The equal importance of quality & skill in tile installation | by Diana Farberov
After nearly two decades of working in the tile industry, Arizona-based Chris Woelfel offers a breadth of knowledge from her work at Artcraft Granite, Marble and Tile Company and J.G. Woelfel & Associates. A regular contributor to TileLetter Magazine and seasoned veteran of surfacing shows and products, Woelfel shares a unique perspective on the most important aspects of ceramic tile installations and innovations - applicable to an international audience.
What are some of the most common installation questions you get from architects and designers in North America?
At Artcraft, one of the most common questions we get from designers and architects is, “Why does it cost so much to install the tile?” To which I must explain, if the tile is to be installed properly, per industry standards (TCNA, ANSI), and to the standard of beauty and longevity that you expect, then a trained, certified, experienced installer must be used. Unfortunately, many designers and architects don’t understand the standards for manufacturing and installation. They don’t understand the technical installation considerations on many jobs and the level of expertise required to prepare a substrate properly, ensure the right products are being used for the installation of the tile selection, or if the right method of installation is being utilized. Quality is an investment in both product and installation.
At J.G. Woelfel and Associates, one of the many services we perform as tile and stone consultants is investigations into why there are problems with an installation. All too often we are called-in to inspect failures that have occurred because a general contractor, architect, designer or distributor didn’t insist on using a highly skilled and experienced certified installer. It is extremely unsettling for me to see beautiful tile that has been installed improperly and have owners come to us as expert consultants to figure out what happened on their project. Consumers put trust in the professionals they select for their project – they want and expect a project to be done right – after all, they paid for a quality product. Yet their distributor, designer, architect or general contractor failed them by not insisting that a highly skilled, certified installer is on the project.
In your words, what makes Italian tile unique to the market?
My friend Donato Grosser has always told me that the most alluring thing about tile, the aspect that makes tile so attractive is that it is a fashion product. Additionally, in the United States, part of that high fashion, that “wow” factor, includes a consumer expectation that the tile be manufactured and installed perfectly. When it is not manufactured to high standards and installed to high standards, consumers move on to different products.
How can Italian brands better reach a North American audience?
Consumers who value quality will always seek what is perceived as the best. Quality tile is no different. Beautiful tile installations create a desire for ownership of a stunning and sustainable installation. Manufacturers must work with quality installers if they want to sell more of their product in North America. This means getting photographs of beautiful quality work in magazines, on television, throughout social media channels… and even working with distributors as vital conduits for extolling the importance of quality installation. Give the quality, certified installers credit for their work – put their name on the project, just as the name of the manufacturer, architect and designer are listed. This acknowledgement of their skill and craftsmanship helps everyone understand the value of the installer.
What new tile products are you most excited about?
It’s always exciting for me to see the innovative ways tile is being utilized in a project. When designers and architects use tile to solve design challenges, make living and working environments more functional and beautiful in unconventional ways, combine unexpected elements and materials – to me, that’s the most exciting thing about tile as a product. Then, when the product is installed impeccably, it takes my breath away.
Lastly, can you tell us about any exciting projects you have in the works at the moment?
Our economy has really picked up steam the last two years. Quality tile installation is in high demand. That means a busy schedule for us at Artcraft. From a glass mosaic spa and large format porcelain tile at an iconic resort remodel to dozens of thin porcelain panels being installed in showers at a hospital renovation, we’ve had a variety of demanding and rewarding projects. Economic growth also means that there is more discretionary spending in our economy and that is always positive for those of us who are involved in projects with fine finishes. When the economy is strong, owners are more willing to expand projects and allow designers and architects to include higher end tile products. And at Artcraft, we’re ready to install them so they are technically sound and last for years to come!
Chris Woelfel, M.Ed., is Director of Business Development for Artcraft Granite, Marble and Tile Company (www.artcraftgmt.com) and Business Manager of J.G. Woelfel & Associates (www.jgwoelfel.com), in Mesa, Arizona. She was immersed in the tile business more than two decades ago when she married James Woelfel, Chairman of the National Tile Contractors Association Technical Committee. Prior to joining Artcraft, she worked in several high-profile communication roles outside of the tile industry. She is also an award-winning broadcast journalist who contributes to TileLetter Magazine.