"Our tile contractor fired us,” Peggy Fisher says. “He said our work was too difficult.” That was what led Fisher Group, Annandale, Va., a design/build company, to find someone in-house for tile work.

One of FG's carpenters, Fisher says, is very detail-oriented. She approached him with the idea of learning tile installation and he agreed. Because she is a designer, Fisher is able to talk to Mike Depue about what she wants the outcome to be. She creates what she calls “involved” tile designs in which materials — ceramic, porcelain, stone, glass, metal —often are mixed. “I'm conscious of the different thicknesses of materials and of other conditions,” she says. “I talk to Mike on his terms about what is expected, and we strategize about how to achieve it.”

Tile design allows for a bit of whimsy, practicality, and a range of styles. The shower's stone trim molding was mitered on two sides to soften edges near the shower entry.
Lydia Cutter Tile design allows for a bit of whimsy, practicality, and a range of styles. The shower's stone trim molding was mitered on two sides to soften edges near the shower entry.

Depue learned by first working on simple projects and now after five years has developed his own systems, such as making a template for an entire backsplash project and cutting the tiles and laying them out on the template with the spacers in between, prior to the actual installation.

Although Depue has learned on the job, there are courses offered by the Ceramic Tile Institute of America ( www.ctioa.org) and by other local professional groups.

“Every time [Depue] finishes a job, we photograph the project and give a set of the photos to him,” says Fisher, who recognizes that through the tile work Depue has grown as an employee, developing his own identity within the company.

From a business perspective, Fisher points out, their estimates are more fairly priced. “Instead of getting additional charges from a tile contractor, we're putting charges and estimates into the budget up-front,” she says. “We have more control of costs and more predictability on installation. We're never waiting for the tile contractor to show up.” Depue also does punch-out work and can use his carpenter skills as needed when not doing tile installations. “He's part of the team and is loyal to our company,” Fisher says. “He's available for warranty work, and he cares whether the grout color matches.”

Stacey Freed is a senior editor for REMODELING.