass Mosaic Artist Allison Eden Studios Pivots Into Fashion With Face Mask Line

Yellow face mask with diamond design
Allison Eden Studios’ Mod Circles Face Mask uses a pattern derived from her mosaic tiles.

World-renowned interior design glass artist Allison Eden has repurposed vivid mosaic patterns for use in high fashion face mask line. Allison Eden’s colorful mosaic and mirror designs have been used in leading interior design projects throughout the world. “It was a natural pivot for our business,” Eden said. “My designs make people happy and I love fashion, so our face masks will hopefully brighten your day during these difficult times.”

Eden is a well known veteran of the tile and stone industry with over 20 years experience. Her custom mosaic line is represented through dealers in every major US city. Eden’s glass artwork can be found in hotels, restaurants, casinos and cruise ships. “Not many people know that i graduated FIT and started my career designing sportswear,” she said. “I’m so excited to re-enter the fashion business with my mosaic patterns and contribute to the battle against COVID-19.”

Allison Eden’s fashion face masks are currently available in 5 styles with more to be introduced June 1 on https://www.AllisonEdenFashion.com

More information on Allison Eden’s mosaic artwork for interiors, textiles, carpets, and wallpapers available at https://www.AllisonEden.com

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