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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.

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. 

Schluter: creativity, craftsmanship, and a complete installation system lead to stunning project

This project feature reinforces our understanding of some market trends, while demonstrating unique installation methods and the timeless value of craftsmanship. It begins with an addition to an older couple’s home that includes a spacious new bathroom. The modern appointments of a tiled shower and heated floors are to be found, but there are some twists that make the project particularly interesting.

Corona installed the Schluter®-DITRA-HEAT system to provide floor warming throughout the bathroom and ensure a lasting tile application.

The builder and the tile contractor

Case Builders LLC of Lutherville, Md., specializes in design, consultation, and fine construction. They manage a multitude of projects of varying levels of complexity throughout the Mid-Atlantic and represent their clients’ construction interests throughout the United States and abroad.

NTCA member Corona Marble & Tile of Woodbine, Md., is a family-owned tile and stone contractor established in 1985, that serves the Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington D.C. areas. Led by second generation owner/installer Mike Corona, the company takes pride in its ability to collaborate with owners, builders, designers, and architects and successfully complete intricate projects that demand the highest attention to detail. This commitment to quality and longevity is evident in Corona’s employment of Certified Tile Installers (CTIs). For more information on the CTI program, you can visit ceramictilefoundation.org.

floor warming was installed throughout, using 3-2-3 cable spacing to maximize the warmth provided by the system

Applications

Calacatta Gold stone tiles supplied by Chesapeake Tile & Marble of Owings Mills, Md., were installed throughout the 15’ x 9’ bathroom, including the
6-1/2’ x 5-1/2’ shower. This white marble with deep gray veining produced a classic look that was very much at home in the open space with large windows and abundant natural light.

Heated floors

One of the primary homeowner requirements was to ensure comfort by incorporating a floor-warming system under the tiles. The addition was built over a crawl space so the system helps to mitigate transfer of cold from the space below. 

The framed shower floor area was built 2-1/2” lower than the rest of the addition to allow the mud bed floor to be flush with the bathroom floor.

Corona installed the Schluter®-DITRA-HEAT system to provide floor warming throughout the bathroom and ensure a lasting tile application. The DITRA-HEAT-DUO uncoupling membrane features studs on the surface that secure heating cables without the use of clips or fasteners and a thermal break attached to the underside. The cables were placed wherever heat was desired and the tile was installed directly over the membrane without encapsulating the cables in a self-leveling underlayment, thereby significantly reducing installation time. The sub assembly consisted of engineered wood joists covered with a 3/4”-thick AdvanTech® subfloor, and 1/2”-thick plywood underlayment to support the stone tile installation.

Curbless shower 

The entire shower base was covered with the Schluter®-KERDI waterproofing membrane after the floor warming system was installed, per Schluter Systems instructions.

Curbless showers continue to grow in popularity for both practical and aesthetic reasons. They can make a space feel more open, and the ease of entry can help homeowners age in place if desired. Since the bathroom space was part of an addition to the house, the builder was able to plan for this from the outset. He recessed the floor joists within the shower area 2-1/2” to allow for slope to the drain without requiring extra buildup of the floor outside the shower. Corona floated a mortar bed sloped to the Schluter®-KERDI-DRAIN in the center of the shower. Since there would be no curb, it was simple to continue the DITRA-HEAT-DUO membrane and heating cables across the shower entrance and over the surface of the mortar bed. While the uncoupling membrane is itself waterproof and the heating cables are rated for wet applications, the entire shower base was covered with the Schluter®-KERDI waterproofing membrane per Schluter Systems instructions. The walls were constructed using Schluter®-KERDI-BOARD as a lightweight and easy-to-install alternative to backerboard covered with a membrane.

Floating shower bench 

The floating bench is a 76” long 3 cm-thick marble slab supported by hidden steel brackets.

Shower benches serve practical purposes in tiled showers, and the sleek appearance of a floating bench can make for an elegant design feature. The owners desired a single piece of stone spanning the full length of the 76” wall without visible supports. 

Corona met this challenge using a clever approach. An approximately 12” wide strip of foam board was removed from the length of the wall and iron L-shaped brackets, 12” long on each side, were fastened to solid blocking within the wall framing. The previously-removed board was routed using the brackets as a guide and re-installed so that it would again sit flush with the rest of the wall. Special care was taken to waterproof the area around the brackets and prevent any water infiltration into the wall cavity. A 3 cm-thick marble slab with 4” deep mitered face was installed, with the underside subsequently covered with a layer of foam board and porcelain tile. The brackets provide the necessary support and are invisible within the final application.

Supports for the slab bench were anchored to the framing and then covered with Kerdi-Board building panels that had been routed to fit flush over the brackets.

Arched entrance

Field tile was cut and aligned to fit the underside of the arch and maintain the veining for a seamless, dramatic effect.
There are knee walls on either side of the opening, with an archway above that nearly reaches the ceiling

Perhaps the most striking visual feature of the shower is the entrance itself. Corona is particularly proud of this aspect of the project and rightfully so. There are knee walls on either side of the opening, with an archway above that nearly reaches the ceiling. He painstakingly cut and aligned field tile to fit the underside of the arch and stone chair rail to form the casing. The tile was installed so that the veining in the Calacatta Gold follows the arch to dramatic effect.

Conclusion

This project is an excellent example of how homeowners, builders, and tile setters can work together to produce something really special. The clear communication of requirements by the homeowners, followed by excellent planning and execution by Case and Corona Marble & Tile was the key to success. Using a complete system per manufacturer instructions, combined with plenty of creativity and craftsmanship helps empower tile setters to produce functional, durable, and beautiful results, all within a profitable business.

Robert Roberson, David Allen Company

David Allen Company Chairman (DAC) Robert Roberson is a two-time President of the National Tile Contractors Association and has been with the firm for 63 years. DAC celebrates its 100th Anniversary in 2020. 

David G. Allen established his tile, marble, and terrazzo company in 1920. Allen, an exceptionally-skilled craftsman in the masonry arts, was often called on to perform the most difficult, challenging, and complex projects. His commitment to excellent quality and ethical business practices quickly drove his small company to become the preferred tile, marble, and terrazzo company in the region.

Robert Roberson, the current Chairman of the Board, began his career with David Allen in 1957, and purchased the company in 1967. Knowing the value of David Allen’s foundation of high standards and ethical business practices, Roberson and his leadership team remain committed to David Allen’s beginning principles, the result of which has placed the company as one of the largest and most-respected tile, marble and terrazzo companies in the nation, with offices in Raleigh, N.C., Washington, D.C., South Florida, Columbia, S.C., Birmingham, Ala., and Charlotte, N.C. 

The company’s work – in airports, museums, hotels, hospitals, coliseums, schools and universities – has received more industry awards for workmanship and professionalism than any similar firm in the U.S. Today, David Allen Company continues its commitment to excellence as an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) company, instilling pride and ownership at every level. 

David Allen Company has a long standing history of supporting industry associations and affiliations. It is one of the few remaining charter members of the National Tile Contractors Association, joining what was then the Southern Tile Contractors Association in 1947. In fact, Robert Roberson is the only person in NTCA history to be named President of the association at two different times, serving in 1971-1973 and again in 1989-1991. 

As the company celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2020 as a leading tile industry contractor, we caught up with Mr. Roberson in an exclusive TileLetter One-to-One interview. 

What are the main factors that have allowed the David Allen Company to thrive as a leading tile installation contractor for 100 years? 

Roberson: From the beginning, the high standards of integrity, professionalism, craftmanship, and customer service practiced by Mr. David Allen himself attracted loyal customers and talented employees. 

During the first 10 years of my 63-year career with the company, I was able to witness how those values were truly lived out in Mr. Allen’s personal life as well as in his business life. 

As we continued to be authentic in those areas, the company attracted talented leaders and craftsmen. Being a trusted, responsible resource is important to contractors, developers, architects, and owners. Being a trusted employer is certainly valued by team members and potential team members. 

Beyond living our core values, I think several things have contributed to our successful longevity: 

1. We are future-focused – to see both short- and long-term opportunities and risk. 

2. We have attracted capable team members on all levels. 

3. Our ongoing education and training emphasis, on all levels, causes good team members to become great team members. 

4. We believe being financially sound is a major asset. It eliminates stress so we can focus on opportunities. We have purposely been overcapitalized.

 5. We demonstrate genuine concern for the welfare and success of all DAC team players, not just the owners and leadership. 

What steps are the leaders of David Allen Company taking to ensure that they will continue to succeed both now and into the future? 

Roberson: As it has so appropriately been said, “What got you HERE, won’t get you THERE!” 

Aware that society and business, like everything in life, are constantly changing and evolving, we not only accommodate change – we advocate and capitalize on change. We respect and stay true to the core values while continuing to stay focused and prepared for the opportunities, challenges and changes that are coming tomorrow and next year. Our next generation of leadership is in place and being mentored for senior leadership. Forty-five percent of DAC (David Allen Company) ownership is ESOP owned – making everyone an owner. 

The David Allen Company has a long history of support of trade associations in the tile and construction industry, including support of the National Tile Contractors Association. How has having the leaders of your company get involved in national and local associations benefitted David Allen Company? 

Roberson: Beginning with David Allen himself as a charter member of NTCA, the company has actively participated in the associations that represent tile, marble, terrazzo, and the construction industry. We would never have achieved the level of success and professionalism that we enjoy today had it not been for our significant involvement with those associations. Much of our standing in the industry and certainly much of our knowledge resulted from our association involvement and from our interaction with association members. 

To illustrate, DAC has provided four of NTCA’s presidents. I served as president on two occasions, Don Scott and Martin Howard are past presidents, and Chris Walker is the current president. 

In 1985, I was appointed Chairman of what had been a three-person technical committee that had reported no activity for the previous three years. I immediately appointed 20 technically-knowledgeable industry members and scheduled quarterly meetings. We promptly started producing documents designed to guide the contractor through the maze of new and challenging installation methods and products. Those efforts resulted in the highly-popular NTCA Reference Manual. I served as Chairman of this committee for 13 years and was followed by Don Scott, who served for another six years. Martin Howard and Chris Walker are current members of that committee. Our team members, on all levels, have been and continue to be “association addicts.” Yes, we know the value of association involvement and recognize that we are largely who we are because of our association involvement. 

David Allen Company currently has two representatives serving on the NTCA Executive Committee. Martin Howard (third from left) is the current Chairman of the Board and Chris Walker, (far right) is President. 

In comparing today’s construction environment and tile trade to the beginning of your career, tell us a little about the changing world we live in. What was easier about being a tile contractor in the beginning of your career? What was more challenging back then as compared to now? 

Roberson: Change is often uncomfortable, but I believe change sustains. None of us wish to return to what we often call the “good old days” when we soaked glazed wall tile in galvanized tubs of water for hours before installing, applying a scratch coat, a leveling coat, and a bond coat, each with its own formula, and rushed to apply the tile before the mortar hardened – and considered installing 60-80 square feet a day as good production. Tile installations were very labor intense. 

In those times, the required craft skill was much higher, and the technical skill was much less than today. If one claimed to be a journeyman tile setter with less than a four-year apprenticeship, he would be laughed off the job. There was a high sense of pride among the most gifted craftsmen. It wouldn’t be unusual to see a craftsman, as he finished his work, step back and observe his work, just as an artist may do in critiquing his painting. 

Relationships were more likely to be personal and far less likely to end in a legal contest. Contracts were also more likely to be verbal or just one page. Many of my contractor customers were also my friends. 

Most commercial tile contractors purchased tile directly from the manufacturer since distributors didn’t exist in most areas. In the 1950s, it was not unusual for tile – especially trim pieces – to be shipped in barrels packed in sawdust. 

For many of my earlier years, much of our installations were confined to toilets, bathrooms, and commercial kitchens. As a result of changing and improving installation methods, ever-increasing innovative tile designs and sizes, and effective marketing, we now often are the feature of many buildings. We have moved from the toilet to the lobby! 

Communication with the job site usually required a visit since only a few of the larger jobs had phones on site. There was far more conversation about workmanship than about scheduling and production. 

There were no copy machines, fax machines, computers, electronic devices, or Makita saws. The closest thing to an electronic device was a mechanical calculator with more than one hundred keys. The solution to most issues and problems back then was just “plain common sense.” 

Share with us a few of your favorite or most challenging projects you were involved with during your illustrious career. 

David Allen Company headquarters construction and its tile and stone installations are favorite projects of Mr. Roberson’s career.

Roberson: In today’s construction arena, all large projects are very challenging with demanding schedules, short time frames, tight budgets, difficult coordination of trades, and accessible work areas. We master all of those challenges every day. 

The project I enjoyed most was our own 25,000-square-foot office building. We were fortunate that it occurred when we didn’t have a time frame or a budget. I took the architect on a 10-day trip to Italy to be sure he understood what I was trying to accomplish. The contractor built the building in nine months, and it took me over a year and a half to do the finishes. From the day we started construction, the job site became my office. I enjoyed working alongside our artist, Vickie Wilson – creating mosaics and marble patterns, resourcing materials, and watching the building that I had built in my head come to life. 

You have been leading the David Allen Company for many decades. What are you most proud of as you look back on the success of the company? 

Roberson: In 1957, my first year with the company, our annual billings were $358,000. During the first 10 years, I was working 12 hours or more a day, and six days a week. In 1967 – the year I purchased the company – billings had not reached $600,000. 

David Allen Company is one of the few remaining charter members of the National Tile Contractors Association. Robert Roberson (l.) worked closely with NTCA Executive Director Emeritus Joe Tarver (r.) to form the NTCA Technical Committee. He chaired this committee for 13 years, followed by Don Scott (seated) for the next six years. Mr. Roberson and Mr. Scott are both previous recipients of the NTCA Ring of Honor Award. 

In 1969, Don Scott joined my one-person team in our tile operations. Don was an education major and had just finished his first year of teaching high school math. He had no previous experience in tile, marble, terrazzo, or business. His impressive character was obvious, and I thought he had tremendous potential. Then, in 1971, David Roberson joined our leadership team in our terrazzo operations. Like Don, David was fresh out of college but had no prior working experience. They were fast learners and hard workers, reinforcing everything that was valuable to our company’s success – a strong commitment to our core values, long hours, sacrifices, and 100% loyal and productive leaders. Don became the President and David is now the CEO. 

For me, that was a turning point. Don and David liberated me. I began focusing more on vision and leadership. As things began to change, I was able to attract more very talented and committed people who enhanced our values. 

Phil Halcomb joined the team in 1986 and established our highly-successful D.C. office. In 1992, Art Odom, a CPA, became our company CFO. Art is now the President of the company. Following Art, Martin Howard became an important part of our leadership team and is now Executive Vice President and a past president of NTCA. Martin oversees our tile and stone operations and our seven branches. 

In 2010, Chris Walker joined the DAC team as Vice President, Northeast Region. Chris is the current president of NTCA, and many others along our 100-year journey have left their indelible and valuable mark. 

But back to your question: What am I most proud of? It is not the most monumentally challenging job we ever successfully completed. Nor is it some artistically created masterpiece. Rather, it is the leadership and the team of quality, talented, and committed individuals who have made our company what it is today and who will continue to keep our company exceptional and relevant. It is the people who are David Allen Company – yes, that is what I am most proud of

Tile of Spain companies present the latest in products and innovations at the 38th edition of CEVISAMA

Tile of Spain manufacturers returned to Spain in February to bring their latest productions and innovations to CEVISAMA, the International Fair for Ceramic Tiles and Bathroom Furnishings. This year’s annual show took place from February 3rd to February 7th, 2020 and was held the Feria Valencia center in Valencia Spain. 


State of the industry

During the Tile of Spain Press Conference held at CEVISAMA (pictured), Vicente Nomdedeu, the president of The Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturers Association (ASCER), highlighted the 2019 production, sales and exports figures that reflect the strength of Spain’s industrial sector.

The Spanish tile industry surpassed the levels of success of those obtained in 2018 with overall sales increasing by 4%. With approximately 75% of all sales made abroad, Spain currently exports to 185 countries worldwide with a total export growth of 3% since 2018. 

Featured trends for 2020

The 38th edition of CEVISAMA saw 800 exhibitors showcase their new collections to over 90,000 industry professionals from all over the world. With no shortage of new styles to inspire interior and exterior design, following are the most prominent trends and innovations on display by Tile of Spain USA’s featured companies at CEVISAMA 2020:

Modern metallics 

Neutral tones enhanced by metallic motifs will shine strong this year. The iridescent reflections seen in the Akila collection from Azteca (pictured), Stardust collection from Fanal, Iron 4D collection from Museum and Grespania’s Patina collection bring an edge of luxury and reflect natural light to visually expand a space.

Artful inspirations 

Geometric patterns and eccentric graphics make their way back to the forefront of tile design after years of toned-down styles. Whimsical looks including Vives’ art deco-inspired Pop collection (pictured), Aparici’s Altea collection, and Arcana’s uniquely-designed wood-look collection Komi, make bold statements and turn spaces into true works of art.

Calming colors 

Soft pastels and soothing hues were in abundance at CEVISAMA this year. Travel from Emotion Ceramics, Clash by Rocersa, and the Bow collection from Harmony (pictured) gradually shift away from the neutral color palette that has been in high demand over the past few years and subtly bring color to interiors. Muted pinks, blues and greens visually enrich environments and lend a relaxing atmosphere.

Three dimensional details 

Not just colors and patterns are making waves in 2020. Curved ridges and beveled surfaces to concaved details, manufacturers are experimenting with texture and dimension that quite literally raise the bar in interior design. Wall tiles like the Donna collection by Peronda, the Underground collection from Keraben Grupo (pictured), and Natucer’s custom D’Autore series expertly portray this unique trend to create a one-of-a-kind look.

Resurgence of shapes and decorative tiles

Iconic and bespoke-shaped tile stood out among its conventional counterparts at CEVISAMA. The shapes featured in Cevica’s Chintz collection (pictured), Roca Tile’s Rockart collection, Apavisa’s Intuition collection and Onix’s Hex XL collection allow for more interesting layouts and bring a sense of sophistication to designs that have not been seen in recent years.

A return to traditional formats

In contrast to unique shapes, traditional formats were in abundance with a return of subway tile in small and square formats. New collections including Pierre by Small Size, Delice by Gayafores, and Antiqva by Equipe (pictured) offer both interior and exterior solutions for all types of surfaces.

To view a brief video highlighting these trends and more from CEVISAMA 2020, visit https://bit.ly/320TI8W

Trans-Hitos exhibit

The Trans-Hitos Exhibition of Ceramics for Architecture celebrated its 15th anniversary at CEVISAMA in a series of three impressive projects entitled “IDENTITY”. The annual Trans-Hitos exhibit was sponsored by the Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturers’ Association (ASCER) and coordinated by the Habitat Area of the Instituto de Tecnología Cerámica (ITC).

“IDENTITY” (pictured) reflects on the use of ceramic tile as a material for global use in architecture since the 18th century. Ceramic tile serves as a link both culturally and technologically, accomplishing a relevant role as a functional and aesthetic material that has left a legacy in the history of art and architecture grandiose works that still, to this day, are reference points for the whole world. 

More information on the Trans-Hitos exhibit is available at http://bit.ly/TransHitos2020. For more information on CEVISAMA and Tile of Spain manufacturers, visit http://www.tileofspainusa.com.

Merkrete Systems provide installation products for new Doris Miller Memorial

Doris Miller’s story is one of grit, determination and fortitude. Born in Waco, Texas, in 1919, Miller served in the United States Navy during World War II, rising from the rating of Mess Attendant to Petty Officer, Ship’s Cook Third Class. He was the first African American to receive the Navy Cross, which was awarded to him for his heroism during the Japanese naval attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. 

Merkrete 855 XXL LHT Mortar used for installing 24” x 24” x 5/8” Black Granite throughout the reflection pool.

A fullback on his high school football team, he enlisted September 16, 1939, to travel and earn money for his family. He was trained as a Mess Attendant at the Naval Training Station in Norfolk, Va., and was serving aboard the battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48) when the Japanese attacked.

On the morning of December 7, Miller was hard at work when the first torpedoes struck the USS West Virginia. He rushed to his battle station to find it destroyed by the first torpedo. He then headed to the secondary gathering location where he was selected – because of his strength – to assist in moving the wounded captain of the ship to a safer location. Once the captain had been moved, he was ordered to begin loading anti-aircraft guns to defend the ship. He had never been trained to load or fire these types of guns but did so successfully until the ship was struck again and began to sink. For his efforts and bravery, he was awarded the first ever Navy Cross to be bestowed upon an African American. The medal was awarded to him personally on May 27, 1942, by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who was the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet.

His Navy Cross citation reads, “For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.” 

Merkrete HydroGuard SP1, 855 XXL LHT Mortar and ProGrout was used to install 24” x 24” x 5/8” Black Granite throughout the entire reflection pool.
The large and heavy natural stone, required a mortar with a super high bondability that could handle the weight of the tiles.

Later, he was assigned to the newly-constructed escort aircraft carrier, USS Liscome Bay (ACV/CVE-56) and was on board during the ship’s first mission to secure the Makin and Tarawa Atolls in the Gilbert Islands. On November 24, 1943, before dawn a single torpedo struck the ship from behind. The torpedo detonated inside the ship, which caused the ammunition stored below deck to explode, shearing the back half of the ship off. The USS Liscome Bay sank in just a few minutes, killing 646 of the 918 personnel on board; Doris Miller was among those whose bodies were claimed by the sea and never recovered.

Cultural Arts of Waco spearheads new project

Cultural Arts of Waco is a nonprofit organization in Waco that has historically sponsored an annual art festival in Waco, TX. Now Cultural Arts honors its mission which intends to celebrate and promote the community’s diverse, artistic and cultural life, develop and enrich its cultural capacity, and champion the economic, social, and educational benefits of the arts in the Greater Waco area and beyond. The Cultural Arts team endeavored to honor an awe-inspiring African American hero while providing a place for remembrance, reflection and learning to honor those who served their country in times of need and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.

The granite was split between polished and flamed. Polished granite in the reflecting pool provided ease of cleaning; flamed granite in foot traffic areas offered a slip resistant texture

Defining the memorial

The project set out to commemorate a WWII Hero for valor and bravery. However, the memorial’s impact increased and grew to be instrumental in celebrating positive racial relationships among the citizens of Waco. Since Doris Miller was born and raised in Waco and was the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was a natural fit. 

Doris Miller, a true American hero.

The memorial incorporates a reflecting pond and a bronze figure of Doris Miller. The feature element is that “Many Sailors Make a Ship,” a stainless-steel wall that provides a reference to WWII naval history and specifically the USS West Virginia naval battleship, the ship on which Miller was serving during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Project materials include stainless steel, bronze, concrete, granite, landscaping, and water. The entire project measures 17’ tall x 230’ long x 70’ wide. The bronze figure measures 9’-0” tall, the stainless-steel wall is 140’ long x 17’ tall, and the pond is 60’ in diameter.

On quiet days the memorial takes on a calming, more pastoral state. The stepped seating is oriented to provide views toward the perpetual river flow, offering opportunities for WWII education, relaxation, and reflection. However, during community events the memorial is designed to become an outdoor performance venue. On more lively days, during public activities and performances, the stainless-steel wall activates the main stage plaza by becoming the backdrop to the performance. The seating steps are transformed to community choir risers, the lawn between the stage and the river becomes a natural outdoor audience chamber, and the historic Washington Street Truss Bridge offers elevated viewing of the entire venue. These are the days that will have lasting community impact, where friends and family come together to perform, celebrate community, and honor valor, bravery, and heroism.

Black Granite above and below the water

When Brazos Valley Flooring was approached by Darden Commercial Floors to install the granite on the memorial, John Smith of Brazos Valley Flooring knew he would need a trusted and top-quality installation system to comply with the stringent requirements and ensure a job well done. Upon reviewing the scope of the project, all answers pointed definitively to Merkrete, the leader in waterproofing, crack isolation, setting materials and grout technology. 

The installation consisted of approximately 5,000 square feet of 24” x 24” x 5/8” inch Black Granite. The granite was split between polished and flamed. Polished granite was used in the reflecting pond due to its ease of cleaning, and flamed granite was used in the areas where foot traffic occurs because of its slip resistant texture. Black granite was used to give the illusion of depth despite the fact that the reflecting pool is just three inches deep.

Black granite was chosen to provide the illusion of depth in the reflecting pool, despite the fact that the water is just three inches deep. 

Systems warranty and on-site support seal the deal

Cody Wickman and Clint Anna, Sales Representatives from Merkrete, submitted a complete installation system including Merkrete Hydro Guard SP-1 waterproofing, crack isolation and 855 XXL Mortar, and Black Sapphire ProGrout by Merkrete. This sole-sourced Merkrete installation system was submitted and approved by the GC and Darden Commercial Flooring. Cody Wickman was on site frequently during the installation process and advised and demonstrated installation techniques that led to significant time savings over the course of the project. John Smith of Brazos Valley Flooring stated, “Cody was an invaluable resource to us. Watching his techniques and getting a helping hand was something that we really counted on.”

The specifications called for LHT mortar meeting A118.15 and a high-performing A118.7 grout. Darden Commercial Flooring had used Merkrete 855 XXL Mortar and 856 XLF Mortar in the past and knew they could count on Merkrete performance despite the challenging outdoor conditions found in central Texas. 

Merkrete proved the perfect match for a specific challenge again, considering the strength of the mortar it called for. “We used large and heavy natural stone, which require a mortar with a super high bondability that can handle the weight of the tiles,” said Smith. Anna added, “Merkrete 855 XXL is a high-performing multipurpose polymer-modified setting adhesive for installing extra-large-format 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, allowing Brazos Valley Flooring the strength and performance they required.”

Darden Commercial Flooring prefers MERKRETE’s 855 XXL LHT Mortar for these types of applications. “The smooth and creamy material makes for easy spreading, especially when speed is a factor,” said David Booker, Project Manager of Darden Commercial Flooring. 855 XXL LHT Mortar works great for indoor/outdoor applications and offers high strength and flexibility.

It was critical that Darden Commercial Flooring chose a company that would be able to get the products delivered when required, and the job completed on time. Merkrete is a member of ParexGroup, one of the largest companies and a worldwide leader in tile setting materials, façade finishes and technical mortars, established in 22 countries with 68 manufacturing plants and over 4,100 employees working to deliver innovative building solutions.

Luigi Di Geso, President and CEO MAPEI North America

One-to-One interview with Bart Bettiga, NTCA Executive Director

Luigi Di Geso, President and CEO of MAPEI North America

Italian-based MAPEI Corporation has been a leading installation material manufacturer for many years, and has a strong, established presence in North America. As Executive Director of the National Tile Contractors Association since 2002, I have worked closely with MAPEI leaders to collaborate on many efforts related to training and education of the trade. MAPEI’s support of our programs has enabled us to expand our outreach in many ways. MAPEI North America is known for outstanding product development, customer service and training. Because it offers a complete line of products that appeal to many trades, MAPEI has a strong presence in all flooring and surface preparation categories.  

President and CEO of MAPEI North America Luigi Di Geso has led this group for more than a decade. I caught up with him recently and asked him to share with us some insight into the company and its strategic direction.


It has been several months since the tile industry lost an icon in the passing of MAPEI Group President, Dr. Giorgio Squinzi. Tell us a little bit about the relationship you formed with Dr. Squinzi, what legacy he leaves behind, and explain how the company is moving forward with a new leadership team. 

MAPEI Group President, Dr. Giorgio Squinzi, was a true mentor, said Di Geso.

Dr. Squinzi was a true mentor in every sense of the word. As I look back over the past 10 years where I reported directly to him, he allowed me to learn from his vast experience, while all along allowing me to form my own experience as I developed in my role as CEO. Always asking the right questions, while always listening to the answers I would provide, he empowered me to go forward and succeed. He built his empire in this manner and earned the respect and admiration from all his employees for making us truly feel that MAPEI was our company and that we are all part of his family.

MAPEI is moving forward under the careful guidance of Marco and Veronica Squinzi. They have been co-presidents, together with Dr. Squinzi, well prior to his passing and will continue the path that he put in place. As they say, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and both Veronica and Marco have their father’s vision on how to take MAPEI to a new level, even beyond where he has taken it. Despite the seamless continuity in the leadership of MAPEI, I can say Dr. Squinzi will always be missed.

TileLetter readers know MAPEI for its tile and stone installation products. But your company is much more than that. Tell us a little about the different divisions of products you offer that serve multiple markets in the construction industry. 

We like to say that we are “more than our products.” We offer system solutions. MAPEI Corp. offers 11 different product lines including the Tile and Stone Installation Systems, Floor Covering Installation Systems, and Products for Wood Flooring lines: 

  • Products for Sports Flooring (which also includes products for synthetic turf and soil stabilization)
  • Concrete Restoration Systems (includes solutions for bridges, stadiums, and public facilities) 
  • Waterproofing Systems (we even offer a 100% solids, cold-fluid-applied waterproofing membrane that is so low in VOCs it can be applied in occupied spaces) 
  • Products for Structural Strengthening (epoxies, repair mortars and wraps) 
  • Admixtures for Concrete (superplasticizers, water reducers, accelerators, fibers) Products for Underground Construction (UTT – team of experts and products to solve underground construction problems) 
  • Cement Additives (C-ADD – grinding aids, pack-set inhibitors, strength enhancers) 
  • Products for the Marine Industry (anti-corrosive primers, acoustic underlays, waterproofers) 

From the macro of tunneling to the micro of admixture chemistry, MAPEI is intricately involved in a wide scope of protective solutions for the building industry. We have seven new product lines to go in order to match our European counterparts.

What new product introductions can we expect to see from MAPEI in 2020 in your tile and stone installation systems division?

We have developed quite a few exciting new products for 2020 and are even entering into the radiant flooring heating market with the introduction of our Mapeheat line of products – customizable mats, membranes and programmable thermostats, that allow users to target and control their floor heating options with a simple app. 

Some of the other new products that we are debuting this year include our Ultracolor Plus Max, exclusively available in Jet Black and Pure White, the blackest black and the brightest white grout available on the market. These grouts are based on our popular FA formulation, which means that they won’t shrink or scratch the surface of tile or stones.

Keraflex Super is MAPEI’s new extra-smooth, non-sag, non-slum Keraflex Super is MAPEI’s new extra-smooth, non-sag, non-slump mortar with high-transfer technology, being applied over the new Mapeheat membrane for electric floor warming.

Keraflex Super is our new extra smooth, non-sag, non-slump mortar with high-transfer technology. We have a hybrid adhesive that is designed to make installing large-format and gauged porcelain tiles a faster and easier process. 

Ultrabond ECO GPT is a rapid-setting, low-VOC hybrid polymer adhesive that can be used in dry and wet residential and commercial applications. 

And for wet environments, our Shower Perfect Integrated Flange Drain and our Mapelastic Turbo waterproofing membrane provides one-day turn-around for shower installations. 

We are constantly innovating ways to improve our products, reduce waste, and save our installers time, which on the job, means money.

The industry continues to be concerned about a lack of qualified installers being available to meet the needs of the market. What is MAPEI doing to address this glaring need?

We feel very strongly about the need for properly trained installers, especially as new technologies come on board that make applications more involved than simply spreading mortar with a trowel. Our MAPEI Training Institute (MTI) is designed to ensure that the correct standards are being adhered to and that the proper installation techniques are being followed. Classes are offered at our facilities, at our clients’ facilities, and at other suitable locations upon request. We also offer the MTI-TV series of videos, which offer advice and tips on popular subjects. We collaborate with all of the industry associations of which we are members, as well as with national colleges and universities, to help promote and grow the industry.

There seems to be increasing competition in the tile and stone installation products category. What are some of the strengths you feel that MAPEI has over its competitors, and are there areas where you feel you need to strengthen?

MAPEI’s system solutions come with unparalleled product support and a warranty program that is unmatched in the industry. But it is more than our products that truly sets us apart – it is the power of MAPEI in general. We have synergies between our technologies and divisions that help the entire company – geographically, as well as within and across product divisions. We are a truly international company with 89 subsidiaries, including 83 plants in 56 countries. We have 31 research and development centers around the world and more than 12% of our 10,500 employees work in R&D.

We are always looking for opportunities to grow – whether it be through acquisition or physical expansion. We recently opened new facilities in Wildwood, Fla. (below left) and Calhoun, Ga., as well as opening new production lines at five of our existing facilities. MAPEI is always moving forward, always innovating, always growing. 

Go Fish!

MAPEI products help volunteers beautify Washington hatchery with recycled glass mosaics

Among the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s hatcheries, the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery is one of the most frequently visited. Tours are regularly conducted at the hatchery – constructed in 1936 – during which visitors can see salmon return home to spawn. Community education programs are also held at the facility, as well as various fundraising endeavors.

Artist Cheryl Smith wanted to beautify the walls in the local salmon hatchery with colorful mosaics installed by community volunteers.
Artist Cheryl Smith is flanked by MAPEI reps Chris Anderson (l.) and Ed Cortopassi.

In late 2016, MAPEI representative Chris Anderson received a call from local mosaic artist Cheryl Smith, who asked if MAPEI could provide a system that would allow tiles to be placed over salmon-holding tanks at a local hatchery. Unfortunately, MAPEI determined that without the design specification for the tanks themselves, the company would not recommend installing artwork on the outside of the holding pens; therefore, MAPEI had to turn the project down.

A few weeks later, Smith called again. She said that the project was still viable, that she had found a new location in the hatchery for her mosaic and, because MAPEI had been so helpful, she wanted the company to provide the tile system.

The mosaic, simply named “Salmon,” serves a dual purpose. Not only does it brighten an otherwise drab wall, but it also helped to involve members of the community in the renovation of their own local fish hatchery. The fact that the artwork is a mosaic and required no prior art training or knowledge made it the perfect vehicle to bring the community together across all ages and abilities.

According to Smith, a key objective of the project was to minimize the impact on the environment, specifically the ecosystem of Pacific Northwest salmon. “Using recycled materials reduces potentially dangerous additions to landfills, keeping streams clean and the salmon population thriving,” she said.

An array of MAPEI products, from waterproofing to grout, were used in the project. 
The “Salmon” mosaic brightens a drab wall, and involved 100 members of the community in the renovation of their own local fish hatchery.

The recycled glass used in the piece was sourced from vendors around Washington. Local glass retailers Perry Stained Glass Studio and Northwest Art Glass donated stained glass. Pental Surfaces donated glass bubble rounds for the background that were collected from the International Interior Design Association’s Northern Pacific Zerolandfill event. In addition, Bedrosians Tile & Stone donated tile to the project. 

One hurdle for the project remained: The 76 sq. ft. (7.06-m2) mosaic would be installed by volunteers, so any products designated for the job had to be user friendly. MAPEI was on board to provide technical support and training necessary to use its products.

MAPEI representative Keith Haney went to the site and conducted a seminar on MAPEI’s Mapelastic 315 waterproofing membrane. MAPEI’s Anderson provided technical training by phone and email throughout the course of the entire project.

MAPEI products on the jobsite

Because the mosaic would be installed by volunteers, products designated for the job had to be user friendly. MAPEI provided the products and the technical support for the installation.

All of the products used on the project were applied by a team of over 100 volunteer artists who worked under the direction of MAPEI representatives. These products included Mapecem Quickpatch to patch and smooth the existing concrete wall, Mapelastic 315 for waterproofing, Adesilex P10 and Keraply (used together to produce a high-performance mortar), and Mapesil Tsilicone sealant for joints.

MAPEI Flexcolor 3Dgrout – in the color “Crystal Moon” – also played an integral role. Not only did this product complement the “green” goal of using recycled products, it also provided an iridescent-effect finish to the glass tile.

Mosaics were applied piece-by-piece, using MAPEI setting materials. 

The Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery (FISH) mosaic wall project has been featured in several news articles for its artistry, creativity, community involvement and recyclable qualities. In addition, the project was submitted for the MAPEI North America “Show! Place! Win!” reference project competition and unanimously selected by the senior leadership committee for submittal to MAPEI’s international competition in Italy. MAPEI is honored to have been a part of this exceptional community effort.

The recycled glass used in the piece was sourced from vendors around Washington.

150-year-old Cathedral of the Holy Cross receives first-ever renovation

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross is the largest Roman Catholic church in New England and seats nearly 2,000 people. Its Gothic Revival style incorporates local Roxbury puddingstone and gray limestone. © Robert Benson Photography

For nearly 150 years, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross has been a staple in Boston’s Catholic community and has played host to many significant events in U.S. history, including 1964’s requiem mass to mourn the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Pope John Paul II’s first trip to the United States as leader of the Catholic Church in 1979 and an interfaith service where President Barack Obama addressed the nation after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. 

Generations of use had taken a toll on the cathedral, which is the largest Catholic church in New England and is the mother church of the Boston archdiocese. Tasked with bringing the cathedral into the 21st century while maintaining its old-world charm, Suffolk Construction was chosen along with Elkus Manfredi Architects to lead one of its largest renovations to date at the request of Cardinal Seán. Local contractor New Boston Interiors was hired to use specified LATICRETE® products to install new stone floor finishes to replace the carpeting and vinyl composition tile covering the wooden floors throughout the entire building.

Local contractor New Boston Interiors used specified LATICRETE® products to install new stone floor finishes to replace the carpeting and VCT covering the wooden floors throughout the entire building.

“What matters most to Elkus Manfredi Architects is to specify products that will endure the test of time; so in this case, the LATICRETE reputation for high-quality sub-flooring systems and the 25-year warranty were critical to our product specification,” said Cathy Naughton, AIA, LEED AP, Senior Associate at Elkus Manfredi Architects. “Our firm is also committed to specifying products that contribute to LEED points with high regard for sustainable building, and knew we could rely on LATICRETE and their product portfolio to meet our standards.”

After nearly two years of renovations, in 2019 the main sanctuary at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross opened just in time for Holy Week. Parishioners gathered in the newly-renovated space for Easter Sunday. © George Martell

Historic structure, city prominence create challenges 

STRATA_MAT™, a high-performance uncoupling membrane that offers an enhanced mechanical bond of the adhesive mortar for faster drying and a shorter time to grout, as well as NXT® Level, a cement-based, self-leveling underlayment, were used to flatten the floors.

Historic Structure: With any historic structure, the renovation process can be full of surprises. All of the teams working on the cathedral needed to be mindful of the structure’s past and capable of creatively finding solutions that could repair any bumps that came up along the way with ease and respect to the original building. 

City Prominence: The Cathedral of the Holy Cross is a mainstay and one of the most exciting renovation projects that has taken place in Boston. All of the teams involved knew that they were being asked to complete a difficult task with the whole community’s eyes on them. 

LATICRETE solutions address extreme variances in floor heights

Special care is taken to install custom-sized tile around the baptismal fountain.

“When we made our first site visit, we knew that we would have our work cut out for us immediately,” said New Boston Interiors Project Manager Brendan Howard. “The plan was to install 20,000 square feet of 18” x 18” tile throughout the entire nave, and it needed to be perfectly flat throughout as directed by the archdiocese. We were handed a topographic map of the nave area that showed an 8” variance from the floor’s highest and lowest points.” 

New Boston Interiors used NXT® Level, a cement-based, self-leveling underlayment, to flatten the floors as much as possible. The topographic map of the nave area showed an 8” variance from the floor’s highest and lowest points

LATICRETE representative Peter McKeon joined New Boston Interiors onsite to inspect the floor variance and help identify a solution to the very difficult task at hand. McKeon advised the installer to use STRATA_MAT, a high-performance uncoupling membrane that offers an enhanced mechanical bond of the adhesive mortar for faster drying and a shorter time to grout, as well as NXT® Level, a cement-based, self-leveling underlayment, to flatten the floors as much as possible. 

Once the floors were leveled, the team installed the subfloor. Unfortunately, because of where the pews had been placed throughout the years, the aisle was 1/4” higher than the rest of the floor after the subfloor was installed. HYDRO BAN® Board was the solution.  

“CDX plywood is not stocked at 1/4” thickness, so we were extremely grateful that HYDRO BAN Board, a lightweight, easy-to-install, ready-to-tile backer board, could be subbed in and performed wonderfully. Without HYDRO BAN Board, we would have had to put the project on hold and remove all of the 3/4” thick plywood that had been installed,” explained Howard.

After completing the HYDRO BAN Board installation, Howard and his team were able to install the 20,000 square feet of tile with ease thanks to MULTIMAX Lite. This product is the ultimate one-step, non-sag mortar for interior and exterior installations of ceramic tile, porcelain tile, glass tile and stone. 

All of the teams working on the project needed to be mindful of the cathedral’s history and find creative solutions that would preserve the building’s character. © Nate Fontes-Fried

SPECTRALOCK® PRO Premium Grout, the most color-accurate and uniform, stain-resistant grout available today, and PERMACOLOR® Select, an advanced high-performance cement grout that offers the industry’s first dispersible dry pigment solution, were used to grout throughout the cathedral. 

All of the products selected for use, aside from HYDRO BAN Board, have received multiple certifications and declarations for sustainable living, including Health Product Declarations (HPD), Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) and UL GREENGUARD Certifications for low chemical emissions.

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross is a mainstay of the city of Boston, and is one of its most exciting renovation projects to date. Here, parishioners celebrate Palm Sunday preceding Holy Week.  © George Martell

Multiple product solutions led to successful installation

“LATICRETE has a product for every situation, and Peter was always ready to offer as many options as possible,” Howard added. “The project at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross presented us with formidable problems, but the teamwork led by Peter and our foreman Andrew Jamieson, who has more than 40 years of experience as a tile mechanic, was the only way this project could have been as successful as it was.” 

After nearly two years of renovations, the main sanctuary at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End opened just in time for 2019 Holy Week. Since reopening, the ordination of the largest group of priests in a single ceremony for the archdiocese in nearly two decades has taken place, adding more tallies to the cathedral’s list of significant historical happenings. 

For nearly 150 years, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross has been a staple in Boston’s Catholic community, and has played host to many significant events in U.S. history.
Since reopening, the ordination of the largest group of priests in a single ceremony for the archdiocese in nearly two decades has taken place, adding more tallies to the cathedral’s list of significant historical happenings.
© Robert Benson Photography
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