Installer Update: ‘Tile Saw Goddess’ Uses Hi-Tech Tools for Engineered Tile Installations
 
September 1st, 2006

By Ed Sullivan

September-October 2006

Instead of discussing installation techniques, this issue of TileDealer features a former CEO and manufacturing whiz who created a whole new career engineering, designing and cutting custom tile systems.

As Bob Dylan once wrote, one is a success if they get up in the morning and go to bed at night and in between do what they really want to do. In the case of Colleen Staton, what she “really wants to do” is a stunning culmination of her experiences as a business developer, CEO, patent-winning engineer, and graphic artist. Staton has managed to pull all of her talents, skills and interests together in a unique approach to designing and producing custom-engineered tile systems, one-off packages that she creates for architects, interior designers, homeowners and tile installers (including her own crew).

Four years ago Staton decided to leave the demanding yet lucrative world she had created for herself—the high-tech business of designing, manufacturing and supporting automated packaging equipment for major food processors. After 20 years in the pressure cooker of administration, marketing, managing employees and developing customized high-tech machinery, Staton decided she needed a change.

“Burn-out is not an option for someone like me,” she says. “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do for my next career, but I’d already packed a lot of knowledge and ability into my life, so I wasn’t afraid to sell out and move on.”

Having grown up in a family of construction contractors, Staton felt that she could meld her early interests in graphic design with her professional experience and, just possibly, a passion she had developed for antique tile designs.

“After college I traveled through Great Britain and lived in Ireland for two years,” she explains. “I discovered fantastic geometric tile designs there in some of the older buildings. I especially loved the patterns and mixtures of colors. The Victorian-era designs were my favorite. So, I tucked that interest away in the back of my mind.”

Fast-forward to 2001, when Staton decided to create a new business in providing pre-cut, customized tile systems. Her vision was to incorporate Old World patterns as well as customized geometric design “insets” to otherwise solid-color tile floors, bathrooms and other surfaces. Hence the name of her new company: Geometric Tile ( St. Paul, MN).

“The designs I had loved were dynamic geometric patterns and borders that could really breathe life and interest into flooring and bathroom walls,” she says. “I thought about outsourcing classic antique studio tile. There are companies in England that still do dust-pressed tiles, which are these old-style tiles that they use for geometric floors, but they require special ordering and can take four months for delivery. Also, they cost a ton. So, it became clear that I would produce my own geometric designs to go along with the rest of the tiles that were involved in a project.”

It quickly became evident that in order for Staton to reach her new goal, she would have to do some things that were not standard in the traditional ceramic tile business. First, she would use AutoCAD computer design (modeling) to lay out her tile designs. Secondly, she would present these designs as very accurate

renderings of the tile designs, in both grayscale and color. Third, she would permit clients—whether architects or homeowners—to request changes, and then show them exactly what they requested, frequently via e-mail. Fourth, she would be recommending the use of very hard, non-standard materials such as porcelain and stone, for the geometric part of her designs. And, in addition to authentic Victorian designs, she would try to integrate existing architectural features of a home, such as a stained glass window, into her geometric shapes and effects.

“All of this meant that I was going to introduce a new technology to the tile business—but more importantly, to the customer,” says Staton. “And that primarily meant the use of AutoCAD plus some great cutting equipment.”

Because of her engineering and manufacturing expertise, Staton was highly skilled in the use of AutoCAD software. From her teenage years, working with her contractor uncles and grandfather she has experience working with conventional tile, mud and thinset. But since she was going to pre-cut virtually every tile, including cutting commonplace foot-square ceramic tile into patterns, she was going to need some great saws.

“I didn’t want to diminish my innovation by requiring tools that were too complex or loaded with features that you don’t really need for this work,” Staton says.

Staton began early in her business to source polished porcelain tiles from Tennessee, with good historical color examples.

“You have to consider that porcelain is very hard,” she says. “Add to that the fact that I cut every tile before it goes out. That includes dividing the bigger sizes of tiles into smaller, geometric shaped tiles. Every order is cut to suit the customer’s layout, and comes with a diagram that allows you to start anywhere you like with just a 2ft. X 2ft. grid. Add a few chalk lines, and no dry fitting is required.”

Right after she got started, Staton joined the Tile Your World Forum on the Internet (formerly the John Bridge Forum). “My nickname for the forum chat rooms is Tile Saw Goddess,” she says, “and I’ve certainly earned that title.” To cut larger tiles, Staton uses two 10-inch saws with water kit and blades suited for the material she is cutting. For smaller cuts and fieldwork, she uses a portable tile saw.

Because her tile and inset designs can be expensive, Staton pays particular attention to creating leak-proof showers. “It doesn’t make any sense to me that showers often leak or have shower pan problems after only 10 years. Fixing those problems is very destructive and expensive, and should not happen,” she says.

Although Victorian is her favorite period, Staton also enjoys others, including Art Deco as well as custom insets and borders and other trim designs that reflect special architectural features or even the furnishings of a home.

The kind of quality Staton sells doesn’t come cheap, but she says her high-tech, engineered approach helps to contain the costs of a highly customized job. “And when you consider that I let the clients preview and change their insets, colors and patterns, and that I will absolutely stand behind my work, then it’s worth it,” she says. “Also, many of my works are of ‘magazine quality,’ and can add considerable value to a home.”

Geometric Tile is headquartered in St. Paul, MN where the Tile Saw Goddess lives except for the winter months. She has two crews that also do installations in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Savannah, Charleston and Greater Atlanta. Thanks to the Internet, her architect, decorator and installer clients are everywhere.

Written by Ed Sullivan, a freelance writer based in Hermosa Beach, California. Courtesy of Felker saws and blades, www.felkersaws.com.

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