JSG’s Stephen Belyea made the leap from chef to tile contractor

What do Legal Sea Foods of Boston and tile contracting have in common? Stephen Belyea, owner of JSG Tile and Stone LLC in Weymouth, Mass. (jsgtileandstone.com) is the common thread in both scenarios. Belyea gave up his career as head chef at Legal Sea Foods and pursued commercial flooring work with a small company while he was contemplating his next move in the restaurant business.

“When I realized how much better life could be not working 12-15 hours a day, I stuck to learning as much as I could about flooring,” Belyea said. “I worked my way up to a lead installer and enjoyed the work I was doing” – work that included installing carpet, wood, vinyl, rubber and turf in the gyms at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park.

Belyea gravitated towards tile, captivated by the rewarding technical aspects of the installations, and eventually focused solely on tile. Pursuing his passion for tile the same way he pursued his passion for food, he made excellence his goal. “I wanted to be as good as I could be,” he said. “I attended any and all events I could to network, meet people and learn as much as I could.”

The Tile Geeks Madison Fields Project in 2017 was one of the most rewarding personal and professional projects in which Belyea ever participated.

In 2014, he discovered Tile Geeks on Facebook – only 500 strong at that time. “I realized from that page that there was a hell of a lot of knowledge about tile I did not have.” Belyea said. “So I made a point to learn about all the new/different techniques and tools there were. I have attended Coverings in Las Vegas, Chicago, Orlando, and Atlanta.” Belyea met Salvatore DiBlasi through Tile Geeks and in person at the Journal of Light Construction show in 2015 and the two have been great friends since.

In Chicago 2016, Belyea met NTCA member Bradford Denny, who signed him up as a NTCA member. “Joining the NTCA has been a great choice for me,” Belyea explained. “It has given me access to some of

Brad Denny (L) signed Stephen Belyea to NTCA membership in Coverings 16 in Chicago.

the best and brightest in the business. I know that I have access to people like Mark Heinlein – who is a great friend and resource – to turn to when I have questions about an installation method I might not be well versed in. A year after joining, I became a State Ambassador for the NTCA. I attend workshops all over New England giving support to the NTCA at their events.”

In December 2016, Belyea and DiBlasi took a road trip to the CTEF in South Carolina to attend a Tile Love/Schluter/CTI event. Belyea also took the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) test and passed as CTI #1274.

“I have the pleasure of seeing my test in Sal’s video, which is also used by the CTEF in a video to promote qualified labor,” Belyea said. “I am currently a Regional Evaluator for the CTEF and look forward to certifying more installers in my area. Being a CTI has helped me in my business because it shows my customers that I have a vested interest in the industry. Educated consumers realize that they are better off having their project done right by a professional the first time, rather than a costly failed project being done for a second time.”

CTEF’s Scott Carothers evaluates Belyea’s CTI hands-on test.

Today Belyea is cooking with gas, bringing artistry and excellence to high-end residential custom tile projects, from new construction on summer houses in Cape Cod to renovations on multi-million dollar residences in downtown Boston.

“I take great joy and pride in what I do,” he said. “I compare the finished tile project to a prepared meal. The customer’s approval of the finished project is very rewarding to me.”

Another rewarding experience – one of the highlights of both his life and his career – was to be part of the Tile Geeks Project last year in Dickerson, Md., for the Madison Fields Autism Foundation (see TileLetter, January 2018 issue). “It was nine grueling days of work,” he said. “But I am so glad I did it. I got to meet and work with great people, installers and now friends.”

JSG Tile and Stone LLC project work

Challenging mermaid pool and backsplash project

Handmade mosaic murals by Ruth Frances Greenberg required careful prep and attention to detail from Hawthorne Tile

Two challenging hand-made mosaic designs by Portland’s Ruth Frances Greenberg (rfgtile.com) have recently been installed in a Portland residence by Hawthorne Tile. The precision of the design and process of installation initially challenged Hawthorne Tile when the tile contractor set Greenberg’s mermaid mosaic in the bottom of a pool in summer 2017. But once the owner saw the beauty of the expertly installed pool mermaid, she immediately commissioned a Ruth Frances Greenberg backsplash for the pool house kitchen. 

Once the design is created, Greenberg lays the tiles out in place, face-mounts them with plastic, cuts them into sections, and numbers them.

Bringing a mermaid to life

The 14´ diameter mermaid project involved “pretty intense logistics,” said Travis Schreffler, project manager for the install. He explained that after the tiles are made by hand, fired and then re-fired for exterior use and the design is created, Greenberg lays the tiles out in a huge circle and face-mounts them with plastic, cuts them into sections and numbers them. They are then placed on pieces of cardboard to deliver them to the jobsite. 

That required Schreffler to build a map to clarify where the design was going – it had to be laid out and put back together like a puzzle. Compounding the difficulty was the slope of the pool – it sloped from the shallow to deep end on a radiused arc rather than on a straight plane, so it was a perfectly flat curved arc: an intersecting plane that was flat in one direction and arched in the other. 

The crew, with Schreffler, three Certified Tile Installers and two apprentices, started early
in the day while it was cool to keep the ARDEX X77 thinset viable.

The bottom of the pool needed to be prepped first with ARDEX AM100 rendering mortar with a radius established based on the arc; then an installer and an apprentice created a series of screeds that followed the pool’s arc. The installation prep took two and a half days. 

Each piece of the mosaic puzzle had to be moved down to the swimming pool, and the relationship between the pieces appraised since, as Schreffler said, “each piece relates to the other pieces in that they are loosely mounted, and needs the next piece to be adjusted, like a gear.” This meant that once the installation began, it had to be done in one four-hour take. 

Compounding the difficulty was the slope of the pool – it sloped from the shallow to deep end on a radiused arc rather than on a straight plane.

The crew, with Schreffler, two other Certified Tile Installers and two apprentices, started early in the day while it was cool to keep the ARDEX X77 thinset viable. ARDEX’s William White was onsite to help with the logistics, providing extremely attentive support, said Schreffler. 

There were some nail-biter moments during the install. “Every piece you put down, you felt like it wasn’t going to fit,” Schreffler said, so at times he also jumped in to lend a hand. In the end, the job was done by noon, and left to sit protected overnight. The next day, the plastic was removed, loose tiles reattached, and it was cleaned. Two days after the install, it was grouted with ARDEX FL and was ready for the plasterers to come in and finish up with pool plaster. 

The Hawthorne Tile crew admires their work – a job well done: (L to R) Sean Carline; Travis Schreffler; Bo Carney; and Yakov Blashchishchin.

Mosaic mural adorns pool house kitchen backsplash

Installing the mosaic mural are (L to R) Bo Carney, Vladmir Blashchishchin and Yakov Blashchishchin.

The mural for this backsplash was a 6´ x 8´ Hawaiian beach scene with breaching humpback whales, sea turtles and tree frogs, again created by Ruth Frances Greenberg. Plus the homeowner had befriended stray cats while in Hawaii, so the mural included them as well. 

The process of assembling all the parts and pieces was the same as with the pool, but Hawthorne Tile was now familiar with this system. 

Schreffler said, “Ruth laid them out with me so I knew where everything was to go. She gave me some creative license – with relief flowers and some other pieces. Before the first install in the pool, she never experienced CTI installers before, so the experience for her was very welcoming.” 

Again, the mural needed to be installed in one fell swoop, using ARDEX X77 as thinset. “We started this one at 7 a.m. and were done by 11 a.m.,” Schreffler said. This was after the crew spent a day prepping the wall surface to be sure it was flat. “We had the same crew,” he said, “So they knew exactly what they were doing and acted as a fantastic team. They took the bull by the horns, were confident and did a fantastic job, impressing the homeowner.” 

Mural detail. After the CTI-certified install team won the artist’s confidence with the pool install, she gave them some creative license to place flowers and some other pieces at their discretion

This is the kind of work upon which Hawthorne Tile thrives. “We welcome this kind of challenge,” Schreffler said. “Exactly this kind of thing – outside the box – we set out to do this a long time ago. Those moments that feel like you can’t get there from here are extra sweet when you step back and it’s done.”

 

The finished backsplash.

 

 

 

New NTCA member Skyro Floors, turns knack for flooring into satisfying profession

Certifications and NTCA membership feeds his hunger for knowledge

New NTCA member Ken Ballin, owner of Skyro Floors in West Creek, N.J. (www.skyrofloors.com), located near the Long Beach Island and the Jersey shore, got his feet wet learning about tools from his grandfather, who

This Skyro vehicle is as beautiful as the floors it helps Ken to install.

was a carpenter and a Seabee in the Navy. “He taught me everything I know about tools,” Ballin said. “After my wife and I purchased our first home and started renovations, it was pointed out that I have a knack for flooring. I started installing for customers on my days off from my ‘regular job’ and business took off. I was lucky enough to pick up a contract with a local box store and quickly became the guy they called to fix the mistakes.”

NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein (L) signed Ken up as a member at a recent training event.

Ballin  started out installing only laminate flooring but learned about other types along the way. The box store “asked if I could install hardwood (so I learned),” he said. “Then they asked if I could install tile (so I learned). Then they asked me if I could install carpet (so I hired a couple carpet crews). At my peak with them I was running about a dozen or so crews and we did the work for about a dozen or so stores.”

Ballin says that unfortunately the proverbial rug was pulled out from under his feet when the box store decided to go with a work room format instead, jettisoning the small companies doing their installs. Today, Skyro Floors installs tile, hard surface flooring, and concrete overlays in mostly residential remodel projects with some new construction. 

Though Ballin has only joined the NTCA in the last few months, he’s always been focused on training and bettering himself. “I’m hungry for knowledge so first I got certified for hard surface flooring with CFI, then I took and passed the CTI test, and most recently joined the NTCA,” he explained. “I try to focus on higher-end/higher-paying customers since I live in a tourist market. While I’m still learning every day myself, I try to share my knowledge with others as much as possible. 

“I joined the NTCA because aside from my love of the industry I wanted to see firsthand what it can do for my business,” he continued. “I’ve heard the ‘voucher argument’. I’ve also heard that some small business owners felt it was more geared towards bigger companies so instead of just listening to stories I decided to find out for myself. What better way than to jump right in?

“So far the greatest value in joining the NTCA is the support,” he said. “I don’t mean technical support. I mean from the other members and yes, I know, I didn’t have to join the NTCA for that but the reassurance from other members and knowing that I’ve got someone to turn to if I need a hand is well worth it. The vouchers are nice too.” (Learn more about the Partnering for Success program here: https://www.tile-assn.com/page/vouchers?)

Ballin feels a great responsibility as CTI #1392. “Responsibility to my customers, responsibility to myself, and responsibility to the other men and women who’ve decided to make it their responsibility to represent high standards,” he said. “Being a CTI has given me the confidence to charge a premium for my services and the confidence to know I’m worth that premium.”

Ballin said the greatest satisfaction he gets in being an installer is “knowing that  my customers will be making memories for the rest of their lives on one of my floors,” explained. “Something I did will be with them through birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and everything else a family goes through. I shouldn’t say I don’t do this for the money because it’s how I (attempt to) pay my bills, but I genuinely love what I do and I love being around others who feel the same way.”

NTCA recognizes Superior Tile & Stone as Five Star Contractor

National Tile Contractors Association has awarded the prestigious Five Star Contractor designation to member company Superior Tile & Stone, Oakland, CA.   NTCA now recognizes a total of 35 Five Star Contractors.

Five Star Contractors are required to complete a rigorous peer-approval process, demonstrating their commitment to training, service, quality, safety, fiscal responsibility and superior job performance.  More strict qualifications for applicants in 2012 include certifying a minimum of 10% of installers through the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) Certified Tile Installer program.

Both NTCA Five Star Contractors and CTEF Certified Installers are listed in recently approved TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation language recommending the inclusion of installer and contractor specifications.  The revised Handbook stresses, “Matching installer ability to the project at hand requires close evaluation of their experience, training, state licensing…and certification/credentials.”  Tile Contractors Association of America (TCAA) Trowel of Excellence certified installers are also listed in TCNA Handbook recommendations for contractors who have demonstrated a record of successful installations; Superior Tile & Stone additionally holds membership in TCAA.

Tommy Conner, president of Superior Tile & Stone, Inc., said, “NTCA’s Five Star Certification and TCAA’s Trowel of Excellence demonstrate to the world of general contractors, developers and designers that Superior Tile & Stone is qualified to perform complex tile and stone installations, and may be relied upon to provide the highest level of professional service.  Superior is proud to hold both certifications, and to work in concert with NTCA’s other Five Star Certified tile and stone contractors to improve our industry.”  Superior is currently scheduling testing and certification of its field crews by CTEF.

Superior Tile & Stone, founded in 1929 and headquartered in Oakland, CA, provides installation, fabrication and preconstruction services for ceramic tile, natural stone and terrazzo for commercial services throughout California, Nevada and the Pacific Northwest.  Superior recently completed Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas, NV and is in progress on the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, Oakland, CA.

Five Star Contractors may display the “Five Star” logo on all marketing materials.  In addition, each company is prominently displayed in a special section on the NTCA website, with a direct link established from this website to each firm.  Product rebates and insurance discounts are available, and AIA-accredited PowerPoint programs give Five Star Contractors the opportunity to be THE tile and stone source for their local architects and designers.

For more information on the NTCA Five Star Program, visit www.tile-assn.com and click the Five Star link on the scroll bar, or contact Jim Olson, assistant executive director, at 601-939-2071.

To contact Superior Tile & Stone, visit the website at www.superiortilestone.com or call 510-351-1700.