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MAPEI’s total solutions for luxury living in Honolulu

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

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

MAPEI products on the jobsite

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

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

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

Achieving zero-tolerance thresholds

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

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

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

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

Setting the stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poetic inspiration

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

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

Apprentices adorned white stoneware butterflies with names of Native tribes.

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

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

Inspired by ceramics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One-to-one exclusive with Dave Gobis

Industry icon and NTCA Recognized Consultant

Headshot of Dave Gobis
Dave Gobis

As a leading trade association of tile installation contractors, the NTCA is constantly asked for recommendations for individuals who are qualified to perform inspections of workmanship and performance. The list of who we can consistently rely on for this work is very select. NTCA Recognized Consultants can be found on our website at www.tile-assn.com. They possess a unique skill set that takes years to develop, especially if they are to be trusted for complex and large-scale projects. 

One such individual is Dave Gobis. Dave is the former Executive Director of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation and was a successful tile contractor in Wisconsin for many years before becoming one of the tile industry’s leading consultants. He also generously donates his time to offer advice to many consumers and industry professionals. Many excellent consultants like Dave are nearing the end of their careers in this important sector of our industry, so I caught up with him to gain insight into considerations and training one should take if they wish to venture into this area of work. Part I of our interview is presented here; Part II will be published in the September issue of TileLetter.

As a former tile contractor, how did you transition into consulting work? What specific skills did you have that qualified you to become a consultant, and what steps did you take to educate yourself about codes, standards, proper inspection reporting, and writing, etc.?

Given I am in the process of retiring and not actively looking for work, I am going to be a little more candid in my response than I would normally be.

Photo of Dave Gobis
Gobis was a successful tile contractor for many years and member of the NTCA Board of Directors before working for the CTEF and then venturing into consulting.

I would ask that readers consider my comments not offered as a road map, but rather how things worked for me. I have always been a technically-oriented guy. Early on, I even lost accounts because I was “too difficult” to deal with. One of the ironies of that was years later, as my competitors bit the dust, I didn’t appear so difficult. 

I have always been a voracious reader and always wanted to know why something did or didn’t work. In the mid-80s, I joined NTCA and was an active member, attending all the shows and blocking out time for back-to-back technical seminars on the front end of the show. NTCA and trade shows also allowed me to meet and interact with all the industry players. Relationships I developed years ago are still active today and have always served as a resource over the length of my career. 

Learning codes and standards are a bit of a challenge. You have to endure some very dry reading and learn how to deal with frustration. You also need to understand them. I personally read each industry-related code or standard a minimum of two – and occasionally three – times. I have had to refer to TCNA methods or ANSI standards since taking a job at CTEF in 1998, so after 22 years of near-daily referencing methods and standards, I know what they are and where I can find what I am looking for most of the time. Plus, the benefit of serving on various committees is that I get a chance to review and sometimes vote on changes. 

In terms of proper inspection, that is certainly a quagmire. If someone hires me to look at a job and figure out a problem, I absolutely have to be able to do what it takes to determine a cause beyond a reasonable doubt. This often means deconstructing the installation. 

For instance, in my most recent project, the client said a liquid-applied crack-isolation membrane was used over concrete and the floor tented in various areas. We can assume there is a lack of expansion joints, but there has to be something else. As long as I have been doing complaints I have never seen a floor fail based on a single issue. 

My client was averse to doing any demo. The manufacturer already denied the claim based solely on no soft joints. I’m not willing to risk my reputation on that speculation. They relented and gave me three areas to remove tile, which showed a silky smooth slab. 

End of search? Not quite. It was also very green and the drops I put on from my water bottle went nowhere. Then we had to core the slab. Analysis of three cores showed the slab was burnished to an average of 3/16” deep. That is what it took to figure out the problem. Something like coring the slab I hire out, though I used to have a core drill In addition to regular old tile tools. I have a fair amount of additional specialized equipment I use in failure analysis. I want to use the least intrusive means to fully examine the installation, but it must be thoroughly examined. If you make an incorrect diagnosis, your future is not so bright. News travels fast. 

I have yet to meet anyone who likes inspection report writing. I spent years developing my format. Writing is an art form in itself. You become a content writer. Like a good novel, readers hang on your every word. There will be those who love it and those who hate it. 

Photo of floor tile installation in a bathrooom
Successful tile consultants like Dave Gobis work tirelessly to determine the cause of the problem and to develop a strategy for remediation.

Reports must be accurate and without speculation. When speculation is unavoidable – which is rare – the steps needed to resolve it, as a matter of fact, should be explained. There are many things we may think we know but don’t have facts to support them. There is usually some type of test that can provide facts to support your opinion, however, in some instances, the testing protocol can cost more than the claim. Still, it should be offered in the report if you are speculating based on your experience. 

You also need to keep away from assigning responsibility, which is for judges and juries. It can also create a liability issue for you if you end up being wrong. Your job is to either find or identify the cause of the problem, not to assign responsibility for it. That said, the majority of my clients want me to do just that, and I simply won’t. The specifics of the report writing process are quite lengthy. It is more than a short article but probably less than a book. Just remember, whatever you write is a matter of permanent record. If it goes into litigation, any errors will be used to discredit you, making the report worthless to your client and possibly producing a negative result.

We have many installers and manufacturer and distributor representatives who aspire to be inspectors or consultants. What advice would you give them as they get started?

You really need to be the go-to guy before you start, not after you start. It is not an occupation where you just decide this is what I shall be and hang out your shingle. It is also not one full of riches, as many are surprised to find out. This is particularly true when you start out with no track record. I am currently charging five times what I was when I started, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I have a track record, having done 2,864 inspections. Second, I am trying to retire; otherwise, it would only be four times as much. 

Photo of Dave Gobis receiving an award
Dave Gobis has received numerous awards for career achievement, including the TCNA Tile Person of the Year in 2015 and the NTCA Joe A. Tarver Award in 2009.

You have to like flying. I have done probably fewer than 12 inspections in my home state. For the first 10 years, I flew to a different city every week, did my inspection, came back and wrote my report, and moved on to the next one. 

The other consideration is: what is it you think you know better than anyone else? You need to have some type of knowledge that sets you apart. Anyone can be the “doesn’t-have-any-expansion-joint guy.” That doesn’t pay much either. 

Where are you going to sell your services? Because you and the manufacturer are buddies does not mean he is going to send you his work. Manufacturers are not going to allow you to control their customer or budget. I have heard more than once, “We don’t call you because we can’t predict what you’re going to say.” Manufacturers will also not open the door to finding they have a defective product, which is rare, by the way. 

Distributors operate on razor-thin margins, which they make by associating with a select group of manufacturers, so not much chance of work there either. The only time either one has given me work is when they are ready to “burn the bridge.” That means they are prepared to lose the business typically from a contractor, who is about to find out that liability insurance doesn’t cover in-place work. 

The other thing that amazes me about people wanting to get into inspecting or consulting is that many have never been involved in any technical aspects of the industry. Recently, I had a project where the guy’s qualifications were attending Schluter, wedi, and MAPEI schools. It’s great to know how to install these products, but it takes more than that. Inspection and consulting really need to be career goals, not something you just one day decide you want to be.

Join us next month for Part II of One-to-One with Dave Gobis.

Reclaimed marble panels honor the past while embracing the future

Photo of the exterior of the Mayo-Underwood Building - Frankfort, Kentucky

New Mayo-Underwood Building pays homage to honored past of architectural landmarks

Cover of August 2020 TileLetter Magazine

When a historical landmark is demolished, it can be a devastating experience for the community. For the citizens of Frankfort, Ky., it would be the promise of a new future. The 1970s-era Capital Plaza Tower, a building that has loomed over downtown Frankfort for nearly 50 years, would be replaced with a state office building. This new four-story building would be designed to house nearly 1,600 state employees. 

The site has an even deeper history – from 1929 – 1963 it was the site the Mayo-Underwood School, Frankfort’s esteemed high school for African-American students. 

The Commonwealth of Kentucky in downtown Frankfort tapped CRM Companies and D.W. Wilburn, Inc. to spearhead the massive project. CRM would act as the developer and D.W. Wilburn would serve as the general contractor and part-owner of its redevelopment. The project would include the relocation of site utilities and demolition of the existing 28-story, 330-ft.-tall Capital Plaza Tower and Frankfort Convention Center. It also would involve the site design as well as construction of a new office building, parking garage, and plaza configuration. Plans for a parking garage required a four-story building to accommodate more than 1,000 parking spaces. A 388,000-sq.-ft. (36,046 m2) office building would include a spacious lobby, hearing rooms, a health clinic, a sundry shop, mechanical and electrical rooms, as well as a loading dock area.

Designed by EOP Architects of Lexington, Ky., the LEED-certified structure would be constructed with the future in mind. It was built with state-of-the-art technology in an environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient, and employee-centric design. The construction team was instructed to salvage large vintage marble panels that lined the original Capital Plaza Tower’s lobby walls. Reclaiming the slabs for the new building’s lobby, the design would embrace the future while honoring the past. Martina Bros. Co., Inc., was tapped to be the contractor responsible for the retrofitted marble as well as the tile flooring in the lobby.

The marble panels were installed using MULTIMAX™ Lite.

“We were tasked with salvaging all the marble panels from Capital Plaza Tower and repurposing them for the new government building,” said Dino Martina, President of Martina Bros. Co., Inc. “LATICRETE recommended LHT™ polymer modified large-and-heavy-tile mortar and MULTIMAX™ Lite, a lightweight versatile polymer modified thin-set, which delivered the results we were looking for on this project.”

Besides recycling the marble panels, other sustainability efforts would be taken in this project. Most of the rubble from the demolition of Capital Plaza Tower would be used to construct the new building’s foundation. In addition, materials from the tower would be utilized to create an artistic tree sculpture for the lobby.

EOP Architects designed the Mayo-Underwood Building.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky tapped CRM Companies and D.W. Wilburn, Inc., who spearheaded the massive project.

The challenges 

Retrofitting vintage marble: The project team needed to reclaim all the vintage marble from the Capital Tower Plaza before implosion. Each slab had to be cut and retrofitted for the new structure. This laborious process included taking down each of the marble panels, delivering them to the shop, and recutting each of them to retrofit the new design.

The project utilized salvaged marble panels from the demolished Capital Plaza Tower.

Fast-tracked phased design: The project required a phased design including a demolition and construction schedule. The marble panels and tile installation needed to be completed on track with the rest of the structure.

Withstanding the test of time: The new government facility would replace the near 50-year-old, historical state building. It was essential that the new structure and its features be long-lasting and enduring for generations to come.

A LATICRETE solution

Because of the laborious process of cutting and retrofitting each marble slab, a solution needed to be made that was effective and durable. LATICRETE provided the installation and setting materials that would ensure the flooring and marble panel walls would be applied on time and within the parameters of the phased schedule. Combining excellent workability with optimum large-and-heavy-tile performance, LATICRETE® products solved the crucial needs for both the tile flooring and marble slab walls.

Martina Bros. Co., Inc. retrofitted the marble panels and installed the tile flooring in the lobby.

The tile flooring of the lobby was installed using LHT, a polymer modified, large-and-heavy-tile mortar. Specifically formulated to provide a one-step installation for large-format ceramic tile, porcelain tile, marble, and stone on floors, this solution provided a painless and long-lasting application. LHT exceeds ANSI A118.4 H standards and is effective at supporting heavy tile and stone while reducing lippage problems. It has a buildup of up to 3/4” (19 mm) without shrinkage or set-up time issues.

The marble panels were installed with MULTIMAX Lite, a patented, lightweight versatile polymer modified thinset that provides maximum non-sag performance on walls. It has a maximum buildup of up to 3/4” (19 mm) without shrinkage and provides maximum coverage due to its lightweight creamy-smooth consistency. In addition, MULTIMAX Lite is fiber-reinforced for maximum strength and performance. MULTIMAX Lite is also GREENGUARD certified and contains more than 10% post-consumer recycled content. To top it off, the revolutionary patented formula is equipped with Microban® antimicrobial protection, which eliminates damaging microbial growth on surfaces without impacting aesthetics or functionality.

“We selected LATICRETE products because of the outstanding support from their team,” said Martina. “They went the extra mile to give support and even came out to the project to make sure everything was in working order. They went above the call of duty.”

Outcome

With the phased design, the implementation of quality materials combined with the tireless efficiency of the teams involved led to a successful completion. The project was finalized almost five months ahead of schedule while achieving budgetary expectations and exceeding required safety standards. 

A tree sculpture for the lobby was made using rebar from the demolished Capital Plaza Tower.

In August 2019, during a dedication ceremony, the state government building was officially given its name. Standing on the former site of the Mayo-Underwood School, which served as Frankfort’s African American educational institution for 34 years prior to the construction of the Capital Plaza Tower, the Mayo-Underwood Building name sealed the legacy of the structure. The important link to the city’s past is further recognized with a monument and plaque standing outside the entrance, paying tribute to those who attended the school, and forever memorializing what the structure stands for.

“By naming the Mayo-Underwood Building, my intent was to remember and recognize what was here before, to honor the past while we move into the future,” Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary William Landrum III said at the ceremony, as recorded by The State Journal


Photos courtesy of Mike Matthews Photography, Bluegrass Commercial Images, bluegrasscommercialimages.com.

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

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