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Where there’s tile, there’s beauty

Life can be beautiful. Maybe you’re not feeling that so much this year, but it’s my observation that where there’s tile, there’s beauty!

This month’s issue focuses on artisan tile installations and decorative tile – breathtaking installations that bring form and color and poetry to settings, sometimes literally. For instance, you’ll find a story in this issue about the ALMA (Apprenticeships for Leaders in Mosaic Arts) Summer Institute, that employs youth aged 16-25 each summer to conceptualize, design, create and glaze mosaic tiles, then install them in public sites around Albuquerque and other cities in New Mexico. 

Another stunning project detailed in this issue is the Corte Madera Pool Grotto, a spectacular example of tile setting by Heritage Marble & Tile, Inc., from Mill Valley, Calif., which won the Coverings Installation & Design Award for Residential Tile Installation. In addition to the level of precision required in this design, challenges along the way required complex on-site adjustments to complete the job within the desired time frame. 

Any trade needs new blood to keep things fresh, and the tile trade is no exception. In our Business section, tile artisans Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile & StoneWorks and Joshua Nordstrom from Tierra Tile talk about how to attract young people to the tile trade, and why it is a great option for those seeking a career that allows them to exercise their creativity. 

Our Member Spotlight, Shawn King of Shawn King, Inc., exemplifies this principle. A true artist, he chose the world of tile setting to practice his art in a new way, executing kitchen and bathroom remodels from his New Port Richie, Fla., location. 

Bart Bettiga wraps up his One-to-One interview with legendary industry expert Dave Gobis in this issue. And if you are feeling a hankering for all that great education and training that NTCA is known for, fear not – our Training and Education feature details fabulous online opportunities for you to learn from NTCA Workshops and take part in NTCA Roundtables Live. Plus, learn about a new NTCA VIP Text Messaging Program that alerts you to educational opportunities in your area, virtually and – God willing – when our trainers get back on the road. Just text NTCA to 31996 from your mobile phone to get connected!

Hope you find some content in this issue to inspire you, lift your spirits, and remind you that you are part of a timeline of stunning workmanship and craftsmanship, with a rich history and a bright future.

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

Green issue focuses on sustainability, eco-friendly and pro-health issues in our industry

Welcome to the August GREEN issue, where we focus on the sustainability, eco-friendly and – especially now – pro-health issues in our industry. 

To that end, NTCA Technical Director Mark Heinlein explores the current state of OSHA’s Respirable Airborne Silica regulation, and how to adhere to the regulation and safeguard your lungs from irreversible silicosis.

Bill Griese, TCNA Director of Standards Development and Sustainability Initiatives, has contributed a story that examines the role ceramic tile floors, walls, and countertops play in green building and health initiatives. He discusses how disinfectants play into the picture, as well as the addition of antiviral testing to the suite of services offered by TCNA’s Product Performance Testing Laboratory.

In our A&D Corner, we talk about demands from the marketplace for products like ceramic tile and quartz surfacing materials that support easy sanitization and contribute to cleaner settings, especially in the pandemic era.

This issue offers a second technical article for your consideration – Joseph Mattice of On The Level Flooring in Greenville, S.C. has penned an article about the travails of using hybrid shower systems. You may be tempted to concoct a Franken-shower, but it could turn out to be more of a monster than you bargained for. 

In our Training & Education section, we explore a learning opportunity you may not know about on Facebook: one-to-one mentoring. NTCA member Brad Denny of Nichols Tile & Terrazzo in Joelton, Tenn., who is a mentor in both NTCA Members Only and Tile Geeks Facebook groups, discusses how the programs work and how to take advantage of industry mentors to support your business. 

Did you notice something different on the cover of TileLetter? Last month we added a new selling/tag line: “The industry’s leading tile installation magazine.” This official statement proclaims TileLetter’s prominence and strength among installation-related publications in our industry. When it comes to all things installation, TileLetter is YOUR magazine!

How have you been faring through the pandemic? Do you know contractors and suppliers are sharing their thoughts in our Contractor Perspective and Supplier Perspective stories, posted regularly on tileletter.com? This is a collection of first-person musings about business conditions, work challenges, and the emotional roller coaster the pandemic has been for many of us. Chances are, whatever you are feeling and experiencing, you’re not alone. Visit the site for some online camaraderie – and share your own stories with us by emailing [email protected].

As summer is winding down, take some time to enjoy the long, warm days and catch your breath before the challenges of autumn arrive. 

God bless, Lesley

No mistakes – only happy accidents

“We don’t make mistakes. We make happy accidents.”  – Bob Ross

Here we are in midsummer – time for a check in. How is everyone doing?

I’m writing the last week of May, and I don’t have a crystal ball that will tell me how conditions will be when you receive this magazine in July. Like many of you, I’ve experienced a lot of my social interactions online, including an inspirational church service I enjoyed just last week via Facebook Live. Minister Debbie O’Connor of the Unity Church of Albuquerque and Rio Rancho delivered a sermon that touched on the rules of improvisational comedy as a guide to getting through these times, which are unprecedented in our lifetime. And I just so happened to have a copy of Tina Fey’s Bossypants in my library, which includes a dog-eared section that addresses these self-same rules of improvisation. These “rules” spoke to me, since more than anything these days, I feel like we are making up life as we go along.

So, in a nutshell, the rules are:

  1. Agree, say yes – never say no. If the improvisational actor says, “I’m on fire,” it grinds the skit to a halt to say, “No you’re not.” Fey says this rule invites you to start from an open-minded place. Basically, we are talking about acceptance. “Yes, we are in a pandemic, with a business to run.” It gives us more room to move than rigidly shutting down. O’Connor says to think of it as “Given this, now what?”
  2. Say “Yes, AND” – “You’re on fire, AND I have these marshmallows to roast! Awesome!” ADD to the situation. “Yes, we are in a pandemic, with a business to run AND I can use this time to hone that marketing plan I’ve been putting off.” Fey says, “YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute…always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion.”
  3. Make STATEMENTS. “Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.” She also says just asking questions just puts pressure on OTHERS to come up with the answers. Be definitive and claim your power with what you declare.
  4. There are no mistakes – Maybe this is the most important rule, and one we probably never learned in school. You may start out in one direction (honing your marketing plan due to the looming pandemic), which may lead you to another path (attending a virtual training that helps you tackle a stubborn problem you’ve always had with installation). Leave room for “happy accidents,” Fey says. Those who may be familiar with PBS artist Bob Ross knows he is famous for turning smudges or unplanned marks on his canvas into part of the scenery. “Ever make mistakes in life?” he asked. “Let’s turn them into birds. Yeah, they’re birds now.” 

At the heart of it, this is encouragement to accept what’s before you and be creative, strong and gentle with yourself as you move through the current situation. We can strain and stress, but that’s not going to be good for us physically or mentally and it stops the flow of creativity. Try these rules of improv and see if they don’t improve your outlook or your approach to this phase of your business, and help you keep up – with more grace – in this fast-changing world.

In the meantime, check out our TileLetter content this month, from Scott Carothers’ easy-as-pie recipe for creating expansion joints to Pavlo Starykov’s findings on staining in marble showers, to Robb Roderick’s chronicle of a day in the life of an NTCA trainer, to a profile of the husband-and-wife team of Eric and Jennifer Blumer of NTCA Member EJ Flooring. Also take a look at a recap of the historic, first-ever, virtual Coverings Connected. 

Whatever you do, keep the faith. 

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

Change can be beautiful

“The caterpillar does all the work, but the butterfly gets all the publicity.”  – George Carlin

It’s obvious that when a caterpillar goes into its chrysalis on its way to being a butterfly, lots of changes take place. Squirmy little caterpillars don’t become lithe, beautiful, winged beings overnight – and not without struggle. What actually happens inside the chrysalis is that the caterpillar body dissolves into mush. “Imaginal cells” – cells that had been dormant in the caterpillar form –activate and start to create the process of reforming all the organic material into the stunning butterfly that will emerge. 

Imaginal cells don’t initially cooperate – they exist and operate independently, and are even attacked by the immune system when it doesn’t recognize them as being an integral part of the being. Over time, they multiply, and start to entrain with each other, cooperating and communicating to work in tandem and emerge as a brand new being. 

This analogy is often used in spiritual and psychological circles to explain the changes that take place in individuals during periods of growth and struggle. But how much more does it apply right now to our country and our industry? Coronavirus has dissolved our usual structures and behaviors into an amorphous soup of sorts. We are in a holding pattern in the “chrysalis” of our own homes – some of us working, some of us unemployed with time on our hands, some of us receiving government relief; some of us struggling mightily to pay our bills and care for our families with lack of income; some of us taking on different jobs to make ends meet in the interim; some of us managing this emotional and economic limbo with patience and grace (with the help of chocolate or alcohol), and some of us acting with impatience and aggression, insisting we get back to being caterpillars!

Now in June, where do we stand? How far along to becoming butterflies do we find ourselves? Has your state “opened up?” Partially? Completely? What is the caseload of infections like in your area? How have you changed your work process to operate safely during the crisis, and how will you engage in public gatherings as the summer wears on? Have you received government relief to assist your business or has red tape or inadequate funding grounded you? 

It seems to me that we are still in chrysalis mode (as of this writing on April 27), and the new “being” that will emerge is still forming. We are adopting new features. Our major trade show was cancelled, but 4,000 people attended or participated in the virtual trade show Coverings Connected at coverings.com. People are connecting professionally and personally via Facebook, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts and other virtual conferencing services for meetings, classes, worship services and even dinners and cocktail parties. I recently got to virtually meet people I had only emailed with during a Tile Chix zoom cocktail party. You’ll read about some of these creative technologies in this month’s Business story, written by Contributing Editor Louis Iannoco. 

NTCA has partnered with workshop hosts to convert in-person events into virtual training events, to continue bringing important information to tile contractors. And because NTCA trainers are not traveling to NTCA Workshops, they have some time to author excellent technical articles for TileLetter, like the piece on layout this month, written by Robb Roderick.

No one knows the exact trajectory for this metamorphosis. The hope is that we begin to entrain and work together – as an industry and a country – to emerge with new skills, technologies and economic structures that characterize a new incarnation of what has existed before. It could be a beautiful thing. Let’s do what we can to make it so. 

Blessings,
Lesley
[email protected]

Your focus determines your reality

Your focus determines your reality.” – Qui Gon Jinn, Star Wars

Happy May. How is everyone doing? We have had quite the wild ride for the last few months. We’ve seen the cancellation of Coverings, and other events – and heavens knows what else between March 20, when I am writing this – and by the time you receive your issue. We are all doing our best to manage the tremendous challenges that we are facing personally and professionally. Since this is a fast-changing situation, we are addressing things as they come up on tileletter.com and in our digital newsletters which allow us to post pertinent information for you as it arises and as it shifts. We also are posting links and resources on www.tile-assn.com. But look to Tileletter print edition for evergreen topics and informative, educational and inspirational articles with information you can incorporate into your business and successes in the industry we can all celebrate, even while social distancing.

For your reading pleasure in this issue, check out Bart Bettiga’s interview with Robert Roberson of David Allen Company. As this company celebrates its 100-year anniversary, Mr. Roberson, a legend in his industry, shares a long-term perspective of the industry, the company and involvement with NTCA.

Are you a qualified installer who yearns to work with Cosentino’s Dekton ultracompact panels? Now’s your chance. Learn about the emergence of Dekton University, which Cosentino has fully committed to and invested in to train tile contractors to handle and install this material, blowing the market wide open for Cosentino and adding to the skill set of dedicated contractors across the country.

We get to know Michelle Blomquist Hamilton – originator of the Tile Chix group on Facebook – in this issue’s Member Spotlight, that focuses on how her passion and desire to excel and create are powering the business she shares with her husband.

Stumped by the estimating process? Luke Miller of Tile Money walks you through a clear, concise process of determining cost and profit in our Business article. And in our Technical section, ARDEX’s Mark Pennine explores proper substrate preparation, even more important these days with large-format and gauged porcelain slabs growing in popularity. 

A special report takes a look at the news coming out of the Cevisama show, held in Spain in early February. 

Finally, if you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll want to read our Case Study this month. Jonathan Stanton transforms the old broken-down bathroom in his company’s new shop into a mosaic masterpiece and homage to Star Wars, complete with a shower mural of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Yoda, and other intentional finishing and accessory touches that make the space a true delight.

Whatever you do this month, be kind and gentle to yourself and to those around you. These are some crazy times. But our industry – and our country – can get through them if we work together, respect each other, and stay mindful of what’s needed to emerge healthy from this current adventure. May the Force be with you.

God bless,

Lesley
[email protected]

Happy Spring TileLetter readers!

Greetings readers! By now, hopefully spring will have sprung in your town and you are enjoying warm weather, balmy breezes and blooming flowers. No matter how mild your winter, the colors and warmth of spring are always welcome.

Did you attend TISE back in January? If you didn’t (and even if you did), check out our product section that brings you news of some fresh finds on the show floor in Vegas. And NTCA – along with CTEF – was out in force at the show. See what was percolating in booths, in the conference programs and demo sessions. I don’t think there’s a tile contractor in our industry that isn’t grateful for the amazing advances in setting materials that have developed over the years. But sometimes, doing it the “old fashioned way” – namely with mud or mortar beds – is the only way to achieve your desired result. Peruse the mud story in our Technical section, authored by Martin Brookes, with help from some mud experts. And if you want to learn more about mud – or mentor others new to the medium – put Mario Garcia’s Mud4 event on your calendar for February 27, 2021; new California location to be announced. The Mud3 event that just took place at the end of February drew 300 people from 17 states and Canada to demos, classes and the opportunity for installers to meet and network. And 13 people took the Certified Tile Installer program the day before, too! Stay informed at themudevent.com  

The Mud3 Event that took place at the end of February in Fresno, Calif. 

Healthcare is on everyone’s minds these days. Writer Phillip M. Perry gives us a tour through currently available options, with some insights that might help you navigate the labyrinth of healthcare options more easily and find affordable, broad coverage that can help you sleep easier at night.

Are you an NTCA Five-Star Contractor or thinking about becoming one? In this issue, NTCA Five-Star Program Director Amber Fox provides an overview of the program, what’s on the horizon and information about upcoming re-certification. 

Bart Bettiga interviews MAPEI President and CEO Luigi Di Geso in this issue’s One-to-One section. Di Geso talks about the huge influence of Dr. Giorgio Squinzi and the direction the new leadership is taking, an overview of MAPEI markets, what’s coming up in the tile and stone installation products category, and how MAPEI supports qualified labor. 

We lost a few industry greats in recent months. TileLetter pays tribute to Jerry Zakim and Albert Thompson, sharing some remembrances of these two legendary forces in our industry. Let’s take this chance, as we remember these two industry greats, to appreciate each other and what we all bring to this industry and each other’s lives. And maybe tell each other what you appreciate about them, while you can. 

God bless,

Lesley
[email protected] 

Homing in on Coverings 2020

In this March issue, we start homing in on Coverings. What a dynamic event this is going to be! Back in New Orleans for the first time in nearly 20 years, Coverings promises to bring all its standard business-boosting features, set among outstanding food, culture, and music in a city that continues to rebuild itself after the major destruction of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. A testament to the city’s ebullient spirit, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival begins April 23 – just as Coverings is coming to a close – so plan to stay for the weekend to enjoy what the city has to offer. For a preview of what Coverings has on tap, read the story in this issue – some favorite features will return with some new events, activities and elements planned. 

Seafood gumbo by Carol Bracey

You read in our February issue about how the NTCA/CTEF partnership is kicking certification into high gear. This month in our Training & Education section, hear from some Industry Evaluators who have gone through the Boot Camp training about their commitment and their outlook for this industry program.

In this month’s One-to-One, Bart Bettiga speaks with two stellar artisans of our industry – Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works and Joshua Nordstrom of Tierra Tile. Gain some insight into their particular approaches to craftsmanship, artistry and the tile industry. 

In our Tile & Stone section, we talk with Becky Serbin about an essential new workshop that NTCA is offering in 2020: The Ins and Outs of Layout. This workshop evolved from observations during the Certified Tile Installer tests – that not all contractors had a working knowledge of accurate layout principles, which created time management issues during the exam. Clearly, this situation would ALSO slow down a day-to-day job, so NTCA decided to address it with the new workshop focus on layout.

Floor warming systems have come a long way since hydronic heating was the only option for creating a cozy floor. And fortunately ceramic and porcelain tiles are excellent finishing materials to use in conjunction with these systems. In our Technical section, read what floor warming manufacturers say contribute to successful electric floor warming system installation. 

Enjoy this issue, the coming of spring – officially arriving on March 19 – and your plans to attend the pre-eminent tile and stone event in North America, complete with Cajun and Creole flair in The Big Easy.

God bless, 

Lesley 
[email protected]

People who work together, win together

“People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.”  
– Vince Lombardi 

It is December 5, and I am sitting at my desk in New Mexico finalizing the content for our February issue.

I don’t generally discuss the inner workings of TileLetter, but I thought it might be useful for readers to know a little about how we get things done around here. 

Currently, we are working a couple of months ahead, to make sure we can get TileLetter to you in a timely fashion. That’s especially tricky around now, since we have two extra issues – TRENDS and COVERINGS – thrown into the mix in the late winter/early spring; and to get those completed on time we need to be early (not to mention some major holidays!). Rest assured that staff writers and industry contributors are working to provide relevant content to illuminate, educate and inspire you. Our ad reps are also busy getting commitments from advertisers to fund our issue and provide you with information about goods and services provided by industry members.

One of the reasons I wanted to share that information with you is because some of you have been contacting me about contributing stories – and we are always very happy when you are! We love sharing voices from the industry and from the field. So, I wanted to give you an idea of how far ahead we work. For instance, by February 12, all the content for our Coverings issue will be delivered to Michelle Chapman for the magazine design, and then we proof it several times to hopefully eliminate any errors in content, spelling, punctuation and the like. If you have a hankering to submit a story for TileLetter, feel free to email me at [email protected] to run your idea by me and give me an idea of when I can expect it so I can fit it into our schedule. 

Since I mentioned our staff, I want to take a quick minute to thank all of them for their support recently. This is the first editor letter I’ve written since I’ve gotten back into the swing of things after 3.5 months in New Jersey, taking care of clearing and selling my mother’s home (she recently entered an assisted living community where she is extremely happy and thriving). Since I don’t have siblings, it was pretty much up to me to get this task completed. I combined  a month and a half of working full time, sorting through papers and belongings at night, with some paid time off and then had to shift to unpaid time off to complete the job and drive cross country back to Albuquerque (which is why I missed seeing you all at TSP in Nashville last October). It was a monumental task, but it would have been an IMPOSSIBLE task without the understanding of Bart Bettiga, and the support and help of the Marketing and Communications Team and then some. Avia Haynes, Michelle Chapman, contributing editor Lou Iannoco and other contributors jumped in and kept everything percolating and running on time to seamlessly get TileLetter into your hands. 

We talk a lot about work-life balance in business circles, but sometimes when the chips are down and the work-life ratio is ANYTHING but balanced, it is priceless to have a work family that has your back. Words are inadequate to express the gratitude I feel towards the entire crew. I share this with you to thank them all, and to let you know – if you don’t realize it already – what fine caliber people you have working for you and with you in the association. Truly, it’s a blessing. 

Enjoy this issue, and the stories we’ve assembled for you, including some stunning projects that celebrate National Tile Day on February 23. Are you planning to commemorate the day with a promotion or a special event? Drop me a line at [email protected] and let me know!

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

Welcome to 2020!

“I have a theory in life that there is no learning. There is no learning curve. Everything is tabula rasa. Everybody has to discover things for themselves.” – Seymour Hersh 


Welcome to 2020. If you’re like me, that number is something that was only in the realm of science fiction and futurists when I was growing up (uh oh, now you all have an idea of how old I am!). Yet, here we are, poised on the precipice of 365 new days filled with possibility and challenge, blank slates upon which we can write our dreams, and wrangle with the unexpected, testing our mettle in all of it. 

As you plan your year, take a look at our Industry Calendar. On this calendar are lots of opportunities to learn, to attend training sessions and to educate yourself on what is happening in our industry: use it to chart out how and where you want to learn and grow. Remember to also visit the NTCA website at www.tile-assn.com, and click on the Education & Certification tab. This is a schedule of upcoming NTCA Workshops and Regional Training Programs that may be coming to a location near you. Don’t pass these up. There are fantastic learning and networking opportunities to be had at these events. Also under this tab is a listing of upcoming webinars, hosted by NTCA and featuring industry experts. You can glean wisdom from these free offerings from the comfort of your home or office, or in fact anywhere you can carry your device. And if you haven’t gotten certified yet, learn more about the Certified Tile Installer and Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers exams at this link, as well as classes from NTCA University and what the NTCA Apprenticeship Program is all about. Get informed, and start the year strong. 

This issue is designed to support you as you go forward into the year with explorations of anti-slip treatments and products to commemorate Bath Safety Month and help you craft safer installations. Working with tile patterns can hold some challenges – we investigate tips on making the most of tile design and creating a stunning wall or floor project. And we also study how the synergy of different trades working together can make the project run smoother and be better performing for everyone involved. 

2020 is tabula rasa right now – a blank slate, upon which you can write and discover your future. Equip yourself to make it a satisfying, prosperous and enjoyable year, so when you look back in January 2021, you can congratulate yourself about jobs well done!

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning, but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.”
– Hal Borland


As another year draws to a close (and a new one is just about to begin), take a moment to review your 2019. What were the high spots? What can you learn from the lows? What was the one new thing that you learned or implemented this year that made a difference in your execution or operations? Did you attend a training seminar or a workshop or perhaps a trade show or conference for the first time? How did that benefit your business?

In our busy world, it’s tempting to race from one thing to the next without taking time to breathe and reflect. And yet, if we don’t review or assess our day, week, month or year, how do we learn? How do we know where we need to improve or <gasp> congratulate ourselves and our colleagues on the victory of jobs well done – and repeat those steps that led to success? 

Don’t give in to temptation. Take the natural lull that comes at this time of year to consider what’s come before and ponder how that can be a springboard for the year to come. That’s what we do in our NTCA Review – looking back gives our road map for 2020 a solid foundation. Check out this story and see where the association is headed next year. 

We announced our first ever NTCA Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year back in September, but this month, read a little bit more about Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile and what it means to him to win this honor, which was awarded at the end of October at Total Solutions Plus. 

Did you get to travel to Italy this fall to see all the hot new products at Cersaie? If not, don’t worry – we recap some of those new introductions in our product section in this issue. 

Do you know what a flow-down clause is? You may know it as a “pass-through” or “conduit clause.” Do you know that it binds subcontractors to the same duties and obligations as the general contractor has to the owner? Is this a good thing or not? Read our Business Tip section by Daniel Dorfman, Chair Construction Law Group, Fox Swibel Levin & Carroll LLP, and find out.

Whatever you do, DO take time to kick back and relax with those you hold dear. In the inimitable words of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

God bless, and happy holidays,

Lesley
[email protected]

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